Del Mar: McClain case against school
district moves forward
Del Mar Times
By Marsha Sutton
A San Diego Superior Court ruling [by Judge William R. Nevitt] on
Friday [March 4, 2011] granted a motion to strike attorneys’ fees
from the wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Del Mar Union
School District by former superintendent Sharon McClain, who was
hired by the DMUSD in September 2008 and released March 31,
“This was a motion to strike attorneys’ fees that the district
filed, and it was granted,” said Ryan Church, an attorney with
the law firm of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, which represents
the school district on this case.
“She wanted attorneys’ fees under government code section 800, so
the court has now struck those,” Church said, “so she would not be
entitled to attorneys’ fees under that government code. It’s not a
major motion. It just takes out a portion of a complaint.”
Church said the motion was unopposed by McClain and her attorney.
McClain’s attorney, Los Angeles-based Dale Gronemeier, said
he chose not to challenge the motion “because they’re
correct.” He said he expected this motion and said McClain is now
“pretty well barred from getting attorneys’ fees.”
But Gronemeier said McClain gains something by not challenging the
motion. “In order to take this position, they have to give up another
position,” he said.
The original complaint, filed Sept. 17, 2010, named the DMUSD and
four individuals as defendants: attorney Dan Shinoff, former DMUSD
trustees Annette Easton and Katherine White, and current trustee
The First Amended Complaint, filed Oct. 8, 2010, removed the four
individuals’ names, leaving the DMUSD as the sole defendant.
Gronemeier said the only liability the individuals would have would be
under federal law under the reconstruction Civil Rights Act. “We
made a decision that the burden of trying to prove that was too
much,” he said.
However, all five names continue to appear on the case, Church said,
because the original captions remain even after amended complaints
are filed. “It will always say all of those people, regardless of whether
they’ve been dismissed or not,” he said. “The court never wants you
to change a caption.”
To date there have been no further amendments to the original
complaint. Church said the operative complaint is the First Amended
The complaint states that around August 2009, a majority of board
members “began to disregard that contractual division of labor and
interfere with Dr. McClain’s areas of responsibilities by trying to micro-
A portion of the complaint reads: “Because Dr. McClain did not
roll over and accept the foregoing usurpation of her
responsibilities by the board majority, the board majority, in or
about August 2009, began implementing a scheme or plan to
try to pressure Dr. McClain to voluntarily resign.”
McClain also charged that the board failed to specify in writing or
orally the basis for her termination.
She claimed the DMUSD breached her employment agreement on a
number of grounds, calling the conduct of the DMUSD “arbitrary and
McClain is asking for monetary compensation she said was owed and
never paid during her employment with the district, and for future
wages after termination “through trial or according to proof at trial.”
She is also asking for 30 percent of the aforementioned
compensation for lost benefits, compensation for future losses in
retirement income, and “for such other relief as the court deems just
Moving to trial
Gronemeier said the next step is a case management conference on
March 25 at which time a trial date will likely be set. He also wants a
referee appointed to expedite some details. “We have a lot of
battles over pre-trial discovery,” he said.
In addition, he filed a motion for summary adjudication, which
is scheduled for May 20, and will determine whether the district
gave McClain proper termination notice. This is the motion that put
into the public record the board’s evaluation of her performance and
a letter of reprimand, to show that the district did not give McClain
proper notice, he said. At the same time, Gronemeier also released a
57-page rebuttal from McClain, which seeks to counter point by point
the criticisms in the evaluation.
Church said a case management conference is attended by both
parties’ attorneys and typically “lasts about a minute.” He said there
will likely be more documents released in the discovery
phase, most of which “will ultimately become public through
the court system unless there’s some type of protective order
and there has not been one at this point.”
Gronemeier said he has contacted Dan Shinoff, the district’s
lead attorney on this case, to discuss using a private mediator
to resolve the dispute. “I’ve been advocating that, [but] I
haven’t gotten an answer as to whether they’re willing to do
it,” he said.
He said he favors mediation because “you usually get better results
than some of the other alternatives available.” He said the law
encourages it, and litigation is expensive and time-consuming. “So
yeah, we would like to see that,” he said.
DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody said the district spent about
$12,762 on legal fees on the McClain case in 2010: $9,036 through
March 31 when she was released, and $3,726 from April 1 through
The district has litigation insurance, he said, which covers all legal
and litigation fees once a lawsuit is filed, less a $1,000 deductible.
The insurance carrier is the San Diego County Schools Risk
Management Joint Powers Authority. The district’s annual premium is
Peabody said it was good news that the motion to strike attorneys’
fee was granted, and next steps will be setting a trial date and
responding to McClain’s request for mediation.
Documents released last week related to the wrongful termination
lawsuit filed against the Del Mar Union School District by former
superintendent Sharon McClain included an evaluation of McClain’s
performance by the school board and a 57-page rebuttal to the
evaluation written by McClain, who was hired by the DMUSD in
September 2008 and released March 31, 2010.
The district’s evaluation, written in September 2009, charged that
McClain’s performance constituted a “breach of material terms” of the
contract and cited deficiencies, willful neglect, failure to uphold
contract provisions, and a “general inability to be effective.”
Specifically, the evaluation cited gross negligence in reference to
former assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Janet
Bernard, whom McClain attempted to transfer to another position,
assistant superintendent of human resources.
In her rebuttal, McClain called this a “sound decision” and said
Bernard “enthusiastically embraced the idea.”
But Bernard said this was not true and that she never told McClain
she wanted to move to human resources. “I was dumbfounded,” she
“I was so caught off-guard by it. I didn’t have a chance to say
anything. She just gave me a direct order. I never embraced the
Bernard said she replied that she wanted a night to think about it, but
it was announced that day. “She said there’s no discussion. This is
where you’re going,” Bernard said. “No one would ever want to be
told that they’re completely changing positions in two minutes and
then it’s announced to the entire community.”
Bernard, who served as the district’s interim superintendent from
February 2008 when former superintendent Tom Bishop was
released by the board until McClain was hired in September 2008,
was particularly upset about McClain’s reference to “significant
dissension in the district about Janet’s leadership.”
Bernard said she never heard anything like that from board
members, the former superintendent, or other staff. “I think she just
wanted me out of the way,” she said.
Former trustee Annette Easton was reluctant to comment on the
references to Bernard in the evaluation and rebuttal, even though
both have been made public, because they were originally closed
session documents. She did say, though, that a formal complaint
about the performance of an employee would require that the
employee be notified of a closed session discussion on their
“There was never an agenda item that occurred in which Janet was
notified that her performance was under review,” Easton said.
Easton also said she had never heard any complaints about Bernard’
s leadership from staff or community members.
“The board really appreciaed Janet stepping up and serving as our
interim during the period that she did,” Easton said.
“My reputation means everything to me,” Bernard said. “I just want my
Undermining the board
Other items mentioned in the evaluation included criticism of McClain
for announcing a recommended candidate for a high-level position
on a public agenda before discussing it with the board, which put
trustees “in the position of publicly disagreeing with you instead of
allowing personnel conversation to remain confidential.”
McClain responded that the public posting “was in line with current
practice in the DMUSD” and that it was “common practice to present
the names of individuals recommended for employment in the public
The evaluation further charged that McClain undermined the school
board and damaged the board’s reputation in the community. “You
have positioned yourself as fighting against the board instead of
being part of a governance team” and “that you complain about the
board both internally and externally,” the evaluation read.
McClain denied this, responding that she “worked diligently with the
board to promote a unity of purpose” and “consistently respected the
board as the representative of the community.”
The evaluation criticized McClain for attending too many conferences
that they said interfered with her performance of duties. McClain said
the conferences were “crucial for further professional development”
and “absolutely necessary for me to be a good superintendent.”
The evaluation also cited her alleged improper handling of the 7-11
committee, error-prone postings of public notices, disregard for
openness and transparency, questionable use and selection of
outside consultants, concerns at Del Mar Hills Academy, poor forward
planning, lack of communication with board members, insufficient
preparation for teacher contract negotiations, unresponsiveness to
board questions, failure to update the board on key developments,
and other matters.
McClain took on each point in detail in her rebuttal, saying she
provided strong leadership, vision, attention to detail, effective
management skills, goals and objectives, backup material on agenda
items, a focus on collaboration, and clear analyses of district
concerns. She also said she worked without sufficient board
feedback, coped with weekly rather than monthly board meetings,
supported demoralized staff, and confronted serious issues in the
district successfully, including the education foundation structure,
enrichment programs, the ongoing budget crisis, district office facility
needs, and equity.
McClain listed a number of “key developments” about which she said
she informed the board, in response to trustees’ criticism of her lack
of communication. The issues included school reports of a lockdown,
a suspected explosive device, an emergency evacuation, a police
investigation, water contamination, passout games, whooping cough,
and a student with a seizure.
One item listed was a report “of a fifth-grade student from Del Mar
Heights School who was taken to the hospital by ambulance because
he told office staff he had taken cocaine.” McClain wrote that the
incident happened June 9, 2009, a Tuesday.
But Wendy Wardlow, principal of Del Mar Heighs School, said that
didn’t happen. “There was no student who reported taking cocaine
on campus,” she said. “There was no ambulance that was called to
Wardlow said there was a sixth-grade student who thought he had
ingested something at home on a Saturday. Paramedics came to the
private house but the child was found to be fine, she said.
Remedies were suggested in the evaluation, but board members
wrote that they “have serious reservations” about McClain’s abilities.
Trustees referenced search firm principals Frank Cosca and Ken
Noonan from The Cosca Group who were part of the team that
selected McClain. Trustees said Cosca and Noonan “raised repeated
concerns regarding the toxic relationship” and indicated that she was
“not willing or able” to recognize the need to make adjustments.
McClain, in her rebuttal, challenged these remarks by Cosca and
Noonan, saying she contacted them and they denied making these
The performance review close with the statement, “This evaluation
has the endorsement of the entire board.” Signatures of all five board
members were included: Annette Easton, Steven McDowell, Doug
Perkins, Comischell Rodriguez and Katherine White.
The vote seven months later to terminate McClain’s employment,
however, was not unanimous but was 3-1-1, with Rodriguez opposed
and McDowell abstaining.
McDowell, Easton and White no longer serve as trustees. Rodriguez,
who currently serves as school board president, would not comment
on the case, although she did comment on the inclusion in the
documents of the names of a number of district employees.
“About my thoughts on the release of the evaluation and rebuttal by
Sharon,” Rodriguez said in an email, “I will say that I don’t believe it
was very nice. As a matter of practice in the DMUSD, we protect our
employee evaluations and we will continue to do so.”
“There was surprise that the names were not redacted before it was
released,” said Jim Peabody, DMUSD superintendent.
Regarding the lack of redaction in the rebuttal, Dale Gronemeier,
McClain’s attorney, said, “I guess we didn’t see a compelling reason
to do that.”
[Maura Larkins comment: In an interview regarding this case,
DMUSD attorney Dan Shinoff said everything would come out
in a lawsuit. And that's exactly how it's supposed to be.]
[Maura Larkins comment: I'd say the evaluation is petty rather than scathing.]
Fired superintendent's evaluation was scathing
By Jonathan Horn
March 3, 2011
Six months before she was fired in March 2010, then Del Mar schools
Superintendent Sharon McClain received a scathing evaluation signed by all
five of the district’s trustees, outlining a toxic relationship between her and the
The nine-page evaluation recently was filed with the court system in
connection with McClain’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the Del Mar
Union School District. Trustees have repeatedly declined to answer questions
as to why they fired McClain, citing her lawsuit. The evaluation, however,
provides some insight as to what could have been behind the decision.
Download: Sharon McClain's 2009 Evaluation
Download: Sharon McClain's rebuttal to evaluation
“You are openly hostile to the current Board President, you complain to Board
members about other Board members, and you complain to District staff about
the Board,” the evaluation says. “You have positioned yourself as fighting
against the Board instead of being part of a governance team.”
McClain submitted a 57-page rebuttal to the evaluation. The U-T obtained a
copy of the rebuttal through her attorney, Dale Gronemeier. McClain wrote
she actually declined to support a board recall effort when approached by a
parent in January 2009, and repeatedly defended the board when asked by
reporters about perceived trustee micromanagement.
“I want and hope to improve the relationship with the board during the next
three years of my contract,” McClain wrote in her response dated October
2009. “However, I must admit that I am concerned after reading and
responding to the Evaluation, that the Board’s current commitment is to
continually search for problems with my performance in order to terminate my
Trustees voted 3-1-1 to fire McClain on March 31, 2010, in a meeting called
two days earlier. Despite the late notice, parents packed the Del Mar Hills
Academy auditorium, and all 29 speakers voiced support for McClain. They
called on the trustees to resign, accusing them of micromanagement, and
gave McClain a standing ovation.
The board also fired McClain’s predecessor, Tom Bishop, in 2008, paying him
a $300,000 settlement.
McClain’s lawsuit is scheduled to continue Friday with a hearing in San Diego
Superior Court. McClain contends she was not given proper cause for her
dismissal and that she should have received 30 days’ notice instead of two if
not given a cause. She is asking for one year’s salary of $178,000, $15,000 in
retirement funds and punitive damages.
The makeup of the five-member board of trustees has changed since the
firings. Three new members were voted onto the panel in November. Trustees
Katherine White and Annette Easton, who voted to fire McClain, did not seek
re-election. Trustee Steven McDowell, who abstained from the vote to fire
McClain, lost his bid for re-election. Trustee Doug Perkins, who voted to fire
McClain, and board President Comischell Rodriguez, the only one who voted
against the firing, are in the middle of their terms.
White, Easton and McDowell voted to hire McClain out of 20 other candidates
on a three-year contract in summer 2008. Dan Shinoff, the school district’s
attorney, did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment.
The evaluation cites several instances of friction between the board and
McClain. It said McClain was unavailable to the board to discuss district issues,
that she did not provide accurate information with various committees, and did
not post timely board meeting agendas. It said she also dismissed the board
members’ questions or did not answer them quickly, and her participation in
conferences interfered with her ability to perform her everyday duties.
McClain responded that she sent more than 1,000 e-mails to board members
keeping them apprised and that 42 of the 44 agendas were posted on time.
McClain wrote that board members often acted individually and not as a whole,
such as when they would drop in unannounced and divert individual staff
members to work on their own questions. McClain wrote it became clear two
trustees did not involve other board members in a plan to reduce the district’s
extended studies curriculum when other trustees expressed confusion over
the issue at a meeting. White and McDowell each declined to comment when
reached by phone.
The evaluation said some of McClain’s activities exposed the district to
She received a letter of formal reprimand, dated Jan. 15, 2010, which said she
violated federal privacy law by allowing her assistant to listen-in on a phone
call with a parent over a disciplinary issue. McClain vehemently denied that
accusation in a separate rebuttal to that letter, saying it is impossible with the
phone system for someone else to listen in, and instead that her assistant’s
office door was open, as was McClain’s.
[Maura Larkins comment: Why isn't the interviewer/writer of this article
named? Is it Marsha Sutton? Or is Marsha only covering this story from
Dan Shinoff's point of view?]
My guess, actually, is that Marsha did write this, but she doesn't want
Dan Shinoff to know that she wrote it. During the trial in this case,
Marsha came in to the courtroom for about an hour on September 24,
2012. At first she sat on the left side of the gallery, then she seemed to
realize that it was, and she moved to Dan Shinoff's side of the
Maybe she's afraid he'll sue her for defamation, as he sued me. He also
sued for defamation on behalf of his pals Diane Crosier and Dan Puplava
at SDCOE-JPA (which is the entity that is paying three lawyers at Stutz,
Artiano Shinoff & Holtz to carry on the litigation in this case) when this
story came out. It would have been cheaper for the taxpayers if the
district had settled with McClain.]
Sharon McClain v.
DMUSD Lawsuit by fired
SHARON MCCLAIN ED D
VS. DEL MAR UNION
Date Filed: 09/17/2010
03/25/11 08:45AM C-64
Nevitt, William R. Jr.
