One more person has stepped forward with an account of what happened at the School of Creative and Performing Arts that contradicts the version offered by School Board President Marne Foster.

The school’s principal was abruptly removed at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, and speculation about what exactly happened has swirled ever since.

Foster’s son attended the school at the time, and former principal Mitzi Lizarraga has said Foster overstepped her bounds as an elected official in order to obtain special treatment for her son. When Lizarraga objected, she was removed, she said.

While it lacked specific names, a report by the civil Grand Jury arrived at a similar conclusion. District officials dismissed the report, writing that it proved no wrongdoing had occurred.

Now, Kim Abagat is adding her voice to the growing chorus against Foster. Abagat is the head counselor at SCPA. She was suspended for nine days after writing an evaluation of Foster’s son the school board trustee did not like.

School counselors are the ones who complete an evaluation form – attesting to students’ talents – which are then sent to prospective colleges.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

In boxes where counselors rate students in terms of academics, extracurricular activities and character, Abagat listed Foster’s son as average or above average. But she checked a box that indicated there was “no basis” to recommend him to college.

Abagat said she thought she was doing the student a favor by not recounting in detail his documented behavioral problems.

In response to one question – “What are the first words that come to your mind to describe this student” – Abagat wrote one word: “Complicated.”

Abagat Ratings

The letter kicked off problems for Abagat. In the days after she submitted it, emails show, her access to the college application system was cut off. She could no longer send out recommendation letters on students’ behalf.

Another counselor, Megan Blum, wrote a new evaluation for Foster’s son to replace the negative one. Blum listed the student as “Outstanding (top 5%)” and “Top Few (top 1%).”

It was a remarkably different interpretation of the same student and grade point average.

Blum Ratings

In a section that asks counselors whether the student had ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation, Blum marked: No. Abagat had left the box blank.

Of the two evaluations, Blum’s was the most peculiar — it listed Foster’s son as being in the top 5 percent of students academically though he appeared to be ranked 100th out of 147 students in his class.

SCPA counselor says she was suspended from her position for writing an honest evaluation of SDUSD Pres. Marne Foster's son.

Yet it was Abagat who soon became the focus of an internal investigation. An investigator contracted by the school district questioned her. In the end, she admitted to not properly consulting with all stakeholders before she submitted the letter.

Abagat says she reluctantly agreed to avoid stiffer sanctions. A letter obtained by VOSD, written by the district’s human services director, shows that Abagat was suspended for nine days. Abagat said it was unpaid and cost her roughly $6,000.

“I was punished for telling the truth,” she said. She still works at SCPA, but said she’s fearful she will lose her job for describing what happened.

Counselor vs. Counselor

One irony in the mess is that Abagat wasn’t supposed to write the evaluation to begin with.

Abagat said she should have been assigned to be Foster’s son’s counselor. Her caseload typically includes his age group.

But Foster’s son had been assigned to another counselor, Blum, at the beginning of the year, at Foster’s request.

Foster did not respond to requests for comment. When I asked Foster last month why Abagat had written the letter, instead of Blum, Foster said: “I believe [Lizarraga] conspired with the counselor to retaliate against me.”

Abagat says that’s a lie. She said Foster asked her to write it because it looked like Blum was going to miss the submission deadline.

An email obtained by VOSD shows that Foster at least knew Abagat was helping her son complete the application.


Months later, the district reassigned the principal, Lizarraga, to an administrative job in the Central Office. She eventually left to take a job as principal of a school in Los Angeles. She claims Foster is the reason she was forced out.

Superintendent Cindy Marten, who is ultimately responsible for that staffing change, has not said why she made the decision.

Marten provided this statement to VOSD:

“As the Superintendent, I am solely responsible for all campus personnel decisions. Our governance policies are very clear; the board sets policies and the Superintendent carries out the policies. This includes all decisions regarding hiring, disciplining and termination of employees.

