Rowland teachers declare impasse in contract talks with Rowland Unified

Rowland teachers have declared an impasse in the stalled contract negotiations with the Rowland Unified School District.

The Association of Rowland Educators is asking the state to send in a mediator to handle further negotiations. The state steps in when regular negotiations break down.

“We’re filing the paperwork now to declare an impasse with the state,” said ARE President John Petersen.

Union officials say the contract talks broke down during the eighth bargaining session last Thursday. In an email to the teachers, Nadine Loza, bargaining chair, explained what happened.

“The ARE bargaining team was disappointed (but not surprised) when the district presented their counterproposal after lunch. The district’s proposal was not significantly different from their last proposal. Overall, the district has not moved significantly from their initial proposal especially on critical issues like salary, benefits, planning time, adjunct duties and combo classes.”

The teachers’ representatives say they declared a impasse and cancelled the next bargaining session set for Thursday.

“There’s a backlog for mediators, so we don’t expect the state to assign one for at least six weeks,” Petersen said.

This mediator will meet with both sides to try and work out the differences. Petersen insists the bargaining teams will not meet until the state assigns a mediator.

When asked if this breakdown could lead to a teachers’ strike, Petersen was reticent to say what can happen if negotiations worsen.

“There’s no trust there. It took six months to agree that seventh- and eighth-grade teachers belong in the secondary classification,” Petersen said.

But in its newsletter, the association was more candid about whether there would be a strike.

“That is really up to the district at this point. The process of mediation is designed to help avoid a strike by bringing both teams under a mediator to try to reach an agreement. The association is committed to parity and will pursue all channels available to achieve this.

“It is the sincere wish of ARE to avoid the damage to RUSD caused by a strike. Having said that, our commitment to justice is stronger than our commitment to peace and we will move forward towards the inevitable outcome of parity.”

District officials said the teachers’ union moved from 12.5 percent raise over two years to 10 percent over one year. The district moved its offer from 3.5 percent to a 4.5 percent salary increase over two years.

“I won’t get into specific figures because that makes negotiations very difficult,” Petersen said. “But I have all the facts and figures that prove our teachers are paid much less than other school districts.”

Beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience earn an annual salary of $45,180 at RUSD and is ranked 18th out of 47 school districts, according to a salary survey from the Los Angeles County Office of Education dated June 2013. Arcadia Unified was No. 1 with starting salaries at $49,874; Bassett Unified was near the bottom at $38,776. Charter Oak was last at $38,495.

Teachers with a master’s degree and listed as the maximum salary step for RUSD earn $69,216, for a ranking of 21 out of 34 districts for which there was comparable data, according to the LACOE report.

The district also proposed increasing its maximum health benefits contribution for teachers by $850 over two years.

“We’re still paying much more for health insurance than other districts,” Petersen countered. “I’m paying $1,200 a month to cover my family.”

Steve Scauzillo contributed to this story.

U.S. Transportation Secretary to visit Nogales St. project on Friday

Artist rendering of the new Nogales Street railroad underpass.

Artist rendering of the new Nogales Street railroad underpass.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will join U.S. Representatives Grace Napolitano and Ed Royce, and members of the Alameda Corridor-East (ACE) Construction Authority to visit the Nogales Street highway-rail grade separation project on Friday morning.

The busy boulevard will close to traffic at 6 a.m. Saturday for a two-year project to separate the road from the railroad grade. Once completed, the roadway underpass and railroad bridge will eliminate collisions, delays for emergency
responders and train horn noise and reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

Secretary Foxx will also tour the nearby confluence of State Routes 60 and 57 for a briefing on improvement plans.

Canadian developer plans hotel for Rowland property

A Canadian developer is proposing a new 250-room hotel for the old John Rowland property on Gale Avenue. The Parallax Investment Corporation of Toronto will also add 100,000 square feet of retail space, with 30 percent dedicated to restaurants.

“We met with the developer and architect a couple weeks ago to go over their proposal,” explained Ted Ebenkamp, president of the Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council.

Ebenkamp said architect Ken Smith will discuss the major development at Monday night’s council meeting.

“They want to get a feeling for the community’s support for such a project,” the civic officer said.

Ebenkamp said the new four-star hotel would occupy 5.5 acres of the 14-acre parcel. The lot just west of Nogales Street has been vacant for many years.
“One developer had plans for a shopping center, but they went bankrupt before they could build there,” Ebenkamp said.

