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Morning Report: Former Students Say Chula Vista Teacher's Bad Behavior Was Widespread

Sweetwater Union High School District Building in Chula Vista / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

When confronted last year by Sweetwater Union High School District officials with claims that he’d harassed three female students, longtime Chula Vista choir teacher Anthony Atienza denied the allegations and called the girls “troubled.”

But as Voice’s Ashly McGlone reports, several former students and a former volunteer assistant director say they, too, witnessed inappropriate behavior by Atienza beginning in the early 2000s. Their accounts include an uncomfortable hotel room encounter, massage circles, butt-slapping and photo shoots with students.

In 2017, school district officials determined that Atienza had targeted female students for months with sexual touching and leering and inappropriate remarks, describing his behavior as “severe and pervasive.” Officials allowed him to resign in exchange for more than a year’s paid leave and a confidentiality clause keeping the findings secret from future employers.

Atienza went on to teach at Lakeside Middle School, Christian Youth Theater San Diego and San Diego Junior Theatre.

His conduct is under investigation by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, but he is free to teach in the meantime.

More Cuts Ahead for San Diego Unified

After adopting a largely balanced budget for the current school year, San Diego Unified trustees are now turning their attention to a nearly $41 million gap in the 2019-2020 budget and at least $35 million the school year after that. It’s not clear where that money is supposed to come from, but officials plan to present ideas in December, after voters decide the fate of a new multibillion-dollar school bond for facilities upgrades, the third in 10 years.

Cuts to the school district’s budget in recent years have occurred alongside employee raises – something the San Diego County Office of Education has cautioned against. Though district revenues have risen substantially in recent years, pay raises, pensions, health care and other items are costing more and more and putting a strain on the budget, according to the district’s chief business officer.

In the meantime, district officials have offered early retirement deals to senior employees, promising that those deals would be cost-neutral in the long-run. But when pressed for evidence of that claim, the district has said a reliable analysis would be too costly to perform.

The Fight Over County Election Reforms Takes Another Turn

The head of the San Diego County Republican Party has filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing a measure to reform countywide elections from qualifying for the November ballot.

County GOP chairman Tony Krvaric and state Senate candidate Luis Vargas argue in the suit that the legislative fix that would help qualify the measure for the November ballot was passed improperly. California laws are supposed to stick to one subject, and they charge that the budget trailer bill that includes the fix addresses many different subjects.

If the court is sympathetic to those claims, it could upend the process by which lawmakers currently make deals to pass the state budget.

In the Politics Report, Andrew Keatts notes that in the short term, Republicans’ fight against changing how county election reforms are conducted is mostly about protecting County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.

State Supreme Court Sides With Poor Plaintiffs

The state Supreme Court has ruled that courts can’t make poor plaintiffs pay for their own court reporters in civil cases — a practice courts had adopted as they adapted to budget cuts.

It’s not just a big change for California courts, but the story behind the case is incredible: It began with a prisoner trying to sue a doctor from behind bars. The U-T’s Greg Moran broke down just how amazing the man’s victory is in a Twitter thread.

Late last year, we detailed how the rule requiring people who appear in family court to pay for their own court reporters — the people who transcribe what happens in a court hearing — was creating a two-tiered system of justice.

Operation Streamline Starts in San Diego Monday

As part of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, anyone caught crossing the border illegally is charged with a crime, regardless of criminal history. In order to deal with the massive influx of cases the policy has created, the Southern District of California is implementing Operation Streamline, a program to rapidly speed up those prosecutions.

Voice’s Maya Srikrishnan wrote a handy explainer on the program. Opponents worry the proceedings deprive defendants of their due process rights.

  • The federal government told a San Diego federal judge it needs more time to comply with his order to reunite families that have been separated at the border. But the judge denied the request, and said the original deadline should stand.
  • The city of Los Angeles is suing the Trump administration for requiring police departments to help enforce immigration laws in order to receive federal funding. A group of law enforcement officials from across the country filed an amicus brief in the case last week siding with Los Angeles, including former SDPD Chief Bill Lansdowne. The policy would “dangerously impact local communities by requiring jurisdictions to prioritize civil immigration enforcement over public safety or else lose funding for important public safety and community initiatives,” the brief argues.

What Have You Always Wondered About San Diego?

Do you know anything about the yellow bison sculpture on the roof of a building in Golden Hill? That’s a question a few VOSD readers have asked.

What’s up with this buffalo sculpture on top of a building in Golden Hill? / Photo by
Zack Nielsen

We know nothing about the bison. Do you anything about the bison? Maybe we should look into it some day.

Welp, that day could soon come. We’re reprising our old “The People’s Reporter” series and  trying out a new tool that makes it easier for readers to ask us questions. VOSD readers might remember it as stories in which VOSD reporters hunted down questions that people submitted.

So tell us to explain a political process you don’t understand. Ask us to look into longstanding local urban legends. Nudge us to investigate something big or complex. Bring it.

We cover local government, education, land use, water and energy, the environment, homelessness and housing, the border, arts and culture and nonprofits – so questions related to those topics are more likely to catch our attention.

What have you always wondered about San Diego that you’d like Voice of San Diego to investigate? Submit your questions today.

Once we get a few good ones, we’ll put the top three questions up for a public vote, so even if your query doesn’t make the cut. you can still weigh in. Once readers vote on the best question, we’ll get to work then put the answer in the Morning Report.

In Other News

  • Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County on Friday because of the wildfire that tore through Alpine; Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned businesses that price-gouging in the wake of fires is illegal. (Associated Press)
  • In the wake of a sexual harassment scandal at the Salk Institute, some of the most powerful local women in science are talking about women in the workplace. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond, who’s running for county supervisor, came on this week’s podcast. He said a new state law giving the region’s largest cities veto power at SANDAG is robbing smaller cities of their voices. He also argued against a SANDAG proposal to take downtown San Diego land through eminent domain.
  • An East County reporter has accused El Cajon City Councilman Ben Kalasho of threatening him with a dog, according to the Union-Tribune. Oh, and Mayor Bill Wells told the paper that he began carrying a gun for protection after Kalasho was elected.
  • A year after the deadly Hepatitis A outbreak, county health officials are warning of another highly contagious disease that also spreads through fecal contamination. (KPBS)
  • A map of crash data released by San Diego, as part of its effort to reduce traffic injuries, understates the number of deaths that took place over the past two years. (KPBS)
  • San Diego wants to install hundreds of new bicycle racks across neighborhoods. (City News Service)

The Morning Report was written and compiled by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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