A few years ago, before I became Superintendent, the board actually removed itself from confirming principal appointments and delegated that authority and responsibility to the Superintendent.

Trustees are free to raise concerns about staffing to me at any time, which Trustee Foster did regarding SCPA. Other trustees have done the same regarding schools in their sub district. However, any staffing changes, such as those made at SCPA, are based on decisions I myself make following the correct internal processes.”

As for Foster, the scrutiny is mounting. Last week she sent out a public apology for making a “Mistake of the Heart” when she used district resources to advertise for a fundraiser that benefited her sons.

She pleaded ignorance in the apology, writing: “it never occurred to me that ‘Marne the Mom’, by supporting an effort to help my sons go to college, was stepping into territory occupied by ‘Marne the Elected Official.'”

Abagat said there were signs of trouble in her very first meeting with Foster, when Foster asked that her son be instead assigned to Blum. Abagat said she told Foster she would discuss a switch with the principal. But Foster was unsatisfied with that response, Abagat recalled.

“She just stood there and looked at me. And then she said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I said, ‘Yes, you’re Malachi’s mom. I knew what she wanted me to say – that she was on the school board. But I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction,” Abagat said.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Leadership

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email:

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    ".I Save" raised an interesting but disturbing point, concerning a student's access to counselors evaluation?  Why would city school's have a secret evaluation processes??  A student should know what others are saying about her.  

    Maybe there are good reasons but I am a big fan of open government transparency ,  and I am suspicious of secret societies and systems.  If there are valid reasons let's hear them

    I Sage
    I Sage

    @john stump To clarify, the teacher and counselor evaluation forms are part of the college's application - they are not part of any K-12 school district's records. If a student & parent do not waive their right to view them as part of the college application process, they can see all items in the college admission file but only after the student is accepted & matriculated at that college, to my understanding. If this student was not accepted to the colleges, then he would not have access to the evaluations so I am wondering how he or his parent got the first evaluation at all and how this newspaper got the colleges forms to publish.

    I Sage
    I Sage

    I have a question that I'm not sure was explained in this article. You posted screen captures of the 2 submitted Common Application Secondary School Reports that were completed by the counselors in question. As these evaluations are submitted directly to colleges via the Common Application and are not accessible to parents or students as part of the students' college admission file until AFTER they have matriculated at that college (and even then, only if the student did not waive his or her right to view the evaluations during the application process), how did the parent, student and your publication obtain and post this student's submitted SSRs? Thank you for any information that you can provide to explain this aspect of your coverage

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    @I Sage Why should these evaluations be secret?  No union would allow a secret employee evaluation or would any society allow secret courts making undisclosed unchallenged decisions

    I Sage
    I Sage

    @john stump It is the colleges that request the evaluation and, in general, they state that they prefer for a student & parent to waive the right to view the evaluation so that they can trust that the evaluation is a true representation of the student's abilities and record. It is similar to the way an adult lists references but is not privy to the actual conversation that occurs when a potential employer speaks with your reference.

    SherryS subscriber

    Mario - Where can I get a copy of the Board of Education and Superintendent responses to the Grand Jury Report? I don't see them on the Grand Jury website.

    Vicki Bezio
    Vicki Bezio

    Sorry, your subpar kid was in the bottom third of his class. Perhaps in a make believe place far far away 100 of 147 is top 5%. Even common core math wouldn't produce this mockery!

    francesca subscriber

    Superintendent Marten, 

    In your statement you say that trustee, Marne Foster, raised concerns about the staffing of SCPA.  You say it is common that board trustees discuss concerns about principals with you.  

    In this case, the only concern Ms. Foster had was her son's experience at SCPA.  Ms. Marten, you can not remove a principal based on that reason.  

    Beyond that you cruelly removed the beloved principal, the day before the children graduated.  Why was that necessary? 

    Cindy Marten, You should be ashamed.  You should be fired.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    A Mother's love is one of the strongest forces in the universe.

