And just like that, Marne Foster was gone.

After months of controversy surrounding the San Diego Unified school board member, Foster resigned from her post this week and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Two days after the resignation, a judge released documents that had previously been kept under seal. Only then did the public know exactly what issues surrounding Foster the district attorney’s office was interested in.

The resignation itself was an anticlimactic ending to a saga that, for several months, grew more bizarre by the week.


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In an effort to protect the district from a long and drawn-out trial, Foster’s defense attorney and the district attorney’s office entered into private negotiations and struck a deal – even before the public was made aware that Foster was facing formal charges.

School board members have offered up several statements typical for this kind of post-scandal autopsy: They’ll review what went wrong, and take actions to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. They are eager return to the business of educating kids.

Here are a few things the unsealed search warrant finally answered, and questions that remain.

What charges was Foster facing?

Because negotiations were conducted in private, we only know of one charge that Foster formally faced – the one she pleaded guilty to: accepting illegal gifts as a public official.

But the search warrant finally sheds light on what issues the district attorney’s office cared about. Investigators looked into the allegation that Foster was secretly behind a claim that sought $250,000 from the district as well as a fundraiser Foster held for her sons.

Those are the two issues that led the district to open an internal investigation – the results of which it never released.

Other potentially criminal acts mentioned in the search warrant include: whether Foster filed false information so that her son could qualify to receive free lunches, and whether Foster filed a false statement of economic interests.

The issue that led to the plea deal: Politicians are required to disclose gifts they receive. Jan Hunter, a philanthropist connected to the Jackie Robinson YMCA, paid for Foster’s youngest son to attend drama camp, and for airfare to and from Pace University in New York, where he attends college. The gifts totaled $3,487. Foster did not disclose those gifts until investigators asked about them, according to the docs. She filed an amended form disclosing the gifts, but by then it was too late.

Who knew Foster was behind the $250,000 claim against the district?

Everyone. Superintendent Cindy Marten knew Foster was going to submit the claim before she filed it, and informed the rest of the school board of Foster’s plans both before and after the claim was filed. Marten also told Andra Donovan, the district’s general counsel, records show.

Based on the information contained in the warrant, Marten believed Foster was going to submit the claim in her own name and found it “curious” when she read in the San Diego Union-Tribune that Foster said she had nothing to do with the claim.

When Foster hand-delivered the claim to Donavon in 2014, Donavon saw the claim was submitted in the name of John Marsh, the father of Foster’s son, and informed an insurance and risk-services manager who works with the district that Marsh was connected to Foster. The district dismissed the claim, and no money was paid out.

The records do not show whether Foster was ever called out by Donovan, board members or Marten for the apparent ruse.

Was the district attorney’s office interested in what happened at SCPA?

Not really. Indirectly, investigators dug into some dealings at the School of Creative and Performing Arts, where Foster’s sons attended school and where she sparred with school leaders, but only because that’s where many problems originated.

The question of whether Marten removed Principal Mitzi Lizarraga at Foster’s request wasn’t addressed in the documents. The DA’s office was interested in potentially criminal acts, and staffing disputes probably didn’t rise to the level.

What will the school district do to avoid a similar situation in the future?

Shortly after Foster announced her resignation, trustee John Lee Evans told the San Diego Union-Tribune the situation offers a good learning opportunity. He said he wants “to schedule a board workshop to review ethics policies for trustees to address the perception of conduct problems.”

Trustee Richard Barrera told me the same thing. Unlike politicians who hold higher office, school board members have no staff members working for them to help them keep clear of ethics violations. So trustees should be better educated on what they can and can’t do, Barrera said.

Ironically, this same recommendation was made by San Diego’s civil Grand Jury last summer – before the details of Foster’s misdeeds came to light. At the time, the district’s general counsel Andra Donovan waved away the recommendations, arguing current district policies and safeguards are “sufficiently robust.”

