In their first public comments on the matter, the two top leaders of SB's school board sidestepped questions about an evolving campaign to recall them from office, saying they are focused on broader issues.
“I am disappointed by the discussion of a recall, but completely understand the concerns being discussed and welcome further conversation,” said Jacqueline Reid, board president of the Unified School District.
“In every challenge there is opportunity - this situation is no different,” said Wendy Sims-Moten, who serves as the board ‘s vice president. “I am open to hearing from parents, students and teachers so together we can ensure that all children are in our sights and have high expectations to succeed.”
In email interviews with Newsmakers, the cautious and circumspect comments by the two public school leaders reflect the tense tone and tricky terrain of the impassioned debate that has dominated discussion of local public schools for nearly two weeks: the demotion of San Marcos High Principal Ed Behrens by Superintendent Cary Matsuoka and a 4-to-1 majority of the school board, following a series of incidents involving cyber-threats and student safety at the school.
The firing of the principal, as well as the investigation and discipline of students involved in the episodes, was a secretive affair, conducted behind closed doors because of privacy laws and regulations.
Without transparency, the official actions of board, district and school administrators have riled not only parents who strongly support Behrens, but also some who are critical of the response by him, and by the district, to the school safety incidents, which began in January.
On March 13, in a confidential discussion, Reid and Sims-Moten joined board members Kate Parker and Ismael Ulloa in voting to unseat Behrens. Like Laura Capps, the fifth member who voted against Matsuoka’s anti-Behrens move, Reid and Sims-Moten in 2016 were elected to their seats by default, facing no opposition for the posts. Amid the emotional atmosphere that has enveloped the situation in the two weeks since, some San Marcos parents have begun organizing a recall of the two, whose terms are set to end in 2020, with their non-elected status emerging as a sore point.
Here are the transcripts of the Q&As Newsmakers conducted with the two board members, lightly edited for clarity. Background and biographical material about Reid and Sims-Moten may be found here here and here.
Q: What is your reaction to the formation of a campaign to recall you, and what is your response to the charge by its organizers that your vote on Mr. Behrens was "an abomination of public service" ?
A: I understand that this is a personal and emotional issue and has entailed difficult decisions for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, because of the involvement of a personnel issue, I am not able to address all the questions being raised. I have also been surprised by the proposed hidden agendas and misunderstandings around district personnel issues, these are simply not true.
Q: If the organizers file a recall petition against you, will you stand for office and have your name appear on a ballot along with the recall initiative?
A: I am disappointed by the discussion of a recall, but completely understand the concerns being discussed and welcome further conversation.
I am proud to serve as a school board member and will continue to work on behalf of our district to address critical issues including equity, bullying/cyberbullying, and working to ensure that students can achieve academically and be empowered to reach their full potential as responsible, ethical, productive citizens in this diverse world.
The safety of our students and school staff are of the utmost priority for me, and I am glad that we are all working together to try to find solutions for the future.
I look forward to continuing my service, which is based on my over 25 year history working in education, as a past classroom teacher, educational consultant with expertise in developing inclusive classrooms, past Associate director of the Anti-Defamation League, past board president and board member of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, and current teacher educator in higher education, seeking and creating positive change for our future leaders.
Q: How do you respond to the allegation that you are not responsive to community concerns because you took your seat by default, and without facing any challengers?
A: I look forward to continuing the conversation within our community and working to find consensus.
I have been pleased to meet with all individuals and groups who have requested to meet with me and will continue to do so - this is a community issue that we must resolve as a community. I know that we are all working in good faith to ensure that our students have the tools needed for future success.
Newsmakers sent Wendy the same questions. Rather than addressing them specifically, she sent this response:
The challenge of running unopposed is really illuminated in this very emotional and trying time because the public doesn’t know me in way that they might have if I had run a challenged campaign.
Nonetheless I did go through a process of seeking endorsements until it was determined that all three candidates who responded to the open seats would be unopposed in the run for the School Board.
The good thing about running unopposed was not so much about not having to campaign but rather more time to attend school board meetings and back to school nights to gain some insights to the structure of the board, the issues and the huge responsibility of educating fifteen thousand plus students, no easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
Despite the realities of the task ahead of me (no one really knows until you sit in those chairs) it only spurred my passion for education.
Whether appointed or elected, I fully accept the responsibility of the office and I know firsthand the importance and impact of an education despite where you come from and how you look.
I bring to this responsibility 19 years of experience working for First 5 Santa Barbara County, my experience of successfully parenting a student through the Santa Barbara Unified District and, finally, my experience of working in the community; all to ensure that all children receive a fair, inclusive and equitable education and to address systemic issues that create barriers to learning and achievement.
In every challenge there is opportunity; this situation is no different.
I am open to hearing from parents, students and teachers so together we can ensure that all children are in our sights and have high expectations to succeed. Finally and most importantly I fully intend to keep my focus and energy on the task at hand until such time when my term ends.
Images: School board members Wendy-Sims Moten (L) and Jackie Reid (SB Unified School District); Reid (Facebook); Sims-Moten (Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee).