With the recent departure of former sustainability coordinator Caroline Coster, local parents of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District have voiced concerns that the district’s sustainability efforts will fall by the wayside, but district leaders said Tuesday they are working to ensure SMMUSD stays green.

A total of ten speakers took the dais at the most recent SMMUSD meeting to discuss the vacant coordinator position formerly held by Coster, who parents said was largely responsible for implementing the district’s various sustainability initiatives before recently leaving SMMUSD prior to the end of 2019.

Though board members were unable to respond to attendees during the meeting, “that does not mean we are not listening,” board Vice-President Laurie Lieberman said before a group of parents, students and teachers spoke on the need to quickly find Coster’s replacement.

Parent Lee Garrun began the public comment section discussing “missed educational opportunities” before detailing how she began a waste sorting system in the Franklin Elementary School cafeteria with the support of Coster.

“In less than a month, our students are expert at waste sorting, our donation box is full, our organics and recycling are uncontaminated, and our landfill is free of methane-causing organics,” Garrun said from the dais.

“We strive to educate our children about the importance of sustainability but how can we best do that as an institution when there is no permanent staff in place to implement this adopted plan,” said Kellie Kay, whose husband and local science instructor Benjamin Kay was next to take the podium.

“I wanted to thank (the board) because — as said — back on May 18, 2017, 120 people showed up and they rallied to get some action on sustainability within our school district and shortly after you hired a super bright and tenacious Caroline Coster who worked tirelessly in a contract position as our coordinator of sustainability efforts,” Kay said as he described how Coster also assisted with the development of a comprehensive sustainability plan that allowed SMMUSD to establish short, medium and long-term goals.

“Despite working in this position and leading us in these award-winning steps… she is no longer with us,” which leaves a lot of concern, Kay added. “And I just want to say, I hope that you guys — with all your muscle and might and in a timely manner — can bring her back to us because she’s sorely missed. She had a great deal of experience and we miss her. We want her back but in the meantime, please fill her shoes with somebody who can bridge that gap.”

District spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said Tuesday that she agreed with local residents who felt Coster was an integral part of the district’s sustainability efforts since she engaged SMMUSD students, staff and parents in dozens of programs to help achieve the district’s sustainability goals and its ongoing environmental sensibilities.

“Ms. Coster chose to leave SMMUSD in the middle of her annual contract in December, and we are reviewing the situation and will take appropriate steps to ensure our sustainability efforts continue,” Pinsker said. “We appreciate the concerns by our students, staff and parents around this issue in our district and can assure everyone that our progress will continue.”


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