The end of the 2017-2018 school year brought a large standing-room-only crowd at the Santa Clara Unified School District’s board room on May 24, but public discussions on the education board’s agenda regarding its stance on Measure A far outweighed the public discussion about former Council Member and Santa Clara High School teacher Dominic Caserta.
The passage of Measure A would amend Santa Clara’s City Charter to split the City into two districts, represented by three council members each. Most speakers contended that doing so would complicate the voting process and underrepresent minorities. One community member, who plans to run for a government seat in 2020, suggested this was the City Council’s way of getting out of the election lawsuit it lost earlier this month. That lawsuit stated that the City’s at-large elections prevented Asian-Americans from winning and thus violated the California Voting Rights Act.
Council Member Teresa O’Neill, who was present at the meeting, spoke in favor of Measure A, saying that it would encourage more diversity in the City Council, which is currently all-white.
“One of the unusual things about Santa Clara is that we are a very dispersed community ethnically. There is not a single majority precinct in Santa Clara that has the Asian vote,” she said.
When it came turn for the District Board Members to speak, Board Member Andrew Ratermann apologized for the confusion he caused when he had asked for the item to be placed on the agenda. He said he had become aware of campaign items that implied that the school board was endorsing a position on Measure A.
“I wanted this to come back as an action item and not a discussion item because I wanted us to take no position on Measure A. We have now spent an enormous amount of time that we could have spent on educational issues,” Ratermann said.
Board members agreed that Measure A was not an education issue and unanimously passed a motion to take no stance on it.
Board President Clarifies Position on Harrassment Policy
At the May 24 meeting, Board President Noelani Hunt clarified some of the steps the School District has taken to handle harassment claims in light of the sexual assault claims against Caserta.
“We appointed an independent investigator to not only look at the allegations but to also look at the process, and how we improve our reporting processes to assure that we will not have issues like this ever occur again,” she said.
The District has established a separate Title IX Coordinator position who will be responsible for implementing changes to district policies, procedures and training so that students and staff can better recognize, respond to, and report harassment. Those duties have typically been assigned as part of other administrative duties.
The District has also established the Step Up and Stop Harassment Task Force which will be charged with the responsibility of developing recommendations so that the District can begin implementing changes beginning with the next school year.
Lydia Jungkind, who was among the first to publicly expose Caserta’s behavior, was present at the Board Meeting and described her ordeals.
“He came up with objective names for his students, including me. He cussed in class. He told us beautiful women used their bodies to trap rich men into marriage and he told us that women need to marry rich in the Bay Area in order to survive,” Jungkind said.
Another attendee, former Santa Clara High School student Tamara Pantic, read a statement from a student who said she was harassed by Caserta in 2002. “That student told her story to police but it was buried by the Santa Clara Unified School District for 16 years.”
O’Neill, who had been a Member of the Santa Clara School Board from 1998 to 2006, stated from the podium that she had no knowledge of these incidents during her time.
“On a lot of things, I have a pretty good memory. I can assure you we were never told about this and no one was more shocked to see a letter on the internet signed by Butch Pastorini that had the level seriousness of the charges was never discussed with the Board,” she said. “I am confident that this Board now will take the appropriate actions as we are in the City to eliminate the possibility of this kind of travesty going on in the future.”
The new school year will also see some new faces in the School District. Most notable will be Eric Dill, who will replace Mark Allgire as the District’s Chief Business Official. Dill is the current Superintendent of San Dieguito Union High School in Encinitas, CA. Allgire will retire in June.
Other positions confirmed at the Board meeting were the Custodial Manager, Transportation Manager, Director of Special Education and Director of Elementary Curriculum.
A Windfall for Future Modernization Projects
Also at the meeting, Michal Healy, the District’s Director of Facility Development and Planning, revealed that the District is eligible to gain between $13 and $18 million in grant money from the Office of Public School Construction for modernization projects.
“Those would be future money that we can use to apply for any modernization projects that the bond office does,” Healy said. It will be a tedious process, she said, “But we will start the process now to make sure that we are official and have the eligibility.”