Civil Case Mana
D)Del Mar Union School Dist
Daniel R Shinoff
[Note March 21, 2011: This
case can not be found in a
party search of the court
index, but it did appear on the
court calendar. I found the
case by searching for the case
number. What is the motive
for this concealment? The
following appears instead of
the names of parties in the
Last Name or Business
Name Primary (P)
No party was found.
Last Name or Business
Name Primary (P)
No party was found.]
05/06/2011 Tentative Ruling re Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings:
...Defendant's [Del Mar Union School
District's] motion for judgment on the
(1) denied as to the
ninth ("Declaratory Relief – Notice Dispute") and
eleventh ("Declaratory Relief - §8E Dispute")
causes of action of the First Amended Complaint ("FAC");
(2) granted as to the FAC's
tenth ("Declaratory Relief – Legislative Privilege
As to the eight cause of action: The FAC adequately alleges
conversion of past wages due.
As to the ninth and eleventh causes of action: Each of these two
causes of action adequately alleges an actual controversy. It
does not appear from the face of the FAC that the "declaration
or determination is not necessary or proper at the time under all
the circumstances" (CCP § 1061).
As to the tenth cause of action: It appears from the face of the
FAC that the "declaration or determination is not necessary or
proper at the time under all the circumstances" (Code Civ.
Proc., § 1061). (Cf. Jefferson, Inc. v. City of Torrance (1968)
266 Cal.App.2d 300, 303 ["[J]udgments sustaining general
demurrers to declaratory relief actions have been upheld where
the trial court, in effect, has exercised its discretionary power to
deny a declaration despite the existence of a controversy
'where its declaration or determination is not necessary or
proper at the time under all the circumstances.' (Code Civ.
Register of Actions (ROA)
Case Number: 37-2010-00100467-CU-WT-CTL
Date Filed: 09/17/2010
Case Title: Sharon McClain Ed D vs. Del Mar Union School
Case Type: Wrongful Termination
Judicial Officer: William R. Nevitt, Jr.
Del Mar Union School District, Defendant
Shinoff, Daniel R
McClain Ed D, Sharon, Plaintiff
Gronemeier, Dale L
GRONEMEIER & ASSOCIATES P C 1490 Colorado Boulevard Eagle
Rock CA 90041
SHINOFF, DANIEL R
STUTZ ARTIANO SHINOFF & HOLTZ APC 2488 HISTORIC
DECATUR ROAD SUITE 200 SAN DIEGO CA 92106 6113
Minutes finalized for Motion Hearing (Civil) heard 04/29/2011
Motion Hearing (Civil) continued pursuant to Court's motion to
05/06/2011 at 01:30PM before Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr..
Tentative Ruling for Motion Hearing (Civil) published.
Reply to Opposition of Noticed Motion and Supporting Declarations
filed by Del Mar Union School District. (Defendant)
Opposition to Noticed Motion and Supporting Declarations filed by
McClain Ed D, Sharon. (Plaintiff)
Notice of Motion and Supporting Declarations filed by Del Mar Union
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by Del Mar Union
Discovery Hearing scheduled for 07/15/2011 at 01:30:00 PM at
Central in C-64 William R. Nevitt.
Notice of Hearing SD generated.
Minutes finalized for Civil Case Management Conference heard
03/25/2011 08:45:00 AM.
Jury demanded by both parties.
Civil Jury Trial scheduled for 11/04/2011 at 09:00AM before Judge
William R. Nevitt, Jr..
Trial Readiness Conference (Civil) scheduled for 10/14/2011 at
10:00AM before Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr..
Notice of Motion and Supporting Declarations filed by Del Mar Union
Motion - Other (To Quash
Deposition) filed by Del Mar Union
School District. (Defendant)
Depositions allowed in lawsuit against Del Mar school
By Marsha Sutton
Del Mar Times
Sept. 29, 2011
Over the defendant’s objections, a judge ordered at a hearing held Aug. 19 that depositions
could be taken of former Del Mar Union School District board members Steven McDowell
and Annette Easton, in the case of Sharon McClain vs. the DMUSD.
