San Marino School Board


The San Marino school board has been busy with the work of getting students back to school.
Earlier this week, they took the first step in hopes of keeping all campuses open and avoiding dramatic employee cuts.
At a special meeting Monday night, the board voted 5-0 to take another crack at passing Measure E, a $968 per parcel education tax, which will now go before voters at a June 29 special election. The parcel tax — which generates approximately $4.1 million per year — was defeated by voters on March 2 because it did narrowly missed receiving the required two-thirds majority.

Less than two weeks after the defeat of Measure E, the San Marino school board unanimously approved a resolution calling for the elimination of 41 teaching and advisory positions in order to balance the budget for the 2021-22 school year, it was announced at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
Though the results of the election have not yet been certified, Measure E had been approved by 2,192 voters (63.04%) to 1,285 (36.96%) who voted in opposition. Measure E required a two-thirds majority for passage.
Measure E raised $4 million annually at $968 per parcel, adjusted by the lesser of the Los Angeles Statistical Area Consumer Price Index or 3%, including commercial properties within the boundaries of the school district. First approved by voters in 2009 for a six-year term, the parcel tax was renewed in 2015 and will now expire in June 2021, erasing approximately 10% of the district’s budget.

The San Marino educational community is mobilizing its response to the defeat of Measure E, the parcel tax which raised more than $4 million annually for the district’s schools.
At its meeting on Tuesday evening, the San Marino school board was expected to approve a resolution calling for the elimination of 41 teaching and advisory positions in order to balance the budget for the 2021-22 school year. By law, the district must provide layoff notices for the upcoming school year to employees by Monday, March 15. The call has also gone out to the San Marino Schools Foundation [SMSF], an organization which is typically enlisted for duty during times of financial duress.

Longtime resident Jesse Hong has announced that he will run for a seat on the San Marino school board in the Nov. 3 election.

Touting his career in health care and almost two decades as a volunteer in local education, Jesse Hong has announced that he will be a candidate for one of two seats on the San Marino school board at the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election.
“I feel that my perspective as a health-care professional, a small business owner and having spent 20 years as a volunteer qualifies me as a candidate for the San Marino school board,” Hong said on Monday afternoon. “I think we need someone on the board who has my background and experience.”
Hong grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and attended Alhambra High School. He received three degrees from USC, including an MBA and Doctor of Pharmacy. For the last 25 years, Hong has practiced pharmacy in acute psychiatric care units, inpatient hospitals and as a field medical scientist. He is the owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Ramona Pharmacy Group, an independent pharmacy chain in the San Gabriel Valley area. Professionally, Hong has been a member of national and regional pharmacist societies and has served on the alumni board of the USC School of Pharmacy for the last 20 years.
Hong moved to San Marino in 2001 to raise his young family. His daughter, Elise, is now a rising senior at San Marino High School. His son, Ethan, graduated from SMHS in 2018 and attends USC, where he is majoring in pharmacology and drug development.

School Board Member Corey Barberie, displays a project list for a proposed facilities modernization bond that he said could not be completed with the $200 million available, if a bond should pass during a March 2020 election.Stating that the district needed “more flexibility” from a financial standpoint, Barberie cast the lone “no” vote at Tuesday’s meeting, which drew a standing-room-only crowd at the district office. Mitch Lehman Photos

After more than two hours of lively discussion, the San Marino School Board voted on Tuesday night to place a $200 million facilities modernization bond before voters at the March 2020 election. School Board Member Corey Barberie cast the lone dissenting vote while Shelley Ryan, Chris Norgaard, C. Joseph Chang and Board President Lisa Link all supported the resolution, which was set forth by Norgaard and seconded by Chang.

California law states that bonds must be approved by more than 2/3rds of board members to pass, so the 4-1 vote fulfilled the minimum requirement.

Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson introduced three possible options for the board to consider. The $200 million bond and March vote was the highest dollar amount and the earliest possible election date of the three options.

If approved by voters in March, the bond will actually be considered a continuation of an existing bond that currently costs taxpayers $60 per $100,000 of assessed home value, annually.

Sixteen community members made statements during the public comment section regarding the item, and while some supported a smaller dollar amount, it appeared that 11 opposed the bond while five voiced their support.

