Saturday, September 30, 2023

CUSD Board Approves Block Expenditure Plan, Elects New Officers, Announces Public Release of Tortilla-Gate Investigation

The trustees of the Coronado Unified School District met on Tuesday, December 14th at District Offices where they approved the “Educator Effectiveness Block Expenditure Plan,” recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday for classified staff and authorized a positive certification for the first interim budget report. In addition, Board President Lee Pontes made the announcement that the district would release the results of the private investigation regarding Tortilla-Gate.

“The Coronado Unified School District has obtained the investigation report into incidents following the June 19, 2021 basketball game between Coronado High School and Orange Glen High School,” wrote Superintendent Karl Mueller in a statement dated December 14, 2021. “Attorneys for CUSD hired the Sobel Group to conduct an investigation to seek facts in preparation of a CIF appeal hearing. The report will be released to the public on or before December 21, 2021, after third party names have been redacted by the district’s legal counsel.”

At the meeting, several members of the public questioned why the district did not submit the investigation to CIF as promised, and asserted that the district had failed the kids. Community member Steve Rauber said that there was no attempt to put on a defense of the basketball players, and that he worried that the Superintendent as well as the board members were “incompetent liars.” Coronado resident Kevin Shaeffer said that there was a big trust issue between the CUSD school board, the administration, and the community.

“We learned that CUSD chose to withhold that [private investigation report] from CIF,” said Shaeffer. “You have failed to strengthen any amount of community trust.”

Mueller responded during a phone conversation and email the morning following the meeting. According to Mueller, although the investigation was not submitted to CIF in its entirety, sections of the report—the parts which supported the appeal—were in fact submitted in a timely manner. The entire investigation was not made available to either Mueller or school board trustees until the weekend prior to the December 14th board meeting, per the recommendation of legal counsel.

“To preserve the integrity of the appeal or any further litigation, CUSD did not have access to or possession of the Sobel Report until it was determined that no further legal action was pending,” wrote Mueller. “Our legal counsel determined that only information in the investigation which supported CUSD’s appeal would be provided to CIF during the hearing.”

Mueller asserted that his position, as that of the district’s, had been to defend the championship win, as evidenced in his June 25th letter to Ron Nocetti, CIF Executive Director.

“In the first-person accounts, audio and video that we have reviewed to date, we have seen no evidence of antagonization by the players actions or behaviors that justify forfeiting the game,” wrote Mueller in the letter. “The young men on the court played hard, fairly, and earned the championship win.”

In board business, trustees approved several action items, the first of which was the authorization of a positive certification for the first interim budget report. Donnie Salamanca, Deputy Superintendent, shared that the district was on track budget-wise, but that unstable enrollment numbers could impact funding to the tune of about $2 million. But he said that the district had plans to mitigate low enrollment numbers, including an expanded TK that could begin as early as next year. Other ways of increasing enrollment include increasing Intra-District Transfers (IDTs).

The board also approved the “Educator Effectiveness Block Grant Expenditure Plan,” a program which provides funds to school districts to provide professional learning and to promote educator equity, quality, and effectiveness. Deberie Gomez-Grobe, a member of the community, expressed concerns that the $711,000 grant was infused with social-emotional learning jargon, and warned that CUSD could become a “big beta test-ground for social-emotional learning outcomes.” Dr. Megan Battle, Director of Learning, said that only about 8% of the funding is geared towards social emotional learning, and that most of the funding would go to professional learning opportunities for teachers.

In addition, the board approved the recognition and celebration of Juneteenth as a day of observance and approve retroactive compensation for classified employees.

In the reports section of the meeting, Declan Dineen, ASB President, reported that CHS experienced the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day program that educates high-schoolers about drinking, driving, and personal safety. The program simulates drunk driving accidents and encourages students to take personal responsibility for their actions.

Jennifer Landry, the ACT President, shared in her teacher report that Strand Elementary celebrated its first Susan Larson Day in remembrance of the longtime-teacher. She said that teachers were working hard and staying positive, but when asked by Trustee Valdes-Clayton about teacher moral, she said the year was challenging.

“But we keep coming, because we love the kids,” said Landry. “We are caring and committed educators to our kids, and we have dedicated administrators that lift us up, each and every day.”

Dr. Heidi Bergner, Principal at Village Elementary, was at the meeting to share her annual report. She underscored the importance of social-emotional learning, and creating a culture that embraces empathy and compassion, as well as a love for learning. She said that at least ten new students are set to begin school in Village, and although the sparse data from standardized testing scores during COVID didn’t reveal significant academic growth, Dr. Bergner isn’t worried.

“Why aren’t we worried? Because we have a very strong focus, we know what we need to do. We know our kids, we understand their needs,” said Dr. Bergner.

Also in reports, the achievements and next steps for the current DoDEA Grant (Department of Defense Education Activity) was presented by Dr. Shannon Coulter and Linda Roach. The grant, which is being used to boost STEM-related activities and academic achievement, has accomplished several of its goals, including the redistribution of iLab materials for success in COVID learning, as well as increased opportunities for STEM activities, specifically robotics. In addition, the grant has helped increase access to student supplemental materials and online instruction, as well as aided in professional development.

During public comments, two fifth graders spoke, advocating again for “freedom of association” during recess at all grades at Village Elementary School, as opposed to orchestrated activities in cohorts. Fifth grader Brooke Proctor shared that although the fifth graders are now allowed to play freely, the roll-out has been very slow, and the other grades are still not allowed to play with their friends. One fifth grade boy said he wished he could give some of his play time to his little sister, who is in first grade.

“At recess, my little sister has to stay at her station playing basketball, with a dodge ball and a tiny hoop,” said Parker Hyde. “The first graders don’t even know how to play basketball, because no one has taught them.”

Community member Ann Sonne decided to perform her public comment in song, to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas.” She said that when her children were young and not listening, she used to sing to them, and then they would understand what was being said. Lyrics included, “All I want for Christmas is a school board that doesn’t call our kids racist,” and “All I want for Christmas is a school board that doesn’t call parents terrorists.”

At the close of the meeting, Trustee Esther Valdes-Clayton said that CUSD is a small district, but also mighty in leadership and power. She said that the board wants to win back the trust of the community members.

Pontes shared that he welcomes public comments, and wants community members to continue to come to board meetings.

“I invite you to continue to come, and continue to let us know when you aren’t happy with us,” said Pontes.

In other board business, new board officers were elected: Valdes-Clayton was elected board president, Dr. Anderson-Cruz was elected vice president, and Whitney Antrim was elected clerk. At the next board meeting in January, the board will be updated on the implementation of the new 4×4 schedule at Coronado High School.

Community members are encouraged to check emails for district updates.


Christine Van Tuyl
Christine Van Tuyl
Christine was born and raised in Texas, but moved to Coronado with her family as a teen in 1993. Although initially horrified by surfers, flannels and skateboards, she ultimately grew to love all things So-Cal. A graduate of UCSD, Christine got her first writing job on the KUSI ten o’clock news while simultaneously juggling a reporter position at the San Diego Community News Group. She worked as a public relations professional, a book editor, real estate professional, and a freelance writer before eventually succumbing to motherhood in 2008.A decade later, Christine resurfaced to start the Island Girl Blog, a Coronado lifestyle blog. In addition, she writes a monthly page for Crown City Magazine. Christine loves hanging out with her husband, Ian, and their two spirited daughters, Holland and Marley, who attend Village Elementary and Coronado Middle School. When she’s not working, you’ll find her practicing yoga, spilling coffee at school drop off, meeting friends for sushi, or sailing the Bay with her family and English Bulldog, Moshi. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]