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May 21, 2022

PVUSD Board censures embattled Trustee Acosta

WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a resolution to censure embattled Trustee Georgia Acosta.

Trustees Kim De Serpa, Maria Orozco, Jennifer Schacher and Jennifer Holm approved the censure. Acosta and Oscar Soto dissented.

Trustee Daniel Dodge, Jr. abstained, saying that he was not at the meetings Acosta was accused of missing in the resolution.

The vote came after no discussion from the board and just 19 public comments.

De Serpa, who brought the item forward, said she was “heartbroken” to have to do so.

“What I personally witnessed in the past four years, culminating with the firing of our dear superintendent shows an unfortunate pattern of behavior which erodes the public’s trust. And In order for the board to move forward with integrity I believe this is necessary,” she said.

According to the resolution, Acosta has missed a total of 26 meetings since she was elected in 2016, and has left early from six others.

“I will say that she continues to receive a stipend and full benefits for her family, despite missing one year of board meetings,” De Serpa said. “I would also like to point out that in 11 years I have missed two board meetings. I would like to point out that in eight years trustee Orozco has missed three board meetings due to the birth of the three children she had while she was a board member.”

In addition, Acosta does not participate in any board committees, a duty expected of trustees, De Serpa said.

“She has no interest in doing so,” she said. 

Acosta is also accused of providing no notice to her fellow trustees that she was going to try to fire Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, which happened on Jan. 27. Instead, the resolution says, she emailed former Chief Business Officer Joe Dominguez and community organizer Vic Marani about the plan, a violation of open meeting laws.

The email, sent from Acosta’s Cal State Monterey Bay account, states, “Attached is the revised agenda just sent to us. This needs our immediate Approval for her.”

“These are two members of the public who have no business meddling in district business,” De Serpa said. 

Marani did not return a call seeking comment by noon Thursday. Dominguez, who is now working for Coachella Valley Unified School District, could not be reached.

Acosta has declined numerous requests for comment. She did not make a comment about the resolution to censure her.

A censure is a strong rebuke of an elected official by one’s colleagues. It is not clear how Acosta will respond.

Censure for school board members is a rare event. According to former trustee Willie Yahiro, the board voted to censure a fellow trustee in the early 1990s due to financial troubles that resulted in a state regulator briefly taking over district finances.

In the board meeting agenda emailed to Marani and Dominguez, De Serpa said that Acosta removed a discussion of the budget that would have shown a positive outlook for the district—a much different picture than a few months prior when projections showed it would not be able to meet three years’ expenses.

That email, De Serpa added, was not disclosed in a public records request made by several members of the media.

In 2018, Acosta was accused of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act—a set of rules that regulate public meetings—when she allegedly called a meeting of trustees at a cafe to discuss board business. Under the act, elected officials cannot discuss official business outside of public meetings.

Acosta later failed to complete a training on the Brown Act required of the entire board, the resolution states.

“The information was withheld from the board members, for what reason I’m not sure,” De Serpa said. 

“I sat in all of the meetings,” De Serpa said. “Where was trustee Acosta? She was thumbing her nose at all of us.”

In addition, Acosta has missed all of the annual trustee performance evaluations for Rodriguez. And when the trustees met to terminate Rodriguez, Acosta used an unauthorized and unsecured platform to hold the closed-session meeting, and did not allow Rodriguez to attend.  

Acosta later racked up more than $16,000 in legal fees for an attorney who advised her during the Jan. 27 meeting, without approval from the rest of the board.

Two community groups are calling for Acosta’s resignation before they begin official recall efforts.

Of the 19 comments, two showed support for Acosta.

A person who identified themself as “uma” said that it is the people who voted for Acosta who should be the ones to ask her to resign.

“She has worked hard for many years doing a good job for the community,” the statement said. “I think there was a reason for [Acosta’s] actions in firing the superintendent. Yes it could have been handled differently but I don’t believe it was just a power grab or because she didn’t like her.”

Anna Ybarra said that the question of Acosta’s absences should have been addressed before the meeting.

“We can only trust that four intelligent trustees made the right decision, though the process was wrong,” Ybarra said.

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