Mayor claims Ravenswood has a ‘culture of corruption’ — district responds

Ruben Abrica. Post 2014 file photo.
Ruben Abrica. Post 2014 file photo.

In the financially troubled Ravenswood City School District, the superintendent has put her son on the payroll and a board member’s domestic partner was hired to run the preschool, East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica said in a letter today (Feb. 17).

Abrica said he was writing as a resident of the school district and not in his capacity as mayor. He identified several problems he sees in the management of the district, which is cutting 83 positions to overcome with a budget deficit.

He said the district has a “culture of corruption, intimidation and cover up.”

Below is Abrica’s letter.

The Post reached out to the district’s spokesman for a response, Chief Strategy Officer Rolando Bonilla, and his email to us can be found after Abrica’s letter.

Abrica’s letter was addressed to Bonilla, school board President Ana Maria Pulido and the district itself. 

Here is the letter:

After having read many letters that have been presented to the (school) board during this period of financial crisis, and having heard many speakers at the Feb. 8 regular meeting and other meetings, I have come up with a list of questions and comments that I think still need answers from Superintendent (Gloria) Hernandez-Goff and the ruling majority of Board Members (Sharifa) Wilson, (Ana Maria) Pulido and (Marcelino) Lopez. My questions also reflect comments that have circulated in the community over the last few years, and need public clarification once and for all. Some of these I will formulate as public records requests, since that seems to be the only way to get information.

  1. Two letters make reference to the employee position held by the son of the superintendent. When was he hired? How long was he working in Human Resources, what was his job description, duties and qualifications and how much was he paid? Why was he moved suddenly to Student Services and how much money is he making now? Is it legal or proper for Superintendent Hernandez-Goff to hire members of her own family? Why is his made up position so important that it cannot be cut? And why has the superintendent been setting up employees she doesn’t like with trumped up complaints so she can push them out and hire her favorites?
  2. With the destructive mismanagement of the Child Development Center (the preschool program) and the laying off of so many hardworking employees, people have been talking more openly about all kinds of things. That the domestic partner of Sharifa Wilson was hired as director, and that the previous director was essentially pushed out so her partner could be hired. Did trustee Wilson recuse herself from voting to hire her? Is it not a conflict of interest? What was the date when she was hired and what was her salary? (What are) her qualifications? How long did she work as director of CDC and why did she suddenly quit not too long ago? Is there an investigation going on? Is there a director now? Is this not corruption?
  3. On numerous occasions this last year people have asked how much is paid to the Chief Strategy Officer (Rolando Bonilla), public relations mouthpiece for the superintendent, and no answer is ever given. How much is his contract costing the Ravenswood district? Since no answer is given I will estimate that his business gets say $100,000 a year, and if he has worked two or more years, that’s close to $250,000. With $250,000 paid out for “strategic” and public relations work, maybe 6 or 7 employees could be saved at the Child Development Center. I don’t think people question his right to do his business, what people question is the shameless waste of public money by the superintendent and the ruling majority … and especially now when there is a financial crisis.
  4. The district authorities have known that since Superintendent Hernandez-Goff arrived in 2013, she has used up the ending fund balance every year from the $8 million left by former Superintendent Maria de la Vega down to a County Office of Education projected negative $3.3 million next year. This mismanagement is what has triggered the cuts so suddenly instead of collaborative planning of reductions starting three years ago. This is being called a “reform” and a “new culture,” but it’s really a culture of corruption, intimidation and cover up. And they have no shame considering asking the voters of Ravenswood district this June to pass another parcel tax? Why should the people of the district “invest” their hard earned money only to be mismanaged by the current administration?

These are some of the things people are talking about more openly now. Answers are needed.

Ruben Abrica, resident of the Ravenswood City School District

(Updated at 11:50 p.m., Feb. 17)

The following is the response of the district’s chief strategy officer, Rolando Bonilla:

Reform is difficult, but a necessary reality. At the Ravenswood City School District, our only goal is to continue making the necessary reforms that will pull our district from the bottom of the county to the top.

To us, our only focus is to create an environment in which every single child attending a Ravenswood school will have the opportunity to successfully compete in high school, and ultimately college. If we achieve that goal, we not only strengthen the district, but in the process, we strengthen East Palo Alto and the surrounding communities.

Leadership is about recognizing moments in history. For a life long politician like Abrica, we understand that the idea of changing the status quo may be too much for him. Nevertheless, despite his angry diatribes, we welcome a conversation with the city of East Palo Alto where we can work together to solve critical issues that are impacting the lives of so many.

Irresponsibly ranting is not leadership; it is the sign of someone whose time has passed.

Rolando A. Bonilla
Chief Strategy Officer


  1. I’m glad Ruben is speaking out. I’ve known teachers in the Ravenswood District who have seen the corruption first-hand, but they’ve been afraid to speak out because they feared retaliation. There’s some people on that school board who are vicious. Hopefully, the district’s employees will come out and tell what’s been going on.

    • Yes, The city of East Palo Alto should support RWSD Child Development Center.
      Not, San Mateo County. During EPA Redevelopment years, it was School Districts that provided the land, to help EPA develop a TAX Base for EPA. So the City can pay its expenses. EPA only Public High School,(Ravenswood High School) land was use to build a regional profit making Shopping Center. And now, it is time for EPA City to help its own residents, Child Development Center stay open. The City can look for ways to to create Funds by making good investments. And making good use of the Funds that is generated from these Redevelpment Projects that exist today.

  2. Before the City puts any money into that corrupt school district or the CDC, they should get a full accounting of where the money is going now … whose relatives are on the payroll, which employees or trustees have ties to contractors, what are they spending on personal expenses. Once those things see the light of day, then the City can have a “conversation” with the school board about the CDC.

  3. Hey, Rolando A. Bonilla, Chief Strategy Officer: Is it your official strategy to avoid the important questions Ruben A. Bonilla is asking by preaching about lofty idealism? Let’s put practicality and honesty before political gobbledygook.

    • Oops, sorry, I meant Ruben Abrica’s questions – I’m not so good at cut and paste and also can’t figure out how to edit the comment. Charlene

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