By Doug Porter
School Board Trustee Marne Foster is at the center of several controversies in the San Diego Unified School District. A meeting of the trustees yesterday featured numerous TV trucks lined up outside, partisans and opponents inside, along with three distinct actions and enough drama for a cable mini-series.
Documents released by the district answered many questions raised concerning the School of Creative and Performing Arts, at the center of the current controversy. Responding to charges that Trustee Foster had intervened in school affairs on behalf of her son, the district’s documents amounted to a master class in how to respond to a political controversy: hit’em [critics] hard and hit ‘em long. This situation is far from resolved, however.
Also, the school board authorized an investigation into Trustee Foster’s involvement in a fundraiser on behalf of her son’s college fund and a claim filed against the district allegedly by the child’s father. And they passed a resolution praising Foster for her work promoting equity in the district. Confused yet? It is complicated, to be sure.
The Document Dump
After months of essentially refusing to talk about staffing changes at the School of Creative and Performing Arts(SCPA), Superintendent Cindy Marten released a passel of documents along with a narrative defending her actions.
What the public knew prior to yesterday was that SCPA Principal Mitzi Lizarraga disappeared from her job just two days prior to graduation ceremonies in 2014. Parents, students and staff told myself and other reporters the move came as a result of interference by Trustee Foster on behalf of her son.
Lizarraga talked with Voice of San Diego reporter Mario Koran back in August of this year, saying “I’m 100 percent sure Marne Foster is the reason I’m not at SCPA.”
School counselor Kim Abagat told Koran a few weeks later that she was suspended for nine days after writing an evaluation of Foster’s son the school board trustee did not like.
From the Union-Tribune:
San Diego Unified took the rare step of disclosing details from its human resources files that seek to explain the personnel actions at the popular magnet school amid claims Foster forced the changes and about whether Marten acceded to her demands.
Public agencies hardly ever address such matters due to privacy laws and the threat of litigation.
Marten said “the public’s interest in understanding the reasons for the reassignment… far outweigh any privacy concerns an individual might have.”
San Diego Unified released what it described as “all pertinent information” regarding the staffing decisions to counter reports that Foster, now president of the board, had a strong hand in them because her son received a negative college recommendation.
From NBC7 News:
…the report released by Marten shows problems existed at the school before Foster became involved. The issues date back to when former Superintendent Bill Kowba was in charge, according to Marten.
“He was concerned about staffing,” said Marten in an interview with NBC 7 Tuesday. “He was concerned about ongoing conflict in the counseling office. He was concerned about disciplinary practices and racialized outcomes.”
In a statement introducing the newly released documents, Marten wrote that more than 20 staff members shared concerns about SCPA’s campus climate and its leadership over the past several years.
A Private Eye’s Report
The documents released include a report by private investigator Robert Abel into the issues surrounding school counselor Kim Abagat’s evaluation.
From Voice of San Diego:
The documents released Tuesday reveal that an investigator determined that Abagat did not do enough to consult with her colleagues before she wrote the evaluation. Abagat tried to get advice from Lizarraga, the investigator acknowledged, but “she did not demand a meeting” with her.
He said that she left other parts of the evaluation blank, and that overall, her evaluation was not up to the standards of professional counselors.
The investigator made another finding, too: “There existed, and continues to exist, a dysfunctional; distrustful; and unprofessional relationship between Marne Foster and Ms. Lizarraga.”
While I doubt that yesterday’s document dump will satisfy critics of Foster and Marten, it amounts to a short-term victory for the school district. Marten comes across as competent and in control; Foster as a concerned parent looking –and failing– to game the system.
The situation is further complicated by Foster’s advocacy for educational equity in a district long neglected by past administrations. Some parents believe the charges made against the trustee are racially motivated.
Enter the Lawyers
This story isn’t going away anytime soon. Attorney Dan Gilleon, whose high-profile cases include successfully representing women who’d been abused by the San Diego Police Department, is now in the picture.
Meanwhile, Team 10 has learned that former School of Creative and Performing Arts principal Mitzi Lizaragga (who is now a principal at a school in Los Angeles) and counselor Kim Abagat have retained an attorney.
Dan Gilleon represents Lizaragga and Abagat. Gilleon said what happened to his clients was retaliation.
“It was really vindictive… they believe it was Marne Foster using her influence to have district administrators punish them,” Gilleon said.
On to other business…
Congressional Misogyny For All to See
If you ever had any doubt about the GOP’s War on Women, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should answer your questions. It was so bad even a Republican congresswomen had to call out her colleagues.
The rude, ignorant, misogynist behavior of these Republican congressmen needs to be seen by every American.
Here’s the Union-Tribune story:
At a hearing centering on whether federal funding should continue for the group, Richards forcefully defended her organization, calling it a critical source for cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception care and other services for millions of women, particularly those who are low-income.
“For many American women, Planned Parenthood is the only health-care provider they will see this year,” she said during her opening testimony. “It is impossible for our patients to understand why Congress is once again threatening their ability to go to the health-care provider of their choice.”
But the hearing quickly turned into a grilling, with Republican lawmakers aggressively questioning Richards on everything from her annual salary to the support of Democratic candidates provided by the group’s political action committee; often delivering rapid-fire questions that left little time for her to respond.
Perhaps that description was a little understated. Here’s a video of every time Richards was interrupted or talked over by committee members.
All this rudeness was too much for one Republican woman on the committee.
From Business Insider:
“This is very troubling to sit here as a woman,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (R-Michigan) said, calling the questions from Republican members on the committee “insulting.”
“For the life of me, I know my colleagues are more intelligent than this,” she added.
Apparently, they aren’t.
Benghazi Investigation Sets Record…
Since they were unsatisfied by the results of the seven other Congressional investigations into what happened at Benghazi, GOP partisans convened yet another committee, which set a record yesterday for conducting the longest investigation ever. At 72 weeks the special investigatory committee has been at it longer than the inquiry into Watergate scandal.
While they haven’t found any actual wrongdoing, the investigation has served one valuable purpose, as wanna-be Speaker rep. Kevin McCarthy told Fox News:
“What you’re going to see is a conservative Speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?
“But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee.
“What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
Oh, and before I quit for today… The House of Representatives is hard at work at the sixty first attempt to repeal or defund Obamacare.
On This Day: 1927 – George Herman “Babe” Ruth hit his 60th homerun of the season. The record stood until 1961 when Roger Maris broke the record 1962 – Cesar Chavez, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later was to become the United Farm Workers of America. 1962 – James Meredith succeeded in registering at the University of Mississippi. It was his fourth attempt to register.
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