Michelle Rodriguez
(Pajaro Valley Unified School District)
K-12 Education

PVUSD trustees unanimously reinstate fired Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, change board leadership

Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustees cap off week of infighting, outcry with dramatic reversal — rescinding dismissal of district chief and reshuffling leadership on the board.

The Pajaro Valley Unified School District board of trustees unanimously voted to reinstate Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez late Sunday, a dramatic reversal that capped off days of board infighting that followed an outpouring of support for the district chief.

Rodriguez had been fired in a 4-3 vote Wednesday, a move that came with no clear explanation and shocked many in the PVUSD community. Supporters rallied around Rodriguez, leading to a wave of public comments that ultimately derailed a meeting on Friday to pick an interim replacement.

In a third marathon meeting on Sunday, each of the four trustees who had fired Rodriguez reversed course and backed the undoing of her dismissal.

In another sign of the backlash the board has faced, trustees unanimously unseated the board’s president and vice president — both of whom had backed Rodriguez’s dismissal.

Trustee Georgia Acosta leads Sunday's meeting before being voted out as president of the school board.
(PVUSD meeting screengrab)

Trustees removed Georgia Acosta from her position as board president, appointing trustee Jennifer Holm in her stead. And Jennifer Schacher was unanimously appointed as board vice president, unseating trustee Oscar Soto. Both former officers will remain on the board.

“This was a boulder dropped into the pond of this community, and it was damaging,” Holm said toward the end of Sunday’s seven-hour-long meeting, noting the transparency questions that surrounded Rodriguez’s firing. “We can do better than this. We can be stewards of our district and we can still retain privacy.”

Trustee Maria Orozco said of the week’s events, “It was embarrassing, it was irresponsible, and I’m afraid if there was a lack of trust with the community before, it’s more so now.”

Scores of PVUSD teachers, parents and community members called for the change in board leadership Sunday, dwarfing the handful of those speaking out in support of the embattled trustees. Watsonville City Council member Rebecca Garcia, Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, DigitalNEST founder Jacob Martinez, and the MAIA Foundation — a regional education programs funder — joined in on those calls.

“As a parent, I want leaders that our youth can trust and look up to,” said Martinez, who has three children in PVUSD schools.

Acosta, who some have accused of leading the ouster of Rodriguez, drew especially sharp criticism for the secrecy surrounding the move.

At the start of the meeting, Acosta and Soto each said they have faced death threats over their votes to outs Rodriguez. They then announced their intentions to reverse their votes.

And even as she joined her colleagues in voting to reinstate Rodriguez, Acosta said she was changing her vote “for reasons I have previously stated,” apparently referencing those threats.

Schacher, the first among the four trustees to reverse course, emphasized that the threats had nothing to do with her change of heart, citing instead what she had learned from listening to the community and her constituents. Daniel Dodge Jr., also among the group four, apologized for the lack of a “nontransparent process” around the sudden firing — and called his earlier vote a mistake.

Rodriguez couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Sunday night. But she previously told Lookout she would be watching the meeting and is ready to step back into her role as top district administrator, a $222,820-a-year position.

Trustees in late summer had just inked a new contract with Rodriguez that doesn’t expire until summer 2024, which made her sudden dismissal all the more head-scratching. In addition to members of the community, nine school superintendents from across Santa Cruz County penned a letter to the board trustees in support of her reinstatement. (The full text of that letter is toward the end of this story.)

Even after her reinstatement, fallout from the saga appears almost certain continue.

On Sunday afternoon, Rodriguez had put out a statement raising new questions about how her termination was handled. According to her, the closed session meeting on Wednesday was held on a Zoom account not affiliated with the district — and she said she was repeatedly denied entrance.

“Approximately 60 minutes prior to closed session, President Acosta provided a non-PVUSD closed session link to the Board of Trustees and myself,” Rodriguez said in a statement Sunday. “I expressed a security concern at that time with using a non PVUSD upgraded account. When closed session began, I requested and was denied access multiple times. I was not permitted to ever speak to the other Board Members in closed session on Wednesday night.”

Acosta has not responded to repeated requests from Lookout for comment this week, including a request to address the concerns raised by Rodriguez.

Watch the entire meeting here:

Santa Cruz County school superintendents offered this letter in support of Michelle Rodriguez before the PVUSD meeting: