Shades of Sweetwater at Calexico Unified School District

There are problems with Yuri Calderón's timeline.
  • There are problems with Yuri Calderón's timeline.

As the San Diego County grand jury opens an investigation this week into allegations of corruption in the Sweetwater Union High School District, new intrigues play out in Calexico with Sweetwater’s former attorney firm, GCR, LLP. The firm was released from Sweetwater in January 2012 but continued to serve as counsel to Calexico Unified School District.

At an August 8 Calexico Unified board meeting, Yuri Calderón, who was at the time a principal in GCR, was serving as district counsel. That night, the financial consulting group Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc., was granted a $65,000 contract to help the district renegotiate Certificates of Participation. (COPs are an alternative infrastructure financing method.) The board voted 4-1 on the contract. Trustee Kim Joong cast the dissenting vote.

Enter the Imperial County Office of Education. Because last year Calexico Unified teetered on the brink of financial insolvency, it is incumbent on the office of education to oversee district finances.

In early November, Anne Mallory, superintendent of the county education office, sent a public records request to Calexico trustees and district superintendent Maria Ambriz. The letter, which was leaked to the Imperial Valley Press, begins, “I have just learned that the attorney for the Calexico Unified School District, Yuri Calderón, is an executive with Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc, a financial firm that has been retained to perform substantial work for the district….”

Yuri Calderón, who was contacted at the offices of Caldwell Flores Winters on November 19, said he resigned from GCR and divested himself of any interest with the company on August 30. He averred he has not done work for Calexico Unified since mid-August and went to work for Caldwell Flores Winters on September 1.

There are problems with Calderón’s timeline.

In an August 2 presentation to Sonoma County’s Gravenstein Union School District by Caldwell Flores Winters, Calderón is listed as an associate.

Additionally, an attorney for the Imperial County Office of Education, Richard Currier, said in an October 11 meeting between the office of education and Calexico Unified that the district described Calderón as counsel for the district.

In a November 20 interview, Currier also said that in that meeting the district never informed county representatives that Calderón had resigned from GCR or that he was working for Caldwell Flores Winters.

Calderón is still listed with the State Bar of California as a GCR associate.

During the November interview, Calderón said he is “taking a break” from practicing law and that he is simply an employee of Caldwell Flores Winters and has no financial investment in the business.

Calderón also said the county office of education’s letter that was “leaked” to the press was all part of the county’s attempt to “change the conversation. The school district [Calexico Unified] has successfully turned itself around in less than a year and put its fiscal house in order…but the county keeps pounding on the district.” Calderón also said that Caldwell Flores Winters has had contracts with the district going back seven years.

In the end, the County did not allow the district to restructure the Certificates of Participation and Calexico superintendent Ambriz said Caldwell Flores Winters will not be paid the $65,000 consultant’s fee. Ambriz also said she requested and received a copy of Calderón’s resignation, which is dated August 30.

Currier said that had the financial restructuring occurred, it would have cost taxpayers $1.89 million over the term. “It’s basically like living off your credit card,” said Currier.

Regarding the relationship between Calexico Unified and the county office of education, Currier commented: “I can say with certainty that it has never been our intent to have difficult relations. It’s more that in the last couple of years the district has been less than fully cooperative at times and not fully disclosed information.”

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there are times that i truly believe i am living in the twilight zone. as i read this story i asked myself is this guy for real? does he truly believe that we all live under rocks and only poke our heads out once in a blue moon? what is it going to take for this region to permanently get rid of these jokers?

the county board of ed had better wake up to the reality that THEY ARE NOW BECOMING SUSPECT. i mean seriously, what is it going to take for them to get it into gear? we have sweetwater district, add to that san ysidro, and bring up the rear with calexico. perhaps the fbi should launch an investigation into the san diego county board of ed, perhaps if the feds started asking the tough questions the county board might just force themselves out of their self induced coma. now it is alleged that there are relationships between sweetwater and certain parties at the county board of ed - but really, could you just possibly leave the facebook friending to your own time. on our time, on our dime could the county board of ed DO WHAT THEY ARE CHARGED TO DO - watching out for the students and the tax dollars of our communities.

regarding the federal grand jury and now a NEW - San Diego County grand jury looking into sweetwater, AGAIN - well, i guess some people refuse to learn from the errors of others. when the community stated they wanted change back in june of 2011, THEY MEANT IT. they did not mean switch out one poor leader for another, they did not mean dust lightly, they meant THEY WANTED A CLEAN HOUSE. they meant THEY WERE SICK OF THE BACK ROOM DEALS. they meant THEY WANTED THEIR TAX DOLLARS SPENT ON THEIR CHILDRENS EDUCATION. they meant SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT.

