The president of a Riverside County school district has come under fire after his arrest in the summer on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as for his conduct during school board meetings.
Matthew Serafin, 31, was elected to the board of Val Verde Unified School District in 2016. The district had more than 19,000 students as of 2022 and covers portions of Moreno Valley, Perris and Mead Valley. He assumed the title of school board president, primarily a ceremonial position at Val Verde, at the beginning of 2023.
Serafin was arrested by Riverside deputies Aug. 27 after he allegedly crashed into an unoccupied parked car in the area of Redding Way and A Street in Perris. He was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor DUI and released from county jail the next day, according to jail records.
On Friday, the Riverside County district attorney’s office charged Serafin with a DUI, having a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit and misdemeanor hit-and-run. Serafin’s attorney entered a plea of not guilty during an arraignment hearing Monday, according to district attorney spokesperson Brooke Beare, and the next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 11.
The complaint also notes this is Serafin’s second DUI charge, after he was convicted of misdemeanor DUI on Aug. 8, 2019, for an incident the year before. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Serafin served three years’ probation for the conviction, which concluded in 2022.
“I’ve committed my life to the Cause and plan to continue standing for the Gente,” Serafin said in an email to The Times. “This will not distract from the good work being done by the Val Verde Familia in uplifting the poor and underrepresented.”
After Serafin’s arrest came to light, calls for him to apologize and step down grew on social media. Comments also criticized Serafin’s use of profanity at school board meetings.
During the most recent Val Verde school board meeting, on Oct. 3, nearly a dozen public comments mentioned Serafin’s conduct, both specifically and obliquely. One of the speakers, school therapist Dolores Holmes, said she was planning to run against Serafin for his board seat in 2024.
“Mr. Serafin, with all due respect, your recent behavior, comments and character traits, on and off this board room, have proven over and over to be questionable,” Holmes said. “Yes, we all make mistakes and deserve second chances, however, not the same mistakes over and over again.”
Serafin addressed the criticism of his use of profane language in the same email to The Times.
“It’s political nonsense,” he said. “If you have issue with how I talk, do what a normal person would do and come up to me and say it. These power moves do not help.”
The backlash is not the first time he has faced controversy as an elected official; while in college in 2015, Serafin — who then went by the name Matthew Guevara — served as a member of student government at UC Irvine. He wrote a bill that removed American flags from the common areas of student government offices. The ban was reversed a week later after the negative attention it received on campus and in the news. At the Oct. 3 school board meeting, Serafin said that after graduating, he legally changed his surname to his mother’s maiden name.
Val Verde Unified Supt. Michael McCormick, who did not respond to a request for comment, addressed the public comments at the Oct. 3 meeting, saying the criticism hurt his heart and spirit.
“It is important for us to be mindful of our actions both on and off this dais,” McCormick said.
He concluded by saying that the work done by the school district was the product of a team effort and not just one individual.