Smith said the hotel will have five or six stories. The representative from Architects Orange pointed out that the hotel will include underground parking.
The Orange County architect wouldn’t say how much the project would cost.

But construction can’t begin for a couple years, while contractors close Nogales Street to build the new railroad underpass.
“An temporary access road is being built on the Rowland property to divert traffic from Nogales, which closes on March 22,” Ebenkamp noted.

The City of Industry joined Los Angeles County and a public construction agency for the $100 million project to widen Gale Avenue and Walnut Drive and build a railroad underpass at Nogales Street.

The project is one many grade separation in the San Gabriel Valley being built by the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority (ACE) to alleviate traffic congestion at train crossings.

More than 50 trains cross Nogales Street daily. Officials have counted seven collisions between trains and vehicles at the busy intersection in the past decade.

ACE is the agency leading construction of the project. Nogales will be closed and the 42,680 cars that use it every day will be taken on a detour to the west.

“We had to do a detour. If we don’t do that detour, the impact on parallel streets – Fullerton Road to the west and Fairway to the east – would be substantial,” said ACE’s Executive Director Rick Richmond in an earlier interview.

While the project involved ACE buying almost 40 pieces of land, most of the takes were small parts of properties, Richmond said. Only two complete properties were bought: a closed gas station and a vacant construction warehouse.

The warehouse was taken to make room for ACE to move a major sewer trunk line, Richmond said.

Money for the $96.7 million project is coming from federal transportation funds, Industry, state transportation funds and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
— Ben Baeder contributed to this story.

Architect to present hotel and shopping project to Rowland Heights Coordinating Council on Monday at 8 pm

Architect Ken Smith will present a new Rowland Heights project consisting of a five-story, 4-star hotel and shopping center at 8 pm Monday to the Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in Pathfinder Park with reports from the offices of local officials, followed by reports from the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The council will also hear from Dick Simmons, a representative from Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and education reports from Rowland Unified and Mt. SAC.

Pathfinder Park is at 18150 Pathfinder Road in Rowland Heights. For more information, see the Web site at www.rowland-heights.org.

 

Rowland Unified teachers demand search for new superintendent

By Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo

Eleven months after filling the superintendent’s position with its business manager, the issue of who is going to lead the Rowland Unified School District continues to make waves.

On Thursday, the Association of Rowland Educators, the local chapter of the California Teachers Association representing about 700 members, demanded the board open up a search committee to look for a new superintendent.

The position comes after a survey conducted by the teachers union in December revealed a lack of trust and respect for Superintendent Ruben Frutos.

About 68 percent of the respondents answered no to the question, “Would you like to see Mr. Frutos continue as superintendent of RUSD,” according to an email blast sent by the union obtained by this newspaper. Only 4 percent responded yes, and 28 percent said: “I don’t know/care.”

Nearly 50 percent of the teachers — about 334 people — responded to the survey, one of the highest response rates in the history of the union, said ARE President John Petersen.

Many of the respondents took the time to write written responses, of which the overwhelming majority were negative, he said.

“Ninety percent of them were leadership-related and had to do with their perception of how the district is run,” Petersen said.

He declined to release the survey or its comments in its entirety to the public. He said CTA legal staff advised the union not to expose themselves to a defamation lawsuit.

“In my opinion, he has had nine months to prove he is the right guy for the job. We haven’t seen any evidence he has been able to convince the teachers of that,” he added.

Frutos did not return two phone calls over two days and did not respond.

The ARE will present its position at the board meeting on Tuesday. The email said they have learned the board will put Frutos’ contract extension on either Tuesday’s board agenda or take it up March 4.

The agenda is drawn up by Board President Heidi Gallegos and Frutos, said board member Angelena Pride. Gallegos also did not return phone calls. Gallegos was the only board member to vote against the Frutos appointment.

Pride and Lynne Ebenkamp, both elected to the board in November, did not know if the superintendent’s contract was coming up for a vote. His contract expires June 30.

“I don’t know what’s on the agenda,” said Ebenkamp on Tuesday When asked about the teachers’ union demand to begin searching for a new superintendent. She said: “I can’t say I’m surprised. I am surprised they are doing it right now.”

Pride had a similar reaction on Tuesday. She said the ARE survey results were mailed to each board member and she looked them over. “Part of me was surprised by some of those results,” she said.

As to whether she supports searching for a new superintendent or extending the contract of the current one, Pride wouldn’t say. “The only decision I’ve made is whatever the process is that determines the outcome of his contract, it would be transparent.”

One Chu, president of the Rowland Parents and Educators Association, a community group, said his group supports the call for a search. He said Bassett Unified School District began a search for a deputy superintendent and attracted 45 candidates. “They have the normal, transparent process,” Chu said.

The superintendent issue may be spilling over into the negotiations between the district and the union over teacher salaries and benefits.

According to Rowland’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Douglas Staine, the average hourly rate for the district’s teachers is $63.83 and the average daily rate is $382.95. The average benefit contribution is an additional $8,730 per teacher.

In the email, the ARE says it is not happy with the progress of the talks. The district has reserves of at least $50 million and will be receiving more money if the governor’s budget is approved, Petersen said.

The Rowland Unified School District approved a $132.5 million budget on June 25. The budget projects an $8 million deficit that will be covered by the district’s $52 million balance going into the next school year.

“The district doesn’t want to increase class size or cut more programs,” Superintendent Ruben Frutos explained in an earlier interview. “So the school board decided to use some of our reserves.”

Frutos expects the district to receive $2 million more from the state.

“We will also use other cost cutting measures over the next year to cut the deficit down,” the top administrator said at the time.

Last year’s adopted budget anticipated a $20 million deficit, but actual figures show that deficit shrank to only $2 million. Revenue actually increased $4.5 million than expected, while expenditures were $14 million less than budgeted.

“The cost of our proposal is less than the new revenue they are getting,” Petersen said.

He cited a school district in Rosemead in which the teachers received a 6.4 percent raise and one in Ontario where the teachers received a 5 percent raise this year and next year.

The RUSD teachers want salary levels and benefits to reach the median of those in Los Angeles County. “Right now we are below the median,” Petersen said. He declined to be specific.

RUSD operates 19 schools in Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Puente, Industry and West Covina — with 15,000 students.

Staff Writer Richard Irwin contributed to this story

LA County planner speaks to Rowland council on Feb. 10

The Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council will meet Feb. 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the community center at Pathfinder Park at 18150 E. Pathfinder Road in Rowland Heights.

The speaker will be Leon Freeman, a planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning. Freeman will present a comprehensive update of the county’s general plan now being developed.

The updated plan will provide a framework for housing and job growth in unincorporated areas through 2035. Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights will be directly impacted.

The Regional Planning Commission will hold the first in a series of public hearings on the plan in downtown Los Angeles on the plan on Feb. 26.

New $5.5 million Islamic Center opens in Rowland Heights

The Islamic call to prayer sang out its welcome message, drawing the faithful to Friday services in Rowland Heights. Ramadan was just around the corner and the members of the local mosque had even more to be thankful for this summer.

mosque

The new $5.5 million Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley opened June 22, just in time for the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. The proud members were celebrating the culmination of six years of hard work and dedication.

Inside, guests gathered in the large lobby to shelve their shoes. Before prayer, Muslims wash their hands, arms and feet. A nearby alcove offered the ceremonial ablution with automatic foot-washing baths imported from Canada.

A modern mosque occupies the expansive first floor. A two-story prayer hall serves as a focal point for the faithful. Men knelt in prayer on a beautiful rug imported from Belgium.

Read more in Richard Irwin’s story MOSQUE.

Concerts in Park begin July 2 in Rowland Heights

7-31-07-5 HHCONCE2.jpg

The summer will be filled with the sound of music in Rowland and Hacienda Heights. Puente Hills Concerts in the Park begins its season with a “Salute to America” on July 2. Concerts are held from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays in Schabarum Regional Park.

“We have a 45-piece orchestra for our Fourth of July show. The Sounds of Cypress are a great band,” said Martha House, president of the nonprofit group. “Everyone is invited to come out and enjoy our shows.”

The concerts under the stars have become a big summer draw. Admission and parking are free. The fun events are supported by the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department as well as Supervisor Don Knabe.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story CONCERTS.

Rowland Heights Community Center breaks ground

Architect’s rendering of the new Rowland Heights Community Center

Los Angeles County officials will gather today at 4 p.m. to break ground for the $18 million Rowland Heights Community Center at Pathfinder Park.

“It’s been a long time coming and a lot of hard work by the entire community and the county,” said Beth Hojnacke, president of Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council.

The project will finally give Rowland Heights the civic center that it has been lacking all these years. And what a center it will be, as designed by Gonzalez Goodale Architects in Pasadena.

The 19,500-square-foot one-story buildings will sit on the lower section of popular Pathfinder Park.

For more, se Rich Irwin’s story CENTER.