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A day after San Diego Unified school board trustee Marne Foster pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned, colleague Richard Barrera said he is confident the situation hasn’t tarnished the district’s image.
“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. Now what needs to happen is we have fill the seat, fill the seat with the right person and then move forward.”
Barrera has always been one of Foster’s biggest champions. Along with local labor leaders, he hand-selected Foster as a school board candidate. At the time, Barrera already had a spot on the San Diego Unified school board, and served as a labor organizer. He later became leader of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a position he held until recently.
Along with other school board colleagues, Barrera stuck by Foster’s side even after a series of allegations surfaced against her.
In fact, on the very same night the board agreed to hire an investigator to conduct an internal investigation of some of the Foster allegations, the board honored Foster with a proclamation. The proclamation was put forward by Barrera and trustee Mike McQuary. At the time, Barrera said he was concerned a single story getting out about Foster and wanted to make sure people don’t lose sight of the work she’s done.
Barrera said that the Foster ordeal is a subject few people express interest in when he visits schools or meets with people in the community. People care more about the transformation of high schools and the good things happening in elementary schools, he said.
“Those are the conversations that I have with people, and it’s what people care about,” he said.
I asked Barrera if felt he or other school board members could have done more to address Foster’s behavior.
No, he said, the reason the board approved an internal investigation into Foster’s behavior to begin with was to determine whether wrongdoing had been done. They never discovered an answer to that, because the district suspended its investigation into Foster when the district attorney’s office opened a criminal investigation.
Barrera does have one concern about what Foster’s resignation might means for the district.
The current school board has operated in almost total harmony. Free from the toxic infighting that plagues other urban districts, San Diego Unified board members and the superintendent have in recent years marched forward in unity on their agenda to create a quality school in every neighborhood. Since 2014, every member on the five-person board has been supported by the teachers union.
For better or worse, dynamics on the school board have now changed. I asked Barrera if he worried about the implications of that.
“I do,” he said. “It’s incredibly valuable to have the board and the superintendent share a vision.”