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.


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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.

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

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    7 comments
    EducatedMom
    EducatedMom subscribermember

    It is absolutely important that children learn to swim, but the "pools for schools" plan is yet another example of one of the district's feel-good promises that won't deliver because it wasn't thought through.  If the district can even get over the legal hurdles of even creating joint-use pool ventures (that's a big IF--and it's money coming out of the General Fund, meaning classrooms, to fight that legal battle), the pools are in many cases located miles from the students who would theoretically use them.  Is the district building the pools for high schools sports (e.g. swim team, diving, waterpolo)--which need the pools after school hours--or for elementary school or middle school students to teach them to swim during school hours, or both?  Some of the proposed pools are located on a high school campus, others on a middle school campus, and others miles from any school campus.  With a district that is still trying to balance it's operating budget, where is the funding to transport the students to/from these pools and the swim instructors going to come from?


    Lofty goal, poor execution--that's SDUSD in a nutshell.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Swimming is a critical life skill, especially in a community like ours. Access to pools to learn to swim is thus very important. There is presently very limited access in San Diego. 

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning." "About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries." 

    With respect to who dies this way: "Between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old. The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range. The disparity is most pronounced in swimming pools; African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites.  This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites."

    Learning to swim is a key skill to avoid drowning. 

    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

    @Chris Brewster Thank you Chris for your excellent comments...Danny   competed with the "Big Four'  in mid eighties  Team J David at Nice... Swimming is important...we appreciate your support in our campaign for School Board..

    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

    This decision can not stand. This decision will not stand under my campaign for SDUSB...we will prevail if any of you have the guts to help us...Danny---triathlete and retired teacher since 1983..i have devoted my life to the local swimming community..are you all in with our campaign? 858 220 4613  Danny 

    community_watch
    community_watch subscriber

    @Daniel Smiechowski If you are running for the school board I highly recommend you get schooled up on the method in which the District was planning to fund the pools for schools project.  The District planned to use Prop Z funds.  Prop Z is a school bond that falls within the requirements of Prop 39 which was passed by voters back in 2000.  Prop 39 changed our States Constitution and requires every Prop 39 school bond to include a specific project list that the bond money is to be spent on.  The only mention of swimming pools in Prop Z is in a section at the end which allows bond money to be spent on other efforts that are incidental to and necessary for the completion of the listed projects.  That would mean that there would have to be project listed within the Prop Z school bond that requires a multimillion dollar swimming pool to be built for the listed project to be deemed complete.  There is no such project listed that fulfills this requirement.  The District was blatantly trying to deceive the voters.  If the District wanted to use Prop Z bond money on multimillion dollar swimming pools instead of more critical elements of a supportive learning environment they should have placed those swimming pool projects squarely in the bond as an authorized project and rolled the dice for voter approval.  Instead the District plays a shell game with taxpayers money thinking the public isn't aware of their shenanigans

    David
    David subscriber

    I've never heard such disappointment from the community, as I have towards the SDUSD Board. Ms. Foster is gone and the remaining board needs to resign.

    Michael Russell
    Michael Russell subscriber

    @David Why exactly does 'the remaining board needs to resign' - or are you just trolling.