School Board Plays Musical Chairs as It Looks to Fill Matsuoka’s Seat

Latino Community Asks Board to Make Superintendent Search Process More Inclusive of Spanish Speakers

Santa Barbara School District Boardmembers and Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. | Credit: Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Unified School District boardmembers played a quick round of musical chairs on the dais Monday night before narrowing down the list of firms looking to help the district find its new superintendent.

President Wendy Sims-Moten, who terms out December 2020, left her chair next to Superintendent Cary Matsuoka after Laura Capps was unanimously elected by the board to take Sims-Moten’s spot as president.

“I just have got to tell you, girl, I am so glad that I no longer have to tell people to stop clapping, stop doing this, sit down, all of those things,” Sims-Moten said to Capps, laughing. “But I’ve got to say, I’ve grown so much in this process through all the ups and downs.”

Capps is also running for County Board of Supervisors in 2020; her campaign so far has shown that women voters favor her. On an all-women school board, she kept with the same feminist energy and thanked her “board sisters” for the nomination. 

“With the team spirit of female leadership, I am proud to take on this new role,” Capps said. 

Jacqueline Reid was unanimously elected as the board’s new vice president, which was previously held by Capps. She terms out in December 2020. Rose Muñoz was also unanimously elected as the board’s new clerk, a position previously held by Reid. Muñoz will not term out until December 2022.

The change in leadership also includes the search to replace Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. His decision to step down comes at an extremely tumultuous time for the district. 

Over 800 people signed a petition asking Matsuoka not to extend his contract in the weeks before he retired, and packed board meetings became a regular occurrence after the previous school board controversially voted to demote Ed Behrens — the then-principal of San Marcos High School — in March 2018, resulting in an explosion of supporters flooding the board room in protest. 

Santa Barbara School District Boardmember Laura Capps.

Speaking Up For Spanish Speakers

Superintendent Matsuoka abruptly announced his departure from the district in October, leaving five months left to secure a new leader. 

After the seat shuffle on the dais earlier in the evening, the boardmembers were tasked with deciding on which of the four firms that reached out to the district about helping with its search for a new executive/superintendent will be asked to come back in January with detailed presentations. 

The half dozen public comments on the topic came exclusively from the district’s Latino and Spanish-speaking community.

“As a Latina mother, it takes double the effort for me to be able to participate in my children’s education,” said Margarita Mendoza through an English translator. Mendoza said she is a mother of two children, one of whom attends Roosevelt Elementary. She is also the co-president of the district English learners advisory committee (DELAC).

“We receive information through technology, like Facebook, email, and phone calls. We would love for this information about the search process for the new superintendent to be shared in our language, too,” she continued.

The district’s population is made up of 60 percent Latino students, the demographics of which is broken down here. Every speaker echoed Mendoza’s sentiments that the board make the superintendent search process more available to their community.

They were heard loud and clear. Boardmember Muñoz — characteristically the least outspoken of the five — made her voice heard Monday.

“I have looked at the consultants and which schools they’ve worked with,” Muñoz said. “With McPherson & Jacobson, I wondered if they had a consultant that was Latino and had experience with the Latino community. But I noticed with Ray and Associates, consultant Michael Martinez has a background with Latinos in Phoenix, Arizona, and has worked with schools of different sizes.”

Ultimately, the board unanimously selected Leadership Associates and McPherson & Jacobson to come back in January with presentations before they can decide which consultant will help select the new leader. The boardmembers all agreed the right firm needs to be able to meet the needs of the Latino community, and Capps added that they will call the firms’ past clients for reference checks, too.


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