Del Mar superintendent Bishop fired. He sounds exactly like Lowell Billings of
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
"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
(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 things.)...
[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
Solana Beach 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 crisis.
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 Arjis.
org, 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 Heights?
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 diplomatic."
Bishop told me he was "disappointed" about the missing money. He did not return calls Friday seeking
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 principal.
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
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 her.
"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 know.
How come stories like this are covered-up by the Union Tribune if they happen in Chula Vista?
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 themselves...
Click HERE for
about firing of
and roles of Daniel
Sutton in 2010
From left to right:
Dr. Annette Easton
downloaded April 2010
School trustees name interim superintendent
Julian administrator will divide his time
By Bruce Lieberman, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Friday, April 2, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.
DEL MAR — The school board in Del Mar yesterday appointed public school administrator James Peabody interim superintendent while it
looks for a permanent replacement for fired schools chief Sharon McClain.
Peabody, the superintendent of the Julian Union High School District, will split his time between Julian and Del Mar, said Dan Shinoff, an
attorney for the Del Mar Union School District. Peabody has been working part time in Julian, grooming Julian High School’s
principal for the superintendent post, and he will spend most of his time working in Del Mar, Shinoff said.
Peabody worked previously as an assistant superintendent in the Grossmont Union High School District, and he has 40 years’ experience
in public education.
A divided board fired McClain on Wednesday, claiming she committed a “material breach” of her contract. McClain said she
will sue the district and that she did nothing to warrant being fired.
None of the trustees this week elaborated on the reasons for firing McClain, but some board members had clashed with her over her
management style, claiming that she failed to keep trustees adequately briefed on school issues. Many people have said trustees
micromanage district affairs and incessantly question administrative decisions...
McClain’s abrupt termination upset many people in the small district. McClain, a longtime school administrator who began her career in
the mid-1980s as a music teacher in Escondido, was by many accounts popular and well-liked.
She was superintendent for less than two years.
The trustees who voted to fire her — Katherine White, Annette Easton and Doug Perkins — had voted to hire her in
summer 2008. Trustee Steven McDowell, who also had supported hiring McClain, abstained from the vote to fire her.
Before they hired McClain, White, Easton and McDowell had ousted former Superintendent Tom Bishop in a settlement that
has cost the school district more than $300,000.
The details of Peabody’s contract as interim superintendent still need to be worked out, Shinoff said...
Similar events in Solana Beach: Solana Beach Superintendent Fired
June 28, 2005
Voice of San Diego
By MARSHA SUTTON
Less than one year into her four-year contract, Karen Walker was let go on Friday from her post as superintendent of the Solana Beach School District.
Joel Small, president of the five-member school board, said trustees unanimously agreed to terminate the relationship effective July 1, exactly one year after
they hired Walker to replace long-time Solana Beach superintendent Ellie Topolovac.
"It was not a good fit with the district," Small said. "It was a difficult decision, and we wish the best for Karen. But the board felt we needed to take a new
This will be an expensive new direction for the 2,700-student district, as the board has agreed to buy out Walker's four-year contract. Although three years
remain, Small said the most the district is required to pay under state law is for 18 months. He said her annual salary was about $140,000, making the
maximum payment $210,000. But he said the amount is still being negotiated. "We are trying to do this as amicably as possible," he said...
The Solana Beach School District operates six schools serving students in grades K-6 in the city of Solana Beach, Carmel Valley, parts of Rancho Santa Fe and
areas east of Carmel Valley. SBSD students consistently score among the highest in the state on standardized tests.
More turbulence in little Del Mar
May 10, 2010
By Marsha Sutton
Just when people were starting to feel like the Del Mar Union School District could begin
to move forward after months of turmoil leading up to the recent firing of former
superintendent Sharon McClain, board president Comischell Rodriguez dropped a bomb.
"Today I have informed the superintendent and board that I am resigning from the office
of president of the Board of Trustees of the Del Mar Union School District," her press
release dated April 26 begins...
"I'm not alleging Brown Act violations," Rodriguez made clear this week. "I'm not alleging
secret backroom meetings at all."
But there are other charges that clearly perturbed her and made her feel marginalized
by fellow board members. "I stand by my statement that says I felt isolated," she said.
Rodriguez first complained in her press release that support for her as president of the
board has been withdrawn, with the implication - as indicated by her use of the phrase
"for the past few weeks" - that this has happened since the vote was taken on March 31
to fire McClain, an action that passed over her lone objection.
"For the past few weeks," the full sentence reads, "I have been isolated by the majority
of the board to the extent that certain members have taken it upon themselves to sign
official documents without authorization."
