Our View | Apologies and Digging Up Dirt: A New Day for SUSD?

By The Signal Editorial Board

The Saugus Union School District board of trustees has been making news lately, but not for the kinds of reasons that school boards typically like to make news.

For a supposedly non-partisan elementary school district board, the SUSD seems to have gotten especially “political” over the past half-year or so, and it seems to be more than a coincidence that some of the folks involved in running the district seem more “politically inclined” than most of those who have held those seats over the past several decades. 

The latest came Tuesday night, when board member Chris Trunkey apologized for his actions during the November election campaign.

It was one of those apologies that go something like this, laying some blame on the person receiving the apology: I’m sorry you were offended when you misinterpreted my words and actions.

Trunkey was apologizing as a result of what he described as “research” he conducted during the campaign regarding the track record of the president of the Saugus Teachers Association, which had declined to endorse Trunkey for re-election in his campaign against Sharlene Duzick for Trustee Area No. 5.

Trunkey’s research about STA President Debbie Rocha prompted a “cease and desist” letter from the teachers’ association’s legal counsel, alleging that Trunkey, who at the time was president of the SUSD board, was seeking to dig up “dirt” on Rocha to discredit her and the STA. The letter accuses Trunkey of violating the Educational Employment Relations Act as well as the SUSD board’s own standards and code of conduct.

The Oct. 26 letter read, in part, “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. Ms. Rocha also learned that President Trunkey has contacted agents of Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District (‘AADUSD’), where Ms. Rocha served as president of the AADUSD board of education eight years ago, to ask about Ms. Rocha’s involvement in a decision involving the controversial Albert Einstein Charter School.”

When The Signal requested a copy of the letter on Nov. 1, the response from the district was that it couldn’t be released until Nov. 9 — conveniently, three days after the sitting board president was up for re-election. They actually ended up releasing the letter on Nov. 7, the day after the election.

The three-page letter is, undeniably, a public record. The district is allowed 10 days by law to respond to a public records request, so no law was broken there. However, a more timely release of the letter was not an outrageous thing to request.

District officials cited their “process” in dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s when receiving a public records request. As we editorialized previously, that does not pass the smell test. If the district’s intent was to avoid “playing politics” with the letter, its actions had the opposite effect.

After the election, the district board appointed a two-member subcommittee to look into the STA complaint. 

Fast forward to Tuesday, and Trunkey issued a public apology, saying: 

“While a candidate for re-election this past election cycle, I conducted research regarding charter schools in the Santa Clarita Valley, which is a topic I believed would be and was an issue during the campaign.”

He added: “I accept full responsibility and apologize. It was never my intention to gather information about (Rocha) specifically, or to use the results of my research for any purpose other than to answer questions about charter schools … Ms. Rocha, I regret that my actions led you to believe some other intentions.”

Yes, that’s one of THOSE apologies: I’m apologizing because I kind of have to, but it’s at least partly your fault because you misunderstood me.

Rocha, to her credit, accepted the apology: “It is clear there has been follow-up and you have to follow the rules. We’re supposed to be about the students and not about political parties or what he said or she said. Let’s get back to working on how to use the funding we have to provide the best education for our students.”

So that’s it, we suppose. We can’t escape the feeling that Trunkey and the district are getting a pass on some things that, perhaps, they should not be receiving. It seems lately there has been far too much news emanating from the SUSD about politics, partisan gamesmanship and questionable decision-making on the release of public records.

We hope this is indeed the end of it, and the SUSD board will leave behind the politics. We look forward to getting back to writing headlines about all the great educational happenings that benefit the children of the Saugus district.  

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