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Schools Super Defends Assistant Accused of Harassment

Superintendent Matsuoka Says Claims Are False and Defamatory

Photo: Paul Wellman Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka (left) defends Assistant Superintendent and Chief Education Technology Officer Todd Ryckman from sexual harassment allegations.

While the school year has come to an end, the slew of controversies facing Santa Barbara Unified School District continues. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Education Technology Officer Todd Ryckman was accused of workplace harassment. A candidate for the school board in 2020, Justin Tuttle, who works as a public defender in Ventura County, spoke on behalf of his wife, Selinda Tuttle, who is accusing Ryckman of alleged misconduct, sexual harassment, abuse, demeaning conduct, bullying, unprofessionalism, and retaliation.

Selinda Tuttle works as the school district’s mobile device administrator and reports directly to Ryckman. A second individual, former Educational Technology Services (ETS) department employee Karol King, also spoke during public comment, claiming she, too, was subject to harassment and belittling from Ryckman.

Superintendent Cary Matsuoka commented on the allegations, calling them “false and defamatory.” In an emailed statement, Matsuoka said Ryckman was exonerated after a thorough investigation.  “The complaint that was earlier submitted by Mrs. Tuttle contained no allegations of sexual misconduct. Her complaint, which alleged hostile work environment and retaliation, was thoroughly investigated and interviews were taken of 21 witnesses plus Ms. Tuttle and Mr. Ryckman,” said Matsuoka.  

The public comment and allegations were made on the subject of his contract renewal, which extends until June 30, 2021, and grants Ryckman a raise, bringing his annual pay to $184,396.50. His contract was approved unanimously by boardmembers, who had full knowledge of the allegations and investigations surrounding Ryckman’s alleged behavior, said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources John Becchio.

Photo: courtesySelinda Tuttle

During the external investigation, Tuttle was reassigned to another post so she would not be directly reporting to Ryckman. Upon the investigation’s findings, Tuttle was returned to her previous duties of working with and reporting to Ryckman.

Tuttle alleges that Ryckman’s behavior toward her changed after a five-day, work-related conference in October 2016 was cut short when Ryckman unexpectedly and without explanation booked them a return flight home three days before the conference ended. In a complaint sent to Superintendent Matsuoka from Tuttle’s attorneys, Tuttle alleges, “Mr. Ryckman’s communications and interactions with her, and their working relationship, were markedly different, and noticeably strained.” Tuttle reached out and worked with a designated restorative approaches teacher on several occasions to help remediate the conflicts between her and Ryckman.

The complaint details incidents in which Tuttle’s work was criticized. Once such instance occurred in May 2017 when Tuttle and King were working together at Washington Elementary when students’ iPads became locked. Tuttle and King discovered another employee had made changes to the department’s management system. When Ryckman became aware of the incident, “[he] angrily berated Ms. Tuttle for ‘never tak[ing] responsibility for your own mistakes” and accusing her of blaming others “‘for things you are responsible for,’” according to the complaint.

Following the incident, Ryckman delivered a letter to Tuttle on May 9, 2017, regarding “performance concerns” and placed her on a performance-improvement plan. Ryckman writes, “[f]or approximately the past year your work has been marred by conflicts with ETS members. These issues came to a head in November when five ETS employees specifically complained about you in my one-to-one meeting with them.”

In a letter by Becchio to Tuttle in anticipation of her return to her previous position, he also expresses concerns regarding Tuttle’s interactions with colleagues. “Your relationship with your colleagues are a concern,” wrote Becchio. “Your interactions with them are expected to be professional and courteous and of a nature that would serve to perpetuate the team culture that is already established in the ETS department.”

In July 2017, Tuttle sustained an injury to her pelvis while working. After the district allegedly failed to provide her with supportive equipment recommended by the district’s insurer, Tuttle was granted the right to sue by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on allegations that she was discriminated against because of her disability. When Justin Tuttle was asked by the Independent whether they will be filing a lawsuit, he said his main concern as a husband is having his wife not report to Ryckman and that he hopes it won’t have to get to the point of seeking legal action.

Superintendent Matsuoka commented that when he met with King and Tuttle regarding concerns over Ryckman’s behavior, the concerns were handled appropriately by Human Resources. Ryckman declined to comment.

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