A former Santa Monica-Malibu schools employee is accused of stealing about $40,000 worth of district technology equipment, according to district and law enforcement officials.
The suspect, Jorge Lopez-Paredes, was arrested on burglary charges and terminated by the district after security video showed the suspect taking valuable electronics from SMMUSD headquarters in the 1600 block of 16th Street, officials said.
Police detectives serving a search warrant at Lopez-Paredes’ residence in Los Angeles on April 29 found evidence as well as previously unreported stolen property that was later identified as belonging to the school district, Sgt. Rudy Camarena said.
Lopez-Paredes, 27, has been charged with grand theft by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, according to Camarena. A court hearing is pending.
The school district has cooperated with authorities on the investigation, which comes as new equipment is being installed across the district with funding from voter-backed bond measures to upgrade school facilities and classrooms.
“This is disappointing to all of us who work so hard to provide exemplary programs and services to our students on a limited budget,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said. “We hold our employees to a high standard and expect everyone employed with SMMUSD to uphold terms of their employment and follow all laws and education code.”
The district withheld the former worker’s name and position, citing personnel privacy laws, but Santa Monica police identified the suspect. He did not have direct contact with students, Pinsker said.
A maintenance worker named Jorge Lopez was listed as a “new employee” in the district’s Personnel Commission report from Aug. 12. The report refers to him as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning mechanic with 5 years of work experience.
Lopez was approved for a pay raise from $20.24 per hour to $22.32 per hour because his experience exceeded the minimum requirements for the job, according to the commission’s report.
Lopez has an associate’s degree in refrigeration and air conditioning, according to the report.
The district paid for Lopez to attend a conference on boiler basics in Downey in September, records show.
The equipment was stolen from a “secure storage area,” according to a district report, and Pinsker said the district has a variety of security measures in place to prevent theft.
“In this case, these measures provided proof of this misconduct,” she said, adding that the district continually seeks more ways to protect valuable equipment.
Meanwhile, the local Board of Education voted Wednesday to amend a district contract for wireless technology infrastructure to replace the stolen equipment. The district is paying to replace equipment becausepolice did notrecover muchof the stolen property, Pinsker said.
The extra $40,734 allocated to Meridian IT and Promark Technology is part of a $3-million contract for technological improvements funded through Measure ES, which voters approved three years ago.
Through insurance, the district will be fully reimbursed for the new expense except for a $5,000 deductible, according to the district report. District staff ordered the equipment before board approval to expedite the installation of the new equipment.
The district views technology as a “key component” of its mission to promote student development and close achievement gaps, according to a SMMUSD plan for technology use.
“Our academic curriculum is supported and augmented with creative use of multimedia, telecommunication, computer, and other appropriate technologies,” the plan reads. “We harness young minds’ inherent affinity for technology to engage students, enhance learning, and provide the skills needed to succeed in college and as a part of the global workforce.”
But improving students’ digital literacy while safeguarding and tracking the appropriate technology has proven difficult for area public schools in recent years. Last summer, an L.A. Unified audit showed that the massive school district was unable to account for more than $2 million worth of iPads and other computer equipment.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.