Letter to the Editor: “Serving our children should never be a consolation prize”

Letter to the Editor: “Serving our children should never be a consolation prize”

Editor’s Note: The original letter was shared with the Mustang by SDFA president Tim Staycer. Upon contacting Heather Dugdale, she sent an introduction and revised version of her letter. The letter follows:


In the Mustang article, Mrs. Muir references (as she has many times in public Board meetings) two grants that she helped “facilitate”.  While I could clarify misrepresentations about the College Night grant, I’ll focus on the “$50k in laptops”.  There might be another grant that Mrs. Muir is referring to, but normally when she uses this number it is in reference to a grant through her good friend Supervisor Kristin Gaspar for computer equipment at CCA.  I looked and looked for a $50,000 grant from Supervisor Gaspar to any of our schools in 2018 and what I found was a $15,000 grant to the CCA Foundation for desktop computers for their Cinema lab.  You can see the grant on the County website under District #3 here –https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/auditor/pdf/fundbyorgnrp17.pdf.

One important note about this grant is that the application itself was written by CCA Foundation Executive Director Joanne Couvrette.  I do give credit to Mrs. Muir for inviting her friend, Supervisor Gaspar, to CCA to meet with Ms. Couvrette and the CCA Foundation volunteers; but I want to add that in her many years at CCA (and even before that) Ms. Couvrette has written and secured multiple grants from Supervisor Gaspar’s predecessors.  As a taxpayer whose dollars fund Supervisor Gaspar’s County Neighborhood Reinvestment Awards, I hope that the grant process was fair and transparent and was based on the application written by Ms. Couvrette that highlighted the need and fantastic work at CCA, rather than because Mrs. Muir has a close relationship with Mrs. Gaspar.  What is most unfortunate is that in the many times that Mrs. Muir has mentioned that grant, I have not once heard her mention Ms. Couvrette or the role of the CCA Foundation volunteers who helped to secure, and are right now implementing, the grant.


Below is the original (slightly modified) excerpt from my letter:


And here are the items that trouble me about your statement to the SDA Mustang:


1) You inappropriately use the terms “teacher/pupil ratio” and “class size” interchangeably.

The 2015/16 teacher contract did NOT contain language to increase class size, and more importantly, class sizes have not actually increased since that contract.

As was explained to you and the entire Board by, among others, Mr. Rick Schmitt, Mr. Eric Dill, Dr. Mike Grove and Mr. Jason Viloria, the contract language did not raise class sizes, but rather clarified language about teacher/pupil ratios vs. class size.  The numbers appeared to go up because they were comparing apples to oranges (teacher/pupil ratios to class size), not apples to apples (class size to class size).  Teacher/pupil ratios  are not the same as class sizes, and in fact, changing the language in the contract did not change actual teacher/pupil ratios OR class size, it simply clarified the language.

I am concerned that after your many years of serving on two school boards and receiving clarification from seasoned professionals with decades of experience you are still, two years later, using those phrases interchangeably.  This indicates that you either still do not understand the difference, or you are intentionally misleading the public.  Your “I will not vote to increase class size” statement is a great sound bite, but it is in no way connected to the reality of what actually took place or the language in the contract.

And, most importantly, class sizes have NOT increased since the teacher contract, nor is there an indication that they will anytime soon.


2) You did not “Found” Mr. Perondi’s Safety and Wellness Committee and you were not “appointed” to that committee by “your board”.

In a Board meeting Mr. Perondi suggested the idea of that committee and he asked for Board members to volunteer to serve.  You and Mrs. Delassandro raised your hand and thus you attended the one meeting that was scheduled during Mr. Perondi’s tenure (and out of which no action items came).  Your portrayal as having “founded” the committee and being “appointed” to such either shows a misunderstanding of the meaning of those words and concepts, or is an intentional overstatement of your role in order to gain political points.  Promoting your attendance at that one meeting as evidence that you make safety a priority is disingenuous and ignores the fact that just after the Parkland shooting you were the sole dissenting vote on the Safety Resolution that encouraged our lawmakers to pass laws to make our schools and our children safe. 


3) Hiring a Fundraiser/Grantwriter for District projects will result in an outlay of District dollars.

I’ve pointed this out in detail* before, so will not belabor all of the details of this argument, but the summary bears repeating – it is misleading and inaccurate to state that securing a fundraiser or grantwriter to raise funds for District projects will not “take money out of the District budget”.  That person must be paid for their work and if they are working at the behest of the District, it is the District that must pay for that work.  Either you don’t fully understand how fundraisers and grantwriters must be paid, or you are intentionally misleading the public when you state that “these projects would not take money out of the District budget”.  

*Excerpt from an e-mail to Mrs. Muir dated 9/19/18 – My position regarding this topic remains as it always has been – the district cannot hire a grant writer or fundraiser to raise money for (the pool) or any other project without an outlay of district funds to do so as it would be unethical for a grant writer or fundraiser to do the work of finding funding for district projects on a commission basis (i.e. out of the funds that they are otherwise raising).  In a previous e-mail to which you did not respond, I attached a link to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics (#21) https://www.afpnet.org/files/ContentDocuments/CodeofEthics.pdf  In addition, here is an article explaining why such a practice is unethical, and why any grant writer who would have the skills to write a multi-million dollar winning proposal would not do so on a commission basis – http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/paying-commission-grant-proposals-dont/ 

There were other things that you embellished in the SDA Mustang article, but these were the most egregious, and what concerns me most about your misleading statements is that the Mustang is a paper written by our students.  As a board member elected to serve and protect the best interests of those students, you have a duty to be honest and take special care to accurately portray your accomplishments.  As evidenced above, this was not your primary concern.

Mrs. Muir, just 4 short months ago you were running for another political position – CA Assembly.  When you came in 4th place in that primary you returned to seeking re-election on this Board.  Your carelessness with the truth and/or inability to understand important concepts about Prop AA funding, budgets, class sizes and teacher ratios (among other things) causes me grave concern that this is just a stepping stone to another political position for you, rather than a position where you understand the impact of your decisions on the lives of staff, students and families.  A seat on this Board should never be a back-up plan and serving our children should never be a consolation prize.  While I am fully aware that a correction in media outlets is unlikely, I am hopeful that providing the above information reminds all of us to more closely evaluate the information you provide as you often tend toward embellishment and misrepresentation rather than accuracy and fact.  

Best regards,

Heather Dugdale