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Tarnished trustee departure begets costly politics

Foster finally leaves, big-money campaign to follow

One of Marne Foster's campaign selling points was that she's a parent.
  • One of Marne Foster's campaign selling points was that she's a parent.

Let the frantic fundraising begin.

That's the inside scoop following word that San Diego school-board Democrat Marne Foster has resigned her seat after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor political-reform act violation related to solicitation of cash for her son's tuition.

According to TV reports, besides having to quit, Foster got 120 hours of community service along with three years of probation and will have to make restitution of $3487 for an illegal travel gift benefiting her son.

The investigation leading to the criminal count against Foster had earlier resulted in the suspension of an internal district probe of the boardmember regarding charges she had pressured superintendent Cindy Marten to remove School of Creative and Performing Arts principal Mitzi Lizarraga, who had reportedly resisted a host of Foster's improper efforts at the school on behalf of her son.

Eli Broad

Eli Broad

Buzz Woolley

Buzz Woolley

Then last month, guidance counselor Kim Abagat filed suit against the district, charging she was targeted for retaliation after authoring a negative appraisal of Foster's offspring.

With Foster now out of the way, it remains to be seen how the district's internal investigation of her transgressions will proceed.

But the vacancy could lead to a costly electoral struggle between the school teachers’ union and self-styled education-reform advocates allied with Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad, said to still be interested in buying the Los Angeles Times and its sister San Diego Union-Tribune.

Late last month, LaShae Collins, district director for state Assembly Democrat and ex–school-board-member Shirley Weber, launched her bid for the District E seat, claiming the endorsements of Weber, Assembly speaker Toni Atkins and city councilwoman Myrtle Cole, according to a January 25 Union-Tribune report.

Now the question is whether a Republican will emerge, and whether the Broad-allied forces find a candidate of either party to their liking.

In 2012, Foster's opponent was Bill Ponder, who received heavy financial backing from an array of those pitted against the teachers’ union, including La Jolla investor and charter-school proponent Buzz Woolley, chairman of the nonprofit news website Voice of San Diego, who kicked in $15,000 to the Alliance for Quality Education in support of Ponder for school board, disclosure records showed.

Woolley has also been a backer of efforts to ban use of payroll-withheld union dues in political campaigns, giving $10,000 to 2012’s state Proposition 32.

Rod Dammeyer

Rod Dammeyer

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

Other contributors to the Ponder side of the race included CAC Advisory Services LLC, a firm run by Rod Dammeyer, an investor and charter-school advocate of Rancho Santa Fe, which gave $40,500.

Sacramento-based California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee added $25,000 to the Ponder effort.

Big money from the teachers’ union and wealthy private sources has frequently clashed in past San Diego school politics.

Dammeyer and Democratic Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs financed an ultimately unsuccessful ballot bid to add more members to the school board in 2011. In 2002, the Jacobs-supported San Diego schools chief Alan Bersin enjoyed the dark-money support of L.A.'s Broad.

So far, the only campaign finance filings for this year’s District E race have been made by Foster.

According to an August 11, 2015, disclosure, the soon-to-resign school boardmember raised $3320 for her reelection campaign during the first half of last year, including $250 from fellow boardmember Richard Barrera.

Up for reelection this year, Barrera announced last month he was leaving his position as secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council to become executive assistant and secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 135, long a major money player in local politics.

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Comments

Katie, no one will expose the conflicts of interests of the teachers union bosses guarding the henhouse. It's not PC.

I'm with Katie. This is the first time Richard Barrera's blatant double-duty as a school board trustee and years as head of the AFL-CIO Labor Council (to which all local teachers belong through their union SDEA) has ever been broached (and then tossed off) by this Readerwriter -- who also never took any interest in the SCPA wrongdoing of Marne Foster and her protection by Barrera or Superintendent Cindy Marten. Unfortunate.

And speaking of failure of community caring about a quality school board, Barrera ran unopposed in his second election; Mike McQuarry was unopposed in his first election, and until LaShae Collins surfaced, it looked like Foster herself was going to run unopposed. That's three out of five board seats unopposed, folks. Pathetic.

As for the school district "investigation" into Foster, I believe there is none, Matt Potter. It was officially disbanded the minute the District Attorney got involved, according to VOSD reporter Mario Koran -- and that was long after superb SCPA principal Mitzi Lizarraga was lost, having been hounded out of her post with the complicity of Superintendent Cindy Marten, who seems to have been afraid of Foster as well as under the thumb of Richard Barrera who was her godfather in arranging Marten's original outside-the-box superintendent appointment. Disgraceful.

All politicians are bought and paid for. Follow the money and you will find the owners and operators of the politician. No one gives large sums of money to anyone without expecting something in return. As long as elected representatives rely on large sums of money to be elected/reelected then nothing will change. Money begets corruption.

All politicians are NOT bought and paid for, AlexClarke. Presently elections in this country are more likely to be bought and paid for, thanks to the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" ruling, but there are principled elected officials at every level -- including school board -- who follow the rules, who study the issues to become well-informed and who resolve to vote in the public interest.

A democratic system depends on informed wide public engagement. A flawed system brings public ennui, few candidates and even puppet candidates who, once elected, answer to their funders and narrow self-interest. (Few elected officials are such obvious special interest tools or as crudely venal as San Diego's Marne Foster.)

We'd be better off overhauling our election system to produce more candidates, more voters, more focused public attention on issues and people. We'd be better off if our election system operated more democratically with inclusive (rather than restrictive) voter rules, public financing only, Sunday elections and a drastically shortened election cycle.

I do find it surprising that school board seats, once hotly contested, are now going to unopposed incumbents. That was one of the key ingredients in the So County school district scandals that just recently concluded (or so we hope.) An uninformed electorate, or one that block votes along ethnic lines, will elect some disastrously poor candidates. That's how I'd describe Foster.

The current situation with charter schools in the state leaves them ripe for abuse, yet many well-meaning folks still think that converting a school to charter status is the answer to all of its ills. Several years ago, there was a huge to-do about Helix High in La Mesa (Grossmont UHSD) and making it into a charter school. Frustrated with the under-performance of the students there, a host of folks decided that it could improve if it were a charter school. And so it was converted. Do you hear anything good about it today? I sure don't.

Wealthy and influential proponents of charter schools may actually believe their own propaganda, but I suspect that most just don't like unions, and want to be able to push their educational/political agendas on the schools. Under the usual governance of school districts, they can't do that. But it isn't hard to hijack a charter school and have it dance to your tune if you have the needed money.

$40,000 + from RSF charter school supporter Dammeyer in the previous District E election? That is quite a bundle of money for one school board race from one guy. Plus the other money. The donors must have thought they had a good chance to snow the voters or buy the candidate. I wonder if they will have as good a chance this time with the Weber staffer running, who seems to have a genuine interest in education.

Several areas have been badly represented in recent years, but Marne Foster's service (to herself alone) has definitely been one of the worst. Her poor judgment and total lack of integrity have been embarrassing.

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