to those of you who believed you could interfere with the recent elections - here is a FREE political advertisement from anniej - stay the heck out of our board member candidate process. we are able to spot dr. jekl's -

the students of the south bay deserve ALL OF THE MONEY that we pay in educational taxes. the taxpayers on the east side deserve ALL OF THE MELLO ROOS MONEY TO SPENT in a responsible fiscal manner. all of the taxpayers of the south bay deserve ALL OF THE PROP O MONEY TO SPENT on our schools - ALL OF IT,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

The comment "leaked to the press" by Mr. Calderon bothers me. School Districts are public agencies and everything should be a public record except for personnel and property issues.
If he's still on the State Bar website, shouldn't he report his resignation to the State Bar? Today is November 21 and he resigned on August. That's over two months. The school bond business needs to be regulated more closely and it will be interesting to see if Mr. Calderon is telling the truth. Innocent until proven guilty

The evidence presented in this article clearly indicates that Mr. Calderon was working for both the school board as well as the financial firm CFW when they were granted a $65,000 contract. Along with his questionable timeline, he whines that the county "keeps pounding the district". Actually Mr. Calderon, the Imperial County's office of education is simply doing its job. We need people like Ann Mallory and Richard Currier here in the San Diego county office of education where officials have turned a blind eye to the corruption in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

Yes, at least in Imperial County the COE is actually attempting some oversight. There has been zero oversight in "sight" in this county, despite the corruption in three school districts in So Bay. With every passing day the picture of school districts out of control and spending money on everything but education worsens. I can only wonder if there are more districts in the county where similar abuses have just been kept under wraps. The San Diego Unified district has gone back to the well for a jaw-dropping $2.8 billion (yes, with a "b") and passed the debt issue. Much of the improvements promised were supposed to have been financed by the previous bond ballot measure. While the county boards are not intended to jump into every little dispute or stumble in a district, what we have here in SD County has gone far beyond anything that can be solved within those districts, other than to vote all the bums out. Sweetwater didn't do that a couple weeks ago, and shows no sign of awakening. So who do you call? Well, the county board is a good place to start, but they're refusing to answer the phone.

You have stated it correctly. I couldn't agree more.Every time someone from GCR moves their lips it's a lie. Good research ms. Luzzaro.

It looks to me like some time back some less-than-honest individuals spotted opportunities in the school funding process, and decided to take advantage of them.

The general public, believing that these people were the genuine article, and that what they were doing was honest, took them and what they were doing at face value.

It is hitting us all in the face that we cannot trust many of those who are sitting on our school boards, who are our superintendents, who populate the offices of our County Boards of Education. Because they are robbing us and they are robbing our children and they are robbing the future of our communities.

Let us hope that the county Grand Jury is thorough and determined. Let us hope that what is going on in Calexico, Sweetwater, South Bay, San Ysidro and all the rest of the local school districts is being closely looked at. Let us hope that Sweetwater isn't destroying files left and right, (the board/Brand wanted to have official permission to destroy emails over 6 months...afraid of a trail I guess) and that all the cheating and stealing is coming to a quick end.

Yes, it is too bad that much of Sweetwater is still asleep. Maybe the Grand Jury can change that.

Sorry, but the Grand Jury is an utterly toothless tiger, and can only make reports and complain. The real key to a cleanup is either the local cops (Sheriff or DA) or the feds (FBI.) The DA has made a feeble attempt in the case of Sweetwater, but that didn't prevent Quinones from being reelected, and who knows what will come from those indictments.

I keep waiting for something to happen. I don't want to loose hope just yet. What's this Grand Jury thing about? Any ideas. Maybe more indictments, or charges against the Sweetwater mob?

But--if enough people have gone on record about all that is wrong in Sweetwater, surely something good will come of it.

Surely the entire system is not as corrupt as Sweetwater.

eastlaker: those emails they wanted to be able to purge - it was 90 days not 6 months.

You are so right--I guess this is my minds's way of trying to get me to understand just how out of control Brand and cronies are. All of us have to know that there is nothing good that will come of destroying emails and records.

Unthinkable that they want to hide everything starting from 90 days ago.

Calexico FIRED two incumbents who had in unfettered adoration for Calderon - Tony Valenzuela and Gloria Romo in the recent election. Trustworthy trustee Joong Kim won an election to the equally whacky City Council; hopefully the appointed trustee will change the composition of the board to put students ahead of lawyers.

desertwaverat: "putting students ahead of lawyers - SHOULD HAVE BEEN THAT WAY ALL ALONG"

sweetwater has served as the poster child for all THAT IS WRONG WITH GOVERNMENT. persons who use vs serve.

when brand was brought back by john mccann, i was one of those who stood and waved the pom poms - silly me, i fell for all those words he spoke in the southwest high gym that evening. Visduh tried to tell me, but i guess i wanted change so bad it clouded my judgement.

in truth brand has been the biggest disappointment, all of those God given brains used for self. reminds me of words "i look at things (persons) and see what could have been" (paraphrase). - what a freakin' waste!!!!!!!!!!!