When I pointed this out to Barrera, he said that the district didn’t necessarily disagree with the Grand Jury’s specific recommendation to increase ethics trainings. The district disagreed more with the general thrust of the grand jury report.

“It’s one thing for the district to have policies,” Barrera said. “It’s another to be reminded of the rules on an ongoing basis.”

School board members used to have ethics training every year, he said, but haven’t had one in the past several years.

What will the ordeal cost the district?

It’s difficult right now to grasp the costs of the Foster controversy, both financial and otherwise.

In November, the school board hired investigators from DLA Piper to look into Foster’s actions. Costs were capped at $40,000.

District spokeswoman Linda Zintz said the district hasn’t yet received the bill for those services, and couldn’t say what amount will eventually be paid out.

On another front, the district will have to defend itself against a lawsuit from Kim Abagat, the counselor who wrote an unflattering college evaluation letter for Foster’s son. Abagat argues she was retaliated against for writing a truthful letter.

The district could fight the suit and take it to trial, or it could settle. Abagat’s attorney, Dan Gilleon, said it’s common for settlements in similar cases to reach into six-figures.

If school board members decide to hold a special election to fill the seat, costs will rack up.

In 2014, when a South Bay Union School District board member died, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters estimated it would cost the district anywhere from $330,000 to $380,000 to hold a special election to fill his post, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

What did the district-hired investigators find?

Zintz said the district does not plan to release information collected by the district-hired investigators. No report has been produced, she said.

The search warrant said the investigators provided a limited number of emails to the district attorney’s office. But one of those emails revealed that Foster’s son received a scholarship to a theater camp and roundtrip airfare tickets. That was provided by Hunter, who until 2013 served on the board of the Jackie Robinson YMCA.

Hunter also paid for roundtrip airfare tickets and a hotel stay in New York. Hunter told the San Diego Union-Tribune she was simply inspired to help Foster’s son after he quoted Shakespeare at an event.

What happened in the negotiations that led to Foster’s plea deal?

This is probably the most fascinating of all unanswered questions. By the time the public even found out Foster was being charged with a crime, she had already agreed to plea deal. That terms of the deal were negotiated privately.

Resignation from public office has served as a bargaining chip for local politicians before.

Arlie Ricasa, a former Sweetwater Union High School District trustee, made a similar plea deal with the district attorney. She was originally charged with 33 counts, 16 of which were felonies, for failing to report upwards of $36,000 in total gifts. After a lengthy court battle and negotiations with the district attorney, she pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count, was sentenced to probation, ordered to pay a fine and was forced to resign from the school board.

Ultimately, Foster pleaded to accepting illegal gifts as a public official, a misdemeanor that forced her resignation. She won’t see any jail time, and will serve three years’ probation.

Both her defense attorney and the prosecution acknowledged that high-profile allegations raised by media outlets, including Voice of San Diego, played an important role in her resignation and were part of negotiations that eventually led to the plea agreement.

But neither side would discuss other charges Foster potentially faced.

    This article relates to: Education, School Leadership

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario asks questions and writes stories about San Diego schools. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    19 comments
    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    Ms. Kathy S, Here's an update for you!

    Court Name:U.S. Civil Court Records for the Southern District of California

    Case Number:3:15-cv-02203Party

    Name:Ogunsalu v. San Diego Unified School District Board of Education et al

    02/17/201645 Second AMENDED COMPLAINT with Jury Demand against Scott Barnett, Richard Barrera, Kevin Beiser, Michael Dodson, Andra Donovan, John Lee Evans, Thelma Felix, Marne Foster, Jose Gonzales, Precious Hubbard-Jackson, Lamont Jackson, Cindy Marten, Darin Noyes, Marco Samaniego, San Diego Unified School District Board of Education, San Diego Unified School District Police Department, San Diego Unified School District Police Officers DOES 1-20, Keith McLean Boyd, Taylor Hearnsberger, Bernadette Nguyen, filed by Cornelius Oluseyi Ogunsalu. (Attachments: # 1 Proof of Service)New Summons Requested. (ag)(Entered: 02/18/2016)

    Anniej
    Anniej subscriber

    Why does ANYONE holding public office need to be warned of what is/is not ethical? Perhaps if they simply focused on education and kept the 'ME' out of it our students would be served as they are suppose to be.

