By Carlos Avalos
Fontana’s first permanent school was built on the corner of Locust and Foothill in 1895. What is now called the Fontana Unified School District was established in the 1920s and unified in 1956. Fontana has 30 elementary schools, including a dual language immersion school, seven middle schools, five high schools, two continuation high schools, and one adult school. In September of 2016 FUSD had roughly 41,142 students. This included early pre-education schools, middle schools, and adult schools. Between 2016 and 2017 FUSD student ethnicity was 87% Hispanic/Latino, 6% African American, 4% White, 1% Filipino, and 1% Asian. American Pacific Islander, American Indian, and unknown finish up rest of the FUSD student ethnicity make up.
A Google search on Fontana Unified School District provides an array of information and a window into the district’s academic success or lack thereof. Although Fontana’s high schools have a high graduation rate, their ranking on college readiness is rather low. According to state test scores, 18% of students are at least proficient in math and 29% in reading. According to educational website niche dot com the highest grade the FUSD gets is a B plus for its health and safety. This is a good thing; at least our children are relatively safe. But this is a debatable topic with the dark times we live in and the unfortunate circumstances of school shootings becoming a normal occurrence in American society. On the same website, other areas such as academics, teachers, and college prep earn a barely average grade. FUSD is far from the worst in California but even further from the best. What is the reason for this? Are their specific reasons or people to blame for FUSD being of a lesser quality? Are the children attending school in FUSD really getting a quality education? Is serving the best interests of the children of FUSD really the number one priority?
Brandi Gallasso is a lifelong resident of Fontana. She is a product of FUSD and she has her children enrolled there. Brandi Galasso is active in the school district. She donates her time, energy, resources, passion, and money to it. What started as Mrs. Galasso just trying to do her part and help the school district in any way she could has turned into what some people might call an obsession and mission to find the truth. She claims the district is marred by unethical and corrupt behavior along with theft and fraud. People have called Mrs. Galasso unorthodox, uneducated, obsessive, crazy, and even a liar. Maybe some or all of this is true. But there is no denying that Mrs. Galasso has pure and honest intentions, wants what’s best for the children of FUSD, as well as to bring to light what is really going on in the district. Mrs. Galasso has spent countless hours requesting, researching, finding, and deciphering information about FUSD. There follows information, facts or allegations provided to the Sentinel by Mrs. Galasso.
FUSD’s superintendent, Randal S. Bassett, has no credentials and there is no oversight for him, Mrs. Galasso claims. Specifically, Bassett has no experience as an educator whatsoever. He actually has an I.T background and was previously the district’s head of business services. Mrs. Galasso asked the Sentinel, “How is it possible for a school district to succeed when the person at the helm has no education experience?” Mrs. Galasso also told the Sentinel that “The Department of Education says that the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is who provides oversight to these positions. The commission says that they only have oversight over employees with credentials.” Because Bassett does not have teaching credentials, he cannot be controlled, she said. Therefore, Bassett cannot be reprimanded by the Department of Education. Thus, the person leading FUSD in its educational mission is not educated in education. Mrs. Galasso considers this a loophole in the system and is currently going to propose legislation to fix this. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel that people believe “Bassett was put in as superintendent as a yes man by Acquanetta Warren.” Acquanetta Warren is Fontana’s mayor. But that seems to be only partly the reason. The other appears to have grown out of a need to keep control of the district where it has always been. Mrs. Galasso claims it has been in the hands of corrupt administrators going back 30 years or more.
As part of the Local Control Funding Formula legislation, school districts in the State of California are required to develop a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to guide priorities in the budget development process. A public hearing on the plan must be held at a regular board meeting prior to being adopted at a subsequent meeting. Fontana’s LCAP gave its administration the freedom to control all of the school district’s money. This is not customary. With this much power over money, the chance of misusing funds heightens. Under the aegis of LCAP, the administration hired more administration staff, gave themselves raises from 24%-150% while teachers were give 12% over 3 years. Money being sent in the direction of top administration and not the teachers on the front lines of education might reflect why the school district scores low across the board on the overall education of its students.
