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UPDATE: Superintendent Matsuoka Not Seeking Contract Renewal

Decision Announced After Public Speakers Discouraged Extension of His Contract

Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Cary Matsuoka listened as critics urged non-renewal of his contract. (October 15, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman

[Update 10/17:] On October 16, School Board President Wendy Sims-Moten announced Superintendent Cary Matsuoka would not be seeking an extension to his contract:

“Superintendent Matsuoka’s contract is in place through June 30, 2021,” Sims-Moten said in a press release statement. “He has not asked for an extension to his contract, and he has informed us that he will not seek one as connected to his evaluation process. The Board will not be voting on his contract since it is valid through June 2021 and he has not asked for an extension.”

The original story follows:

Parents and members of the public were blindsided this week by the Santa Barbara Unified School Board’s last-minute decision to hold a “special,” private meeting on Tuesday to finish reviewing Superintendent Cary Matsuoka’s widely criticized performance. The meeting notice posted just over 24 hours in advance, which all nine of the public commenters called out for lack of transparency and as an apparent attempt to obstruct public input.

“I believe the legislature of this state intended that the public be able to have maximum participation in this school district process of decision making,” said Gregory Gandrud, a member of the watchdog group Fair Education, former Carpinteria City councilmember, and treasurer for the California Republican Party. “I think the public has been very poorly served by having an emergency meeting with only 24 hours notice during a federal holiday … Personally, I don’t think his contract should be renewed at all.”

Although Tuesday’s closed-session meeting was to complete and discuss Matsuoka’s performance evaluation, it directly feeds into a highly anticipated October 22 School Board vote — whether or not to extend Matsuoka’s $354,861.62 employment contract another year. Each public commenter pleaded with the school board not to extend his contract, citing fiscal irresponsibility and poor test scores district-wide, among other reasons.

Photo: Paul WellmanJustin Tuttle, a 2020 candidate for school board, spelled out why the superintendent’s contract should not be renewed.. (October 15, 2019)

“I’m here tonight to implore you not to extend the contract of Superintendent Matsuoka,” said Justin Tuttle, a district parent and 2020 School Board candidate. “His managerial performance has been abysmal, presiding over educational decay and conflict, but not educational excellence. Even if you choose to ignore the 800 signatures, which I submit is a community mandate, please do consider the students, 6,000 of which are not proficient in math or reading.”

The 800 signatures (835 to be exact) Tuttle referred to are part of a petition called “SBUSD Deserves Better.” The petition signatures have grown daily over the past month. The peition lists five specific reasons to give Matsuoka the boot: Poor academic performance district wide, unacceptable school facilities, reckless financial oversight and budgeting, inadequate community outreach, and irresponsible management style.

Matsuoka was unavailable for interviews after public comment, because he, self-admittedly, was going to sit in on the closed-session board meeting on his performance review. Although that may have seemed an apparent conflict of interest, the district’s public information officer Camie Barnwell said it’s a normal part of the process. [Update 10/16:] Boardmember Laura Capps said Matsuoka was not in the room during his own evaluation. He was in the room for a separate agenda item unrelated to his performance, and left the room before the evaluation began.

Barnwell also said that the special meeting itself wasn’t as egregious as public commenters have made it out to be.

“Last year, the board also held a special meeting in closed session to work on the superintendent’s evaluation,” Barnwell said. What exactly the behind-closed-door process is, however, remains a mystery. No report followed the closed session as no actions were taken.

The board reconvenes on October 22 to vote on Matsuoka’s contract.

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