Barberie, who served as liaison on a Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) that researched the district’s facilities and came back to the board with a recommendation for the maximum amount, said the board should first develop a facilities Master Plan and place a smaller bond before voters. A 55% majority of voters must approve the bond for passage.

“I have been struggling with this quite a bit,” Barberie said during the board discussion period. Barberie stated that he felt Wilson needed to “create a vision for the district” and said that a smaller bond, in the neighborhood of $100 million, would offer “more flexibility.”

A few speakers suggested the district pay more attention to curriculum, but Board Member Shelley Ryan stated that a facilities modernization program would not get in the way with its typical business.

“I don’t see it as a conflict,” Ryan said. ‘We all want what is best for the children. We are looking at curriculum every day.”

A standing-room-only crowd at the district office. Mitch Lehman Photos

Chang stated that he is active at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens as well as Huntington Hospital and said that those institutions have remained at the top of their respective fields due to investments in facilities.

“Curriculum is a different issue,” he said. He also said that state-of-the-art facilities will “motivate the kids.”

Norgaard noted the many neighboring communities which have passed bonds, including South Pasadena, La Cañada, Alhambra, Arcadia and Pasadena as well as other districts in Southern California and around the nation.

“We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of historically low interest rates” Norgaard said.

He also referenced the FAC and recited the mission statement of the San Marino City Club, which which includes a charge to “secure the best civic, educational and cultural services and facilities possible” before casting his “yes” vote.

Link reminded the assemblage that she had voiced support for the $200 million bond at a previous meeting.

“There is no question in my mind that it is in the best interests of our students to have safe, secure, modernized, and educationally appropriate facilities,” she said on Tuesday evening. “I think it is important to invest in our students’ educations and futures, and given that this State does not sufficiently do so, it falls on local communities to step up and support our local public schools.”

Link also mentioned the local districts who have passed or completed bond projects.

“How sad it would be if this board and the San Marino community sent a message to our students that they are not deserving of the same investment,” Link said. “If the Board decides to move forward with a bond resolution, it will become the community’s responsibility to vote and decide whether it supports a bond to improve the District’s facilities. San Marino has a longstanding and strong tradition of supporting its public schools and its students, and I have faith that the San Marino community will continue to invest in its students if it is given the opportunity to make that decision.”

When the vote was tallied and the resolution passed, it appeared that half the audience applauded the result.

San Marino Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson, center, led a lively question-and-answer session at a town hall meeting held Wednesday night. Mitch Lehman Photo

The San Marino School Board will be presented next Tuesday evening with several options for a possible facilities modernization project, but members of the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson and several members of his cabinet offered another opportunity to engage in a dialogue over the matter at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night in the Huntington Middle School cafeteria.

The meeting, which lasted approximately an hour and forty-five minutes, addressed the needs, costs and a rough timeline for the proposed project, which would address what in Wilson’s words are the SMUSD’s “aging facilities.”

During almost a year’s worth of meetings, the Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) has identified 97 high priority projects that address student safety and security that add up to approximately $210 million, the upper limits of the community’s bond ability.

Former San Marino School Board Member Jeanie Caldwell, who served as the chair for the FAC, reviewed the direst needs, which include replacing aging portable classrooms at Carver and Valentine Elementary Schools (“my children are 30 and 28 years old and the portables came to the district before they started school,” said Caldwell), classrooms that provide a more agile and adaptable learning environment, plumbing, electrical and technological upgrades, and increased safety and security.

“When we were looking into the bonds 20 years ago, there was no real need for security,” Caldwell said. “There probably had never been a school shooting.”

Wilson explained how the California stopped funding maintenance projects in the state’s public schools in 2013 and currently ranks 41st in the nation in per pupil funding.

“So you are left to consider a bond measure,” Wilson deduced.

He also mentioned a proposed $9.2 billion matching funds program that has been put forth by Governor Gavin Newsom and will be provided only to districts who have construction plans that have been approved by the Department of the State Architect, or DSA.

Next Tuesday, the board will consider timelines that range from calling for an election on a proposed bond in March 2020 to waiting up to two years before going to the voters.

“Even if a bond passes in March, the first time the money would be available would be the summer of 2020 and if we go out for matching funds it will be more like 2022,” Wilson said.

