WATSONVILLE—The abrupt termination of Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez continues to ripple across the district, with two efforts launched recently to ask Trustee Georgia Acosta to remove herself from the position.
A petition on change.org calls on Acosta to “resign or face recall.”
“Georgia has failed PVUSD and the community, and it is past time she step down,” the petition reads.
Watsonville High School teacher Ryan Jones, who created the petition, says that Acosta’s actions came as the district was reeling from nearly a year of Covid-19 restrictions.
“She turned us upside down,” Jones said.
In addition, a small group is asking Acosta to resign before it begins official recall efforts against her.
This week marks 90 days since Acosta began her term, the minimum amount of time that must pass before an elected official can be recalled. She was appointed in November to the Trustee Area 2 seat for her second term after nobody ran against her.
Carol Turley, one of the organizers of that effort, managed former PVUSD Trustee Leslie De Rose’s campaign. She says the group has gauged the community and has the support needed for a recall.
But she added that the group wants to give Acosta a chance to resign before it begins the substantial effort of recalling a candidate.
This includes drafting a notice to recall—which itself requires 20 signatures—officially delivering the notice to Acosta, drafting the signature petition and gathering signatures of registered voters in Trustee Area 2.
“The focus right now should be convincing her that resigning is the best thing she can do for the community,” Turley said. “We really want to give her an opportunity to step down before we do that.”
The controversy began on Jan. 27, when Acosta, who was then board president, led efforts to terminate Rodriguez. The board voted 4-3 in favor, with trustees Oscar Soto, Daniel Dodge, Jr. and Jennifer Schacher joining Acosta. Trustees Kim De Serpa, Jennifer Holm and Maria Orozco dissented.
In addition to the criticism that stemmed from the termination, Acosta was also accused of a lack of transparency after the decision. She has not publicly given a reason for the decision, and has not responded to multiple requests from this newspaper for comment.
She did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
In addition, Acosta tried unsuccessfully to stop district spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez from reading public comments, saying during a special meeting on Jan. 29, they were not directly related to the appointment of an interim superintendent.
During that meeting Acosta asked attorney Matthew Paul Juhl-Darlington of the Dannis Woliver Kelley (DWK) law firm to advise the board, instead of the district’s regular counsel, Lou Lozano of Lozano Smith. That decision, made without approval from the rest of the board, racked up a $16,038 bill for the district.
The trustees voted 6-0 not to pay that bill, with Acosta absent. It is not yet clear what DWK will do in response to the vote.
After the termination, the trustees held a special meeting to appoint an interim superintendent. But after hearing more than five hours of comments—most of them deriding the board for the decision and demanding that Rodriguez be reinstated—Schacher announced she was reversing her decision and called for a special meeting. The trustees unanimously reinstated Rodriguez on Jan. 31.
Acosta and Soto said their decision came after they received death threats against them and their families, but neither have filed police reports in the matter.
Turley says that the group’s desire to recall Acosta did not begin with Rodriguez’s termination.
Acosta has missed numerous meetings, she said, and does not serve on any committees as the trustees are expected to do.
She did not attend a March 3 study session during which the trustees studied board governance and open meeting laws, and was absent when the trustees voted on the attorney fee.
But the superintendent’s termination, Turley said, was the catalyst.
“I live in that [trustee] area, and I am not being represented,” she said. “Some people think that shaking things up is the way to make a change,” Turley said. “The best way is to be a part of a team and to put your thoughts forward. Just showing up and causing chaos I don’t think it’s best for the students or the community.”
Jones pointed out that Acosta continues to collect the $500 stipend the trustees receive, and receives the insurance plan given to board members.
“Georgia continues to collect the stipend, collect the thousands of dollars in health insurance for her and her family, all while skipping board meetings and racking up [$16,000] in debt—her recent actions have violated the community’s trust and disqualify her from office,” he said.
De Rose said that, when she began her term, the board had to work to bridge a harmful division that had grown between the district and the community.
“We worked to rebuild that trust, and with one fell swoop I feel like this set the district back years,” she said.