SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Unified School District trustees made a swift decision Tuesday in favor of allocating up to $40,000 for an independent investigation of board President Marne Foster, who is accused of abuse of power.
In a strange twist, immediately following the investigation order, the trustees, as scheduled, presented Foster with a proclamation recognizing her achievements as board president, a move some members of the public criticized for its timing with the investigation.
About 15 people spoke in support of Foster, citing her work to diversify curriculum in the district through her support for ethnic studies and efforts to keep students out of the juvenile justice system. Foster supporters also collected signatures in support of the board president which were submitted to district staff.
There were less than five people who criticized Foster, saying the incident points to other potential problems with leadership in the district.
Foster excused herself following public comment on the two items so the other board members could deliberate.
No board members objected to beginning an investigation. Education and community advocate Sally Smith said the trustees severely limited the scope of the investigation.
"The issue right now isn't education, it's the behavior of the school board, specifically Marne Foster," Smith said. "If our children lied like that they would be in big trouble with the principal."
The investigation approved by trustees will look into a fundraiser held by Foster to help pay for her son's college expenses, and whether she was secretly behind a $250,000 claim against the district filed by her son's father that accused the school of sabotaging the youngster's college plans.
The claim was rejected by the district.
The trustees maintained the independent investigation will be completed by someone who has never been affiliated with the district.
Board members also directed district staff to hire an investigator who could complete the investigation within 30 days or in as close to a month as possible.
While the trustees were in agreement over the investigation of Foster, not all agreed with the timing of a board proclamation honoring the board president.
Trustee John Lee Evans, who said he did not agree with the timing of the proclamation or the light it would cast on the district but agreed with the content recognizing Foster's achievements, sat out the vote.
"I disagree with the timing of this proclamation," Evans said. "The timing of this is going to misconstrued."
The investigation approved by the trustees did not include a motion to address Foster's alleged involvement in a shakeup of leadership at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, which her son attended.
Superintendent Cindy Marten released information today regarding the reassignment of the school's former principal and included a breakdown of how principal reassignments are made district wide.
Edith Smith, whose children graduated from district schools, told the board she believes every parent should advocate for their child and that she sympathized with Foster's concern for her son's success beyond high school.
However, Smith said she believes it was a conflict of interest for the board president to serve while she was deeply involved with addressing problems at her son's school.
"I think the superintendent allowed her to act in a way that got her in trouble," Smith said.
Foster, a community college teacher, was elected to the board in 2012 and has been board president since December.