Fired Montebello Schools Official Defends Record, Denies Corruption

MONTEBELLO (CNS) - A state special audit team is recommending that law enforcement investigate officials and employees of the Montebello Unified School District for potential fraud as well as misappropriation of funds and assets, it was reported today.

The recommendation, made public Tuesday, is the latest blow to one of the larger school districts in Los Angeles County and one that faces serious financial problems, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The audit's findings are based on an extensive review by the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which was brought in under the supervision of county education officials. Late last year, the state auditor, a different entity, looked at Montebello and also found problems. That earlier review concluded that ``poor fiscal oversight” had put the southeast L.A. County school system of 28,000 students ``in danger of financial insolvency.'

In response, Superintendant Anthony J. Martinez announced Tuesday that the district would conduct further investigation and that several people would be placed on administrative leave. Members of the locally elected Board of Education said they had taken quick action to abide by recommendations from last year's audit.

"The audit findings will provide this board with a road map to help strengthen our administrative and operations controls, protocols, policies and procedures,” said board President Joanna Flores.

The Montebello drama also is playing out through lawsuits from four former employees, including two former superintendents. All four say they are whistle-blowers. One trial is in progress this week, with the superintendent and board members attending as both observers and witnesses.

The district's financial problems prompted officials to issue layoff notices last year to 333 teachers and 91 other employees. These were rescinded because the district lacked a valid seniority list, which would have determined which workers lost their jobs.

The district ultimately improved its budget situation by not filling vacancies and tightening spending controls. The latest review focused on the part of the district that provides education courses for adults. The audit found problems in payments to both teachers and non-teaching employees, including:

One teacher averaged more than $233,000 annually during a 4-year period under review. Two others averaged more than $200,000.

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