Other rulings overturned DMUSD’s objections to providing documents and interrogatory
responses to former DMUSD superintendent McClain.
Attorney Dale Gronemeier, who represents McClain in her case against the school district
for wrongful termination, called it a very successful hearing.
“We’re starting to get the information we need,” Gronemeier said. “I think we have broken
down an approach to the litigation where the other side was thinking that maybe they could
prevent us from getting meaningful discovery.”
Gronemeier requested the McDowell deposition in March, but DMUSD’s legal counsel made
a motion to quash the notice of deposition.
“They immediately asserted that it was improper because of what’s called the deliberative process
privilege,” said Gronemeier, explaining that the deliberative process privilege is a rule of law that does not
permit inquiry into the motives of legislators.
The defendant, Gronemeier said, was claiming that members of an elected school
board cannot be subpoenaed because they are legislators.
But he said the issues in this case were administrative, not legislative, and the
deliberative process privilege applies only to legislative acts.
Furthermore, he said the rule doesn’t mean one can’t take a deposition, but objections may be raised to
certain types of questions.
Ryan Church, an attorney with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, explained in a May 12, 2011 article in this
newspaper that the deliberative process privilege prevents public board members from being deposed
and bars judicial inquiry into the motives of public officials.
“You’re not supposed to be able to take board members’
depositions,” Church said. But the court did not agree.
“Defendant’s deliberative process privilege objection is overruled,” read the court documents. According to
the court, “under the circumstances of this case, the strong public interest in ascertaining the truth in
judicial proceedings outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure.”
Two of Gronemeier’s motions, both granted, asked for the depositions of McDowell and the Person Most
Knowledgeable (PMK) about the issues. He said the district and its legal advisors identified Easton as the
“The entity has the right to select the person,” Gronemeier said. “I can’t impose who they are.”
“We’ve agreed to allow them to be deposed,” said DMUSD attorney Dan Shinoff, of Stutz Artiano Shinoff &
McDowell’s deposition was held Sept. 21 and lasted about six hours. Easton’s deposition is scheduled for
Sept. 30, and Gronemeier said it may take three or four days. “There are a lot of facts in this case, a lot of
details,” he said.
Shinoff said the judge at the trial will rule whether the information obtained by the depositions can be
used as evidence. “For purposes of admissibility in trial, he’ll rule on it on a question-by-question
basis,” Shinoff said.
Gronemeier said the testimony obtained from a deposition is valuable even though little of it is read in
court. “I use it in the sense that I know what the person’s going to say,” he said.
Gronemeier will also seek the depositions of Doug Perkins, Comischell Rodriguez and Katherine White,
the other three trustees who served during McClain’s tenure, because “the only people who have real
knowledge of most of the events in dispute in the lawsuit are the five board members and Dr. McClain,” he
said. Only Perkins and Rodriguez are still DMUSD board members.
McDowell was chosen first, Gronemeier said, because “we viewed him as a good starting point in this
“Lawyers learn a lot in depositions, and you build an understanding from the depositions,” he said. “So by
the time you get to the most important witnesses, you sharpen your knives quite a bit more.”
Gronemeier would not disclose specifics of McDowell’s deposition except to say that questions were
related to McClain’s contention that the board did not have good cause to terminate her.
Termination for good cause, he said, requires an honest and thorough investigation. “So we’re looking at
how adequately they conducted the investigation,” he said.
McDowell was also asked about his decision to abstain from the vote to release McClain, Gronemeier said.
Shinoff said the focus of the case is not why McDowell abstained. “The issue will be, did she or did she not
breach the contract,” he said. “That’s the whole issue.”
McDowell was asked “all kinds of questions,” Shinoff said, “and he explained himself. He also provided the
reasons why he thought there were very serious performance issues [with McClain].”
Both McDowell and Easton declined to comment.
Stutz Artiano attorney Jack Sleeth, considered an expert on closed-session open-
meeting laws, handled the McDowell deposition and will represent Easton for her
deposition Sept. 30.
Gronemeier said depositions can be contentious and are often an adversarial process. “But this was not a
deposition where there was a lot of hostility,” he said.
