A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A tempest looms over HLPUSD

Unforeseen financial troubles present themselves, board infighting reaches boiling point
On+March+14%2C+the+Hacienda+La+Puente+Board+of+Education+hosted+its+regularly+scheduled+district++meeting.+
Jacob Bertram
On March 14, the Hacienda La Puente Board of Education hosted its regularly scheduled district meeting.

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District officials reconvened Thursday, March 14 for their regularly scheduled board meeting where the district announced they are anticipating financial hardships in the coming years.

Shortly after the announcement, the meeting quickly escalated into a series of explosive speeches and jabbing statements exchanged between board members.

The situation turned hostile following a financial presentation given to the board by district staff that showed that the district would be able to meet its financial obligations for the calendar year as well as 2025-2026, but due to irresponsible or short-sighted decisions by the state and federal government, the district will likely face financial hardships the years following.

After the presentation’s conclusion, board member Stephanie Serrano pointed out that the district’s overwhelmingly unpopular reconfiguration decision, passed by a 3-2 vote in Nov. 2023, was made to address the district’s declining enrollment and ensure the district would not find itself in financial distress, adding that the decision was hypocritical on part of the district.

She highlighted that Board President Christine Salazar’s multiple cross-country trips on behalf of the district, such as her recent trip to Florida for inspiration regarding Los Altos High School’s new aviation program, were fiscally irresponsible and that Salazar could have learned all she needed at a local airfield.

Serrano then asserted that if the district truly desired to address the declining enrollment, they would advocate against the gentrification of La Puente neighborhoods and push higher levels of local government to ensure that housing is affordable for working-class families within the district, citing a 20% increase in housing insecure families district-wide.

 

Serrano responds. Left to Right: Serrano, Kwok, Loera .(Jacob Bertram)

 

Board Vice President Nancy Loera then interjected and called a point of order seconded by Board President Salazar who said Serrano’s comments were outside the scope of the Board of Education’s jurisdiction.

Loera then gave her response to the presentation. “So I do thank you for bringing these projections because as a board, we are gonna have to be faced with making difficult decisions,” she said.

Loera then talked about the district’s declining enrollment and the impact it would have on board decisions going forward.

“It’s going to [continue] declining, and we are going to be making tough decisions,” she said. “Tough decisions are not going to be popular, but we are going to have to make them, like reconfiguration.”

While the nature of these “tough decisions” was left vague, a majority of time was spent addressing the sweeping layoffs and school closures happening state-wide.

Loera did mention the district had no plans for layoffs this year, and that she hopes they will not have to in the near future.

Salazar thanked the staff for delivering the “harsh truths” to the board regarding the declining enrollment. She commented on the Wedgeworth project, the COVID-19 pandemic and the district reconfiguration.

Board members Serrano and De La Torre called their own point of order on President Salazar prompting Salazar to ask for clarification on the reason for the point of order.

“Because you’re not talking about the budget,” Serrano said.

De La Torre then chimed in pointing out Salazar was diverting the conversation by talking about reconfiguration and not the budget. If Salazar wanted to talk about the reconfiguration he was ready to go.

Salazar then rebuked the point of order citing that Serrano was discussing housing which Salazar claimed was irrelevant, outside the scope of the conversation and not actually related to declining enrollment.

“Of course it is! If you don’t have the families,” De La Torre said before being cut off by Salazar.

“Excuse me,” Salazar said, offended by the pressure from Serrano and De La Torre.

“You’re excused,” De La Torre said.

This exchange set the precedent for the remainder of the meeting.

 

Salazar responds to Serrano and De La Torre’s point of order. (Jacob Bertram)

 

By the time the board had reached their closing comments, the situation had fully devolved into snarky, bitter comments between board members. Various parties took turns interrupting, attacking and refuting one another in a series of exchanges. One member of the audience described the board meeting as looking more like the “Jerry Springer Show.”

Included was a 30-minute passionate, highly critical and at some points irreverent speech by Serrano where she decried the leadership of Salazar, called into question the motivations of board clerk Gino Kwok and Nancy Loera and grilled the district at large for not being transparent or effectively communicating with the community.

Serrano also claimed that district police had falsely accused her of approaching district police officer Barba in a threatening and unprofessional manner after an unlawful assembly was declared during the Nov. 9 meeting.

This is the same meeting in which the district voted to move forward with reconfiguration. Serrano further explained that the same officer’s body camera footage exonerated her of the accusations, and that other members of the board had weaponized the district police against her.

While SAC Media has not obtained the alleged body camera footage, we captured the announcement of the unlawful assembly and the alleged exchange between Serrano and district police.

 

Jacob Beltram

 

Serrano was also disgusted with the allotted 30 seconds allowed per comment for speakers. “You cut off the children from talking about something that directly impacts them,” said Serrano.

Salazar then momentarily stepped out of the district office.

Gino Kwok then rebuked Serrano’s claims. “It was certainly fact-free and unhinged,” Kwok said. “You see all the hypocrisy here, right?”

 

Serrano claps as Kwok refutes her comments. (Jacob Bertram)

 

Serrano walked out of the meeting soon after. Kwok also refuted comments made earlier by De La Torre about an incident where a student went on an off-campus field trip and was not provided lunch.

“I don’t know the facts, but the issue is such bad faith that you just rush to judgment but you really don’t know what happened,” Kwok said. “But to rush to judgment, as a school board member has done, that’s a disservice to our school district and the people that are here.”

De La Torre then stepped out leaving only Kwok and Loera. Loera then stopped Kwok due to the board not meeting the requirements for quorum. Salazar returned soon after.

Kwock then used this opportunity to take a jab at audience member Sam Vasquez, saying that as a “so-called paralegal” Vasquez should know the difference between verbal and non-verbal communication.”

When Vasquez responded to Kwok, Salazar had him removed from the meeting by district police. On his way out Vasquez yelled out that they didn’t have quorum.

Salazar quickly responded, “We do. We have three. Thank you,” she said.

“You can’t even count can you? Three out of five is quorum!” said Kwok to Vasquez before he was quickly hushed by Salazar.

Salazar then gave her closing comments to a room of roughly five community members and several district staff and attempted to damage-control the situation.

“Again, I am sorry,” Salazar said. “You all know where I stand.”

The exchange exposed the alarming divide between the board members separated into political cliques based on voting patterns regarding district matters and stances on issues dating back as far as the Oct. 26 meeting.

This meeting saw the censure of Serrano, the motion to agenda the vote on district reconfiguration and Salazar’s deployment of district police to remove nearly 150 disgruntled parents, children and community members from the district office after declaring an unlawful assembly.

The meeting adjourned at 10:57 p.m. ending in an eerily similar fashion to the Nov. 9 meeting where the official vote passed to move forward with reconfiguration and ended with Salazar saying that the board was “in serious need of couples counseling.”

Salazar and De La Torre have not responded to SAC Media’s request for comment.

The board will reconvene on Tuesday, March 26 at 6:30 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Jacob Bertram, News Editor
Jacob Bertram is the News Editor. He is  in his second year at Mt. SAC and enjoys covering labor, politics, and social justice. He is also a Navy veteran.

Comments (2)

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  • C

    C HamiltonMar 23, 2024 at 6:37 am

    Good job

    Reply
  • S

    Shelley SunMar 22, 2024 at 10:45 am

    Thank you for writing the story! Please come back and cover more stories!

    Reply