The San Diego County District Attorney’s office has opened up a criminal investigation into the conduct of San Diego Unified School Board Trustee Marne Foster, the district’s general counsel Andra M. Donovan confirmed.
The DA’s office served a search warrant to the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Thursday, seeking information about the embattled former board president. However, Donovan did not detail the topic of the criminal investigation.
Foster was already the center of a civil investigation, ordered by her fellow school board members, to determine if she orchestrated a $250,000 complaint filed against the SDUSD by her son’s father.
In a statement, Donovan explained she instructed the lawyers involved in that investigation to suspend their work and instead focus on aiding the DA’s requests. Read the full statement below.
Foster has previously apologized for holding a July benefit to raise money for her sons’ tuition. In attendance were people who presented possible conflicts of interest, such as contractors who work with the district and employees who may seek favors in return. Foster pledged to return the money.
In a third issue, administrators at the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), where Foster’s son attended class, have accused the board trustee of using her influence to remove the principal and punish a head counselor.
In December 2013, Foster called SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten, furious about a negative college evaluation written about her son by the school’s Head Counselor Kim Abagat. Marten said she instructed Foster, who was complaining as a parent and not a trustee, to take the issue up with the district’s head of counseling or the school’s principal.
The SCPA soon contracted an independent investigator to look into Foster’s allegations against Abagat. As a result, Abagat was suspended nine days without pay, and another counselor wrote a more positive evaluation for Foster’s son, according to Abagat.
At the end of that school year, Mitzi Lizarraga, the SCPA’s principal at the time, was reassigned to a new position in the district. Lizarraga said she is “positive” that she was reassigned because of Foster.
Marten said Foster had every right to raise her concerns as a parent, and the superintendent maintains pressure from Foster had no effect on her decision to move Lizarraga.
Last year, the father of Foster’s son, John Marsh, filed a $250,000 claim against the district, saying the negative evaluation caused his son to be rejected by multiple colleges. The claim says the family had a right to the money to recuperate costs of counseling for the student and the loss of tuition aid.
However, Marsh told NBC 7’s media partner the Voice of San Diego he did not write the claim – Foster did. He claims Foster presented him with a blank complaint form and told him to sign it. Foster has said she had no part in the claim.
NBC 7 reached out to her about the criminal investigation, but we have not heard back.
SDUSD Board Member Kevin Beiser told NBC 7 he hopes the investigation moves swiftly and there is an outcome soon so they can move on to the district's business.
Last week, the SDUSD board voted in Michael McQuary as the new board president to replace Foster. Beiser said the move was part of a routine, annual switch, not linked to the investigations.
Here is the full statement from SDUSD general counsel Andra Donovan:
“San Diego Unified School District was served with a warrant today by the District Attorney’s office seeking information relevant to a criminal investigation they are conducting into the conduct of Trustee Marne Foster. The district will cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s office as we are required to do by law.
“In late September, the Board of Education requested a civil investigation into the same matter. That investigation began on October 2, 2015 and is not yet complete. In light of the District Attorney’s investigation, I have directed the lawyers retained to conduct our civil investigation to suspend work and to focus their efforts on providing the District Attorney’s office with the information they have gathered to date. We believe it is incumbent upon San Diego Unified to cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s office and to avoid interfering with that investigation.”