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.
K-12 Education

An email suggests outside coordination over PVUSD superintendent’s ouster. All involved are staying silent

PVUSD trustee Georgia Acosta sent an email seeking outside “approval” of an agenda for the meeting at which the district’s superintendent was dismissed. One intended recipient has close ties to her reelection campaign. So what does it all mean?

As Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustee Georgia Acosta was censured last week over a litany of issues, an eyebrow-raising email was made public for the first time.

Acosta sent the email to two people on Jan. 23, days before the surprise firing of district Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez. The message itself sought “approval” of a draft agenda for that meeting, which ignited days of public outcry that quickly led to Rodriguez’s reinstatement.

But neither intended recipient had any official connection to district or board business.

One, Vic Marani, is a longtime Santa Cruz County political figure with close ties to Acosta’s re-election campaign. The former head of the county’s Republican Party, Marani once served as a PVUSD trustee and last held elected office in 2012 as a trustee at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.

The other, Joe Dominguez, is the district’s former chief budget officer who resigned in August under unclear circumstances.

A screenshot shows an email displayed at the PVUSD school board meeting Wednesday night.
A screenshot shows an email displayed at the PVUSD school board meeting Wednesday night.
(Pajaro Valley Unified School District)

PVUSD trustee Kim De Serpa brought forward the resolution to censure Acosta and revealed the email as part of that process. She was able to obtain it, it she said, because Acosta addressed it to Dominguez’s defunct PVUSD account.

In the context of other issues brought forward about Acosta’s conduct on the board, De Serpa said the email raises an uncomfortable question.

“It’s clear to many of us that [Acosta] doesn’t read her board packet, doesn’t participate in committees, often would show up with very strong opinions about what needed to be done — and it just begs the question of, ‘How long have other people been directing her activities?’” De Serpa said.

‘Our immediate approval’

In the email, Acosta asks Marani and Dominguez to review an attached draft of the agenda for the Jan. 27 meeting where Rodriguez was dismissed. “Hello Joe & Vic,” Acosta wrote. “Attached is the revised Agenda just sent to us. This needs our immediate approval for her.”

What kind of approval Acosta may have been seeking — and why — remains unclear. Acosta, Marani and Dominguez have yet to publicly offer any explanation or respond to Lookout’s numerous requests for comment.

Campaign finance records, however, show Marani has multiple connections to Acosta’s recent reelection campaign. He is listed as Acosta’s campaign committee treasurer for a time in 2018-2019, leading up to her reelection, campaign disclosures show.

A campaign disclosure from 2018 shows Vic Marani listed as the treasurer for PVUSD trustee Georgia Acosta.
A campaign disclosure from 2018 shows Vic Marani listed as the treasurer for PVUSD trustee Georgia Acosta’s successful reelection bid.
(Santa Cruz County Registrar of Voters)

He is also listed as an assistant treasurer for Watsonville Neighbors, a political committee that donated $1,000 respectively to the 2020 campaigns of Acosta and PVUSD trustee Oscar Soto. (Soto, formerly board vice president, also backed Rodriguez’s dismissal and, together with Acosta, most staunchly resisted her reinstatement.)

Dominguez is now an assistant superintendent at Coachella Valley Unified School District.

‘Planning a coup’?

Like De Serpa, former PVUSD and county Office of Education trustee Jane Barr said she views the email as a suggestion of something untoward. Barr said it clearly violates the “spirit of the Brown Act,” and also might violate the substance of that statewide open-meetings law.

“A sitting trustee is sending a proposed proposed agenda to people outside of the agenda committee, outside of the district — apparently, prior to being posted publicly — and asking for their advice on it,” Barr said. “Clearly, Georgia has ulterior motives. And she was, in my opinion, planning a coup.”

With an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students last year, PVUSD is the largest district in Santa Cruz County — serving about half of the county’s public school students.

Acosta represents PVUSD’s Trustee Area II, bounded to the west by Green Valley Road and encompassing northeastern Watsonville to the Santa Clara County line. Elected in 2016, Acosta is also a business lecturer at CSU Monterey Bay and is listed as the owner of an interior design company. Her husband, Ed Acosta, was elected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Education in November.

Months after Rodriguez’s brief ouster, Acosta continues to refrain from publicly addressing the growing list of claims raised by her colleagues and by a Lookout investigation that found she may have inappropriately directed district staff in the brief period of the superintendent’s absence. She voted against her own censure Wednesday, but kept her video off throughout the live-streamed meeting and offered no defense or explanation for her alleged conduct. She also has yet to publicly address mounting calls for her resignation or recall.

Among those calling for Acosta to resign are De Serpa, Barr, and Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo. Several other elected officials have stayed out of the fray or said they are holding out hope for a more amicable resolution.

Caput opposes recall

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput said he has a positive view of Acosta and a distaste for recalls — an outcome he said he would oppose. “Hopefully, they can just work it out without a big mess,” Caput said.

Watsonville High teacher Ryan Jones is among the organizers of an online petition urging Acosta to resign or face a recall from voters.

“I’ve never seen a board member try to silence the community the way that I saw trustee Acosta do,” said Jones, who has taught in the district for 11 years.

“I’ve never seen a board member participate in such secret governing strategies with people that are not elected board members. I believe and suspect that that really does look like small town, local corruption — and I’ve never seen it on that level before.”

Lookout’s past coverage:

Jan. 28: No reason for firing given, ousted PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez says

Jan. 29: PVUSD trustees reverse course, vote to consider reinstating fired Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez

Jan. 30: Why did actor Edward James Olmos turn up at a Pajaro Valley Unified school board meeting?

Jan. 31: PVUSD trustees unanimously reinstate fired Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, change board leadership

Feb. 1: Reinstated PVUSD superintendent Michelle Rodriguez back to work after ‘hardest 36 hours of my life’

Feb. 2: Two PVUSD trustees cited ‘death threats’ amid Michelle Rodriguez saga. Days later, police say none reported

Feb. 18: INVESTIGATION: Were shaky finances behind PVUSD superintendent’s firing? Hastily deleted post reveals tension

March 6: PVUSD school board to review $16K in questionable legal fees racked up during superintendent saga

March 10: PVUSD board votes against paying $16K in legal fees authorized by its former president

March 21: PVUSD trustees to consider censuring former president Georgia Acosta after superintendent saga

March 24: Acosta censured, PVUSD reveals email that expands superintendent saga questions