The FUSD superintendent and top administrators rolled over a cut car allowance into salaries, so now they get raises on that money. When they retire it will cost the school district more money in the form of payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System, commonly referred to as CALPERS. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel that “Everyone from the superintendent to senior administration want more money now for themselves and do not care about the ramifications it will create later when they no longer work for the school district.” Mrs. Galasso said “The district is supposed to be left by teachers and administrators in better shape, not more complicated and with more problems for future students and employees.”
Mrs. Galasso has more than a dozen sources in FUSD who send her information about the questionable behavior that has taken place and continues within FUSD. They encourage her and tell her to keep pressing on. Their information cannot be released by the Sentinel because of fear of retaliation against them. One of Mrs. Galasso’s FUSD sources told her that special education students are not getting proper services via FUSD teachers. The teachers are warned not to inform parents of their legal rights to get their students’ services. The reason for this is because if a person does not know his or her rights and is left in the dark, there is less likelihood that person will create a problem with the school district. The last thing a school district wants is a lawsuit, especially a lawsuit that involves the mistreatment of special education students. Even though millions of dollars in expenditures are approved during school board meetings, it is difficult to verify whether these expenditures as approved are being made. Up until two years ago, services were provided that consisted of home visits to tie school and the home together, giving parents some training on how to handle their child with a school connection. FUSD stopped providing that service. Mrs. Galasso stated “The money is for the children, but it appears that they in fact are the last ones to receive it or many times don’t receive it at all.”
The name Leticia Garcia might ring a bell to people who live in Fontana or who pay attention to the people past and present on the FUSD school board. Letica Garcia was on the FUSD school board from 2010-2013. Leticia Garcia noticed similarities to what Mrs. Galasso is currently speaking about monetary-wise when it comes to FUSD. Mrs. Garcia noted thousands of dollars wasted on irrelevant trinkets purchased with school district dollars for the Fontana After School program.
Mrs. Garcia asked what was going on and why money was being wasted in this fashion. Because of this Mrs. Garcia was viciously attacked by Acquanetta Warren. Warren manipulated the Fontana voters to believe Leticia was against the students and the after-school work program. Wasted taxpayer money was used on a recall of her. The effort to uncover the corrupt truth Mrs. Garcia found was thwarted.
Mrs. Galasso believes that $20 million missing on top of the wasteful spending found by Letica Garcia warrants a forensic audit of the school district. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel that since Leticia Garcia left office it has only gotten worse, as there are yearly audits done only by a single agency. “It’s not that the auditing agency does wrong, but FUSD provides the same routine documents,” she said. Fontana manipulates the information given to the auditing agency to make it appear like the school district is on the up and up and that money is being spent where it needs to be and how it should be spent. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel “It is really simple; FUSD provides fake ledgers to the auditing agency when in reality there is a separate ledger with what is really going on financially in the school district.”
A forensic audit is requested and needed if there is suspicion of asset theft fraud. A financial statement audit is conducted yearly or routinely but does not look deeply into any of the information provided. The only way a forensic audit will happen in the FUSD is if the majority on the school board vote for it, or by a local legislator’s request. Mrs. Galasso believes that “the school board is not going to request it, because they all have their own agendas. But none of those agendas include the students. The majority voting bloc supports the mayor, so a vote on it won’t happen.
People wonder why the mayor is so involved with what happens with the school district. What most people don’t know is the school board controls certain aspects of the city, such as developer fees, property taxes, and boundary lines. That is the mayor’s concern, not our children. Fontana falls in California Senate District 20. This is Connie Leyva’s district. Senator Leyva has been approached by Brandi Galasso. Senator Leyva has been given all of the information that Mrs. Galasso has pertaining to the FUSD. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel that Mrs. Leyva met with her one time and they exchanged a few emails but Mrs. Leyva blew her off and did not want to touch the political hot potato that is Fontana. Mrs. Galasso also stated that she is currently talking to other representatives in the district to see if anyone has the courage to do what is right.
