By Eduardo Rueda / Investigative Reporter
Two school board members were served with recall notices at Thursday’s meeting of the San Ysidro School District after weeks of complaints being leveled against the District board.
“(W)e intend to seek your recall and removal from the office of San Ysidro School Board, in the City of San Diego, California, and to demand election of a successor in that office,” state the notices, each signed by ten registered voters in the District.
The two members, Board President Rosaleah Pallasigue and Antonio Martinez, were each handed a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition, the first step outlined in state law to remove an elected official from office.
“Both of these Board members have failed to protect our students, and protect our tax dollars,” said Carmen Ordóñez, the mother of a District student that has suffered from constant bullying at school. “We feel that both should resign immediately, or we will gather signatures and vote them out of office,” added Ordóñez, who has spoken at several board meetings in recent months to request assistance in protecting her son.
Under state law, voters can initiate recalls against elected officials, including school board members. The first step is to serve the elected officials with the notice of intent to circulate a recall petition. The proponents would then have 120 days to gather 3,222 signatures of registered voters in the District in order to qualify the recall petition.
If those requirements are met, the school board would be forced to call a special election where votes would decide to keep the elected officials, or to recall them and elect other candidates.
The notices served on Pallasigue and Martinez stated similar reasons for removing them from office, including having voted last month to approve a nearly $400,000 payout to Superintendent Julio Fonseca after he was accused of sexual harassment by a district employee.
That employee, Alexis Rodriguez, had been in a romantic relationship with Fonseca with the knowledge of the Board. Rodriguez filed a complaint in August, claiming Fonseca harassed her after they had ended their relationship. Before investigating the claims, the Board voted in a closed-door meeting to approve a separation agreement with Fonseca that included a payout of 18 months of his salary, benefits, and vacation days.
The two notices also claim the board members “participated in a cover-up of the hiring of Dr. Fonseca’s girlfriend and voted to pay a whistleblower over $113,000 to keep it quiet.” That payment is the basis for a lawsuit against Fonseca filed by a local taxpayer advocacy group, claiming the payment was illegal. That case is being represented by the District’s lawyers because Fonseca was employed by the District at the time of the payout.
Another common claim in the two notices is that the Board members “voted to pay over $1,000,000 in settlements and legal fees instead of properly investigating illegal uses of public funds.”
Pallasigue and Martinez were both re-elected in the November 2016 election. Pallasigue had been appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board in December 2015. Martinez was first elected to the Board in 2012.
The notice against Martinez includes two grounds for recall different than those against Pallasigue.
“Antonio Martinez neglected his duties as a board member in pursuit of higher office as a city councilmember. He refused to serve as clerk of the board when nominated to focus instead on his political campaign,” the notice states.
Martinez recently launched a political campaign for the seat on San Diego City Council that will be vacated by David Alvarez when he is termed out of office next December. Martinez has spent months campaigning and raising money for that race that will have a primary election in June 2018 and a general election in November 2018.
Martinez has tapped former San Ysidro School Board member Raquel Marquez Maden to help run his campaign for City Council. Marquez Maden served on the Board for eight years and did not seek re-election in 2012 after it was discovered she and her husband had lived outside of the District for most of her tenure on the Board, which is illegal under state law. Marquez Maden’s husband was also accused of having solicited a bribe from a contractor that ultimately led to a $12 million jury verdict against the District in 2014.
Additionally, the recall notice against Martinez connects him to the administration of former Superintendent Manuel Paul, who was convicted and sent to prison in a wide-ranging corruption investigation that saw 15 other school officials and contractors indicted. Paul served 60 days in federal custody after he admitted he took cash from a prospective constructor looking for work from the District. Martinez is the only current Board member that served during Paul’s tenure as Superintendent.
“Antonio Martinez is the last member of the corrupt administration of Manuel Paul and is continuing the nepotism of hiring friends and family members at the district, including his own girlfriend,” the notice states.
The proponents of the petition charge that Martinez is dating a woman that works as a substitute teacher in the District. They draw a connection to his support of Fonseca’s hiring of his girlfriend, and causing a conflict of interest or creating the perception of favoritism among District leaders and their associates. The District has policies against creating conflicts, and even the perception of conflicts, in its hiring practices by hiring family members or others close to administrators.
“We hope they will save the District the expense of a special election, and just resign,” Ordóñez said after the meeting Thursday. “We have lost confidence in them and they need to restore trust in our school board by letting new members come in immediately,” she added.
Both Martinez and Pallasigue declined to comment for this story.