During a lively question-and-answer period, several community members urged the district to pump the brakes.

“It’s a little soon to be putting this all together,” said one resident.

Jim Barger, a lifelong San Marino resident and graduate of San Marino High School who has serves on the FAC, took issue with the statement.

“This is something that has been going on for almost a year,” Barger thundered.

A couple meeting attendees urged the board to wait until a later election cycle and use the extra time to further define the needs and costs. Some even mentioned asking voters for a smaller bond to address immediate maintenance issues before going back for another bond, or more bonds.

Wilson told the audience he has worked through two facilities modernization bonds when he was employed by the Arcadia Unified School District and reassured doubters that a comprehensive citizens oversight committee would help assure communication between the district and its families. Others urged the district to focus on “a parallel development between curriculum and facilities.”

The San Marino School Board on Tuesday, October 22 directed Wilson to present a resolution at its Tuesday, November 12 meeting that could lead to a possible facilities bond election in March 2020, pending approval by the board.

The school board voted 3-1 directing Wilson to further review the proposed project list that had been recommended by the FAC, to provide more up-to-date cost projections and to ensure that the facilities projects are in line with the future direction of the district. Wilson will then return with a proposed bond amount that would not exceed $200 million. For the possible bond to appear on the March 2020 ballot, the board will have to take action at the November 12 meeting—the last regularly scheduled board meeting before the December 5, 2019 deadline. Wilson said the board could call a special meeting to take a vote on the resolution, but felt it should be handled at a standard meeting, which typically take place on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

Tuesday’s meeting will take place in the District board room and begin at 7:30 p.m.

San Marino homeowners are still paying $60 per $100,000 of assessed value for the two bonds that were passed in 1996 and 2000. If approved by voters any new bonds would hit tax bills in 2025—when the old bonds are paid off—and would be considered continuation bonds.

“I am looking forward to developing our strategic plan with the community,” Wilson said.

Former San Marino School Board Member Jeanie Caldwell, top, and Superintendent Jeff Wilson, left, at a Town Hall meeting that was hosted by the SMUSD to explain the findings of a Facilities Advisory Committee that was chaired by Caldwell. The board voted 3-1 on Tuesday night to continue the process that could lead to a facilities modernization bond being placed before voters. Mitch Lehman Photo

The San Marino School Board on Tuesday evening directed Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson to present a resolution at its Tuesday, November 12 meeting that could lead to a possible facilities bond election in March 2020, pending approval by the board.

The school board voted 3-1 directing Wilson to further review the proposed project list that had been recommended by the Facilities Advisory Committee to provide more up-to-date cost projections and to ensure that the facilities projects are in line with the future direction of the district. Wilson will then return with a proposed bond amount that would not exceed $200 million.

Board member Chris Norgaard was excused from the meeting and Board Member Corey Barberie voted against the resolution while Board Members Shelley Ryan and Joseph Chang and Board President Lisa Link cast “yes” votes. A emailed statement from Norgaard was read before the vote, stating his support for a March election and a $200 million construction list.

Barberie suggested splitting the bonds, requesting a smaller number in 2020 and another figure in 2022.

Examples of PriorIty 1 items include permanent new classrooms (to replace outdated portables) at Huntington Middle School and both Carver and Valentine Elementary Schools, HVAC and lighting upgrades at all four school sites and a host of security improvements.

“Things that are needed to operate a top quality school district in the 21st century,” Wilson told The Tribune on Thursday afternoon.

Wilson also said he will work with an outside agent to evaluate priorities and would possibly include some projects that would support his vision for an innovative, top-performing school district.

For the possible bond to appear on the March 2020 ballot, the board will have to take action at the November 12 meeting—the last regularly scheduled board meeting before the December 5, 2019 deadline. Wilson said the board could call a special meeting to take a vote on the resolution, but felt it should be handled at a standard meeting, which typically take place on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

“We are committed to doing this in an open and transparent way,” Wilson said.

Six community members spoke during the public comment section allotted for the agenda item, with four seeming to support a $200 million bond election in March and two who advised caution on the matter.

“Thank you for engaging the community in this monumental effort,” said Jane Chon, an SMUSD parent who was also a candidate in the November 2018 school board race. “Trust is being built.”

