Del Mar superintendent Bishop

He sounds exactly like Lowell
Billings of Chula Vista.
Voice of San Diego
Bishop’s Exit and the
Widening Schism
By Ian S. Port

March 2, 2008

...When parents who were thrilled
to see Bishop depart took the
mic, the trickle of applause from a
back corner left no doubt about
who was in the minority.

"There aren’t a lot of parents
here speaking in support of Mr.
Bishop because he frankly didn’t
listen to parents," said Ginny
Merrifield, a district parent and
frequent critic of the
superintendent, who managed
the election campaigns of the
board members who pushed him
to resign.

"He misrepresented the facts, he
lied and he collaborated with
others to undermine the board. I
think it’s fair to call the question of
whether or not he’s willing to work
with the board," she said, over a
swell of booing.

The roughly 90 minutes of verbal
combat yielded a spate of
interesting charges:

First, that board member
Katherine White should resign, be
recalled or be censured for a
quote she made in my last column
about other unsavory goings on
in the Del Mar district. (Goings-on
that were not only never denied
by any of the speakers, but which
were in fact fleshed out by one of
them, who added details that
White did not offer.)

Second, that your Merge-land
correspondent is in fact a "crony"
of White, Annette Easton and
Steven McDowell, the board
majority who ousted Bishop. (I try
hard to be fair and honest.)

Third, that it was the goal of the
new board majority to oust Bishop
from the start, a claim bolstered
by a quote White gave to the
Union-Tribune in 2006, where she
mentioned the option of buying
out Bishop’s contract if he didn’t
deal well with a newly powerful
board. ("What I mean was not
supposed to be a comment on
Tom in particular, it was just a
comment in general," White told
me. "It was supposed to be a
statement of fact.")

Two questions, both of them still
unanswered, overshadowed the
meeting and will likely
overshadow the Del Mar district
for some time.

The first, and most obvious, was
why exactly Bishop was booted
right there and then. All Board
President Annette Easton said,
with an apology, was that she
couldn’t say.

"I would only consider a decision
like this if I really felt that it was in
the best interest of helping us as
a community move forward,"
Easton told the room, still
brimming two hours in. "You see
different sides of the entire
picture ... Not all of us have
access to the same information."

(Bishop is unpopular among
some in the district for having an
uncompromising management
style, being less-than-upfront on
his personal agenda and not
tolerating dissenting views, all of
which critics say have hindered
many district endeavors: Its effort
to sell a piece of land to the city
of Del Mar, its setting of
boundaries for attendance at its
eight schools, the process of
setting up a Spanish-language
program and the management of
a nonprofit that supports the Del
Mar curriculum, among other

[Maura Larkins' comment:
Top-down management
causes lots of problems.  I'd
like to see more willingness
among board members and
administrators to conduct
open discussions, and to
change their plans when a
better plan is suggested.  I
hope the new superintendent
will have a different style.  Of
course, this would mean that
he will not have an allegiance
to any faction of board
members, and will not be the
pawn of district lawyers.  Fat
chance, eh?]
Del Mar Union School District
Ouster of superintendents, one after another
Voice of San Diego
Del Mar’s Missing Money, Mysterious Politics
By Ian S. Port

Feb. 19, 2008 |

Sometime in the middle of January, an envelope containing
about $8,000 in cash and personal checks disappeared from a
drawer at Del Mar Heights Elementary School.

The money was proceeds from a book fair the school held in
December to raise money for new library books � and no one
knows what happened to it. The locked drawer where it was
kept showed no signs of forced entry. The money didn’t turn up
in a massive search of the school office.

Ian S. Port  
Days after the envelope was discovered missing, the police
were called. They have no leads.

The incident is obviously embarrassing for the staff of the
school, members of which admit that they broke with district
policy by not keeping the money in the school safe when it
wasn’t being counted.

"Mistakes were made," said Heights Principal Wendy Wardlow.
"There should have been better oversight."

The errors were magnified by a news story about the missing
money appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune. In a short
Feb. 8 piece, Wardlow was quoted as being regretful and
Superintendent Tom Bishop as disappointed -- with him also
noting the amount of the loss as unprecedented.

United States v. Richard King

Everyone acknowledges that losing track of over $8,000 is a
pretty big bungle.

But the appearance of a story about the missing funds in the
Union-Tribune has raised the suspicions of many in the Del
Mar Heights community, who wonder if the story was pushed to
the Union-Tribune by someone in the district who might not
mind seeing the school embarrassed in the region’s biggest

True or not, such paranoia is commonplace in the district these
days. While schools in Del Mar manage to produce some of the
highest test scores in San Diego County -- and absolute
adoration from many parents -- the politics of education in this
affluent and successful community are frequently vicious,
vindictive and sometimes nearly violent.