    This Board heralded Foster after a legal investigation was begun - this sounds like the old Sweetwater Board - pompous and arrogant - believing like the song 'CANT TOUCH ME'.

    So now they are going to 'APPOINT' - hmmmmmm - no doubt another 'like minder'.

    While I am not in your school district, it is clear you all need a new Board, and SOON!

    As I have posted before, research each Board members name on the SD Registrar of Voters website, follow the trails of donations (PACS) and while you are at it - request the 700 Forms of all sitting on the Dais.

    YOU ALL DESERVE BETTER, BUT IT ISNT GOING TO HAPPEN IF YOU SIT BACK WAITING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE - take charge, make your District what it deserves to be -

    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    “It’s one thing for the district to have policies,” Barrera said. “It’s another to be reminded of the rules on an ongoing basis.” 


    Seriously?  How often, Mr. Barrera, do you need to be reminded of the requirement to be ethical in your capacity as a member of the SDUSD Board?  What is so complicated in the policies of your own district, that you can't understand them without help?  


    If this is the best you can do, Mr. Barrera, you are a weak leader, and a pathetic excuse of a role model for the kids you purport to care about.  If you really can't understand the things happening around you then step down and let someone with enough innate intelligence to handle the job take over.  You know for the good of the kids. 

    liz harley
    liz harley

    I appreciate the investigative work you put into this series of articles related to Marne Foster, Mario.  


    “I don’t believe that the community has been focused on this,” said Barrera. “I don’t believe the district has been focused on this. It’s an unfortunate situation. It happened. But it was handled the right way.


    Richard Barrera is not in touch with how many of us in the local community feel about what is going on in the school board.  The idea of "honoring" Marne Foster's accomplishments the same day an investigation starts into her activities that ultimately leads to her resignation, is dumbfounding.  I am not sure of the timing, but wasn't Marten aware at that particular school board event that Foster/Marsh had submitted the claim for $250,000 against the district?


    Barrera's comments regarding the lack of ethics training reminds me of students' excuses of why they don't have their assignments. 

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @liz harley The investigation ultimately led to the discovery that Foster accepted an improper gift.

    I do recognize why $250,000 exists in each post and article, but rarely do I see mention that many knew of the 250,000 claim, and its real source, and I wonder why.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @rhylton @liz harley Most of us first heard about the claim when Marne Foster publicly denied that she had anything to do with the claim . . . I heard it on the news and read it in the newspaper. We have since learnt "its real source," most recently from the DA's warrant. Nothing to wonder about!

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Cornelius Ogunsalu @rhylton @liz harley The point that I have been trying to make, and, obviously, have failed to make is that the Superintendent of Schools knew that Foster intended to make a claim against the City and to sue,  prior to  the claim being filed.  According to the record, Fosters intentions was an open secret,, known to many  It seems to my tiny brain, that given the circumstances when a claim appeared, its source would be known or knowable since there are but two parents. Claims or insinuations of surprise concerning the claim and its source are disingenuous, at best. 


    The fact that you did not know is immaterial. The Superintendent of Schools did, and she knew before the fact . Because of that, I have little doubt that others, in lofty positions, did too.. That should have occupied a prominent place in the reports from the people or organization, who reported on the matter and  who have provided these facilities.


    To summarize, Foster lied, was deceitful etc, but many people,  some in positions of authority, knew that she would be lying before she told the lies.


    How's that (a cricket term)

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @rhylton @Cornelius Ogunsalu @liz harley And IF you had paid attention to my "mercurial" and "irrational" comments on this issue, I said [repeatedly] (even before it was revealed publicly) that every trustee on that BOE [knew] that Foster was behind the claim . . . and I wondered how it played out that night at the closed-session meeting, i.e., when the claim came before the BOE.

