Georgia Acosta, Area II trustee in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
(Pajaro Valley Unified School District)
K-12 Education

Trustee mounts first recall defense: Acosta labels campaign a ‘witch hunt,’ discloses cancer treatment

Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee Georgia Acosta issued her first public response to the campaign to recall her from office in a filing citing support from a Santa Cruz County supervisor and a Watsonville city council member.

Embattled Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustee Georgia Acosta is mounting her first defense against a campaign to recall her from office.

In a formal response to an initial notice of the recall, Acosta labeled the effort a “witch hunt” and blasted the campaign sparked by a dramatic dispute over district leadership earlier this year.

Acosta was ousted in January from her role as board president after PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez was reinstated, and Acosta’s colleagues on the board censured her in March for those and other issues — including missing 26 board meetings since she was first elected in 2016.

Acosta has so far evaded inquiries from the press — dozens of requests for comment by Lookout among them — and has yet to publicly address most of those issues.

Months after she was ousted from her role as president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School Board of Trustees, Georgia...

Her response to the recall filing, however, is a clear signal that she is taking her case directly to voters in her Trustee Area II, encompassing northern Watsonville and parts of unincorporated Santa Cruz County.

Acosta’s response also offers a window into how she is shoring up support. Among other supporters for her to remain in office, it lists Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput and Watsonville City Councilmember Ari Parker.

In the filing, she depicts herself as an independent voice on the school board who has prioritized fiscal accountability, saying she has objected to unspecified “financial improprieties” and “improper hiring practices” within the district. Her response would appear on the ballot should a recall election be held.

She also discloses what she said has been her battle with cancer in recent years . “I, Georgia Acosta, am blessed to be a Cancer Survivor,” the filing states. “While battling this dreaded disease these past few years, my commitment to you has never wavered.”

Carol Turley, campaign manager for the Committee to Recall Georgia Acosta since the effort launched in April, said she was previously unaware of Acosta’s apparent diagnosis but that her group is pressing ahead. Organizers filed the recall petition in advance of a deadline Thursday, according to Santa Cruz County Clerk Tricia Webber.

“People’s medical history is their business, and they don’t necessarily have to share that with anybody if they don’t want to,” said Turley, adding that she, too, has undergone cancer treatment. “But if you have a job and you have responsibilities, at the minimum, you let people know, ‘Hey, I got some some stuff going on, and I’m not going to be able to attend.’”

The notice of intent to recall Acosta cites public “mistrust” created in the wake of the Rodriguez firing, accusing Acosta of attempting to “silence the public’s right to speak” and generally failing to act in the best interests of families, teachers and staff.

“We deserve a leader who will govern with honesty and integrity,” the filing states. “The way to move forward is to put Georgia Acosta behind us.”

Notice of intent to circulate a recall petition against PVUSD trustee Georgia Acosta.
Notice of intent to circulate a recall petition against PVUSD trustee Georgia Acosta.
(Santa Cruz County Elections Department)

Next steps in recall process

If the recall progresses to the ballot, an election could be held at the end of this year or early in 2022, Webber said. Her office has estimated the cost of such an election at $42,000-$77,000 based on current registration, under Acosta’s claim of up to $100,000.

What is by far the largest hurdle on the path to the ballot lies ahead. Recalls, by design, must clear a high bar. Once election officials verify that the recall petition meets all necessary requirements, supporters would have 90 days to collect signatures from at least 25% of registered voters in Acosta’s district — some 2,150 people.

“I keep saying it’s a heavy lift, and it is,” Turley said. “Not that many recall elections have actually been successful. But I feel like there’s enough cause for a recall election, and I feel like there are enough people that are alarmed by what’s happened that we’re getting the support.”

There has never been a successful recall of a school board member as far back as the clerk’s records extend; the most recent time a recall campaign against a school board member reached the ballot in Santa Cruz County was in 1978.

Still, there is recent, local precedent for recalls. In 2020, two Santa Cruz city councilmembers were successfully recalled over workplace complaints and a fight over an unsanctioned homeless encampment, the first successful recalls in the council’s history.

Read Acosta’s full response below. Click here if you have trouble viewing: