In an unexpected move, Santa Barbara's school board plans to meet in secret, executive session on Tuesday night to consider extending the $354,000 annual contract of beleaguered Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, Newsmakers has learned.
Formal notice and details about the previously unscheduled assembly of the five-member board are to posted on the district web site “around mid-morning” on Monday, according to Camie Barnwell, SBUSD public information officer, timing which would meet requirements of California’s Brown Act that the public be given at least 24 hours prior notification of a “special meeting” of the elected body.
The school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is not until October 22, when members were expected to vote on whether to extend the superintendent's contract for an additional year.
The sudden action to convene a special, closed door session, with a single agenda item relating to the contract issue, comes at an unsettled moment, as a coalition of parents unhappy with Matsuoka has become increasingly vocal and collected more than 800 signatures on a petition demanding the board not extend the contract.
For his part, the superintendent in recent weeks began responding aggressively to the criticism in defending himself, after being silent on it for over a year.
As a practical matter, education sources said, several board members wanted more time to consider and discuss data relating to his performance, including recently released test scores for the students in district schools, after president Wendy Sims-Moten and members Laura Capps and Jackie Reid missed recent meetings while traveling.
As a political matter, however, the optics of abruptly convening a special meeting that is closed to the public is all but certain to fuel a widespread narrative about a lack of transparency and poor public communications by the district.
Walk down memory lane. Since January of last year, Matsuoka has been regularly assailed by some parents over an ongoing series of controversies that began with his bungled ouster of former San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens, after a widely-publicized incident involving online threats aimed at female students by a group of males.
Since then, sustained criticism has been voiced over a $300,000 district contract with Just Communities, a non-profit vendor, for “implicit bias” training; a scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse at Santa Barbara High School’s Multimedia Arts and Design Academy that led to the ouster of the longtime director; concerns about the district's treatment of dyslexic students, and stubbornly low test scores across the district, among other issues.
Matsuoka was hired in 2016 by previous school board members, none of whom any longer are serving. Under his original three year contract, the board reviews his performance for the previous school year every fall and, if satisfied, renews him for an additional year, thus keeping a three-year deal continuously in effect.
Last year’s renewal was accompanied by controversy, when the incumbent board approved it, even though two of its members were about to depart, to be replaced by the newly elected Kate Ford and Rose Munoz.
The page of the school district's web site where meeting announcements appear is here.
Images: Cary Matusoka (Paul Wellman/SB Independent); But first a bit of background...