Santa Barbara School Board Superintendent will not renew contract after years of controversy

Wesley Brown, Staff Writer

After weeks of public petitions and parent outrage, the Santa Barbara school board announced last week that district superintendent Cary Matsuoka will not be renewing his contract.

Last month, parent-run organization Fair Education started a petition demanding that the controversial superintendent’s contract not be renewed. The petition cited the reasons as “poor academic performance; unacceptable school facilities; reckless financial oversight and budgeting; inadequate community outreach, communication and responsiveness; and irresponsible management style.” 

Since the petition began it has received over 800 signatures.

In response to public outrage, the school board called a special meeting last Tuesday during the Columbus Day weekend. Despite the last minute announcement of the meeting, 25 members of the public attended and nine spoke. 

James Fenkner, Founder of Fair Education, stated that “whenever parents want to be more involved or request the curriculum that our students are being taught, the district plays this frustrating game of hide and seek … They hide it, we seek it. We’re not here for hide-and-seek. We’re here for our kids. We’re here for all the kids in the district. We want show-and-tell.”

Part of Fenkner and Fair Education’s complaints stem from the lack of transparency of the curriculum provided by the organization Just Communities. Both Fair Education and Just Communities have been embroiled in a lawsuit which claims that the secretive curriculum causes racism against whites.

Justin Tuttle, a school district parent and 2020 school board candidate, stated at the Tuesday meeting, “I’m here tonight to implore you not to extend the contract of Superintendent Matsuoka … His managerial performance has been abysmal, presiding over educational decay and conflict, but not educational excellence. Even if you choose to ignore the 800 signatures, which I submit is a community mandate, please do consider the students, 6,000 of which are not proficient in math or reading.”

Recent test scores released by the district revealed that only 56% of students in the third through eighth grades as well as 11th grade had proficiency in English and only 45% had proficiency in Math.

Matsuoka was hired as superintendent in 2016 and has received ongoing criticism since. Last year, Matsuoka demoted San Marcos Principle Ed Behrens to a teaching position. This decision led Behrens to sue the district for reinstatement. 

Matsuoka has also been criticized for overlooking the actions of an employee of the Multimedia Arts & Design Academy who allegedly sent inappropriate texts to a student and was not immediately reported to the authorities.

These incidents, along with poor test scores and a lack of transparency from Just Communities, has culminated in this petition and an announcement from the school board that Matsuoka’s $290,000 contract, which expires in June of 2021, will not be renewed. 

Board President Wendy Sims-Moten announced in a statement last Wednesday that “Superintendent Matsuoka … has not asked for an extension to his contract, and he has informed us that he will not seek one as connected to his evaluation process … The board will not be voting on his contract.”