In a fiery meeting before the Santa Cruz City School Board Wednesday night, parents and students protested the sudden firing of popular Santa Cruz High baseball coach George Arnott, but some of the strongest statements were accusations of a conflict of interest by Superintendent Gary Bloom.
Several parents said that Bloom had met with a friend who is a principal in another district and who has a son in the Santa Cruz High baseball program who was unhappy with the coach. She complained about Arnott and got him fired, they alleged several times before the seven-member board.
"Because Mr. Bloom is an acquaintance of one of the complainants here, I think there is a conflict of interest and Mr. Bloom should have recused himself from the decision-making process or at best gone to all the parents on the team to get their opinions for the full opinion," said Mike Duffy, the father of a baseball player. "He did not do that. There's a taint of conflict of interest in this decision and it should not stand in a public decision and a public forum like this."
Reached after the meeting, Bloom denied the charges.
"It's a misinformation campaign led by a few people," he said. "It's a totally fabricated attempt to change the subject. It's my job to talk to people in the community, a constituent. It would be a conflict if there were money involved or a family member. It's not a conflict to talk to a former colleague or a parent."
The chambers were filled with the coach's supporters. No one spoke against him. Arnott, 38, has a wife and three children and was a former minor leaguer and star at both Santa Cruz High and Cabrillo College. Many parents said he was an important link to college coaches across the country who could help their children get scholarships.
He spent his own time and money fixing up the decrepit baseball field, they said, and was devoted to their children.
"This is a grave injustice and it is a disservice to the current and future players," said Lori Quick, who added that it was "unconscionable" that the decision was made without input from the players and the community.
The parents asked the Board to reconsider the decision and put it on the agenda for next meeting. The Board could take no action unless an item is on the agenda. This half hour of complaints was part of the public hearing section of the meeting.
One of the most emotionally-charged moments was when Arnott's wife, Abby, said her husband was never told what he did to deserve being fired after only one year. (See video.)
Santa Cruz High School Principal Karen Edmonds wrote a letter to parents saying that there were others in favor of the firing. None of them showed up at the meeting.
Bloom, the superintendent, said he couldn't discuss the facts behind the firing because it was a personnel issue. On a sour note for hopeful parents, he said there was "no chance" that the Board would reconsider the action.
"The decision has been made," he said. "The Board is being very supportive of the decision of the administration. Based on the history, we are going to take another look at how we train and support our coaches. We certainly don't want to go through this again."
Santa Cruz High has had four baseball coaches in four years, something that parents said hurts their kids' chances to network and be recommended to college programs by established coaches.