A conversation with DMUSD trustee McDowell
An interview on April 12 with Del Mar Union School District trustee Steven McDowell, who abstained on the motion to fire former DMUSD superintendent Sharon McClain at the March 31 school board meeting, yielded the following conversation, edited for brevity.
Q: Why did you abstain?
McDowell: I haven’t articulated yet an answer to that. I don’t have a good answer for that yet.
Q: Did you not think she violated her contract?
Based upon what we received from legal, I guess there was grounds that she violated her contract. But it was a two-part motion – whether or not that was in place and whether or not it was in the best interest of the community and the board to terminate her.
Q: Did the motion ask for two votes?
It was just one vote.
Q: What was your thinking?
I was not prepared for the principals standing up and applauding Sharon. That just took me back. There was a part of the relationship that I personally had not looked into enough.
We said that we would support Comischell [Rodriguez] as the president of the board. And I’ve always tried to support the president of the board. In terms of the relationship to the superintendent, the person I look to is the current president because they’re the ones that have to have the most dialogue, the most relationship with the superintendent. And to the extent that’s not working or is working, that is a factor in votes like that to me.
So Comischell’s vote had a factor, because we weighed the votes of the other board members. But it wasn’t enough for me to say I’m also going to do that. That put me kind of in a stalemate.
And you know everyone puts us as a group of three. And … I have different views on this stuff [than fellow trustees Annette Easton and Katherine White]. So part of it was trying to set me off from them. So that was a little bit of it, even though it probably shouldn’t be.
It was mostly I was trying to take into consideration the perspective of the board president, trying to take into what I felt was more of a community and administrative staff reaction which I wasn’t prepared for, and also trying to balance whether or not it really was in the best interest of the community do it right at that point in time.
Q: Did the meeting change your mind? You just told me that you agree with the attorney that she may have breached her contract. But then the fact that Comischell may have changed her mind and the fact that you had all these people at the meeting influenced you then?
Q: Does a 3-1-1 vote put the district in greater jeopardy?
I don’t think it will because our understanding is … that it was contractual. … It should not be an emotional issue. It will be a much more clear-cut case in terms of whether or not she violated the contract. … They shouldn’t necessarily be weighing the vote.
If I had to get up in court, I would say probably the same thing which is there were two different things – whether or not she violated the contract … and whether or not we should let her go.
Q: You mean whether it was right to fire her at this time?
That one I wasn’t as sure about.
Who as board people are we looking out for? You look out for your community, you look out for your administrative staff.
Q: Would the vote have turned out differently if it had been taken in closed session?
Q: Would you have changed your vote?
More likely I might have changed my vote if I was asked [to be] the first one to vote and not the last one.
Q: The first one … meaning?
To cast a vote. Then, as I said, I took in the factor of what the president’s vote was because they have the closest relationship with the superintendent.
Q: Were you surprised to learn that Comischell Rodriguez voted against firing her?
I was surprised [because the item] was agendized. You don’t put things on the agenda unless you’re ready to vote on it. [I assumed] she was ready to vote on it and she wanted to bring it forward.
- DMUSD board expected to vote Wednesday to release Superintendent McClain
- Julian chief selected as interim superintendent for Del Mar school district
- Trustee Lamborghini says goodbye
- Committee appointed to study possible DMUSD school closure
- McClain asks board to make promised changes to contract
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