District’s Feedback Meetings Had Poor Turnout

While some have celebrated how much the district has done in regards to outreach, only about 20 residents made it to any of these extra meetings


Editor’s Note: The two videos produced by Solis below were included as context and do not represent the views of SAC.Media or the reporter that wrote the article.

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District has received a lot of backlash for their past outreach efforts, and the most recent week-long meetings have left them open to more criticism.

While the district has opted for the minimum requirements under the law in the past, the district expanded their public input to include a week of community feedback from Feb. 18 to Feb. 22 for the recent process of converting the district from an “at-large” election to a “by district” election.

Larry Ferchaw of Cooperative Strategies has called the move “above and beyond” the legal requirement and has commended the district for its outreach on social media platforms.

Some residents do not feel that is the case, since a large group of district residents are not on social media. District residents only received a postmark card in the mail that did not announce the locations for each meeting; the mailer only told residents that the meetings would be held at 6 p.m. from Feb. 18 to Feb. 21 and that the Feb. 22 meeting would be at 10 a.m.

Mailed HLPUSD Postcard
This is the front and back of the postcard mailed to residents with personal information redacted.

The district also scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony at 10:30 a.m. for the construction of new Little League fields at the park near Kwis Elementary School on Feb. 22, a half hour after the meeting about the trustee scenarios begins. Director of Network and Computer Services Thomas Tan originally sent out an email that the ceremony was to occur on Feb. 20 at 8:01 a.m. to all district employees, but Tan would later send out a followup email at 3:32 p.m. stating that the groundbreaking ceremony was put off because of rain.

Kwis Fields Groundbreaking Now Postponed
This is the original flyer before the event was postponed.

SAC.Media was able to receive a flier of the event on Feb. 14, but only received the flier about the event through the official channels two days before the event was to take place via another source.

While that event has been postponed, public input at each of the trustee area meetings were not postponed until scenario five and six were added to the list. Those scenarios were released before the meeting at Glen A. Wilson High School on Feb. 20 at around 3 p.m., and Tan sent an accompanying email to district staff to check out the live scenarios at 3:33 p.m.

Since they had held two meetings prior for public input that did not include these new maps, Ferchaw and members of Precidio Communications decided to only make the four original maps available in order to be fair to community members who showed up to the earlier meetings.

Despite this, they also had a “typo” on their fliers at the meetings that asked the community to provide input on “six” scenarios instead of the four available scenarios. It was clarified as a “typo” at the earlier meetings in La Puente, and then two new maps were released midway through the region-based community meetings.

These community meetings were held at Fairgrove Academy, Sparks Middle School, Wilson High School, Palm Elementary School and the district’s conference room in the building across from their board room.

These locations were only announced to the community on Feb. 13 at the post map-hearing meeting and were added to the district’s website prior to the meeting. They were also later sent out in a press release that was forwarded via email by Tan to district employees at 1:03 p.m. on Feb. 14.

Tan’s email states that these meetings represent areas one, two, four, five and three respectively.

Board member Jeffrey De La Torre was the only board member to attend all five meetings, and Vice President Joseph Chang did attend the meeting held at Wilson High School.

President Anthony Duarte, Clerk Gino Kwok and board member Martin Medrano did not attend a single meeting, despite living a mile or less from each location.

The closest meeting was less than a half mile from Duarte’s house.
This graphic was made utilizing the maps provided by the district and the Distance Calculator program. https://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm#
The closest meeting was roughly a quarter mile from Medrano’s house.
This graphic was made utilizing the maps provided by the district and the Distance Calculator program. https://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm#
The closest meeting was roughly a mile from Kwok’s house.
This graphic was made utilizing the maps provided by the district and the Distance Calculator program. https://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm#

While some residents have complained about the delay in or lack of notification to community members, another attendee said that some of the responsibility lies on the residents to pick up the phone and call to find out more about these meetings.

Whether it be through notification issues or general disinterest, the highest turnout at any of the five meetings was 30 people, and 10 were district staff, translators, presenters or members of the PR group.

The following numbers are roughly reflective of a live head count at the event, alongside presumptions of whether individuals were residents or staff members of one of the aforementioned groups.

Fairgrove Academy

Total: 28

Staff: 17

Residents: 11

Sparks Middle School

Total: 25

Staff: 14

Residents: 11

Sparks Middle Invites Lively Discussion
Board member Jeffrey De La Torre listens as residents get into a larger discussion about fairness at Sparks Middle School on Feb. 19. Photo Credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

Wilson High School

Total: 24

Staff: 12

Residents: 12

Chang and De La Torre
Vice President Joseph Chang explains what he thinks about the maps to fellow board member Jeffrey De La Torre at the Wilson High School area meeting on Feb. 20. Photo credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

Palm Elementary School

Total: 27

Staff: 15

Residents: 12

Palm - Pointing It Out
Board member Jeffrey De La Torre points to Workman High School as another resident points to another part of the map at the Palm Elementary School area meeting on Feb. 21. Photo credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

HLPUSD Conference Room

Total: 30

Staff: 10

Residents: 20

Hacienda Close Up With De La Torre
Board member Jeffrey De La Torre explains how he understand the map scenario to another resident on Feb. 22 at the HLPUSD conference room. Photo credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

Public Agency Services Director Samantha Saenz, who ran the previous meetings, was not present at the last meeting, which left Associate Nailea Ayala Sahagún to host the meeting on behalf of Presidio Strategic Communications.

Tan and Planning Director Mark Hansberger were at every meeting, alongside five members of Presidio (with the exception of Saenz at the last meeting), two translators, at least one officer and a team of one to three members of Cooperative Strategies. At the last meeting, a few district employees, including Interim Superintendent Annie Bui, appeared at one of the adjoining rooms, but were not added to the count because they did not join the main room.

Aside from attendance, Saenz said that the firm was only contracted to host these meetings regarding the election conversion process, aside from some other work with social media. This means that the district approved spending $40,000 or less on Presidio’s firm to handle around 60 residents for an hour or two over five days. This item was approved on Dec. 12 in a 3-1-1 vote, where the abstaining vote was cast by Medrano, and the no vote was made by De La Torre, who also criticized the move to approve a similar item for the Lee Andrews Group. That other contract item was abstained on by Duarte abstained on the other contract item and De La Torre voted it down, but it was approved at a 3-1-1 vote.

Resident Fernando Solis vocally criticized the district for the decision to approve these items and made two videos about what he called a “quid pro quo” to hire the firms.

Solis added that Medrano and Duarte should have both recused themselves on the vote to approve these services. Despite the vote, neither board member attended any of the meetings to see the services provided by the company.

Regardless of the controversy over the group’s approval, with only around 10 residents attending each meeting, there were a few repeat attendees including Gilda Ochoa, Enrique Ochoa and De La Torre. De La Torre was counted as a resident alongside his wife in the above counts.

For a district of 116,506 residents, a combined turn out of around 60 confused residents to all of these meetings will likely leave the rest in the dark about this process.