On the same night members of the San Diego Unified school board will discuss an independent investigation into possible wrongdoing by board president Marne Foster, board members will double down on their support for Foster by honoring her with a proclamation.
Last Tuesday, trustees emerged from a three-hour closed-session meeting and announced they’ll vote this week on hiring an investigator to look into a private fundraiser Foster held for her sons, and whether Foster was behind a complaint that sought $250,000 in response to a negative college evaluation letter written about her son.
Trustee Richard Barrera said he will ask the board to consider which issues are truly relevant to the school district.
“With the legal claim, we need to be thoughtful about what is in the district’s interest considering that this claim was already dismissed, and no money was paid,” Barrera said. “From the district’s standpoint, the matter is settled.”
Barrera said conversation about the allegations should be tempered with a show of support for Foster’s efforts to promote equity for all students. That’s why he and trustee Mike McQuary moved forward on the proclamation.
“I’m concerned there’s a single story getting out there about Marne,” Barrera said. “I just want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the work she’s done.”
Gloria Tran, an active parent with two kids in the district, takes exception to that rationale. Tran said she was viewing the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting when she noticed the proclamation for Foster.
“I was aghast,” said Tran. “To me it looks like her colleagues are saying, ‘Oh, sorry, Marne. We have to do this investigation to appease the public. But don’t worry. We’re on your side.’”
Tran said she doesn’t have much faith the investigation will turn anything up.
“They already had an investigation by the Grand Jury and dismissed the findings,” she said.
The timing of the Foster proclamation is also awkward given another item on the board’s Tuesday agenda: a possible change to board governance policies – the very ones Foster may have violated.
Emails recently released by VOSD show Foster made demands of district staff members for actions that should be taken at the School of Performing Arts on her son’s behalf. Those demands were quickly met. San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten has said Foster was acting within her rights as a parent.
The existing rules say board members have a “single-point of direction,” meaning they set policies, which the superintendent then implements. They can’t tell school staff what to do. The proposed changes would add that nothing prohibits a “constructive two-way dialogue” with students or staff members.
A policy like this would make the actions Foster demanded at her son’s school – which appear to violate the current policy – less problematic.
“If we had this language in place at the time, we might have avoided all this confusion about what happened at SCPA,” Barrera said.
Barrera said he understands if the policy changes being discussed on the same night as the allegations against Foster appears suspicious. But he said the timing is coincidental, and changes to board policy have nothing to do with Foster in particular.
“This is the product of a conversation the board had back in July,” he said.