    City Schools is among the most old fashioned least progressive governance models in the County.  Formed by the San Diego City Charter and Council in the first half of the last century, the School Board lacks proportional democratically elected representatives.  The District has failed to reform it's political contribution and ethics rules.  It's Budget, Services, land holdings, and number of employees rivals the City of San Diego but governance is by a very small part time board.  The board has long been challenged with almost bipolar conflicts and frequent leadership changes.  Enrollment has been declining as parents vote with their feet to transfer out their children to other districts or charter schools. The Common Core test results are yet another indicator of a need for change.

    I suggest that District voters should have the opportunity to consider more modern progressive governance models for our most important government body.  Even San Francisco, a smaller district, has a more innovate and modern government. It is time for a parent and business leaders Charter Review committee to study how the last century's small town school board might be modernized to serve everyone's children.

    Dennis subscriber

    @john stump Charter common core test results were actually worse:

    More food for thought:

    Our public schools and its system is fine.

    As far as Marne Foster, that whole situation stinks to high heaven and affection to many people professionally/emotionally/personally. Where is the accountability for the stakeholders?

    mel luce
    mel luce subscriber

    I love how Cindy Marten feels like she doesn't need to explain her actions like the Queen of England.  As an employee of us, I think otherwise.  This is not the first time that  SDUSD has ignored Grand Jury decisions.  Makes me ask, if the San Diego Grand Jury, has no enforcement, why have one?  For opinions, like "hemlines are too short this year."  And then???

    Marne Foster, in my opinion, is shameless.

    Barbara Stevens
    Barbara Stevens subscriber

    I sure have issues with a Board Member having this level of involvement in her son's "evaluation for college." She should be just like any other parent, or her son should attend a school outside her District to remove her meddling opportunities.

    obboy13 subscriber

     "She pleaded ignorance in the apology, writing: “it never occurred to me that ‘Marne the Mom’, by supporting an effort to help my sons go to college, was stepping into territory occupied by ‘Marne the Elected Official.'”

    It seems apparent from her own words that Marne the Mom is much smarter than Marne the Elected Official.  However, does her statement mean that neither of her two personas have ever heard the term "conflict of interest?"  Maybe both Marnes, plus any other Marnes we have yet to hear from should all become Marne the Student, and learn what is required of ethical public officials in this day and age.

    Enough with scoffing at her pathetic apology, it's just the low hanging fruit and I couldn't resist.  The more important issue, is how the district plans to make amends for it's egregious treatment of staff.  Solid investigative work so far Mr. Koran.  Please don't let the Superintendent off the hook, as she is more culpable in her aiding and abetting of the wrongs inflicted by Marne the Whoever.  At least the mother was trying to help out her kid, Cindy Marten seems to have been protecting her own position by currying favors from one of her bosses, at the expense of her staff.    

    moleman subscriber

    @obboy13 presumably she makes enough money to pay for her children's college tuition all by herself (or with her child's father), rather than sucking up to donors.  it's not like she's in poverty and her children are the first in their family to ever go to college...  the more i think about, the more obvious it is she is guilty of something.  if this isn't buying influence, what is?

    obboy13 subscriber

    @moleman @obboy13 Fraud, misfeasance, and if the Feds ever get serious, a violation of the Principal's and counselor's civil rights.

    Barbara Stevens
    Barbara Stevens subscriber

    The Feds have plenty to investigate. Whether they choose to, is another matter. 

    vheman subscriber

    Perhaps the inadequate student evaluation could have been avoided by making a hefty donation to the district attorney's campaign fund. She reportedly will write you a doozy w/o even knowing the student.

    TJ Apple
    TJ Apple subscribermember

    'Yes, you’re Malachi’s mom' - classic response. Kim Abagat can be my child's counselor anytime, she definitely has the interest of children at heart. Time for Marne Foster to quietly resign and fade into the background. And where is Cindy Marten through all this?