Visduh: something tells me the federal grand jury and county grand jury are going to be comparing notes. the districts of sweetwater and san ysidro share some of the same players. the superintendents of each - ???????????.

perhaps the grand juries are a toothless tiger, however, i can think of 3 male figures on the sweetwater board that absolutely hate negative publicity. something tells me that the halo two of them have been under the erroneous opinion they wear is about to be shot right out from over their heads. if i were the three of the them i would be more than a bit nervous. regarding brand and his legacy - well i am thinking that the only legacy he is going to leave behind here is profiteer and c----.

regarding quinones being reelected, still hard to wrap my mind around that one. but there were 4 in the race - so they tell me that is the reason. not reason enough for me - the fact that she got more than 10 votes still baffles my mind.

i believe a major shake up is about to occur.

Let's pray that you are right and that the day of justice is right around the corner. It has been so long coming.

The grand jury may be a toothless tiger, but if they smell a foul smell, Bonnie will do her job. Nothing but good can come from their investigation. Heaven knows, the south bay needs some good news.


So when people get over their turkey hangovers....

I'm wondering desertwaverat how you managed to get rid of two incumbents? And was there a concerted effort to elect Kim Joong to council? Too bad, he seemed to be the "no" vote on a lot of dicey issues.

Calexico's community is vigilant when it comes to tossing out incumbents who breach the community's trust. Unfortunately, elected office sometimes taints those who win. Valenzuela was elected as a reformer, but governed as someone who would go months without speaking in open session. Of the few times Valenzuela spoke, it was to defend Yuri Calderon - mentioning that he [Valenzuela] personally reviewed legal bills that Trustee Kim would dispute. Former trustee Romo rarely spoke in open session - as her English skills are extremely basic. Closed sessions would last hours and hours - leaving the public to feel that closed session was where the decisions were being made.

Calexico also received ample coverage in the Imperial Valley Press - leading to a large base of general knowledge regarding District's problems.

Trustee Kim chose to run for council on his own, stating he could do more good in that position. He may have more allies on the council, which will put the spotlight on him to push for an agenda rather than be on constant defense.

desertwaverat: "closed sessions would last hours and hours" - appears we have found yet another similarity with sweetwater. 2 meetings ago our board went into closed and actually hired one of brands friends - no public input. the gentleman had been the AD for the district - so to speak - now he is in charge of such things as title IX and like matters????????? interesting isn't it, our district is broke yet brand is inventing positons for friends.

"Calexico is vigilant when it comes to tossing out incumbents who breach the communities trust" - wow, what a novel concept!

It seems to me that there is a major disconnect in the Sweetwater district, or maybe there are multiple disconnects... 1. Elected leaders with absolutely no clue of what leadership is; 2. A population in the habit of taking their leaders at face value and not demanding the honest representation that is our legal right; 3. A population the majority of which still seem oblivious to what they are not getting for their money--the education of this district's children, which is systematically being syphoned off by Ed Brand and his cronies.

Most parents concerns are for their own children, and if those children are doing fine, they may think the system is fine.

And if children aren't doing fine, some parents blame the children, or themselves, or some outside events or forces.

But what about an atmosphere that is more toxic to those students who do not have a great deal of family backing. Cheap cynicism can erode all sorts of good--it can drain young people of ambition, ideals, hope--all the elements that help carry young people into meaningful, productive lives.

This is what is happening in Sweetwater. The corruption seeps into the mindsets of vulnerable young people, and they start thinking, "What's the use?", "All adults are crooked", "What difference does it make if I (fill in the blank), because no one else follows the rules".

The most vulnerable are the canaries in the mine, and those are also children of this Sweetwater district. Do we really want those children to see corruption, selfishness and hypocrisy take the day?

That is why we need to keep at this. anniej, I know that you know all this.

There is talk of things like 'level playing fields', and that is important. Not every kid gets family support, and those who do not REALLY need a level playing field. Those are the kids who are really robbed by bad decisions by the school district, because they are then left to struggle with diminishing prospects--when they should be figuring out what their talents and aptitudes are and finding joy in developing them.

What Ed Brand (and whatever majority he is able to cobble into place from day to day) is doing is this: sapping the intellectual life-force from the young people who most need it.

When far too many of Sweetwater's young people adopt an attitude of "not caring", we know who to thank.

eastlaker: your words ring true - having said that there are days when i/we ask ourselves "hello, is anyone home (community)?"

i had a conversation with a well educated, prosperous, involved parent at one of the major high schools this weekend - we found ourselves at the same function. i spoke of prop o and how little his community would be receiving out of that tax - can you envision the look on my face when he responded "now what exactly is prop o again?"

my reply "rather than try explain it, when you get home look at your most recent tax bill" - here is my number - call me after you review it - and trust me after seeing it YOU WILL CALL ME!

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