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Hacienda La Puente school board member censured by colleagues

September 27, 2013|By Cindy Chang
  • Hacienda La Puente school board member Joseph Chang said, "These are all false accusations."
Hacienda La Puente school board member Joseph Chang said, "These… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Hacienda La Puente school board member Joseph Chang was censured by his colleagues Thursday night over allegations that he accepted trips to China from a private company and pressured school administrators to accept unqualified international students.

The vote was 3 to 1, with board members Jay Chen, Anthony Duarte and Rudy Chavarria supporting the censure, Chang opposing it and Gino Kwok abstaining.

The censure expresses the board's opinion but does not have any effect on Chang's status as a board member, said Trevin Sims, an attorney for the board.

"It sends a strong message, a very clear message, that this was an extraordinary circumstance," Chen, who led the censure effort, said after the meeting.

A May 2013 investigative report commissioned by the school district found that Chang's China trips created a conflict of interest and that Chang had inappropriately asked school officials to admit Chinese students whose English was sub-par.

"No individual board member should pressure staff," Duarte said. "I want to protect the staff and make sure the staff isn't ever bullied by board members."

Chang said other board members were "manipulating and fabricating" the allegations.

"It's unreasonable. These are all false accusations," Chang said. "I'm disappointed. I'm working so hard for the school district, but they had three votes. There's nothing I can do."

Chang traveled to China at least three times on recruiting trips for Bela Education Group, a private company that acts as a middleman. The Chinese students would study at Wilson High for a year, paying tuition to the school district while their parents stayed behind in China.

Chang filed a public disclosure stating that Bela paid for his China trips. Later, he said that Norman Hsu, a former school board member who is now Bela's managing director, picked up the tab, and that he subsequently reimbursed Hsu.

Bela charges Chinese families about $30,000 for a year at Wilson High in Hacienda Heights, with only $12,900 going to the school district.

Under federal law, tuition for international students must be set at the full cost of educating the student. Chang's critics allege that he voted to keep tuition low in order to increase Bela's profits. Some local districts charge as much as $15,000 per student.

Chang and Duarte are up for reelection in November. La Puente Mayor Charlie Klinakis has withdrawn his endorsement of Chang based on the conclusions of the investigative report.

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Twitter: @cindychangLA

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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