Several harassment allegations were made Tuesday evening against the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Chief Education Technology Officer Todd Ryckman as the board discussed, and ultimately approved, an amendment to his employment position.
Karol King worked for the educational technology department from 2005 to 2018 and told the school board that many staff members quit due to Mr. Ryckman’s “lack of technical experience” and others left “due to consistent daily accusations and criticisms against their work performance, technical ability, and personal experience.”
Ms. King told the board she felt “belittled” by Mr. Ryckman and said she was stricken of all the duties she had been performing prior to his appointment.
“Staff members need to feel secure and supported to perform their duties without his type of persecutions without having to walk on eggshells and fearful for their employment,” she said, adding that she made multiple attempts to meet with Superintendent Cary Matsuoka but never heard back.
“I felt ignored and that my concerns were unimportant,” she said.
After Ms. King addressed the board, she told the News-Press she hoped to bring about some change.
“We had no avenue here,” she said. “I couldn’t go to the union, I couldn’t go to HR, I couldn’t go to my boss – I even tried to go to the superintendent and nothing changes. The boys are hiding stuff…. I was trying to make it better for the employees here.
“I would’ve just hoped the board would have investigated it a bit further, and it saddens me that they don’t,” she said. “It’s hard to stand in front of your accuser.”
Justin Tuttle told the board that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has issued a right to sue letter and Mr. Ryckman is facing a potential lawsuit for workplace sexual harassment and other allegations for his actions towards his wife, who was a mobile device manager working under Mr. Ryckman.
Mr. Tuttle said that after the two attended a conference together in October 2016 that Mr. Ryckman’s “demeanor, interactions, tone and conduct” substantially changed to “open hostility, bullying and unwarranted punitive actions.”
Mr. Tuttle said he also emailed the board letters from two other employees who worked under Mr. Ryckman alleging “personal experience with his abusive behavior.”
“Ryckman doesn’t deserve a contract extension, much less a raise,” he said.
The board voted 4-0, with President Wendy Sims-Moten absent, to approve Mr. Ryckman’s contract extension, as well as extensions for Meg Jette, Raul Raimrez, and Frann Wageneck.
As part of the contract extension, Mr. Ryckman’s base salary will increase to $184,396.50 as of July 1. The contract extensions were discussed during closed session during Tuesday’s meeting.
When asked to clarify the contract amendments and evaluation process, Dr. Matsuoka said he evaluates each of the employees annually.
Dr. John Becchio, the assistant superintendent of Human Resources for the district, told the News-Press in an email that the HR department had previously known about the allegations and retained the services of an external investigator.
“A thorough investigation was conducted and there were no findings of misconduct on the part of Mr. Ryckman,” Dr. Becchio said.
Also Tuesday, the board received a report from Dr. Matsuoka to announce changes in practices and employment status of staff members who have regular contact with district students who will now be required to be district employees.
Dr. Matsuoka said the changes have been discussed for the past 12 to 18 months and announced the district is now the “authority as a hiring agency” for the following programs in advance of the 2019-2020 school year: Summer school teachers; Media Arts & Design; Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy; and the Program for Effective Access to College.
“As these positions move under our direct supervision, we will be required to pay statutory benefits such as pension costs, workers comp, Medicare, etc.,” Dr. Matsuoka wrote in a staff report. “In most of the above cases, these positions are funded by external foundations and we will work with them about who absorbs those increases in costs. These are past HR practices that we have inherited that need to be cleaned up.”
According to the report, the two support positions that are funded by the MAD Foundation will be hired by the district with funding support coming from the foundation. The MAD Academy has been in the news in recent months following an investigation into Director Dan Williams and staff member Pablo Sweeney. Mr. Williams reached a settlement agreement with the district and was allowed to return to campus before the board authorized staff to revise the settlement to include Mr. Williams’ “immediate removal from campus.”
Mr. Sweeney was suspended in January and eventually resigned from his position after an investigation was launched for alleged sexual misconduct.
“Part of the situation with the MAD Academy did expose a vulnerability… this is now a discussion that we’re having at a public board meeting to acknowledge that that was a concern to many, many people as it should be and I know it was for myself as a board member,” said Board Vice President Laura Capps. “I applaud that we’re shining some daylight on this process that has been underway.”