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San Diego Unified’s board of trustees hired an independent investigator in September to look into allegations that school board president Marne Foster failed to follow proper fundraising rules, and that she was behind a legal claim that sought $250,000 from the district. The report was supposed to take 30 days, but it’s been 52 and counting.
That 30-day investigation of Marne Foster is at 52 days and counting.
During a Sept. 29 school board meeting, San Diego Unified’s board of trustees approved a motion to hire an independent investigator to look into allegations that Foster, the school board president, failed to follow proper fundraising rules, and that she was secretly behind a legal claim that sought $250,000 from the district.
Trustees Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans wanted a swift resolution. They called for that investigator to return to the board with a full report within 30 days.
“That’s a reasonable period of time,” said Evans. “There’s a lot of business that needs to be gotten on with in this district.”
But that deadline has been pushed back, and pushed back again. Now, district spokesperson Ursula Kroemer says the results of the investigation won’t be available until early December.
Kroemer said the probe is ongoing, but that “the 30-day timeframe for the investigation wasn’t practical.”
In the meantime, the district’s legal office has missed deadlines on delivering records Voice of San Diego has sought through public records laws. Citing unexpected IT problems, the district told VOSD on Oct. 30 the records could take an additional month to deliver.
One question the investigation is expected to answer is whether Foster broke any laws or ethics policies when she held a private fundraiser to benefit her sons. In attendance were donors who’ve had business with the school district.
Last month, the Fair Political Practices Commission closed its own investigation into the fundraiser, finding Foster had not broken any campaign rules.
The school board’s investigation will also examine a legal complaint written on behalf of Foster’s son, seeking $250,000 in compensation for an unflattering college recommendation letter.
That claim was submitted in the name of John Marsh, the father of Foster’s son. But in September, Marsh told VOSD that he didn’t actually write the letter – Foster did. He said he was homeless and staying with Foster at the time, and signed the letter at Foster’s request to keep from being kicked out of Foster’s home.
A warning at the bottom of the complaint form says that filing a false complaint is a criminal offense.
But in September, Barrera said: “With the legal claim, we need to be thoughtful about what is in the district’s interest considering that this claim was already dismissed, and no money was paid. From the district’s standpoint, the matter is settled.”
Board members called for the investigation nearly two months ago, and said they needed a full examination of the facts.
“It’s not fair for anyone to be tried by the media,” Evans said at the time.
No matter when it eventually comes back, the investigation won’t respond to the very situation that thrust Foster into the spotlight: the allegation that she pressured Superintendent Cindy Marten to remove Mitzi Lizarraga, the principal of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, for personal reasons.
In September, Marten released 61 pages of emails and personnel documents related to Lizarraga’s departure in order to make the case that she struggled on the job and deserved to be removed. Though Marten told me that a situation involving Foster’s son was “part of” the reason Lizarraga was removed, it was “not the whole story.”
From the district’s perspective, the matter of what happened at SCPA is closed.
In regard to the issues still being examined, Evans said the results of the investigation will put matters to rest and restore public trust. But it appears that, too, will have to wait.