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Cayucos parents demand more transparency from district board 

Cayucos parents are upset that their kids' district superintendent may soon see a hefty raise to his pay schedule, the latest in a series of scuffles revolving around district transparency.

The tension started when the Cayucos Elementary School District board voted to pass a Let Them Breathe resolution in August 2021, only to rescind it a month later amid parent outcry. The resolution initially passed at a special meeting announced to the public on short notice, and it led the school's librarian to resign.

The situation had some parents questioning the board's transparency.

click to enlarge PARENTS SPEAK OUT A proposed raise to Cayucos Elementary School District Superintendent Scott Smith's pay schedule has parents concerned. - FILE PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • File Photo By Karen Garcia
  • PARENTS SPEAK OUT A proposed raise to Cayucos Elementary School District Superintendent Scott Smith's pay schedule has parents concerned.

"I felt like it would be a really good idea if we were to begin recording our school board meetings," said Roberta Held, a district parent. "We were the only school district in San Luis Obispo County that does not record their school board meetings in a fashion other than written minutes."

Held said some district leaders weren't too enthused about recording meetings when it was brought to the board in October. In addition to not being recorded, the October meeting was held in-person, despite every other board meeting throughout the pandemic being held over Zoom.

"Superintendent [Scott] Smith brought up concerns that things would be taken out of context from the recordings and they would be used against him," Held, who attended the October meeting, said. "Another school board member brought that up as well."

In a video recorded by a parent at the October meeting, who requested to remain anonymous, Smith is seen getting frustrated at parents in the audience.

"The county superintendent has no authority over me. I'm tired of people threatening me with the Health Department. I'm tired of people ... threatening me with the Department of Justice and accusing me of violating civil rights," Smith says in the video. "I'm going to do my best to follow the law, follow state mandates, and if people don't like it, too bad."

According to Held, at one point Smith handed out water bottles to audience members—but only to those not wearing masks, she said.

The parents who petitioned for recorded meetings were successful. On Nov. 17, the board passed a motion to do just that. Smith declined New Times' request for comment on the decision.

"I absolutely agree with it," Board President Pete Schuler said of recording meetings. "I feel at this time, the more communication, the better."

But some parents still have transparency concerns—the latest of which is about Smith's paycheck.

Since 2019, Smith has split his time as superintendent between Cayucos Elementary School District and Coast Unified School District, which serves Cambria.

In March 2020, Smith's shared services agreement was approved: Starting in July 2020 and set to expire in 2024, the contract put Smith on a pay schedule, starting his salary at $194,250 and increasing by roughly $6,000 each year.

Though this pay schedule is approved through 2024 and would already give Smith annual pay increases, the district is now considering a new shared services agreement that would shift the whole pay schedule up by about $20,000. The new contract would put Smith on step 2 of the pay schedule, giving him a salary of $220,085—a 10 percent raise from step 2 of the previously approved contract.

Coast Unified's board approved the raise. Cayucos's board was slated to vote on it during its December meeting, but decided in closed session that it needed more time. They planned to bring it to a vote on Jan. 12, after New Times went to press.

In anticipation of the vote, 30 parents sent in public comments expressing trepidations about the proposed pay increase.

Board President Schuler said he couldn't comment on what initiated the pay increase.

"I just was not part of that, so I can't say exactly where it came from, but Cambria has already voted on their half," Schuler said. "We will have discussion about it [on Jan. 12]."

Smith declined New Times' request for comment about his proposed raise.

For Held and other parents, the situation reaffirms what they see as a lack of transparency in the district.

"There has been a lot of opportunities where leadership could step up and make efforts to repair some of the damage that's been done," Held said. "And instead, the opposite seems to be happening: Fuel is being added to the fire. Requesting a raise at this time, on the tail end of what has happened, is evidence of that." Δ


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