SUSD releases cease-and-desist letter

SIGNAL FILE PHOTO: Former-Saugus Union School District governing board President Chistopher Trunkey and Clerk Paul de la Cerda listen to a speaker at a prior district meeting.

Saugus Union School District officials have released the previously reported cease-and-desist letter that was sent in response to a union member’s allegations of conduct violations by the district’s board president.

After refusing to release the letter prior to the election, officials released a letter Wednesday that was addressed to Board Clerk Paul De La Cerda and signed by Richa Amar, an attorney for the Saugus Teachers Association.

De La Cerda previously said legal counsel had informed board members not to speak about the cease-and-desist letter, so he could not confirm at the time if Trunkey was the subject.

However, the cease-and-desist letter released Wednesday highlights “alleged violations of the Educational Employment Relations Act (“EERA”) and board president Christopher Trunkey’s violations of the board’s Governance Standards and Code of Conduct,” according to the letter written by Amar on behalf of the STA and its members.

“Beginning in or about August 2018, STA, led by STA President Deborah Rocha, spearheaded efforts to vet and endorse board candidates for the upcoming election on Nov. 6,” which would result in the endorsement of multiple candidates, including one who was running against Trunkey in Tuesday’s election, the letter states.

“Following STA’s endorsement of Sharlene Duzick, Ms. Rocha learned that President Trunkey began making inquiries of community members looking for ‘dirt’ on Ms. Rocha as a way of discrediting STA in retaliation for its endorsement of Ms. Duzick,” Amar states in the letter.

“Ms. Rocha also learned that president Trunkey has contacted agents of Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District,” where Rocha served as president of the board more than eight years ago, according to the letter. The calls were to ask about Rocha’s involvement in a decision involving the controversial Albert Einstein Charter School.

An Acton-Agua Dulce board member on Wednesday told The Signal that Trunkey’s calls were about Rocha.

According to the letter, Rocha confronted Trunkey at an Oct. 16 district meeting  and said: “I know you’ve been asking around about me. What can I help you with? What do you want to know?”

“Trunkey seemed taken aback, but eventually admitted that he was trying to obtain information about the ‘pay to play,’ referring to the finances involved with approving Albert Einstein Charter School,” the letter stated. At the end of the conversation, Rocha asked Trunkey why he didn’t simply ask her, “to which Mr. Trunkey responded, ‘I didn’t think it was worth the time asking you.’”  

Amar and the STA believe Trunkey’s conduct is unlawful, “because it interferes with, restrains, and coerces an employee (Rocha)“ simply because she chose to participate in a protected union activity as a member of STA’s political action committee, the letter states. “By Mr. Trunkey’s actions, he is not only seeking to harm STA’s president’s reputation and to deter her from engaging in protected activity, but also to discredit STA in retaliation for opposing his candidacy.”

As a result, STA requested that the board clerk serve as the chair of the board’s Code of Conduct subcommittee to consider the allegations, the letter states. “STA hereby demands that board president Trunkey cease and desist from interfering with the rights of STA and its members and from making inquiries of third parties concerning Ms. Rocha.”

The board is to provide a written response no later than 20 days from the receipt of cease-and-desist letter, Amar said, adding, “Please also be aware that if the complained-of conduct persists, STA may bring legal action against the board and seek appropriate legal relief.”

Trunkey said in an email Wednesday, “On Friday, October 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.”

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