What happened at the School of Creative and Performing Arts may have stayed buried and silently fizzled away had Mitzi Lizarraga and Kim Abagat not spoken out.

Lizarraga, the school’s then-principal, was conspicuously absent at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, when SCPA students and parents gathered to celebrate graduating seniors. It didn’t take long before a story circulated that school board trustee Marne Foster was responsible for removing her.

Foster’s son had been a student at SCPA, and tension between Foster and Lizarraga was well known. Questions remained even after the San Diego Civil Grand Jury investigated claims that Foster inappropriately wielded her influence at the school by making demands upon staff. The district’s attorney later waived away the Grand Jury’s recommendations to create better checks and balances for board members.

Then, more than year after Lizarraga left the school, she told her side of the story to VOSD. The rumors, she said, were true: Foster wanted her out, pressured Superintendent Cindy Marten to make the final call on the staffing change, and eventually got her way.

As that narrative picked up steam, Marten, in a move unprecedented in recent history, released 61 pages of documents to make the case that Lizarraga struggled on the job and needed to be removed.

But there was another story yet to reconcile – that of Abagat, head SCPA counselor who said she was suspended for writing an unflattering but accurate college evaluation letter for Foster’s son.

Abagat’s story – and a subsequent claim that was filed in response to the evaluation – set off a new round of serious concerns for Foster. Now, it’s law enforcement asking the questions. In early December, San Diego Unified was served with a warrant from the district attorney’s office, which is seeking information about Foster.

As for Lizarraga and Abagat, it took a long time for them to come forward and speak publicly.

But when they did, their stories described San Diego Unified as a place where staffing decisions are driven as much by petty disputes and retaliation as they are by what’s best for schools and kids. More importantly, those stories cast serious doubt on the district’s ability to hold its leaders accountable.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

Mario Koran

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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