Chon explained how she has recently visited 30 college campuses across the country with her twin sons, who are seniors at San Marino High School.

“Why do we need new facilities? Chon asked, rhetorically. “If we want to stay the best, we need to spend money and we need to make sure our programming is reaching the whole student.”

Chon also mentioned that she feels the SMUSD is in competition for students with Pasadena Polytechnic, Sequoyah and Arcadia schools.

ASB Student Board Representative Grace Davis echoed Chon’s sentiment before casting her preference for the $200 million, March 2020 option.

“The competition is a reality,” said Davis, a senior at SMHS. “If you are interested in getting people who want to come to these schools, you have to create facilities that keep them engaged.”

To continue engagement and educate the community about the SMUSD’s facilities needs, the district will be offering tours of its facilities on Saturday, November 2, at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Please contact the SMUSD for more information.

Jeanie Caldwell, a former two-term San Marino School Board Member, reports on facilities. Mitch Lehman Photo

The San Marino School Board at its Monday, October 7 meeting unanimously accepted the findings of the SMUSD’s Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) and proceeded to direct Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson to develop a draft bond resolution and a timeline for a possible bond election that could take place as soon as March 2020. The 18-member FAC studied the district’s facilities needs over the past six to seven months and unanimously concluded that a capital facilities program was needed to address deferred maintenance and other facilities needs.

After calling for the vote on the motion that was brought forth by Board Member Chris Norgaard, seconded by Shelley Ryan and approved by all five board members, School Board President Lisa Link stated that Monday’s vote was only to consider putting a potential bond measure before voters and was not an approval of any specific election date or dollar amount at this time. Link explained that “it is up to the Board of Education to decide whether to call for a bond election, but it is up to the community of San Marino to vote and decide whether it supports providing safe, secure and educationally appropriate facilities for its students.”

Wilson said that he planned to schedule town hall meetings and would spend time at PTA and other community meetings to inform the public on the matter. He said that he would be using an electronic thought exchange to obtain public input before the first reading of a proposed bond resolution at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, October 22. After a second reading of the resolution at the Tuesday, November 12 board meeting, the board could approve a bond resolution that would call for an election. If the board decides to call for an election in March 2020, an independent advocacy group would continue to educate the San Marino community about the district’s facilities needs and priorities before the election.

Former two-term School Board Member Jeanie Caldwell, who chaired the FAC, opened Monday’s meeting by presenting the findings of the committee, which identified possible projects that added up to over $210 million. Caldwell explained that each project was assigned a priority number from 1 through 4. Projects assigned a 1 addressed a substantial safety or security issue; projects assigned a 2 addressed a moderate safety or security issue; projects assigned a 3 addressed an insignificant safety or security issue but were desired for an innovative and world class education, while projects assigned a 4 were “nice to have” in a community that values education. Projects assigned priority 1 and 2 had estimated cost estimates of over $66 million. Needs totaling over $100 million were identified at San Marino High School while Valentine Elementary School could use over $40 million, mostly because that location received the least attention during the previous bond effort and the school still uses portables that were already outdated when they were installed over 20 years ago.

Caldwell said the group addressed the district’s deferred maintenance challenges, saying that “we are continuing to band-aid these projects, but sooner or later it’s cheaper to go to the doctor.” Caldwell explained that the FAC toured the district’s sites and while the district’s facilities have an excellent exterior presence and areas renovated during the last bond project were well maintained, the interior of many facilities are aging and in need of repair.

The board also heard presentations from Chet Wang, and Christen Villalobos and Joy Tatarka, who discussed the district’s bonding capacity, property values and possible election dates. Based on a formula that begins with the assessed value of the district’s overall housing inventory, voters could approve a bond of over $170 million, though waivers and other opportunities could allow for a higher amount. Wang described different possible scenarios for potential bond amounts using various assumptions, including an assumption that the proposed bond would not exceed current bond tax rates already paid by San Marino residents. One possible scenario included a dual bond or phased election.

The board has sufficient time to place the bond before voters in time for the March 2020 election with the option of waiting until November 2020. The bond must be approved by 55% of voters.

