Thursday, June 8, 2017
Soquel Union Elementary School District responds to Santa Cruz County civil grand jury report
SANTA CRUZ >> After receiving criticism Tuesday by a Santa Cruz County civil grand jury report, Soquel Union Elementary School District’s board president said the leadership works hard to welcome public participation from the district of nearly 2,000 students.
“The Soquel Union Elementary School District (SUESD) Board of Trustees appreciates and respects the Santa Cruz civil grand jury’s desire to improve government operations,” President Amanda Miller wrote in an email to the Sentinel. “We take our role as school board members very seriously as nothing is more important than the education of our community’s youth.”
The grand jury report accuses the board of having four issues of concern: closed-session conduct, “trust issues and community engagement,” standards for district superintendent evaluation and “incorrect agenda template.”
Miller said the board has worked to provide transparency and has sought continuing education on open governance.
“Our members regularly attend trainings with the California School Board Association to stay current and informed,” Miller said. “We are always cognizant of the Brown Act and we do indeed embrace a transparent and inclusive approach to school governance.”
Superintendent Scott Turnbull, who was hired July 2016, is wrapping up his first year during a productive period for the district, Miller said. He took over after the previous superintendent, Henry Castaniada, resigned. Castaniada was a frequent target of parent and teacher discontent for poor communication.
Former Main Street Elementary’s parent club co-president Chris Hadland said he is pleased with the direction in which the new board is heading. He said previous boards had a troubling disregard for public access.
“The board had some deep-rooted issues. A number of the board members had been on the board for a decade or longer,” Hadland said. “I think things are on a much better track now.”
He said the recent grand jury report is the third to address questions of governance in the district.
The board has 90 days to respond to provide a response to the report.
“We look forward to the opportunity to respond to each finding in detail,” Miller said. “We take this report as an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of our governance processes and our commitment to transparency.”
The report’s intention is to urge the board to “embrace a more transparent, inclusive approach to the business of school governance,” the grand jury wrote.
The grand jury has legal authority to examine any elements of special districts, and city and county governments, according to Santa Cruz County records. The grand jury’s findings are meant to improve government operations.
May 31, 2017
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd