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Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District recall, California, 2009
All five school board members were recalled.
Gloria Marler won a seat on the board on May 19 as the incumbents were ousted. She said, "The community has given us a mandate. I believe that mandate is to restore trust, restore integrity, be held accountable for our actions, follow the law and be completely transparent."
Supporters of the recall, organized in a group called "Students for a Better School District," turned in about 1,200 signatures in early January for each board member, while 910 signatures for each board trustee were needed to force the recall onto the ballot.
Tioga High School has 120 students. The district has 500 students altogether, in an area spanning 665 square miles.
The Tuolumne County clerk announced on Friday, January 9, that the recall effort had collected sufficient signatures to qualify the board-wide recall for the ballot. The school board itself had the option of calling the election itself and allowing a vote entirely by mail. The election will be held May 19.
The five members of the board who faced recall were:
- Mary Kelly
- Lillian Cravens
- Dave Gookin
- Chuck Day
- Bryan Berger
Ryan Dutton is a 31-year-old former professional football player who, until losing his job, taught math at Tioga High. He was fired by the board over allegations that he cheated in a course he took at Cal State Fresno in Spring 2008. After the firing, Cal State-Fresno cleared him and apologized; however, the school board declined to reinstate him. School board officials said they still believed that Dutton had cheated.
Prior to the recall election, the Big Oak Flat-Groveland school district had had seven superintendents in eight years, partly because of a history of infighting in the district. A local businessman welcomed new superintendent Mari Brabbin, hired in 2008, with the phrase, "Welcome to the Gaza Strip."
There are two high schools in the school district–Don Pedro and Tioga. Brabbin is both the district's superintendent and the principal of Don Pedro. She is, according to the Los Angeles Times, "well-liked at Don Pedro." The paper also reported that she "angered students and staff at the other two schools by reassigning some teachers and forcing out others, gaining a reputation in Groveland as arbitrary and vindictive. She also required Tioga's principal to teach half time and take a cut in pay."
Some Groveland parents investigated Brabbin's background at her previous school; there, they found allegations that "as principal of a high school in Eagle Point she changed students' grades, including her son's. Two confidential complaints alleging that Brabbin engaged in misconduct were filed with the Oregon Standards and Practices Commission. Both remain under investigation."
On July 8, 2009, the school district sent a letter saying that Brabbin's contract as the district's superintendent would be terminated.
The letter from the school district asserted that:
- Brabbin illegally reduced the salary of Tioga High Principal Sandy Bradley by 40 percent during the 2008-09 school year when she was doing a teaching principalship.
- Brabbin failed to conduct proper audits of the district bond measure and projects.
- Brabbin engaged in illegal political activities and leaked confidential employee information to the public.
Brabbin denied the charges.
Brabbin's claim for damages
In February 2010, Brabbin filed a government claim with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board seeking about $25,000 in damages from the district, the board and some district employees.
The document Brabbin filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board was over 200 pages long and included 38 exhibits. The document said that Babbin was wrongfully terminated by the school district "in violation of public policy, constructive discharge, discrimination and harassment, retaliation, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, defamation, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of HIPAA (medical privacy laws), invasion of privacy and interference with a contract."
The 200-plus page claim with 38 exhibits summarized district events and issues leading up to and following the recall election.
In addition to resentment over the way the school district handled the Dutton firing, school district residents at a board meeting in December 2008 also said they are concerned about:
- Missing school funds.
- Improper teacher transfers.
- Secret board meetings.
- Lack of oversight for school construction projects.
Grand jury threat
A group of Don Pedro-area board defenders asked that the Tuolumne County Grand Jury look into what they said was a “criminal conspiracy” by the recall sponsors.
- Big Oak Flat-Groveland school district website
- Big Oak Flat-Groveland school board (dead link)
- Committee to Promote Learning and Honor, website in favor of the recall.
- [Union Democrat, "Dutton-email-ruffles-feathers," April 30,2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Entire Groveland, Calif., school board recalled," May 20, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Tioga High students push to recall school board," January 5, 2009
- Union Democrat, "Groveland recall: Time for voters to decide," January 14, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Recall election OK'd for an entire school board in Tuolumne County," January 10, 2009
- Five school board members to face recall vote
- Union Democrat, "Brabbin files claim, says she was wronged," February 19, 2010 (dead link)
- Union Democrat, "BOFG district recall pamphlets – fact or fiction?," December 19, 2008