Trustee Wanted San Diego Unified to Pay for Son's College: Warrant

A search warrant says Marne Foster tried to pressure the district's superintendent into approving a claim filed against the SDUSD

Newly released court documents allege former San Diego Unified School Board Trustee Marne Foster wanted the district to pay for her son’s college education and tried to pressure the district’s superintendent to make that happen.

A 231-page search warrant released Thursday gives insight into the San Diego County District Attorney’s office investigation into Foster, who resigned from her position Tuesday after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of accepting gifts in excess of the legal limit.

One of the issues taken up by the DA’s office was Foster’s problem with administrators at her son’s school, the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). Foster became angry when she obtained a copy of her son’s college evaluation, prepared by counselor Kim Abagat, and discovered the review was negative.

Foster called SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten to complain about the evaluation. In an interview with a DA investigator, Marten recounted a telephone conversation she had with Foster.

Foster, who at the time was the president of the SDUSD board, said the “inaccurate” evaluation had prevented her son from being accepted into a number of colleges. When Marten asked Foster how she knew what the evaluation contained, as reviews are typically confidential, Foster declined to tell her how she obtained it, the warrant states.

“Marten surmised that someone had leaked the information,” the court document says. “Foster was ranting that Abagat should not have completed the form as he was not [her son’s] counselor.”

Marten said she interrupted Foster, asking if she was calling as a parent or a board trustee. When Foster said she was calling as a parent, Marten told her she needed to talk to the district’s chief student services officer.

Claim Filed Against the SDUSD

During a later phone conversation between the two women, Foster told Marten that she believed her son had suffered damages and that the school district was liable, the warrant says. According to Marten, Foster threatened to file a claim against the school district because her son deserved compensation. Marten said she felt Foster was trying to convince her to approve the claim.

“Foster told Marten ‘to do the right thing, you can make this happen,’” the court document states. “Marten said the way Foster spoke she thought Marten had the authority or was involved in the decision making regarding the approval or denial of the claim. Foster wanted the school district to pay for her son’s college education.”

Marten said she did not give the trustee any advice on how to file a claim.

Later in the year, a $250,000 claim was filed against the SDUSD on behalf of Foster’s son, but it was not signed by his mother. Instead, the claim bore the name of John Marsh, the teen’s father who had been living with Foster and her children.

However, Marsh told the DA investigator that he did not write up the claim. According to the warrant, he remembered Foster coming up to him and demanding that he sign a blank complaint form.

He said he did not know what he was signing, but recalled Foster mentioning something about wanting to sue the school district.

“Marsh said at the time he needed a place to stay and Marne Foster was very forceful. She made it clear by the way she said it that if he didn’t sign it she would put him out on the street,” the warrant states. “He was at her mercy and he didn’t want to be kicked out or arrested.”

The $250,000 complaint was later denied by the school district. Foster has told other media outlets that she had nothing to do with the claim.

Problematic Fundraiser Held

Community activity Sally Smith brought another potential issue to the attention of the DA's office: a fundraiser Foster threw to raise money for both of her sons' tuition.

Smith told the DA’s office that a link on Foster’s official school district website directed users to Foster’s personal Facebook page, on which she posted a flier for “A Benefit Concert/Fundraiser to send two brothers back to College.”

The event was held last July at the Neighborhood House Association (NHA). Foster had previously voted on a head start agreement between the NHA and the SDUSD.

Smith attended the fundraiser, paid a $25 entrance fee and was told the event would be tax deductible. When she asked for a receipt, she was told one would be emailed to her. At the fundraiser were guests who conducted business with the school district and employees who may seek favors in return.

Because of the potential conflicts of interest, Foster later admitted that the fundraiser was a mistake and vowed to return the donations.

A Guilty Plea

Ultimately, Foster’s guilty plea stemmed from a donation her son received. In 2014, the teen was given a scholarship and roundtrip airfare to “Bayfest,” a theater camp in Seattle, according to the warrant. The donation was provided by Jan and Dick Hunter, who are Bayfest board members.

Dick is also a board member for the Jackie Robinson YMCA, an organization linked to Foster. She had voted to approve a contract between the SDUSD and YMCA for the use of the YMCA branch’s pool.

Emails revealed the Hunters had also paid for roundtrip tickets so Foster’s son could travel from San Diego to New York, where he is attending college. The couple also covered a night of lodging for Foster.

In total, the family received more than $3,000 in donations from the Hunters. However, Foster did not claim the gifts on her statement of economic interests, filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

The form is filed under penalty of perjury, the DA’s office said, and on Dec. 2, Foster filed an amendment to her 2014 form. It showed the gifts exceeded the legal allowable limits.

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