Teachers Protest Santa Barbara Unified School Board, Claim Leadership Malfunction

District Officials Deny Teachers’ Claim That District Misused Reserve Funds

Credit: Carl Perry (file)

Dozens of teachers protested outside the Santa Barbara Unified School District building during a school board meeting Tuesday, after a letter from the Dos Pueblos Faculty Senate (DPFS) was sent out, expressing a lack of confidence in the school board and superintendent and accusing district leadership of misusing funds. 

The letter and much of the criticism seemed mostly aimed at district Superintendent Hilda Maldonado, including an accusation that the school board has “allowed the Superintendent to deplete the district’s reserve account at an alarming rate, potentially leading us into significant debt.” The letter provided no specifics on what amount has been depleted and when, and district chief of communication Nick Masuda said this is an outright false claim. The total available reserve for this fiscal year is $32.8 million, Masuda said. Next fiscal year, this number will decrease to $28.5 million, and the year after will be $27 million. 

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The letter goes on to demand immediate accounting of the district’s spending practices, implementation of hiring practices that include a panel of district leaders who have been at the district for at least five years, exit interviews for all leadership personnel leaving the district, and board acknowledgement of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association survey that expressed significant grievances with Maldonado’s performance. The letter also demanded that Maldonado move to “a primary, permanent residence within the five sections of the new district map.” This demand had little basis, said Masuda, who confirmed Maldonado lives within the district. Masuda also said the district has and will continue to conduct exit interviews.

[The primary residence demand was made in a draft copy of the letter that was mistakenly sent to the Independent. After this article was posted, the letter writers sent the corrected final letter, which omitted that demand and instead asked that persons be hired with secondary experience to balance the “lack of current knowledge.”]

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Another teacher group, the Association of Raza Educators (ARE), made clear that the group does not align itself with views of the Dos Pueblos Faculty Senate. “The direction and character of the accusations and demands of the DPFS is a mostly white-led formation,” the letter read. “It aligns with agendas in other spaces that do not center the voices of the most vulnerable in our district.”

The ARE letter also defended Maldonado, expressing that while there is a need for healing between the BIPOC community and Maldonado, the group believes she has been “unfairly targeted.” The letter detailed incidents at past board meetings, such as community members like Greg Hammel attempting to tone-police Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten, and Brian Campbell making a comment that the district is “creating the next generation of gardeners, maids, and servant people.” The group called these incidents “fodder for the DPFS to attack the school board and the superintendent, who are all women, and women of color.”

Santa Barbara High School and Goleta Valley Junior High have also reportedly sent formal letters to the district expressing concerns similar to those outlined in the DPFS letter, though the Independent had not obtained copies of those two letters as of press time.

Clarification: This article was updated on May 31, 2022, to reflect the sequence of letters the Independent received and the changes in information.

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