Marne Foster, president of the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees. Photo from District E Cabinet Facebook page

Strict ethics policies aimed at avoiding trustee misconduct were unanimously approved Tuesday night by the San Diego Unified School District board, a month after former member Marne Foster pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned.

Trustee John Lee Evans and board Vice President Richard Barerra co-authored a four-point plan redefining the relationship between the board and superintendent.

The first point involves attempts by a board member to interfere in the operation of the school district. The first offense will be reported to the full board by the superintendent. Subsequent offenses will be discussed at an open board meeting so the public can be informed.

The second point gives all district employees a way of reporting board interference to the superintendent directly. The board directed Superintendent Cindy Marten to establish and maintain a procedure for employees to report board violations in a safe, non-retaliatory manner.

The third point calls for all new trustees to receive ethics and conflict-of-interest training within 60 days of taking their seats on the board.

The final point is aimed at board members who are also the parent or guardian of a student in the district.

The staff at the student’s school will meet with the superintendent and the board member to clearly define and draw a clear line between interactions as a parent and interactions as a trustee.

“We must hold ourselves to a high standard,” Evans said at a news conference earlier in the day. “It is unacceptable and contrary to the mission of the school district for any one board member to give the public cause to question our integrity.”

An investigation by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office began late last year after numerous allegations against Foster became public. Foster allegedly held a fundraiser to pay her sons’ college tuition, but did not report it properly.

The fundraiser was attended by district employees and contractors who do business with the district. She was accused of being secretly behind a $250,000 claim against the district in connection with a college recommendation for her son that she did not like.

There was also an allegation that her son was enrolled in the free lunch program at school, even though her family income disqualified him for the program.

Foster pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of accepting a gift of plane fair and tuition to a conference for her son. She is not allowed to run for office for four years and was forced to resign.

“This is a new day at the San Diego Unified School board,” Evans said. “We have an outstanding new board member from District E, and after this evening, we have tough new ethics guidelines to protect the integrity of our schools and our children.”

The first ethics training session for the entire board was scheduled for next Tuesday.

— City News Service

Show comments

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.