Some school board policies require approval to spend money on things like equipment for schools, vehicles for the district, and travel for district employees. In those policies, they have set amounts allowed to be spent. If they go above the allowed amount they must go before the school board to ask for their approval to spend that much money. The superintendent has the ability to reword these policies or change these limits. Board approval is the only thing that is needed. Mrs. Galasso says exploiting this is extremely easy considering the board approves everything. Superintendent Bassett just needs to manipulate the explanation and the board rubber stamps his request or position. So, when they raise limits, they purchase continually without needing the board’s approval. Mrs. Galasso said “There is no pushback against what the superintendent proposes, and because of this, who knows what has really happened in the past or what is going on and where money has gone? This is an example of why a forensic audit and more overall oversight is needed.”
The district’s director of purchasing for more than 30 years is Janie Rowland and she is one of a group at FUSD that has much control of many things that occur within the district. Mrs. Galasso believes Ms. Rowland should be looked at very carefully. She controls such things as all incoming and outgoing bids, purchase orders, invoices, deliveries, warehousing, recycling revenue, and money gained from auctions. When the school board asked for more proof as to what is auctioned and money received, Mrs. Galasso said she never answers the question and says “There is just too much information to keep track of.” Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel that this statement by the Ms. Rowland was “ridiculous. Her job is to keep track of this.” In 2016-2017 the school board approved spending over $6.9 million for teacher professional development, but only minimal amounts of money that does not even get close to $6.9 million can be tracked as having been spent for that training and preparation. “Where is the money?” Mrs. Galasso asked.
Mrs. Galasso’s sources in the school district also stated that the school board always highballs contracts or money that needs to be spent, and takes money appropriated for the specific requests that is left over and uses it elsewhere. At one of her children’s schools alone there is $322,000 dollars in lunch funds reimbursed to the school district, of which 45% should have gone back to that school specifically for food. The school saw only between $24,000 and $38,000 of that returned. More then half the amount of money that is supposed to be used to feed the FUSD students is in fact not being spent on the children. A past audit was done on the school district and $2 million came up missing. There was no oversight. The money wasn’t found. But the audit showed that no money was spent anywhere else. Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel to not take her word for it.
She said, “Ask the kids. They will tell you.” Apparently, many times the cafeterias in many of the FUSD schools run out of food before every student has the chance to eat.
Mrs. Galasso believes it is unfair and criminal how much money can be wasted to cover up for the people running FUSD. People often ask who is responsible for the pipeline to prison problem with young children. Mrs. Galasso believes people like the ones running FUSD are responsible. “They take every possible resource or dollar they can from the children,” she said. “What else would you expect to happen?”
FUSD has administrators like Martha Duenas who was promoted to her husband’s position in 2009 as director of English Language Development. Martha makes over $130,000 a year. FUSD has 96% English learners at their schools and Mrs. Galasso told the Sentinel she has never seen her at a school event or even providing instructional support. “Instead of paying a woman who is virtually non-existent this much money, why not invest it in the children or programs?” she asked.
Mrs. Galasso says this is only a miniscule amount of questionable information she has about the school district. Over the past four years Mrs. Galasso has contacted every single department a person could imagine to ask for help, or to look into FUSD. She said no one has oversight or is willing to help her by looking into the school district. Mrs. Galasso said that if people actually do come to take a cursory look at what is happening in the district, officials there know they’re coming and can manipulate what an investigation into the district will find. Mrs. Galasso said she wants to be proven wrong. She wants to be embarrassed because she has been misinformed about the FUSD. Until someone proves otherwise, she is going to keep collecting signatures, requesting information, and seeking the truth. The kids, she has always said, come first, and she believes what she is doing is putting them first by getting to the bottom of what is really going on at FUSD.
By Carlos Avalos