San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten said School Board President Marne Foster did not violate any district policies when she demanded action at her son’s school after he received a negative college recommendation.
“As a parent, Marne Foster brought a concern forward about her son, and any parent should be able to bring a concern forward. That's what she did,” Marten said during an unscheduled interview Friday morning.
A School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) counselor who wrote the original recommendation was placed on suspension, and the principal is no longer at the school.
The Voice of San Diego, NBC 7’s media partner, reported Thursday that Foster “used her influence to meddle in day-to-day operations at her son’s school,” against board policy.
Emails from December 2013, obtained by the Voice of San Diego through a public records act request, show Foster messaged a top district official demanding a copy of the negative college evaluation written about her son, and she requested it be replaced with a positive evaluation.
She got her wish when another counselor wrote a new, positive recommendation, which Foster was again permitted to see.
In 2013, Foster said she was “disgusted” with the leadership at her son's school, according to emails. By the end of that school year, Principal Mitzi Lizarraga had been abruptly removed from her position.
Board policy states: “The board will not give direction to any employee other than the superintendent and any other employee who may report directly to the board.”
It's also unclear how Foster obtained a copy of her son's initial evaluation in the first place. According to the Voice of San Diego, neither parents nor school board members are supposed to have access to them.
Marten, responding for the first time to the accusations, said Foster was within her rights as a parent to do so.
“That email was written to that staff member by Marne Foster, my understanding is, from her personal email account and it was signed by her as a parent,” Marten said. “She brought that forward as a parent and as a parent she has a right to do that and our board policies are really clear about that.”
The superintendent said she receives all types of input about San Diego schools staff, all the time.
“I love getting input from the public,” Marten said. “I go to school events, and parents come up to me with opinions about staff members; sometimes great opinions and sometimes not so great opinions.”
Marten said Foster’s opinion about the SCPA staff had no more impact on the district’s decision-making than any other parent raising a concern.
When asked how often a parent gives their input and shortly thereafter, a principal is no longer at a school, Marten said, "It's hard to say how often that happen or doesn't happen. I don't know."
“I want to assure the public that all decisions that we make regarding personnel go through a very intense, rigorous process, including legal counsel, HR (Human Resources) counsel, and we use a fair, HR approach, and that any undue influence by any board member was not part of that,” Marten added.
Former SCPA Principal Lizarraga told the Voice of San Diego she is "100 percent sure Marne Foster is the reason" she no longer works for the school.
Foster did not respond to NBC 7's request for comment on this story.
The school board president also came under fire for a July 25 private fundraiser she held to raise money for her two sons’ college tuition. The event was held at the Neighborhood House Association headquarters — a nonprofit with a district contract that Foster voted on for the past two years.
An attendee said guests included contractors with financial dealings with the district and employees who may seek favors in return. Foster has since apologized for the fundraiser, calling it a “mistake of the heart.”