District postpones formation of subcommittee

Saugus Union School District leaders gather at a meeting of the governing board. (SIGNAL FILE PHOTO)

With two new trustees set to join the Saugus Union School District’s governing board in December, members chose this week to postpone the formation of a subcommittee that would be responsible for investigating board president Chris Trunkey and the allegations detailed in a recent cease-and-desist letter from the union representing the district’s teachers.

When Richa Amar, an attorney for the Saugus Teachers Association, informed the district of Trunkey’s alleged conduct violations in October, the teachers union and its lawyers requested that SUSD’s board clerk serve as the chair of the board’s Code of Conduct subcommittee to consider the allegations.

Per board bylaws, when the district receives evidence or allegations relating to a board member’s conduct, the board president and a member of their choice will form an ad hoc advisory committee that would conduct an investigation. If the board president is involved, then the responsibility of overseeing the subcommittee would default to the board clerk.

After refusing to release the letter prior to the election, officials released the three-page letter — addressed to Board Clerk Paul De La Cerda and signed by Amar — on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after SUSD Board President Chris Trunkey apparently won re-election to the board, pending final counts of absentee and provisional ballots.

The cease-and-desist letter that’s written by Amar on behalf of the STA and its members states that Trunkey questioned community members in an attempt to find “dirt” and discredit the STA president in retaliation for the STA endorsing his challenger Sharlene Duzick. The letter continues on to allege that Trunkey violated the the Educational Employment Relations Act (“EERA”) and the board’s Code of Conduct.

After reviewing the evidence, the subcommittee would decide if the allegations could constitute a violation of the Code of Conduct, according to the board’s bylaws. If the subcommittee members find that the evidence or allegations don’t constitute a violation, then the matter will be dismissed and receive no further review.

While the district’s policy clearly outlines who will participate and what will happen in the process, it fails to establish a time frame for when the process must occur, meaning the board was within its right to defer establishing a subcommittee until elected candidates Laura Arrowsmith and David Barlavi join the board Dec. 11.

Following three yes votes, a lone nay from De La Cerda and Trunkey recusing himself, the board clarified after the vote that they intend for the subcommittee to be formed as soon as the two new candidates take their spots on the board, and not a day later.

“This is not a motion to table indefinitely,” board member David Powell said. “This is a motion to consider the formation on Dec. 11, so I want to be quite clear that it is time certain for the meeting on Dec. 11.”

Board Clerk De La Cerda, who likely would have led the subcommittee, said he disagreed with the deferment but acknowledged that the process would take time and he sees why the board would want continuity.

“I’d have been more than willing to take on the responsibility,” De La Cerda said, adding that he didn’t want to shun the responsibility or pass the buck off to the next board. “This instance was one that this current standing board faced, so I feel we should handle it, but the timing is what it is.”

It is not yet known who will assume the position of board president and control of the subcommittee when the board reconvenes to swear in Arrowsmith and Barlavi.

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