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Hacienda La Puente school board member censured

The Hacienda La Puente school board votes 3 to 1 to censure colleague Joseph Chang over his trips to China that a report found created a conflict of interest.

September 29, 2013|By Cindy Chang

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

The board voted 3 to 1 on Thursday, 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 ... that this was an extraordinary circumstance," Chen, who led the censure effort, said after the meeting.

A May investigative report commissioned by the Hacienda La Puente Unified 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.

"I want to protect the staff," Duarte said, "and make sure the staff isn't ever bullied by board members."

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

"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 study at Wilson High for a year, paying tuition to the school district while their parents stay 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 is charging Chinese families about $30,000 for a year at Wilson High in Hacienda Heights, with only $12,900 going to the school district as tuition.

Under federal law, tuition must be set at the full cost of educating the international student. Chang's critics allege that he voted to keep tuition low in order to increase Bela's profits.

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cindy.chang@latimes.com

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