One local resident used the public comment portion of the Saugus Union School District’s board meeting Tuesday to share her thoughts about the district’s recent conduct regarding a cease-and-desist letter, citing perceived transparency issues and information suppression.
After thanking the board for serving her children well during their time in the district, parent Brenda Piccirillo said, “I guess I just felt compelled to be here because I am very disturbed over an article that I read in The Signal,” which outlined a union member’s allegations of code of conduct violations by the district’s board president.
After refusing to release the letter prior to the election, officials released a letter that was addressed to Board Clerk Paul De La Cerda and signed by Richa Amar, an attorney for the Saugus Teachers Association, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after SUSD Board President Chris Trunkey apparently won re-election to the board.
According to the cease-and-desist letter written by Amar on behalf of the STA and its members, 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.
“I was disturbed after learning that the cease-and-desist letter was basically suppressed until the day after the election,” Piccirillo said, mentioning that only 200 votes separated Trunkey and Duzick in the Nov. 6 election. Trunkey, with a little more than 51 percent of the vote, appears headed for another term, but there are still an unknown number of provisional and late mail-in ballots to be counted.
Piccirillo said she tried to get to the bottom of what caused the delay in the letter’s release, to no avail.
“I don’t really know what’s going on,” the parent said, adding that she tried get more information from the district’s public information officer, Lee Morrell, but his explanation was that the board and the district had until Nov. 9, and the letter was released early.
“I don’t know you,” Piccirillo said, referring to Trunkey. “I’ve never met you. I’ve never met the other woman who ran against you. I have no idea what either one of you is like personally (or) professionally,” she added, acknowledging that she had not followed the school board election closely.
SUSD has always been a really well-oiled machine, Piccirillo said, “but I feel like there needs to be more transparency, (and) I think that some questions need to be answered, because — from where I’m sitting — it just seems like voter suppression. The information wasn’t released until the day after the election. That, to me, is mind-boggling that that could even be allowed.”
With that being said, Piccirillo said she hopes the district receives her message with the spirit that she intended. “It just seemed very odd, and I feel like those questions need to be answered.”
At the conclusion of the public comment portion of the meeting, Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said she understood why some may have concerns.
“In any situation, we follow the process and protocol that we are bound by as a school district. We did that in this particular case,” Hawkins said, adding the district has 10 days to respond to a California Public Records Request Act.
“Anytime serious allegations or serious requests are made, we look at each of those,” the superintendent said. The district consults with legal counsel and follows the appropriate steps.
“It’s not as simple as pressing a button and releasing a letter or not releasing a letter. We have to make sure that all the different pieces are taken care of,” Hawkins said. “Unfortunately, the transparency that you’re looking for when we’re dealing with certain situations, we are unable to do at this particular time.”
Hawkins said the district followed its typical, usual and customary procedures in the release of the letter. However, she has not told The Signal why the letter was released one day after the election, and not before, as requested.
“We are not part of the political process in any way shape or form,” Hawkins said during Tuesday’s meeting. “That’s why there was no comment made prior to the release of the letter and — until now — why there’s been no comment made since the release of the letter.”
“You can understand the optics, though,” Piccirillo replied.
“I can. I can,” Hawkins said. “And, unfortunately, the school district is the vehicle for the public records request. We followed those processes to the letter.”
Trunkey has to date also declined to answer questions about the letter.
Trunkey said in an email upon the release of the letter, “On Friday, Oct. 26, the district received a complaint from CTA. Consistent with district policy and procedure, the district will investigate the allegations and respond appropriately. Pending the outcome of the investigation, the district is not at liberty to comment further.”