PVUSD Trustee Georgia Acosta (left), until recently the school board's president, and Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.
PVUSD Trustee Georgia Acosta (left), until recently the school board’s president, and Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.
(PVUSD and Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

PVUSD school board to review $16K in questionable legal fees racked up during superintendent saga

Former Pajaro Valley Unified school board president Georgia Acosta might have violated policy by tallying up more than $16,000 in legal fees relating to the brief dismissal of the district superintendent Michelle Rodriguez — without approval from the rest of the board.

The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees is set to review Wednesday whether the district should pay for $16,000-plus in legal fees accrued by former board president Georgia Acosta — without approval from the rest of the board.

Relating to the dramatic, and brief, firing of Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez on Jan. 27, the fees result from dozens of hours of work performed by attorneys throughout the month, according to the text of the scheduled agenda item and an attached invoice.

If the board decides the district shouldn’t foot the bill, Acosta could be forced to pay the invoice herself, according to a district spokesperson.

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Attorneys from law firm Dannis Woliver Kelley performed more than 54 hours of work and racked up a bill of $16,038 around the time of Rodriguez’s dismissal, starting with a teleconference with Acosta on Jan. 12, the invoice shows.

Their work came at Acosta’s direction, rather than at the direction of the board as a whole, according to the agenda. It included strategizing, preparing memos and travel fees, and analysis of “administrative” and “personnel” issues.

Notably, the invoice also includes a single vague reference to communication “with COE re stabilization issues.” That line appears to refer to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and the fiscal stabilization effort that a Lookout report revealed came to a head in the district the week of Rodriguez’s surprise dismissal.

At a meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, the PVUSD board plans to discuss whether Acosta “had the authority to incur legal expenses on behalf of the District without the permission of the Board,” according to the agenda. Then, the board will decide whether the school district should pay the bill.

Bylaws state the school board can use attorneys, including private attorneys, to “meet the needs of the district” and “may authorize a specific member to confer with legal counsel on behalf of the Board.”

But the bylaws make no mention of any unilateral authority for a board president to consult with attorneys without approval from the board as a whole.

Acosta is also facing questions about whether she overstepped her authority by giving direction to district officials regarding financial forecast letters posted to, then quickly deleted from, the district’s website.

Acosta did not immediately return requests for comment on the legal fees, and has not responded to more than a dozen earlier calls and emails relating to persistent questions around her role in the firing.

She remains on the school board but was ousted from her position as president Jan. 31, shortly before Rodriguez was unanimously reinstated.

PVUSD’s new board president, Jennifer Holm, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, and will be live-streamed via PVUSD’s YouTube channel.

Based in Watsonville, PVUSD is the largest school district in Santa Cruz County, serving nearly 20,000 students as of last year.

Review the full invoice below: