www.montereycountyweekly.com january 25-31, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 17 During the school day, Carmel Middle School is buzzing with students, teachers and staff. On one Wednesday evening a month, when the campus is mostly empty except for athletes wrapping up practice, the school library comes to life for a meeting of the Carmel Unified School District Board of Trustees, with dozens of adults filling chairs in audience formation. These meetings follow a pattern: The board invites public comment, and a parade of parents and community members get up, called by numbers, to speak at the podium. There’s a mom who objects to books in the library that include sexual content. There is a retired attendance secretary who, having retired, is unafraid to tell the board they’re doing everything wrong (“I don’t understand why the board can’t follow their own board policy,” Ann Berry said in October). There’s a parade of parents expressing a mix of anger and confusion about the state of the school district’s governance. Then most of the members of the public leave—there’s no subsequent invitation for them to make comments, even on specific discussion topics on the night’s agenda. The board hears from CUSD staff and student club members. Then the board members break, often for many hours, into a room for a closed-session discussion. Under California’s public meetings laws, several things may be discussed in closed session including litigation and personnel matters. CUSD has plenty to talk about, with no fewer than three pending lawsuits filed by current or former employees alleging sexual harassment. Meanwhile, personnel also continues to be a topic. The former superintendent, Ted Knight, resigned on Aug. 11 last year. Former deputy Sharon Ofek was appointed as acting then as interim superintendent and then, in September, became the sole candidate in contention for the job of superintendent—the board voted 4-1 to forgo a search process and instead negotiate with her. Facing community outcry, the board backpedaled in November, and announced plans to solicit public input instead. Meanwhile, CUSD is still embroiled in litigation over the terms under which Knight resigned. Christine Davi is a district parent (and also a professional in public agency law—she is city attorney for Monterey). After asking nicely a few times for CUSD to correct what she identifies as an illegal payout of $770,000 to make Knight go away quietly, Davi sued in October. She filed an amended complaint in December detailing alleged violations of that agreement, which she argues exceeded the allowable payment by at least $524,480, based on government code and Knight’s contract. “With approximately 2,274 students enrolled in the district, CUSD, in its excessive overpayment to [Knight], deprived funding in the amount of $230.64 per student enrolled in the 2023/24 school year,” the lawsuit claims. In a case management statement, Davi suggests that the three board members who voted to approve Knight’s separation agreement—Sara Hinds, Jason Remynse and Karl Pallastrini— be held personally liable to pay back the district. In a statement filed on Jan. 12, CUSD’s attorneys indicate they may ask the court to toss out the lawsuit. District officials refer questions about pending litigation to the court record. And when I asked 2023 board president Hinds for an interview about leadership transitions, she told me she was interested only in talking about positive things. Current president Remynse did not respond to a request for comment for this story. That all leaves a big, gaping hole where there could be information, but instead there is guesswork and distrust. Carmel Unified School District has hired three superintendents since 2015. Two of them resigned before the end of their contract term and agreed to drop claims against the district. “The community needs to know who is going to be the new superintendent, and they haven’t had any input,” board member Anne-Marie Rosen said in September. For a few months at least, it looked like the board intended to remedy that. But those plans may have been scuttled—the board’s agenda for a meeting on Jan. 24 (after the Weekly’s deadline) includes a closed-session superintendent appointment. Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. School Bell Carmel Unified looks for new superintendent amid fallout over the last one. By Sara Rubin Shell Game…Squid only has occasion to try lobster (delicious) when Squid’s cephalopod buddies on the northeastern seaboard send them via airplane. But Squid also knows, much like crab fishing on the Central Coast, that when humans fish for lobster in traditional traps on the seafloor with a buoyed rope, it can create potentially fatal impacts on whales, which are protected by human laws. So Squid found it absurd when two defamation lawsuits were filed last year—one by fishermen in Massachusetts, another by fishermen in Maine— against the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation on account of its Seafood Watch program listing lobster as red, i.e. “avoid,” due to its science-based assessment of the potential impacts of lobster fishing on whales. Broadly speaking, the lawsuits argued the listing hurt lobster sales. But here’s the thing about defamation lawsuits: You can say bad things, so long as they’re true—the truth is a defense. On Jan. 9, a federal judge in California dismissed the Massachusetts fishermens’ lawsuit after they agreed to drop it—they’d have been on the hook for the Aquarium Foundation’s legal fees if they lost. (Squid expects the same for the Maine case.) At its core, it’s a First Amendment case, and last Squid checked, Seafood Watch has every right to make scientific assessments about the harm a fishery can cause to marine life, and shout it out to all species, anywhere in the food chain. Squid just hopes the lobster fishermen can clean up their practices. Lobster is delicious, after all. Lucky for Squid, all Squid needs to catch a delicacy are tentacles, jaws and ink. Keep Trucking…Squid oozes around town in whatever configuration is fastest, dodging traffic jams in the old jalopy. Sometimes that means taking the truck route. Squid had been using a new truck route (as of 2022) in Soledad, until Squid heard a report from contract engineer Leon Gomez who presented on Jan. 17 to Soledad City Council. The new route, it turns out, is more dangerous and less environmentally friendly than the old route. The previous route has 36-percent fewer collisions, was 2.3 miles shorter and fewer schools (two instead of four) are along the way. Improvements, like signage, to upgrade the new route would cost a bunch of money. So Soledad city staff and Gomez recommended returning to the old route. Mayor Anna Velazquez noted that the council approved a six-month trial and it was supposed to return to the council for consideration—it did, but one-and-a-half years later than it should have. Velazquez suggested holding a community meeting to get feedback, based on concerns she has heard from constituents. So Squid expects the process to remain stuck in park for a little bit longer before they wind back the clock to 2021. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “They haven’t had any input.” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com