The U-T story raised eyebrows partly because the paper writes
barely at all about mid-coastal elementary schools. Besides
fluffy features, the only hard news that makes it to print is truly
major: bond measures, board elections and major curricular

Moreover, the story was published before many in the district --
even many of those on staff at Del Mar Heights School -- had
heard about the missing money, leaving a very limited pool of
potential leakers.

After Superintendent Tom Bishop was informed of the missing
funds on Jan. 24, he issued a gag order for everyone who knew
of the incident, including staff and the school board.

Two weeks later, the story appeared.

Burglaries, thefts, narcotics violations, vandalism and other
crimes are regularly reported at schools in the area, so it’s hard
to see why this report would stand out. According to the crime-
mapping website, at least five similar crimes were
reported at DMUSD schools between November and January.
Does the U-T check them all out, or did something else draw
the paper’s attention to that January incident at Del Mar

School board member Katherine White said the circumstances
-- the leak of an embarrassing story when only a few knew
about it -- "are something."

"I didn’t read about it in the paper when there was a principal
drunk in a school event," White said. "And I didn’t read in the
paper when a school employee was using drugs on campus.
And I don’t read about the principal that screams at his
employees. And I don’t read about the other thefts that have
happened in the schools this year ... I don’t understand what
makes this such a reportable event when those other things I’
ve never even been officially told about."

The view of the Heights School as a target of the district
administration -- specifically Superintendent Tom Bishop -- is
widely (though not universally) held among the school’s
parents and staff.

None that I contacted would speak for attribution on the subject,
but the story they tell is the same. Critics from all over the
district have long said that Bishop does not tolerate
disagreement from employees. And Wardlow, the Heights
principal, has earned a reputation as a straight-talker.

"He hates Wendy and he hates the Heights and he’s been
trying to get rid of her for years," one parent said. "And why is
that? Because Wendy speaks what she thinks. She’s not

Bishop told me he was "disappointed" about the missing
money. He did not return calls Friday seeking further comment.

The spat between Bishop at the Heights has old origins,
according to those who describe it, but the conflict has
heightened recently. In 2006, a brand new, three-person school
board majority was elected on a message of reform, implicitly
criticizing the superintendent and a school board that they said
had long given him everything he wanted. Their election came
amid a mass evaporation of faith in various divisions of the
district, especially in the nonprofit foundation that supports Del
Mar classes with private money. Many of the most vocal
supporters of the "slate of three" reformers were Heights
parents. Two of the new school board members sent their kids
to the school.

Since the election, the Superintendent’s professional life has
been significantly less predictable. Board meetings are no
longer smile-a-thons held to ratify Bishop’s desires. When
oddities occur -- and there have been too many to list here --
Bishop is brought into line by his board.

Last year, parents from another DMUSD school nearly erupted
into a fistfight over the district’s plan to start a pilot Spanish
immersion program, partly because the district didn’t bother to
tell parents of its plans until after the decision to go ahead was
made. The principal of the school herself learned of the
immersion program minutes before the school board voted to
approve it. But after parents revolted -- complaining that no one
told them what was going on -- the plan had to be canceled.

Two months later, Heights Principal Wardlow appeared in front
of the school board asking to start a different Spanish language
program at the school. Her proposal for a smaller program was
developed entirely by the school staff and had its support.

Despite that adding foreign language education has been a
longtime stated goal of the district -- and that the Heights
curriculum was an obvious chance to atone for the blundering
of the earlier immersion program -- Bishop and an ally on the
board rode Wardlow through a two-hour hearing on the
proposal, bringing to bear their full arsenal of nitpicking on the

The message was clear: the district can do what it wants, and it
might mess things up horribly. But even an obviously
competent and heavily supported proposal from the Heights is
going to get the toughest scrutiny from the district.

One wound between the Heights and the district goes to the
very existence of the school itself. Rumors have persisted for
years -- heard by teachers and school board members -- that
Bishop has plans to close the Heights, sell the extremely
valuable land it sits on, and use the money to build a new
district office.

The superintendent always denies this. Of course, Heights
parents and staff still find such talk incredibly disturbing. And in
other matters, not a lot of love rains down from the district to
dissuade parents and staff of the notion that their school is
looked upon less than favorably by it.

The very thing that allegedly pits Wardlow against Bishop -- her
forthrightness -- is what many parents say they like most about

"Wendy Wardlow has all of my tremendous support, as well as
everybody in the community that I’ve ever talked to," said parent
Ralph DeMarco, who sent five kids through various Del Mar
schools, and says he likes Wardlow the best of any principal.
When DeMarco heard about the missing $8,107.18 in book fair
funds, "I went over there and I said I want to write you a check
right now."

With a tone of suspicion that has become all-too-common
around Del Mar schools lately, he admitted finding the U-T
piece a bit weird.