Gronemeier praised Sleeth for his professionalism, calling him a very good lawyer. “Jack asserted many
objections, most of which were to closed-session discussions,” he said. “Some were to attorney-client
privilege. I have no criticism of the way he handled the deposition.”
Shinoff said Sleeth’s hourly rate is $170, to be paid by the DMUSD and its litigation insurance. Gronemeier
said the cost of a deposition for his side will run about $1,000 per day for the court reporter, plus attorneys’
The other rulings
The hearing on Aug. 19 ruled on five motions, two on the depositions and three that overruled DMUSD’s
objections to produce documents and answer interrogatories.
“Essentially it means I won on all the substantive issues,” Gronemeier said. He had sought monetary
sanctions against the DMUSD, but that was denied.
Gronemeier filed the motions to seek relief for what he claimed were the district’s delaying tactics. “What
they were saying is that Dr. McClain can get no deposition discovery,” he said.
When Shinoff’s firm requested documents and asked for a deposition of McClain, which
took place over three days in June, “we didn’t stonewall,” Gronemeier said. “We don’t
jerk people around in discovery.”
Shinoff had earlier alleged that it was Gronemeier who was delaying the process.
Besides documents, Gronemeier said the DMUSD also refused to release information
“That got knocked down, and they have now provided the addresses and phone numbers
of about 50 people they have listed as witnesses,” he said.
He also just received about one thousand pages of documents from the DMUSD that he had requested.
Shinoff minimized the importance of the August decisions, saying, “It was some names that they asked for
that we provided, but that was the extent of the ruling.”
“It’s just part of discovery, and it has nothing to do with the merits of the case,” Shinoff said.
McClain was hired by the DMUSD on Sept. 17, 2008, at a base salary of $168,000, through June 30, 2009,
the end of the fiscal year. Salary increases in the contract are listed as $178,000 for 2009-2010, $183,000
for 2010-2011, and $188,000 for 2011-2012. She was released from employment March 31, 2010,
In her formal complaint, she claimed the DMUSD breached her agreement on a number of grounds,
calling the conduct of the DMUSD “arbitrary and capricious.”
The district’s evaluation, written September 2009, charged that McClain’s performance constituted a
“breach of material terms” of the contract and cited deficiencies, willful neglect, failure to uphold contract
provisions, and a “general inability to be effective.”
The performance review was signed by all five board members. The vote seven months later to terminate
McClain’s employment, however, was 3-1-1, with Rodriguez opposed and McDowell abstaining.
Gronemeier said McClain seeks just compensation. “Our position is they have never … given her the
proper notice, and her salary is still accruing,” he said. “The contract continues in force. It wasn’t properly
terminated.” McClain seeks salary through June 30, 2012, the end of the contract.
McClain also contends that her retirement income was diminished by the loss of the extra years of salary.
“The reduced pension benefits are very significant damages,” Gronemeier said.
In addition to monetary compensation, McClain is seeking the restoration of her standing in the community.
“She has been a very successful woman in her professional career, and what they did to her sullied her
reputation,” Gronemeier said. “She wants vindication for that, and appropriately so.”
Despite the setbacks last month, Shinoff remained sure of his case. “I’m still very confident in the merits of
my position,” he said.
|San Diego Education Report
|San Diego Education Report
SHARON MCCLAIN VS. DEL MAR UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT
SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA,
JUDICIAL OFFICER: William R. Nevitt Jr.
Case transferred to Judge Meyer.
Superintendent of the
Year Award Honors GSEP
Sharon L. McClain, an
adjunct faculty member at
the Graduate School of
Education and Psychology
(GSEP), has been awarded
the 2008-09 Pepperdine
of the Year Award. She was
presented with the award at
the fifth annual Pepperdine
Council Dinner on
Wednesday, Jan. 28, held
in Monterey, California.
McClain has taught in the
Academy at GSEP for
several years, and is the
superintendent of Del Mar
Union High School District.
She was chosen for her
dedication to education,
and as the embodiment of
the University mission of
service, purpose, and
"McClain has been an outstanding
superintendent and supporter of
Pepperdine University," said John
superintendent-in-residence at GSEP.
