Judge rules in favor of former Del Mar school district superintendent

By Karen Billing

While the trial ended Oct. 3 in the case of former Del Mar Union School District Superintendent Sharon McClain versus the district, the specifics of the judgment of the wrongful termination lawsuit won’t be known for weeks.

“I won,” McClain said. “I feel vindicated. … The most important thing was the vindication to me that they did the wrong thing. I’m glad it’s been proven that they were wrong.”

McClain said she will be owed two years and three months in back payments, plus retirement from the California State Teachers Retirement System (STRS).

McClain’s attorney, Dale Gronemeier, emailed this newspaper copy from the court’s statement of intended decision that said: “The Court finds in favor of plaintiff for breach of contract in the sum of $413,500, which includes the district’s STRS contribution plus $32,000 for the tax sheltered annuity less the consulting income earned mitigation of $56,963. The total award to plaintiff is $388,537 plus 7 percent interest from the time of breach.”

However, the district’s attorney Dan Shinoff said that the judge did not blanket order those two years and three months in compensation and he believes the amount owed to be more like $156,000.

“I think that the verdict was in her favor,” Shinoff said. “I think it’s our obligation as officers of the court to make sure we’re never ever critical of a decision that a judge makes, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t issues capable of being viewed from a different perspective.”

The Del Mar school board met in closed session on Monday. Oct. 8, to discuss the case but no action was taken. President Scott Wooden said that they are awaiting the court’s judgment and nothing will happen until that point.

“We’d all like to see it resolved,” Wooden said. “This is a great district. We’re moving forward, we have high test scores, we have the right leadership in place and we’re moving in the right direction. This is an issue we inherited and we’d like to see it put behind us.”

Superintendent Holly McClurg echoed Wooden’s belief that the district is in a positive place.

“Not only is our leadership team extremely strong but the entire management team is very strong. We’re very student-focused and that is the direction we want to continue going in,” McClurg said.

“It’s a distraction. Our focus is on making this the best district for the kids and this is not making it the best for the kids,” Wooden said.

McClain was fired in an open session meeting on March 13, 2010 with cause, although the reason was not stated publicly because it was a personnel matter and could not be discussed. Doug Perkins and Comischell Rodriguez are the only current board members who were a part of the previous board that fired McClain.

The three-week trial included testimony from former board members and district staff, and included passages read from an unfavorable superintendent evaluation before McClain’s firing.

“The judge heard every single thing the district said I had done wrong and he didn’t agree with them and to me that’s pretty important,” McClain said.

The transcript of the case will be made available later this week.

Wooden said there was no way the district could settle the case because what McClain is requesting as far as STRS benefits would be considered “pension spiking,” which is illegal—“It had to go to a court judgment,” Wooden said.

Until the judgment is released, the district’s next steps are yet to be determined.

There may be two appeals of the decision by both the plaintiff — for more money — and the school district, according to Shinoff.

“Quite frankly, an appeal [by the district] isn’t before the board yet and I think based on a document filed since the verdict it’s my belief that the plaintiff wishes to file an appeal,” Shinoff said.

McClain said that the entire process has been exhausting.

“I don’t know if they’ll appeal but it’s just going to cost them more money,” McClain said.