A sign at Cabrillo College in Aptos
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

Questions linger after Cabrillo board of trustees places VP on administrative leave

Cabrillo College Vice President of Instruction Paul De La Cerda is on administrative leave until Jan. 31 after a Monday evening vote by the board of trustees. Officials have declined to provide reasons for the decision to put him on leave or why the January date was chosen.

In a closed session Monday, the Cabrillo College board of trustees placed Vice President of Instruction Paul De La Cerda on administrative leave through at least the end of January, days after he was accused of overbilling his former employer.

While Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein previously told Lookout that officials were “aware of the circumstances of why he left East L.A.,” it’s still unclear what exactly they knew when he was hired.

After the Monday vote, Cabrillo College officials and representatives declined to comment further on the allegations and how much they knew about the investigation. Several trustees and Wetstein said they could not comment on the circumstances surrounding De La Cerda’s charges and his standing at the college, saying it is a personnel issue.

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Wetstein added that he couldn’t say why the board made its decision.

De La Cerda has not returned requests for comment via email, but his attorney issued a statement Wednesday morning.

“The best part of the criminal justice system is we do not jump to conclusions,” said David D. Diamond. “My client has devoted his entire life to serving others. I look forward to our day in court.”

He was charged with a felony count each of misappropriation of government funds and embezzlement of government funds from his time working at East Los Angeles College. The Los Angeles district attorney’s office accuses him of overbilling the school about $1,600 for several hotel stays between March 2017 and 2019, according to a Dec. 9 release. A representative from the district attorney’s office declined to comment saying the case is pending.

The office’s release also said the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating. The sheriff’s department has not responded to a request for comment.

Paul De La Cerda.
(Via Cabrillo College)

Cabrillo spokesperson Kristin Fabos said the college doesn’t have a policy for automatic dismissal or discipline for employees accused or convicted of crimes.

Per the college’s human resources department, Fabos explained, administrators at Cabrillo are employed via a letter of appointment and not contracts; Wetstein is the only administrator with a contract. The department said that while contracts are public record, letters of appointment are not.

Wetstein said he didn’t know what information differentiates a letter of appointment from a contract that makes it a personnel record. He described a letter of appointment as having information related to salary and benefits, in addition to a notice of potential renewal on March 15.

Monica Price, a legal fellow with the First Amendment Coalition, said while she isn’t sure exactly what differentiates a letter of appointment from a contract, she believes that the document is a public record. The First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit that focuses on issues related to freedom of speech and government transparency. It is also the legal representation for Lookout.

Price cited a section in government code which says that "[e]very employment contract between a state or local agency and any public official or public employee is a public record which is not subject to the provisions of Sections 6254 and 6255.”

She said documents showing personal, intimate details of an employee, such as medical information, are protected, but a document showing a business relationship is public record.

“Even if you want to say, OK, it’s not an employment contract, it seems like this does establish that official employment relationship,” she said. “And so it wouldn’t be a personnel record that’s exempt.”

Wetstein said De La Cerda’s salary is public record and the notice of his appointment is a public record available online in documents from the board of trustees’ May 10 meeting. The notice includes a list of names and effective dates for their appointment or resignation. The effective date for De La Cerda’s appointment was June 15, 2021.

De La Cerda began working at Cabrillo shortly after he left East Los Angeles College, where he served as the dean of economic development and innovation.

He is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7.