The San Diego Unified School Board's vice president announced Tuesday he will ask for an independent investigation into accusations the board's president used her authority for personal gain.
Board Vice President John Lee Evans brought the issue before three other board members at a special, closed-door session Tuesday after abuse of power allegations arose against Board President Marne Foster.
Foster is accused of causing a personnel shakeup at a local school over a college evaluation submitted for her son and holding a private fundraiser for her two sons’ college tuitions.
At a meeting next week, Evans said he will "ask for the board to authorize an independent investigation into two other matters with regard to the conduct of trustee Foster. One, the recent fundraiser for her sons. Two, issues surrounding a claim form that was filed with the district."
Additionally, the board has authorized SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten to release "all pertinent information" regarding what has gone on at Foster's son's school over the past two to three years — a rare move given it is personnel information.
"With the release of this information and an investigation, we can make sure the public has all the facts," Evans said.
While confidential personnel matters must be discussed in a closed session, commissioning an investigation into a trustee must happen in open session, the board explained in a statement.
It’s unclear which agency would look into the allegations if an independent investigation is approved. Before Evan's announcement, Foster watched as many of her supporters spoke to the board.
Among them was Foster's mother, a longtime educator herself, who said, "I think you know what she's accomplished, what she's contributed to this district."
Others said they have complete faith in Foster's integrity and commitment to their children.
However, opponents like education reform advocate Sally Smith are calling for Foster to resign from the school board.
“Is Marne Foster representing herself, or is she representing the school board? That is the problem,” said Smith. “The public is confused right now. She has intermingled her personal and campaign business, school district business. She cannot be an effective president.”
Foster was not available for comment on Tuesday night.
The board president is accused of causing a shake-up at the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) after her son received a negative college evaluation from one of the counselors.
Emails obtained by the Voice of San Diego show Foster messaged a top district official in December 2013 to demand a copy of the college evaluation and to request it be replaced with a positive one.
Another counselor soon wrote a new, positive recommendation, which again Foster was allowed to see.
After Foster brought her concerns to the district officials, the counselor who wrote the original recommendation was suspended, and the school’s principal, Mitzi Lizarraga, was removed from her position by the end of the school year.
Lizarraga told the Voice of San Diego she is positive that her removal was Foster’s doing.
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.”
Superintendent Marten told NBC 7 last week that Foster was within her rights as a parent to bring her concerns to SCPA officials. According to Marten, Foster’s opinions about SCPA staff had no more impact on the district’s decisions than any other parent’s.
Another allegation claims Foster was behind a $250,000 complaint filed with the school district last year, alleging the negative evaluation caused the family to lose tuition and to need counseling for Foster’s teen, according to the Voice of San Diego.
The complaint was filed in the name of John Marsh, the father of Foster’s son. However, Marsh told the Voice of San Diego that Foster brought him a blank complaint form and told him to sign it, which he did.
Finally, Foster also came under fire for a July 25 private fundraiser she held to raise money for her two sons’ college tuitions. 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,” and pledged to return all donations given by anyone who works for or does business with the district.
She released a list of the donors, which can be seen by clicking here.