The president of a Riverside County school district has come under fire after his arrest this summer on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as for his conduct at school board meetings.
Matthew Serafin, 31, was elected to the Val Verde Unified School District board of trustees in 2016. The district had more than 19,000 students in 2022 and covers parts of Moreno Valley, Perris and Mead Valley. He assumed the title of school board president, primarily a position of honor at Val Verde, in early 2023.
Serafin was arrested by Riverside deputies on Aug. 27 after allegedly crashing into an unoccupied parked car in the area of Redding Way and A Street in Perris. He was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor drunken driving and released from the county jail the next day, according to jail records.
On Friday, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office charged Serafin with driving while intoxicated, having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit and hit-and-run. Serafin’s attorney pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing Monday, according to district attorney spokeswoman Brooke Beare, and the next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 11.
The complaint also states that this is Serafin’s second DUI charge, after he was convicted of misdemeanor DUI on Aug. 8, 2019, for an incident that occurred the previous year. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that Serafin served three years of probation for his conviction, which ended in 2022.
“I have dedicated my life to the cause and intend to continue to defend la Gente,” Serafin said in an email to The Times. “This will not distract from the good work Val Verde Familia does to help the poor and underrepresented.”
After Serafin’s arrest was revealed, calls for his apology and resignation grew on social media. The comments also criticized Serafin’s use of profanity during school board meetings.
At the Val Verde school board’s last meeting on Oct. 3, nearly a dozen public comments mentioned Serafin’s conduct, both specifically and indirectly. One of the speakers, school therapist Dolores Holmes, said she plans to run against Serafin for her board seat in 2024.
“Mr. Serafin, with all due respect, your recent behavior, comments and character traits, in and out of this boardroom, have repeatedly proven to be questionable,” Holmes said. Yes, we all make mistakes and deserve second chances, but not the same mistakes over and over again.”
Serafin responded to criticism of his use of foul language in the same email to The Times.
“It’s political nonsense,” he said. “If you have any problems with the way I speak, do what a normal person would do and come up to me and say so. These power moves don’t help.
This backlash is not the first time he has faced controversy as an elected official; While in college in 2015, Serafin — then named Matthew Guevara — served as a member of UC Irvine’s student government. He authored a bill to remove American flags from common areas of student government offices. The ban was overturned a week later after negative attention it received on campus and in the media. At the Oct. 3 school board meeting, Serafin said that after graduating, he legally changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name.
Val Verde Unified Superintendent. Michael McCormick, who did not respond to a request for comment, responded to public comments at the Oct. 3 meeting, saying the criticism hurt his heart and mind.
“It’s important for us to be mindful of our actions on and off this stage,” McCormick said.
He concluded by saying that the work done by the school district was the product of a team effort and not a single individual.