Why is a local teachers union trying to get rid of half a school board?
San Dieguito board members accuse the union of targeting trustees it disagrees with; union says board members need to go for legal reasons
The San Dieguito Union High School board has been in turmoil in recent weeks as the district’s teachers union has been working to remove three of the district’s five board trustees.
First the San Dieguito Faculty Association teachers union worked with parents to remove one school board trustee — district parent Ty Humes, who was also the first Black person to sit on the board — because Humes had been appointed to fill an empty spot on the board.
The union’s president, Duncan Brown, said he believes the appointment process happened too quickly to provide for public weigh-in. Now a special election will be held to fill the seat.
Brown also is pursuing a recall election for another board trustee, Michael Allman, because union leadership said Allman has been too disparaging to others during board meetings and on social media.
And Brown is alleging that Board President Maureen “Mo” Muir is violating the rule that board trustees must live in the district area they represent. Brown has called for a formal investigation into her residency and has notified the District Attorney’s Office.
In the spring the teachers union hired a private investigator using union dues to follow Muir home from school board meetings. The private eye found that Muir does not currently live in the district and that she has been renting out her home for several months, Brown said.
Muir said in an email that she does meet the residency requirements, but she has recently been making extended visits to Lake Tahoe to care for her ailing mother-in-law who is 99 years old.
Muir’s home is on the market and has an offer, with a closing date set for the end of this month. If she sells her home and moves out of the district, Muir said she will resign.
“However, as a voter/resident of the (district), I have no intention to leave the position I was voted to represent by intimidation and false speculation,” Muir said.
All three board members under scrutiny from the teachers union accused Brown of trying to get rid of them because they don’t agree with everything the union wants.
“For too long the teachers union has had a cozy relationship where they support their preferred board trustees and help them get elected, and then the board gives the union what they ask for,” Allman said in an email. “With my election in November the board now has a majority of independent trustees who put parents and students first. The union does not like that and will do everything in its power to change it.”
Allman and Muir clashed with the union last winter when they argued for reopening schools during the purple tier of the pandemic, which the union adamantly opposed. The teachers union sued the district, arguing that the board’s plan to reopen at the time was unsafe and in violation of state rules.
The board delayed reopening to settle the lawsuit.
The board members said the efforts to remove them are wasting the district’s time and money.
Special all-mail ballot elections to fill Humes’ board vacancy and to recall Allman would cost San Dieguito a total of $600,000 to $1 million, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. San Dieguito currently is projecting a $14 million deficit with its $174 million total budget for the new school year.
Brown said the faculty union is taking action for legitimate reasons and it’s his duty, on behalf of the teachers union, to investigate “all activities that appear inappropriate and contrary to the stability of our district.”
He also disagrees with some board members’ mindset, he said.
“We have been a high-performing district for so long, I really don’t understand the mindset that everything needs to be changed,” Brown said in an interview. “And that really does seem to be their mindset, of changing the culture that was once collaborative and cooperative into what we currently have.”
San Dieguito Union High, located in wealthy coastal North County, has long prided itself on having high test scores and graduation rates.
Last March board Trustee Kristin Gibson resigned for personal reasons and Superintendent Robert Haley resigned the following month, following a tough pandemic year fraught with contentious debates about school reopening.
Interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch, who also has been criticized by Brown, said the district should be focusing on students’ needs rather than fighting.
“This district’s focus should be on its students and the provision of the highest level of quality education to them,” she said in an email. “We are one of the highest performing districts in the state of California and I hope that any questions regarding a trustee are resolved quickly so the board and the district’s focus can remain on those efforts.”
Questions of residency
Brown said he felt the need to investigate Muir’s residency after he heard rumors from a community member and a teacher that she possibly did not live in her district boundary.
He declined to say how much the private eye cost the union but said it cost about as much as one of the union’s pizza parties it holds for members, which were canceled during the pandemic.
Brown said the union’s executive committee hired the investigator because Brown didn’t believe Muir or Lynch would tell him the truth if he asked them to verify Muir’s residency.
Lynch had donated to Muir’s school board campaign in the past, which Brown said is a conflict of interest, especially since Muir, as a board trustee, voted to make Lynch interim superintendent.
“Yes, I could’ve asked and could’ve hoped that they were going to be honest and sincere, but ... there was a fair chance that wasn’t going to be the case, and I didn’t know any other way to find out that information,” Brown said. “I feel like it was really my duty as a community member to try to find out exactly what the story is.”
Lynch rejected Brown’s suggestion that there is a conflict of interest between her and Muir. She said she had supported Muir in the past because she believes Muir has advocated for students’ needs.
“I take my role seriously and strongly disagree with any allegation that I have a conflict of interest that would prevent me from serving this district,” Lynch said.
Muir and Allman, along with Humes, voted in April to make Lynch interim superintendent — a decision Brown said he disagrees with because Lynch has no teaching or administrator credential and no traditional educational leadership experience.
Lynch said that while she doesn’t have institutional education leadership experience, she has other educational experience, including teaching, creating curriculum, running a business and working as an education advocate for students with disabilities.
In April, the San Dieguito board selected a district parent, Ty Humes, to take the place of Gibson after she resigned.
The board picked Humes, who had previously led the Del Mar schools’ nonprofit foundation, from a list of seven candidates on the same day board members interviewed the candidates. Brown said that decision was too quick.
The union petitioned to remove Humes and fill the seat through a special board election, because the union wanted the community to have more time and input into who would fill the seat, Brown said.
“We felt strongly that the 26,000 registered voters in Area 5 needed to be able to vote,” Brown said. “And we didn’t feel that four school board members that do not reside in that area were qualified to be able to appoint somebody.”
Humes said he was “very saddened and disappointed” to be removed by the union. Humes said he had wanted to bring diversity to the San Dieguito board, not just as the board’s first Black person but also as a parent voice.
Humes pointed out that appointing a board member to fill a vacancy is legal and has been the norm in San Diego County. In the past 10 years, out of 92 school board vacancies, 88 were filled by a provisional appointment, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.
Humes said he thought it was biased for the union to depart from this norm in order to remove San Dieguito’s first-ever Black trustee.
“What message are you sending racially,” Humes asked.
Brown denied that race had anything to do with Humes’ departure. He said the union wanted to pursue a special board election before knowing who the board would select for the seat.
Humes said he thinks the union removed him partly because he had told the union that he can’t guarantee how he’s going to vote on certain issues until he meets and speaks with families.
“Don’t hide behind different jargons and different platitudes of society. Just come out and say that’s how it is,” Humes said.
Humes said he plans to run for the Area 5 seat when the election is held.
Brown said he also is pursuing a recall of Allman because Allman has been hostile to staff, fellow board members, students and the teachers union during board meetings and on social media.
For example, Brown said, Allman put Board Trustee Katrina Young on the spot during a recent board meeting when he asked her whether she would decline to support the recall against him. When she didn’t answer and said she doesn’t think that was an appropriate question, Allman said he’d take that as a “no.”
In December Allman drew controversy when he said during a board meeting debate about whether to reopen schools that the value of the opinions of the district’s student board representatives “is very near zero.” The student representatives had argued for keeping schools closed during the winter pandemic, while Allman wanted schools to reopen.
Allman later apologized for his statement.
Allman said he believes the union is mistaking his advocacy for families as disparagement and disrespect of others.
“I ask tough questions during board meetings, and I strongly advocate for parents and students,” Allman said. “The (faculty association) chooses to interpret my strong and tough demeanor as disparagement.”
To obtain a recall election of Allman, Brown and others would need to collect 5,008 signatures within 120 days.
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