Despite a group of Carpinteria people arguing that the Carpinteria Unified School District was in violation of several of its board policies, the district has decided to move forward with its acceptance of $189,000 donation from the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, known as CARP Growers, that will fund a full-time school counselor at Carpinteria Middle School.
The donation was accepted Aug. 27 by the school board in a 4-1 vote, with Rogelio Delgado dissenting. CARP Growers will donate $63,000 annually for three years and the district will hire the counselor through the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The new counselor could be on campus as early as Sept. 23, according to CMS principal Lisa O’Shea.
Several people spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s school board meeting, many of them praising Mr. Delgado for refusing to accept the funding.
Those opposed to the donation argue that it is a violation of the board policies on alcohol and drugs as well as the policy on gifts, grants and bequests.
The board policy on alcohol and drugs states the use of alcohol or drugs adversely affects a student’s ability to achieve academic success and could have serious social and legal ramifications. It further states the superintendent should implement a “comprehensive prevention and intervention program” that is designed to prevent or reduce alcohol or drug use.
The district’s policy on gifts states, in part, that the gift should not promote the use of drugs that violate any law or district policy. The policy also says that gifts should not “imply endorsement” that could “commercialize or politicize the school environment.”
After hearing from the public, school board President Andy Sheaffer stated that the district is a “basic aid school district” that derives its revenue from local property taxes.
“Just as a matter of record, we’ve been receiving cannabis money for the past four years through property taxes,” he said. “So whether you like it or not, the cannabis supports programs in the Carpinteria school district.”
Several members of the audience shouted “that’s different,” and another added “and it’s not true.”
“Well it is true,” Mr. Sheaffer said, then thanked the public for attending.
In an email to the News-Press, board member Michelle Robertson said the donation was not in violation of any board policy.
“We are not ‘promoting’ use of a product,” she said. “The Carp Growers are a legitimate business with all the required permits and meet the regulations set by the County and State.
“The voters of CA have passed the legalization of the production of cannabis which is used in many ways,” the email continued, with Ms. Robertson adding that taxes on tobacco and alcohol provide funding for early childhood education, mental health, child abuse and domestic violence services.
In a separate email, Mr. Delgado maintained the gift is a violation of the alcohol in drug policy. He also stated in a letter to the group “Concerned Carpinterians” that the district has the revenue for a counselor without the donation.
Peter Dougre, of CARP Growers, said he attended the meeting to “wash away any shame that some people in the community would have you feel.”
“We also all realized that we are a pioneer in new territory that requires some boldness,” he added. “I’m here to continue to show my support for a school district navigating that new territory. Not as a cheerleader for cannabis, but as a school district that can benefit from local businesses that will continue to contribute to community causes as best we can.”
Several people who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting said they were “appalled” seeing a picture published in the Coastal View News last week that showed three school principals (Jamie Perssoon, Canalino Elementary; Michelle Fox, Aliso Elementary; and Lisa O’Shea, Carpinteria Middle School), a technology director (Aaron LaPlante) and Superintendent Diana Rigby touring the greenhouses of Glasshouse Farms.
Greg Gandrud, representing Fair Education Santa Barbara, said it was bad optics and a hypocritical message being sent by district staff.
“What were you thinking when they appeared in a picture promoting the product?” asked Anna Carrillo, a former district teacher, who also alleged policy violations. “This vote needs to be rescinded.”
“I understand the need for a counselor at the middle school,” she said. “But this must not be done at the expense of a clear violation of CUSD board policy. Nonprofits accepting money from cannabis puts any federal funding in jeopardy.”
Charlotte Brownlee, assistant head of school at nearby Cate School, said that cannabis has no place is schools and urged the district to seek stronger control of both the location and density of growing in the Carpinteria Valley.
Jaime Diamond, a district parent, said she was overjoyed a local company would be interested in giving to the district in such a major way.
“People who are concerned with optics need to see the bigger picture,” she said. “This is an opportunity to teach responsibility with a new substance…. A picture is not going to send students flocking to dispensaries and seeking drug dealers as some may try and have you believe.”
Jay Hotchner, who is the elected union president of the district, said that the “fiasco around the legitimacy of grant monies is a direct result of the district’s general mismanagement of public funds.”
Mr. Hotchner went on to say that the union would be conducting a survey for district members to find out how others feel.
Ann Louise Bardach referred to the gift as an “egregious breach of the school’s charter.”
“Never mind the fundamental morality and ethics,” she said. “Please return this gift before we have more investigations, more problems, and more tax on our credibility as a community. We have a high school, it’s called Carpinteria High School not Cannabis High.”
Russell Ruiz, a parent of a middle school student, told the board he has held several events recently at Carpinteria High and no one has complained about the smell – a point that several in attendance protested.
Peter Lapidus told the board he feels as if he’s gotten “lip service” from the board when dealing with cannabis issued.
“Our schools are like the foundation of our youth… if you don’t have a good foundation, what you build on top of that is going to crumble down the line,” he explained. “(The growers) don’t really care about the long-term benefits of society of the schools. This is about them.”