    I have also repeatedly said that Foster should not and cannot go down [alone] . . . you have no idea what I have [suffered] during all that turmoil on the BOE and at 4100 Normal St. (i.e., that directly impacted my life negatively).

    This I can tell you . . . during all that turmoil, all the trustees were receiving scathing emails from me including some emails in which I suggested that they should ALL undergo training to have a better understanding of what their fiduciary responsibilities were.

    I was ahead of the ballgame and did not even realize it . . . and that got them very upset that the trustees, Foster, Beiser, Barnett, Barrera, and Evans, along with the Superintendent, Marten and the general counsel, that snake, Andra Donovan, criminalized me and got me charged with five misdemeanor counts for harassment. And you better believe that I went through a whole week of jury trial and got convicted of some of those charges . . . a conviction that is presently on appeal.

    All because these trustees, including Foster, thought they could get away with it and because I am a black man, amongst other unlawful and unconstitutional reasons.

    They even had the SDUSD police officers and detectives threatening me; have me under surveillance and camped outside my residence; and one morning on my way to work, at least TEN (10) SDUSD police officers descended upon me, in a multi-police vehicle take-down . . . with an illegal search and seizure of my vehicle . . . looking for drugs and guns as usual!

    I [knew] and [know] that Foster was/is not going down alone . . . I am directly impacted in all the ongoing mess . . . and I have pending PERB administrative proceedings and a federal lawsuit against SDUSD, the trustees and various agents of the district including their police department. SDUSD has attempted to unjustifiably have my teaching credentials revoked over pure lies and fabrications and cover-ups. SDUSD has [destroyed] me.

    Then, before I filed any charges or filed a federal lawsuit, I was [repeatedly] admonishing the trustees to undo the egregious, unlawful and unconstitutional actions they had already visited and were visiting upon me . . . but they wanted to shut me up for good . . . and that was to get a 28 year old baby prosecutor with the City Attorney's Office to criminalize me (like they do all black men) . . . and Foster (of all people) signed off on it! My angst towards her has nothing to do with all you have accused me of . . . 

    If only you knew what I have endured and suffered . . .

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Kathy S @Cornelius Ogunsalu @rhylton Yes . . . with leave to amend. Just like the Gurrieri lawsuit went through an amendment. I have till the end of this month to amend it. I got [all] of the defendants served the complaint and summons by the U.S. Marshall . . . got the lawsuit started!

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Cornelius Ogunsalu @rhylton @liz harley I did not read all that you have posted. Regrets. What you have described is par for the course with respect to the City Attorney".  with an illegal search and seizure of my vehicle . . . looking for drugs and guns as usual!." ; a process with which I have some familiarity. They work in the world of intimidation and lies. I need not tell you to be very careful.


    The more important question, for now, relates to VOSD. Did they know of your ordeal, and if they did, why was it not included in their reporting? Did they not believe it?


    I have more to say, but do not wish to say it here. Please be circumspect in replying to questions posted in this place.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    VoSD would be mixing apples with oranges. And my story, if it ever becomes public in its entirety, has more implication on the topic of due process rights and procedures for Probationary 2 teachers [and] their non-reelection based upon lawful, constitutional and non-pretextual reasons.

    I responded to Kathy S above because she went out of her way to cut and paste information about the lawsuit from PACER.  Friend, sympathizer or foe, I do not know. However, she pointed out that the federal lawsuit was dismissed and I responded by indicating that it was NOT with prejudice . . . that the order of dismissal was with a leave to amend the complaint and the lawsuit will be reopened.

    So, all I have to do is submit an amended complaint based on directives from the court's order. I cannot afford an attorney and I am representing myself pro se.

    This is a case that ideally should end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Regarding "being careful" . . . I am being very careful and I am aware of the fact that there are many people out there trying hard to stop me or foment more trouble for me. I deal with that [every] day.