Furthermore, she said that "these same board member(s) meet with legal counsel
She goes on to say that "attempts have been made to exclude me from closed session
conversations," and she references "behind-the-scenes email conversations and
...Trustee Katherine White, who responded to questions in a telephone interview, was
able to give some hint about the possible cause of Rodriguez's decision to resign as
"I'm sure she's talking about me when she says taking over the role of the board
presidency," White said. "It's because I tried to get another member to fill her spot when
she couldn't do it."
The issue concerns the contract for interim superintendent Jim Peabody. White and
Rodriguez had agreed to work together on the contract for Peabody, whose first day at
the district was to be April 1, a Thursday. The following week was spring break, when
Rodriguez was away on vacation...
White said Rodriguez wanted Perkins to replace her. "But Doug wouldn't do it, so Steven
came in because Doug couldn't meet on any of the days," White said.
White said she did sign a letter of intent for Peabody to begin work, but did it legitimately
in Rodriguez's absence. "That was one page that went through the terms that we all
agreed on and that allowed him to start working," White said.
White said she and McDowell met with attorney Jeanne Blumenfeld during this time but
that the meeting was about Peabody's contract. "It was not without authorization," White
said. "We were definitely authorized to do that by the board."
Rodriguez disagreed with White's recollection of the timing, saying White was "dancing
around some facts."
"We met very quickly at the end right before spring break," Rodriguez said. "And it was
decided that we would have a committee of two - it would be Katherine and me. It was
determined that ... I was going to be a part of it as president because that was supposed
to be important."
She said it was agreed that they would begin after spring break.
"I got home after spring break and found out that there had been work already started -
not even started but basically done," Rodriguez said. "I did not know that it was going to
happen when I was gone."
Rodriguez emphasized that she did not want to portray the issue as a dispute between
two people, saying there was more going on than this one example. But it's clear that
this was specifically referenced in her resignation letter.
She said while she was away, she checked in with the district regularly, "because there
were some items that I was still being asked to do while I was gone. Not at any time at all
during that time was I informed that there was work being done in my absence."
Rodriguez said she did eventually send an email to White telling her she was unable to
participate in the contract work any longer, but that it was not sent until two weeks later,
after she had discovered that work had already been done on the contract without her
"It was almost like I was a formality to be on that committee," she said. "It was spring
break and then the following week went by and it was the third week [when] I said [to]
meet without me."
The subcommittee proceeded without her and the letter of intent was signed before she
told them she was off the subcommittee, she said, disagreeing with White's recollection
of the timeline.
At the last school board meeting, White asked Peabody to investigate Rodriguez's
claims and to release redacted emails "where Comischell resigns from the contract
subcommittee and where she requests we find another member to take her place as she
will probably be out of town due to an illness in her family."
Peabody said he is in the process of investigating the matter and will release details as
soon as he has completed his work.
[Maura Larkins' comment: So he's investigating his bosses? I can tell you right now
what the outcome will be.]
...Rodriguez said she fully supports Peabody's investigation, which will include this and
other concerns raised by Rodriguez, including her alleged exclusion from closed session
conversations and behind-the-scenes emails...
Members serve four-year terms.
There was no election for DMUSD in
2008, apparently because there was
November 7, 2006 Election
Board Member; Del Mar Union School
Annette Easton 5957 votes
* Occupation: Trustee, Del Mar Union
School District Board of Education
* Professor of Management Information
* B.S. Business, California State University
* Ph.D. Management Information Systems,
University of Arizona
* PTA Volunteer; Classroom Volunteer (Del
Mar Heights and Ashley Falls)
* Del Mar/Carmel Valley Soccer Club Coach
* Greater Accountability to the Community
* Increased Transparency of Data and
Better Due Dilligence in Analyzing
[Maura Larkins comment: you failed in
these goals by firing superintendent for
releasing public records.]
* Stronger Leadership by the School Board
Steven A McDowell 5404 votes
* Occupation: Financial Reporting
* Associate - Resources Global
* M.B.A. - University of San Diego, B.S. in
Finance - SDSU, Teaching Credential -
Junior College Accounting
* Auditor-North Coastal Council PTA,
Former Treasurer - Del Mar Heights PTA
* Board Member-Del Mar Traffic and
Parking Advisory Committee
* Former Nation Chief - YMCA Adventure
* Board Member, Manager- Del Mar Little
league, Coach -North Shores Softball
* Accountablilty to the Community
* Stronger Leadership on the School Board
* Better Due Diligence of policy proposals
and the budget
Katherine D. White 4970 votes
* Occupation: retired telecom exec /
* BS Mathematics/ BA American Studies UC
* MSEE Computer Science UC Santa Clara
* Del Mar Heights PTA President
* AAUW Tech Trek Treasurer
* DMUSD Budget, Facilites and Boundary
* Girl Scouts Board of Directors (2001-2005)
* Stronger Leadership by the school board
* More Accountability to the community and
* Proper Due Diligence on important district
policies and the budget
|San Diego Education Report