By Tamara Pantic
Good evening Mayor Gillmor, Councilmembers.
I’m here today to speak in regards to former Councilmember Caserta’s behavior. I had hoped he could join us this evening, but I hope there is still something to be gained from the accounts of students and adults who have interacted with him.
There are countless incidents in which Mr. Caserta’s temper and desire for control come through, but in my limited time, I’d like to recount what happened to me in his classroom. It was the second week of school and during a classroom competition, I made the error of pulling out my phone with the intent to record what was happening. The second it happened, I realized I had not behaved appropriately for the classroom. I immediately began apologizing, expecting to have my phone confiscated and perhaps be sent to the office- instead, the rage of a fully grown man fell upon me in front of my classmates. He screamed at me, calling me “disgusting” and “despicable”, telling me I had been one of his favorites but was now “the lowest of the low” in his eyes. He told me I didn’t deserve to be in his classroom and that I should be kicked out and given a zero for the semester. That it was illegal to record a teacher in his classroom, how dare I have the audacity to try it, that he should have me escorted out. I can’t remember more, only that the tirade went on for what seemed like hours. Later in that class, he had me walk to the front of the room and unlock my phone for him, show him my photos and videos, and then show him the “deleted” folder on my phone, to prove the video (which I had stopped the moment I realized I shouldn’t have pulled out my phone) was gone. I was unable to attend any of my classes for the rest of the day- instead I sat in the SBO, unable to stop crying, as I was told by administration to apologize to him and move on.
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to speak in public, to interact with authority figures, and to assert myself with confidence. Following this incident, I was wracked with anxiety. I could not enter his classroom without taking antacids to prevent myself from vomiting. I cried when asked to answer a question for a few weeks following the incident. Eventually, I put it away and was able to contribute in class and participate, and when I did, Mr. Caserta would reference the incident, saying things such as “You’re starting to get back in my good graces,” or “Look everybody, Tamara is almost a favorite again.”
He loved to play favorites. Everyone knew who they were; he would heap compliments and admiration on them, giving them extra credit for no reason other than they had pleased him somehow. This was only one of the ways Mr. Caserta created an environment where success meant brown-nosing him.
When he did decide to show up to class and teach us, he would often make work phone calls from class and badmouth the city council. He would tell us how useless and slow his fellow councilmembers were, how hard it was for him being one of the youngest councilmembers. He would also brag on numerous occasions about how happy he was to have been a lobbyist for the 49ers, that thanks to them, he had a Mercedes and a comfortable life.
It is my belief that Mr. Caserta is not and has never been fit for public office. Frankly, I don’t believe he’s fit as an educator. Discounting his behavior, he was truly a good lecturer and his students did well on the AP exam. However, this man is in no way fit for guiding and shaping young minds.
He once asked his students whether we truly believed a politician’s personal life or behavior outside of his career should affect his career. He tried to convince us that nothing should affect a man’s career, be it gambling, infidelity, etc. I truly hope we’ve answered his question.
Pantic, a 2017 graduate of Santa Clara High School and former Youth Commissioner, read this at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. She gave us permission to print her speech in its entirety.