The Star-News

County fills voids at SUHSD

Sat, May 24 2014 12:00 PM Posted By: Robert Moreno

For the first time in months, the dais for a Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting will be completely filled.

However, four of the five seats on the board are to be occupied by trustees who weren’t originally elected to set policy and be involved in the decision-making process for the district.

Instead, Susan Hartley, president of the San Diego County Office of Education, temporarily appointed herself, Mark C. Anderson, Sharon C. Jones and Lyn Neylon to the Sweetwater board.

The appointments come on the heels of San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes’  May 16  ruling to grant a temporary restraining order filed by the district that allowed the president of the SDCOE to appoint four temporary trustees to the five seats on the school board.

“They’ll operate the district at least until the time of the preliminary injunction or if someone comes back to the court,” said Randall Winet, an attorney for the school district.

A preliminary injunction hearing is to be heard July 11.

The injunction, Winet said, is  to hear a review of the restraining order and the judge will decide if the restraining order still needs to be issued after she hears from all parties involved.

In addition to their monthly $486.20 stipend, the four trustees will get the same $827 stipend that is allotted to Sweetwater board members.

Hartley said she is looking forward to serving Sweetwater.

“I hope it turns out well and I’m highly optimistic that we can move the district forward,” she said.

Hartley said she recently learned that this is the first time in California that four people have been appointed to a school board at the same time.

Sweetwater Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand said he welcomes the four as they will provide a different outlook on school matters.

“They are very enthusiastic and very desiring in wanting to help,” Brand said. “I think the best thing they have to offer is a fresh perspective.”

With Brand and Sweetwater trustee John McCann, the four appointees will encompass an all-caucasian governing board.

SDCOE trustee Gregg Robinson — who is also caucasian — was the only board member from the SDCOE not to be appointed to Sweetwater’s board.

As the SDCOE board president, Harley represents district five, which runs along the coast from Del Mar to Camp Pendleton. She first joined the SDCOE in 2002.

Anderson, the only man appointed to the Sweetwater board, was re-elected in 2012 to serve district four, which includes Vista, the East Eounty from Lakeside to the northern boundary. Anderson was elected to the SDCOE board in 2008.

Jones is an SDCOE board member for the third district that includes most of the southeastern area  of the county. She first joined the SDCOE in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010.

Neylon was elected to a four-year term in 2012 to work for district two, which includes the area belonging to Sweetwater and the southwestern portion of the county from southern San Diego to the U.S.-Mexico border. Neylon is a former Southwestern College professor and lives in the South Bay.

McCann, the vice president of the board, is the last original board member remaining and wasn’t entangled in what prosecutors characterized as the largest corruption case in San Diego County history.

Hayes approved the temporary restraining order because she said the board’s situation was “exigent” and waiting could disrupt the educational plans of students in the district.

Last month, Sweetwater board President Jim Cartmill and trustee Bertha Lopez were the last of remaining school officials to plead guilty to corruption charges. San Diego Superior Court Judge Ana Espana said the two board members were allowed to serve out their terms on the school board, which for Cartmill would have been in November with Lopez’s term ending in 2016.

After Espana’s ruling, the district met with her to seek clarification as to how Cartmill and Lopez could stay on the school board when government code 1770.2 negates their board status.

At a hearing, Espana said she wasn’t aware that California government code 1770.2 existed, which says officials cannot serve on a board upon conviction of a crime in relation to their duties. Espana then reversed her decision saying she had no authority to decide whether Cartmill and Lopez could remain on the board, she left that decision to the district, which followed board policy and suspended the two.

Under government code 1770.2 there is a provision that says that the defendants can withdraw their pleas. If either defendant does, their suspension will be lifted.

“They are both suspended,” Winet said. “Could that change if they withdraw their plea? The answer is yes but right now they are suspended, they’ve been advised that they are suspended. Things could change”
Lopez’s attorney Jill Cremeans said a plea withdrawal is a possibility.

“We’re still trying to explore all of our options,”  she said.

Lopez said she still hasn’t decided whether she would withdraw her plea.

Cartmill or his attorney, Thomas Warwick, could not be reached for comment.

The SDCOE did not fight the district’s restraining order as an  attorney for them wasn’t present at court.

Winet said because the trustees need to get up to speed with issues in the Sweetwater district, the May 16 board meeting was rescheduled for May 28.

One of the temporary trustees would fill the seat of Arlie Ricasa, who resigned in December when she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of  receiving gifts above state law limit.

Another of the interim trustees will occupy the seat vacated by former trustee Pearl Quiñones, who pleaded guilty to a felony and one  misdemeanor in the same case.

The remaining two trustees will, for the time being, replace suspended board members Cartmill and Lopez.

© 2009 The Star-News