SUSD board member apologizes for actions taken during election

Christopher Trunkey speaks at the Saugus Election forum held in James Foster Elementary School Thursday, September 13, 2018. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.
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Saugus Union School District board member Chris Trunkey apologized publicly at Tuesday night’s school board meeting for his actions during the 2018 election that prompted a complaint from the Saugus Teachers Association.

During last year’s election, in which Trunkey was running against Sharlene Duzick for the Trustee Area No. 5 seat, the former board president was involved in a dispute with the president of the Saugus Teachers Association, Debbie Rocha.

According to Rocha, Trunkey attempted to “dig up dirt” on the union representative after the STA decided to support his opponent in the November election. The “dirt,” Rocha said, was Trunkey looking into her voting record as a member of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District board and seeing if her voting record and rhetoric as an Agua Dulce trustee matched her rhetoric as a Saugus union leader.

Rocha said she believed this was an attempt to undermine her credibility and, by extension, her organization’s credibility in backing Duzick.

Prior to the election, a cease-and-desist letter was sent to the board from a teachers’ association attorney, detailing allegations of misconduct by Trunkey, including alleged violations of the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA) and the board’s code of conduct. The district declined to release the letter until a day after the November election.

“What the school board president, at the time, did is not what school board members are supposed to do,” said Rocha. “He behaved inappropriately and (the Saugus Teachers Association was) made to sound like we were lying and that wasn’t the case.”

An independent subcommittee was formed by the newly appointed board president in December to investigate whether Trunkey had in fact violated any code of conduct policy.

However, during his statement Tuesday night, Trunkey said he was apologetic, but that his actions were not politically motivated.

“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,” Trunkey said.

He went on to say that Rocha’s experience on the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District did come up, and that the election for himself ended up being close in terms of vote totals. The nature of these two things, coupled with the STA supporting his opponent, gave the appearance of something nefarious.

“I accept full responsibility and apologize,” he said. “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.”

After hearing Trunkey’s statement, after which he declined to comment any further, Rocha said that she had accepted his apology and was ready to return to district and STA business.

“What I can say is it is clear there has been follow-up and you have to follow the rules,” Rocha said. “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.”

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