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This post has been updated.
Of all the consequences to befall San Diego city schools as a result of former trustee Marne Foster’s actions, a hit to the planned Pools for Schools initiative is perhaps the least expected.
A YMCA official confirmed that at least one swimming pool plan was now off the table.
She declined to discuss the scandal but gave other reasons for the pool planning trouble.
But according to a warrant for information sent to the district by local prosecutors — and unsealed last week — Foster’s conduct and the media attention she’s drawn in recent months caused concern among national YMCA leaders.
San Diego Unified officials have been working to hammer out individual agreements with YMCAs across town that call for the district to build up to 10 new pools at local schools, existing YMCA sites or even new places. The outlines of the deal would have the YMCA operate the swimming pools.
Michael Brunker, executive director of the Jackie Robinson YMCA near Lincoln High School, told an investigator with the district attorney’s office, “as a result of the media attention associated with the fundraiser, Marne Foster and the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, the YMCA has backed off working with SDUSD regarding the use of YMCA pool facilities to the dismay of many who had worked to develop an agreement,” the Dec. 10 search warrant says.
Brunker did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
Regional YMCA leaders confirmed the pool planned for the Jackie Robinson YMCA was off, but attributed the reason to other factors.
“Pools for Schools is a San Diego Unified School district-wide initiative where we continue to have enthusiasm to be involved with as opportunities present themselves,” said Charmaine Gudgeon, executive vice president of the YMCA of San Diego County. “Jackie Robinson YMCA was considered as one of those sites but legal issues related to property ownership makes this opportunity complicated. At this point we are not progressing forward with this particular project but are hopeful for future opportunities.”
San Diego Unified officials also confirmed that pool project was sidelined, but declined to address the notion Foster may have had an impact.
Gudgeon also said the other plans and swimming pool sites are up in the air.
“At this point we have not identified any Pool for School sites that would be on YMCA property or on a school site,” Gudgeon said in an email.
Foster, who was up for re-election this year, resigned Feb. 7 from her position on the school board following a plea deal with the district attorney’s office. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting gifts in excess of legal limits from philanthropist Janet Hunter to the tune of nearly $3,500. Hunter was a longtime board member at the Jackie Robinson YMCA until 2013.
Foster’s departure came after allegations she filed a fraudulent $250,000 claim against the school district in the name of John Marsh, the father of her children. A fundraiser to help pay for her sons’ college attended by district employees, Brunker and other district vendors also turned out to be questionable.
Prosecutors investigated both the claim and fundraiser, but dropped those probes in exchange for Foster’s plea, reimbursement to Hunter and a promise to not run for public office for four years.
The Pools for Schools program, as envisioned, would bring 10 or so pools to local school kids funded partially with $20 million school bond dollars. Building pools on private property with public money poses its own legal issues though, as does shared access with the public.
According to a member of the Jackie Robinson YMCA board who asked not to be identified, the amount of control the school district wanted over the pool to be built at the Y had also been a source of concern.
School district officials entered into a broad joint-use agreement with the San Diego County YMCA in December 2014, laying the foundation for the partnership, but the particulars of who gets access to and control of the pool when, and how much money the district will spend is still being negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
The pools plan was a topic of interest for the district’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee — a group of volunteers who watch over the $4.9 billion Proposition S and Z bond program. Committee Chairman Andy Berg asked the school board on June 2 for some funds to get an outside attorney to weigh in on the legality of the project.
The request was denied.
The Jackie Robinson YMCA is in the midst of fundraising to rebuild its entire campus. Leaders have raised $18.5 million for a new building. A current pool on the property will be removed to make way for two new pools, estimated to cost $4 million. Another $2 million is needed for new Astroturf fields.
This post has been updated to better reflect the comments Charmaine Gudgeon made about the reason the Jackie Robinson pools project fell through.