San Juan district trustees censure board member in 3-1 vote

San Juan school district trustees narrowly approved a resolution Tuesday night censuring board member Larry Masuoka for what investigators said was his failure to report complaints of employees’ bullying and intimidation by the district superintendent.

In December, a Sacramento law firm at a district cost of $178,000 substantiated employee claims of poor treatment by then-Superintendent Glynn Thompson, who resigned effective this week. The same investigation, which required more than seven months, also found that Masuoka learned of the allegations as early as November 2012 but failed to “initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation when he knew or should have known” that the district had a duty to respond.

At Tuesday’s meeting, trustee Greg Paulo said he put forth the resolution after “much soul-searching” and urged other board members to vote for censure – a formal public reprimand – because of the investigators’ findings. By failing to act, he said, Masuoka “substituted his judgment for that of the board.”

Three trustees voted for censure: Besides Paulo, board President Lucinda Luttgen and board member Pam Costa voted in support. Costa successfully sought an amendment to the resolution eliminating language critical of Masuoka for acting without board authority.

Complaints from employees and others are “what every board member deals with on a daily basis,” Costa said, noting that there was no board policy governing when board members could confidently address complaints individually.

Board member Saul Hernandez voted against censure. “We make decisions and sometimes the decisions are wrong,” Hernandez said.

“As a board, we unanimously voted to give ourselves raises,” Hernandez said, referring to last month’s stipend increase. “I am embarrassed that I didn’t catch that. Had I caught it, for sure I would have brought it to a debate. If we censure Dr. Masuoka, should we not censure the entire board?”

Masuoka offered a recitation of the events leading up to the investigation and said the investigators’ findings were “not a case of black and white.”

“In this case, I did the best I could and I deeply regret that some people think my best was not good enough,” Masuoka said.

Masuoka, who is up for re-election in November, abstained in the censure vote.

Mary Ann Pivetti, a former principal of Skycrest Elementary School in Citrus Heights and past president of the San Juan Professional Educators Coalition, addressed the board, criticizing long-term members for placing Thompson in charge when they had already received reports about his leadership style.

“What you have done is unconscionable,” Pivetti said in addressing Masuoka during her remarks. “Please save the district further costs and distractions by finally taking the right actions and stepping down.”

Nancy Griffin, who described herself as a parent of a past student and a community volunteer, said she was heartsick at the board’s dysfunction. She urged the board to “tell employees and the community that unilateral behavior by one board member is absolutely unacceptable.”

Luttgen, in supporting the censure, said the board needed “to recognize the findings of the investigator.”

She said her vote, however, was not intended to undercut “all of the wonderful things Dr. Masuoka has done for this district. I agree we all make errors in judgment.”

“But sometimes the errors in judgment impact a whole lot of people,” Luttgen said. “I do believe we have been impacted with this particular error of judgment.”