This post is sponsored by

Time For Change

New voice is needed to help city schools recover

By R.E. Graswich
November 2022

The past 12 years were a lousy time to have your kids educated by the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Staff morale plummeted, teachers went on strike, enrollment declined, insolvency beckoned. As for the job of educating young people, don’t ask. Sac City Unified flunked.

Last year, only 22 percent of Sac City Unified students met or exceeded state standards in English. As for math, it might as well be Greek. Just 5 percent of the city’s students met or beat state math standards.

The trends flow downward. Seven years ago, 35 percent reached or exceeded English standards, 29 percent for math. They can’t blame COVID-19.

Throughout the collapse, one person held a leadership position at Sac City Unified. His name is Darrel Woo, elected to the school board in 2010. He’s presided over the wreckage.

Incredibly, Woo wants another four years. He’s running for re-election in Pocket and Greenhaven on his dismal record. I’d love to know why, but he didn’t respond to my inquiries.

Luckily, Woo has an opponent, Taylor Kayatta, a Pocket husband and dad whose professional expertise ranges from accounting to law. His diplomas are an alphabet soup: CPA, MBA and JD. A former state auditor, he works in the county counsel’s office in Sutter County.

Kayatta likes being defined by his family, especially his two young children Torsten and Tegan. Their future rests with Sac City Unified. That’s why Kayatta wants to replace Woo on the school board.

“Every school district has its problems, but I’m not aware of too many that have as many problems as Sac City Unified,” he says. “It’s a confluence of everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.”

Kayatta rattles off a list of leadership failures at Sac City Unified. Employees are burned out and don’t feel supported. Good ideas are ignored. Children’s needs are secondary to adult priorities. Nobody trusts nobody.

The district’s implosion makes local elected officials and community leaders steer clear. “No politician in town will go near Sac City Unified,” he says. “They won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.”

Kayatta and his wife Teresa stuck with Sac City because they believe in local public schools. Teresa was raised in Pocket. She attended neighborhood schools and graduated from Kennedy High.

Things became personal when young Torsten needed help with speech therapy. He was 3 and not talking. The family turned to Sac City Unified and got nowhere.

“They just wouldn’t help us,” Kayatta says. “It’s not like we don’t know how to advocate. We’re both attorneys. But at Sac City, it’s on the parents to push and push. They won’t get any help from the district. I kept thinking, ‘Is today the day we leave Sac City and move to Folsom?’”

Eventually the family reached Sacramento State University, where they found help. Today, Torsten, 8, thrives at Pony Express, where “they have an amazing speech therapist,” Kayatta says.

Kayatta began to study Sac City agendas and budgets. He watched board meetings. “I audited school districts for the state Department of Finance and actually like that kind of thing,” he says. Family and friends encouraged him to run for school board.

As a politician, Kayatta has no experience. He’s learning on the job, walking neighborhoods, knocking on doors and talking with voters. He’s supported by Sac City labor groups, but is running on his own.

“My goal is to show leadership from the top and build consensus and trust,” he says. “Today there’s none. Everyone tells me the first priority is to get rid of (Superintendent Jorge) Aguilar, but I’m not so sure. I’m not a fan of turnover. I like stability. I want to see what problems are solvable.”

Some voters tell him they don’t have kids and don’t care about schools. Kayatta reminds them they pay school taxes. He points out everyone suffers from a wrecked school district.

“The community has to understand, whether you have kids or not, if your schools fail, your community fails,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

Stay up-to-date with our always 100% local newsletter!

* indicates required
Type of Newsletter
Share via
Copy link