    The Creator has a solid plan in place and manifestations abound daily . . . the senses are fine-tuned by years of dealing with racism, xenophobia and discrimination in America, just like many black men like me similarly deal with.

    Even recently, when some person/persons poured acid all over my car to [warn] me, I just simply reported it to the police and took pictures, knowing that [Karma] will take care of the person/persons who did that. The police would only take a report and not investigate.

    TRUTH is a BRIGHT light that no amount of darkness can obscure!

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Kathy S @Cornelius Ogunsalu @rhylton Kathy S, I have no idea what your inquiries are really all about. You already have answers to the questions you ask.

    YES, I am on the CA vexatious litigant list, unfortunately. I was deliberately and unscrupulously declared a vexatious litigant by unethical lawyers at the law firm of Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, even though I do NOT fit the profile of a VL. They used the VL statute as a tool to stop me from proceeding with an invasion of privacy/defamation lawsuit that I would have easily won, by having the court impose a $35,000 "prefiling" bond before I could proceed with the lawsuit.

    You probably [know] these lawyers already and already have access to the CA Superior Court and CA Court of Appeals records.

    Is Tracy Warren your friend??? She was/is the MAIN CULPRIT and [unethical] lawyer that declared me a VL!!! You may want to think twice about opening up that particular can of worms, Ms. Kathy S., with your deceptively veiled questions!!!

    The federal court has accepted my Section 1983/Title VII complaint against SDUSD, et al. and I did request permission to file the lawsuit, having previously been declared a VL in the state court. The federal court indicated that I have [NOT] been declared a VL in any federal court in the U.S.

    So, there you have it, Ms. Kathy S.

    You may want to put all the questions you have for me (that you already have answers to) out, once and for all. I suspect you work in the City Attorney's Office and I have been a target of some of your colleagues for years.

    Recently, is Taylor Hearnsberger, the baby prosecutor being groomed to be a bad a** racist prosecutor, who will be a defendant in the federal lawsuit because he conspired with Andra Donovan at SDUSD to have me tied up in criminal court, to stop me from filing the federal lawsuit! It is called retaliatory prosecution and it violates my rights under the Constitution of the United States of America!!!

    Any more questions, Ms. Kathy S? I will answer them [IF] I have a clear understanding what your purpose is!!!

    Katie Anderson
    Katie Anderson subscriber

    "Who knew Foster was behind the $250,000 claim against the district? Everyone. Superintendent Cindy Marten knew Foster was going to submit the claim before she filed it, and informed the rest of the school board of Foster’s plans both before and after the claim was filed. Marten also told Andra Donovan, the district’s general counsel, records show."  And still, the board feted her on Sept. 29th 2015 with a proclamation whic stated that she had worked so very hard for ALL students!!! Yeah, all of the students with HER last name!


    "Unlike politicians who hold higher office, school board members have no staff members working for them to help them keep clear of ethics violations. So trustees should be better educated on what they can and can’t do, Barrera said." Come on! I don't have anyone to steer me clear of ethics violations either, but I seem to do just fine when I listen to my conscience. Hmmmm, I wonder who Andra Donovan works for? Am I to believe that her personal cell phone number is not on every board members cell phone? 


    "“It’s one thing for the district to have policies,” Barrera said. “It’s another to be reminded of the rules on an ongoing basis.”

    School board members used to have ethics training every year, he said, but haven’t had one in the past several years."  Really? These are not rules that the adults overseeing the education of our children should have to be reminded of on an ongoing basis. These are value and integrity, conflict of interest based, decisions being made every day by every adult around us. When most people see the phrase "filing a false complaint is a criminal offense" they take a moment to consider their integrity, not these folks. 


    WOW, and we let Terry Grier go to Houston because of these clowns?

    Katie Anderson
    Katie Anderson subscriber

    Because the district was and still is a mess.

    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    @Katie Anderson Oh snap!!  Scoreboard now reads: Anderson: 1 - Kathy S: 0


    Game, set, and match.