Former trustee Scott Barnett wants to remove the false impression that he is at war with San Diego Unified. To do that, he is demanding an apology from the district and threatening to sue if he doesn’t get one.

When Barnett tried to represent a charter school that wanted to buy a piece of district property last month, the district’s general counsel, Andra Donovan, sent a shot across the bow. Continue to work with Barnett and the deal could fall through, she wrote to Magnolia Science Academy, the school on whose behalf Barnett was negotiating.

Because Barnett, as a former school board member, could have inside knowledge of discussions leading up to the sale, a court could find the deal was tainted, she argued. Donovan went further, saying the district should avoid even the appearance of impropriety in light of recent scandals that enveloped the Sweetwater and San Ysidro school districts.

That piqued Barnett. Donovan was out of line, he said, especially since he’d told her before she sent the email that he’d removed himself from negotiations.

“Ms. Donovan’s email – which specifically used my name in context with criminal convictions in two South Bay schools – has hurt me personally, professionally and financially,” he wrote school board members in an email (You can read the whole thing here, including Donovan’s email).

Barnett said he’d planned to establish a long-term working relationship with Magnolia, but Donovan’s email scared them away:

“The canceling of this contract, a direct result of Ms. Donavon’s email has cost me $42,000 in lost income this year. In addition, SDUSD’s sharing her email with the Voice of San Diego and the resulting news story has harmed my reputation and has caused other potential clients to raise concerns about retaining me. Even a non-profit organization with whom I agreed to assist pro-bono, has told me that the email and article has resulted in some of their board members to ask whether even my volunteer assistance could ‘harm them’”

Later in the email, he added:

“I will happily stipulate when Ms. Donavon sends this email, that I will not consider any financial claim against the District or Ms. Donavon as a result of her original email or the “retraction and apology” and the resulting loss of income.  I just want to restore my good name.”

Donovan wouldn’t say whether she’ll apologize, and school board members haven’t weighed in on the issue.

Barnett gave the district a deadline of Feb. 11 to apologize.

Mario Koran reports on hospitals, nonprofits and educational institutions, digging into their impact on the greater San Diego community. He can be reached at

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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