    DistrictDeeds wordpress com
    DistrictDeeds wordpress com subscriber

    @MarioKoran Thank you Kim Abagat and Mitzi Lizarraga  for your bravery in filling in the truth where Foster and Marten continue to tell lies.

    Thank you @MarioKoran for being relentless on finding the truth in this story.  I have been describing this toxic Marten and Foster dysfunction in my District Deeds blog for over a year and it is very satisfying that the stories I have been blogging are finally being vindicated as true by these brave professional educators, Mitzi Lizarraga and Kim Abagat.

    Foster OBVIOUSLY improperly used her position to intervene for her son at SCPA and should be recalled or resign because of it.  District Deeds has started a petition to do just that here:

    Cindy Marten and Lamont Jackson  OPERATIONALLY carried out the direct orders of Board Member Foster at a school site improperly and BOTH should be disciplined up to termination.

    Go to the RECALL Marne Petition and sign it now!

    Barbara Stevens
    Barbara Stevens subscriber

    District Deeds, aim higher...Marten has had plenty of chances to prove herself. Remove her from office and the like of Foster and Lamont Jackson will be left without a protector. And that's not a bad thing 

    moleman subscriber

    "School counselors are the ones who complete an evaluation form – attesting to students’ talents – which are then sent to prospective colleges."

    what exactly is this?  i have never heard of them, and certainly no counselor did any such thing for me while i was in high school.  i do know that some private universities require letters of recommendation, and having one from a counselor or teacher could be acceptable.  but what is this "form?"

    sounds like Blum might be the one who should be investigated.

    I Sage
    I Sage

    @moleman A simple Google search will reveal that almost all private and many public colleges require teacher and/or counselor evaluations. Even UC Berkeley has announced that it will "invite" certain applicants to submit letters of recommendation this year and, based on the recent UC Conference, it sounds like all UC campuses will be moving toward LOR in the future. Neither Ms. Abagat nor Ms. Blum would be outside their professional duties in submitting counselor recommendations.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    " Do you know who I am"?  The phrase used by people who aren't to confident in themselves. Other than her son has Ms. Foster advocated for any other students? Seems Ms. Foster thinks that when you are in her presence you should either bow or genuflect. I believe Ms. Foster has reached her level of incompetence.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    How much are school counselors paid? $6,000 for nine days work??

    Gayle Falkenthal APR
    Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

    @michael-leonard Michael, I had the same thought reading this information. If Ms. Abagat lost money by having to hire legal counsel or through other expenses not related to the loss of salary/benefits, I would like this explained in more detail. As written, Ms. Abagat is making $83.37/hour assuming an eight-hour day.

    Q2014 subscriber

    If she has advanced degrees, $83.37 an hour isn't that unusual.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Thanks for the clarification. It should've been made clear in the article.

    Barbara Stevens
    Barbara Stevens subscriber

    I imagine every school district in San Diego knows they can just ignore the Grand Jury. 

    obboy13 subscriber

    @michael-leonard You're right m-l, but how much a Counselor makes is, in my opinion, a side issue here.  Whether it was $6,000 or $6.00, the fact that she was subjected to harm from what appears to be blatant political interference is my real concern.  If this situation is as reported (and Ms. Marten's silence only buttresses the argument that it is) then the question I'd like answered is why are we paying a Superintendent even one dime to create a work environment where this is allowed to happen.  If Cindy Marten is too dense to respond to a Grand Jury report because it didn't spell out the names for her, she has no business being in charge of one of the largest school districts in the country, and she and her cabal need to go; and if it takes a new, transparent School Board to accomplish that, let's start the recall drive now. 

    obboy13 subscriber

    @Barbara Stevens Not trying to defend the GJ system, it is well past its prime.  However, speaking from experience, the art in replying to them is to frame your responses in a respectful way,not criticize them for providing insufficient details or names.  Ms. Marten's response in the instant case appears at best disingenuous and at worst as if she's trying to hide something while hoping the situation is overtaken by the next news cycle.  She may have been a great teacher, but, in my opinion, as an administrator...not so much.