The car John Gabriel drove to his former Sherwood Rd. home last Wednesday night that contained drugs, according to authorities. Photo by Mitch Lehman
Former San Marino resident John Gabriel remains in custody following an incident that took place in the late night hours of Wednesday, Sept. 11 and ended the following morning at his former residence in the 2100 block of Sherwood Road. Bail has been set at $2.335 million for Gabriel, who was a candidate for what at the time were three open seats on the San Marino school board at the November 2018 election. He faces ten felony charges of making criminal threats, personal use of a firearm, child abuse, possession of an altered firearm and six counts of possession of a controlled substance for sale. The two misdemeanor charges are for exhibiting a firearm and resisting an executive officer.

A source told The Tribune that the district attorney’s office requested a $3 million bail, but the figure was reduced to $2.335 million

Apparently estranged from his family, Gabriel arrived at his former Sherwood Rd. home at approximately 10:00 p.m. Wednesday night. After a verbal confrontation, Gabriel threatened family members with a gun. The San Marino Police Department was contacted with a request for assistance. Upon arrival of officers, Gabriel was observed inside the residence holding a dark object and yelling at several people inside the home. Four members of the family ran from the suspect to officers in front of the residence, two children and their grandmother however, remained inside the home.

SMPD personnel removed the residents from the scene, secured the area around the house and requested additional assistance from neighboring police agencies. It was verified that two children and their grandmother were still inside the residence and that Gabriel was armed with a handgun. Gabriel refused repeated orders to exit the home and surrender to police.

John Gabriel, shown here during an October 2018 candidate’s forum when he was running for a seat on the San Marino School Board. Rafael Najarian Photo

“Since the suspect refused to surrender and two children and their grandmother were still inside the residence, it was determined that the incident had escalated to a barricaded hostage situation,” said San Marino Police Chief John Incontro. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) was contacted to assist.

SEB attempted to negotiate the release of the hostages and Gabriel’s surrender, but he again refused to comply. SEB initiated a hostage rescue, during which numerous diversionary devices were utilized and the three remaining family members were safely removed from the residence.

Incontro told The Tribune that special agents employed “flash-bangs,” which create pulses of bright light and concussive sounds meant to disorient the suspect. Residents reported the sound made by the devices to The Tribune as well as the presence of low-flying helicopters, which remained on the scene for the majority of the incident.

At about 3:00 a.m., Gabriel exited the residence, but failed to comply with the directions of the SEB personnel. A use of force occurred and when Gabriel continued to resist, a K9 was utilized to disable the suspect. Gabriel was taken into custody and transported to a local hospital for medical treatment.

Though first responders were able to take a break Thursday morning, the drama continued later in the day.

While executing a search warrant on the car that Gabriel drove to the crime scene, San Marino Police officers found large amounts of cash and the drugs in a rear storage area. The SMPD also learned that Gabriel was at the time free on bail from an arrest the previous week in North Hollywood for possession of Fentanyl, PCP and crystal meth. Incontro told The Tribune on Wednesday morning that investigators had not yet positively identified many of the substances.

Gabriel’s bail for the Sherwood Road incident was initially set at $125,000, but was later increased to $2.335 million. A judge has also issued three-year restraining order barring Gabriel from his former residence or having contact with his family. Gabriel and his ex-wife have three pre-teen children. Gabriel must also prove that the money he uses to post bail, if he is able to do so, has been obtained through legal channels.

Gabriel spent six years in the United States Army, where he earned the Expert Field Medical Badge, or EFMB, one of the most advanced Army special skills badges. The EFMB requires that candidates pay strict attention to detail to successfully complete the combat simulation. While serving in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Gabriel was selected for a rigorous 72-hour evaluation process involving tests of both knowledge and technical competency. Gabriel successfully passed the evaluation and was inducted into the “Order of the Spur,” which recognizes the Army’s elite.

When interviewed by The Tribune a year ago for a story that discussed his school board candidacy, Gabriel said he was “a senior director for one of the top international consultancies.” At the time, he said he had “more than 19 years of experience developing impactful solutions for a variety of organizations, in both public and private sectors.” Gabriel at the time declined to cite specific employers, a common practice among many candidates for public office. He also said he graduated cum laude with a Bachelors of Science degree in Finance before earning an MBA in Finance and Organizational Development from Pepperdine University.