Quick Take:

Following a campaign that saw Soquel Union Elementary School District Area 4 trustee Phil Rodriguez retire, then be reelected, a group of parents and teachers weighed in Wednesday night over moves his detractors call “premeditated.”

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A group of about 10 parents and teachers showed up in protest Wednesday night against the swearing-in of longtime Soquel Union Elementary School District trustee incumbent Phil Rodriguez at an SUESD school board meeting.

“I’m just disappointed [about] the way it went through,” Capitola parent Dan Johnson said. “I felt like voters were misled.”

The meeting, which also saw the swearing-in of trustees Kallista Edmundson (Area 2) and Robert Dickenson (Area 3), comes in the wake of an unusual race in November between Rodriguez and opponent Justin Maffia for the Area 4 seat.

Rodriguez, who has served on the board for nearly a decade, filed this summer to run for another four-year term. But weeks later, at a Sept. 7 board meeting, he announced his resignation from the board, effective immediately. At that point, it was too late for elections officials to remove his name from the ballot — though Rodriguez says his decision to retire, broadcast to the public on YouTube, was widely known among Area 4 voters.

Phil Rodriguez poses with student government officers from New Brighton Middle School at a board meeting Wednesday night.
SUESD trustee Phil Rodriguez (second from left) poses with student government officers from New Brighton Middle School at a board meeting Wednesday night. Credit: Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz

Rodriguez responded to a questionnaire circulated by Lookout in October to all candidates for the SUESD board of trustees. Maffia, who also showed up at Wednesday’s meeting to protest Rodriguez’s swearing-in, says he was under the impression that he was running unopposed. He told Lookout that seeing the compiled responses — published Nov. 3 — gave him the opposite idea.

“But that was days before the election — ballots were already out,” Maffia said during the gathering at New Brighton Middle School in Capitola.

He says he would have run his campaign more competitively if Rodriguez had stayed in the race, and contends that Rodriguez’s retirement, followed by reelection, was a “premeditated” move designed to win him the election.

Rodriguez won his race handily over Maffia, garnering 57.8% of the vote over his opponent’s 41.6%. He says that Lookout’s questionnaire simply asked for his opinions on issues in education — and in response to Maffia’s claims, that he fully intended to retire prior to being voted into office.

“If my friends and neighbors select me, I will serve,” Rodriguez told Lookout after the meeting. “That’s my thought process.”

Also speaking out against Rodriguez was Soquel Education Association president D-R Martin, who said that while Rodriguez’s election was legitimate, her union sees his motivations as opaque.

Soquel Education Association president D-R Martin speaks during Wednesday's SUESD board meeting.
Soquel Education Association president D-R Martin speaks during Wednesday’s SUESD board meeting. Credit: Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz

“There can be no denying that Phil’s actions raise a lot of questions,” Martin said. “If willing to serve on the board, why submit his retirement instead of waiting for the election outcome? And if truly wishing to retire, why step back onto the board?”

District Superintendent Scott Turnbull said the district and school board have opted to not comment on Rodriguez’s election. There was no mention at the meeting by board members about the topic.

Rodriguez was sworn in at the meeting, and said he plans to serve his full four-year term.

Thomas Sawano joins the Lookout team after two-and-a-half years at City on a Hill Press, the student-run newspaper at UCSC. While there, he reported on the university, arts and culture events, and the...