"Is that somebody’s PR plan there? Why this article like that? Is
somebody feeding that for the purpose of their overall agenda?"
he asked.

It could be nothing. But in Del Mar these days, you just never
How come stories like this are covered
up by the Union Tribune if they happen in
Chula Vista?
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Board members seem to need scapegoats
Del Mar schools chief out; legal war
McClain’s tenure ends after less than 2 years

March 31, 2010

DEL MAR — A divided Del Mar school board yesterday
fired its district superintendent, Sharon McClain, setting the
stage for a protracted legal battle that could cost the school
district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

McClain, terminated by some of the same board members
who hired her less than two years ago, vowed that she
would fight her ouster in court. Because the board voted to
fire her “with cause,” all pay and benefits cease
immediately. The board said McClain had committed a
“material breach” of her contract, but the trustees refused
to say publicly what those violations were. They would not
comment further, citing the threat of a lawsuit.

Trustee Katherine White, who for months had tried to build
a case for firing McClain, has said the superintendent fell
short on several performance measures, chief among them
that she failed to keep the board informed on numerous
matters. They included hot-button issues such as
potentially closing a school and finding space for a new
district office, White has said.

But McClain always countered those claims, and at
Wednesday’s meeting she reiterated previous statements
that detailed the lengths to which she kept trustees up to
date on school affairs.

“I’m going to leave, but they will hear from me,” McClain said
moments after the vote. “I felt like I did a good job. … I don’t
feel like I did anything I should be fired for.”

Yesterday morning before the meeting, McClain was more
blunt. “I will sue them because this is not right,” she said.

White and trustees Annette Easton and Doug Perkins voted
to fire McClain. Trustee Steven McDowell, who has typically
sided with his three colleagues on most board matters,
abstained. Board President Comischell Rodriguez voted
against the dismissal.

In a brief statement, Rodriguez said, “After many months of
trying to work with Superintendent McClain to resolve a
number of serious and material performance violations of
her contract, the board of trustees voted to terminate the
district’s contract.” Rodriguez said the board wants to move
in a “new direction” with a “renewed sense of focus.”

But more than 30 people who addressed the board before
the vote said firing McClain was a reckless power play that
will waste precious dollars at a time when the district is
laying off dozens of teachers and cutting back programs.

Board critics have argued for years that White, Easton and
McDowell — who formed a voting bloc after the school
board election in November 2006 — have incessantly
micromanaged school district affairs and turned board
meetings into marathon sessions that nitpick over minutiae.

White, Easton and McDowell all supported hiring McClain in
the summer of 2008. The three trustees had ousted former
Superintendent Tom Bishop that year in a settlement that
has cost the district more than $300,000.

By firing McClain, the district could be liable for at least
$500,000 in eventual payments to her, some speakers said
at yesterday’s board meeting.

“I really think this is a matter of you not liking Dr. McClain for
whatever reason — jealousy, a power struggle,” said Kate
Takahashi, a district parent. “It’s a half-million-dollar hissy

The board has scheduled a meeting for 5 p.m. today to
appoint an interim superintendent.
Education Reform Report
Del Mar Union School
District board of trustees
lacking in leadership
Dec 31, 2009
Del Mar Times
By Corinne Hackbart
Resident, Del Mar

Well, I must admit I am a bit upset with
the Del Mar Union School District board.
I feel they have not taken on the
leadership that they should have.With
the current situation regarding the
dismissal of the superintendent, Sharon
McClain, they should have let her go a
long time ago. There have been a few
instances where Sharon has not acted
as a sound superintendent. The most
recent situation is the recommendation
by her to form the 7-11 committee.I feel
so bad for all of those parents and
volunteers that dedicated so many
hours of their family time to try to come
to some conclusion about the school
attendance numbers and how to handle
the redistribution or closure of a school,
just to have it sabotaged by Sharon's
inaccurate numbers.All that time was for
naught. Was it a smoke screen to take
the attention away from something?
Marsha Sutton got the correct numbers
for attendance in 20 minutes and it took
Sharon 2 1/2 weeks to confirm what
Marsha stated was fact?Come on board
members - remember she works for
you. You can get her to do what you
ask when you ask. Now she has gotten
momentum by using the teachers to
promise them whatever they want to
save her job and the teachers are using
her to get whatever they want by having
her represent them at the teachers
contract meetings.All of this is at the
cost of the district. What about us: the
community and kids? Who is watching
out for us while all of this is going on?I
am also upset with the board for not
having more control over the
boardroom. Never should the behavior
of late be allowed to take place in the
boardroom. The disrespect is appalling.
But then again, there is the same ol'
gang that shows up nearly every
meeting, using parents to spew their
venom since they cannot do it
Marsha Sutton meltdown over attorney Dan
Shinoff and Del Mar Union School District.