"McClain is a dedicated and
committed to the students of her
school district and to the future
educational leaders whom we are
nurturing here at GSEP. She is
extremely deserving of this honor."
Of this recognition, she
commented, "I'm very
excited and honored to
receive this award. I know
so many wonderful
superintendents and feel
humbled to be recognized
by the Pepperdine faculty. It
has been a privilege to
teach at Pepperdine, and I
admire its fine work on
behalf of educators and
Council is comprised of
and school leaders, and
University as a forum to
discuss issues that concern
superintendents and their
schools. GSEP also
development activities for
the Council's members.
McClain assumed the role
of superintendent of the Del
Mar Union School District in
Previously, she led the
Hermosa Beach City School
District, which received the
Schools and National Blue
Ribbon Schools titles during
her tenure. She also served
as superintendent of Mesa
Union School District and
as assistant superintendent
of educational services and
human resources at the
Ojai Unified School District.
McClain earned her Ed. D.
in Educational Leadership
from the University of
She is a member of the
Association of America,
Council for Boys and Girls
Clubs, and received the
California Congress of PTA
Continuing Service Award.
An interview with former Superintendent Sharon
Del Mar Times
May 13, 2010
Dr. Sharon McClain was hired by the Del Mar Union School District after a
nationwide search and became the new superintendent in 2008 after Tom
Bishop was released. McClain, the former superintendent of Hermosa Beach
City School District moved to San Diego from Long Beach, living apart from
her husband Joe Condon, also a former superintendent.
In coming to Del Mar, McClain said she knew there were some problems but
thought she could help move the district forward. A year and a half later, on
March 31, McClain was fired. Here she shares some thoughts about the
board’s decision and her plans to file a lawsuit against the district.In
December, the board held a meeting to discipline or dismiss you over a
parent’s complaint in a student discipline issue and they took no action.
Were you thinking you and the board would be able to continue or did you
have a feeling it wasn’t over yet?
I think I knew at that time they were going to find something else. I felt like it
And that parent’s complaint was the only one you know of?
Right. In August they wrote an evaluation document and said some things in
the document that they wanted me to do and work on and some criticisms of
some things that I had done. I responded. Their document was eight pages
long and my response was 55 pages because I had a lot of evidence. They
said ‘You didn’t do this,’ ‘You didn’t do that’ and I had done them to the best
of my ability and the best job I could under the circumstances.
When did you find out about the dismissal? How were you told and what did
I was in a meeting on Monday with the district office group. We met every
Monday from noon to about 4 or 5 p.m. We were in that meeting and
Comischell (Rodriguez) came in and she said she wanted to talk to Darlene
(Nadlonek, district personnel technician).
I thought it was odd so I came out of the meeting and I asked, ‘What’s going
on?’ and I could tell by Comischell’s face that something was wrong. We went
back in my office and she (Comischell Rodriguez) said, ‘Well it’s the dreaded
letter. We didn’t make it.’
So you go into that special meeting knowing you would be fired or did you
think public comment might be able to sway them?
Oh, I knew they were going to fire me. After I talked to Comischell, that was
on late Monday afternoon and they had scheduled the meeting for
Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. and of course nobody could’ve come to that.
So Comischell insisted it would be at 12:30 p.m. and parents complained
they couldn’t be there at 12:30 p.m. because of picking up children, so it was
switched it to 12:45 p.m.
The board was definitely trying to have meeting at a time when there would
be least amount of resistance from the community so they had at time when
a larger portion of community couldn’t be there. I was surprised that so many
people did show up and even some teachers tried to get away from lunch
and left and actually spoke.
But I knew and I had cleaned out my whole office the day before. I was
certain. There was no question in my mind that they were ready to terminate
my contract. What was that like, the decision to fire you made in open
session, what were you feeling?
It was an awful experience. I devoted my life to education and since I was a
little girl I wanted to be a schoolteacher. I achieved my goal and I got into
administration because I wanted to make a difference and I felt that I could
make an impact.
Now looking back on it I can see the biggest impact happens in the
classroom, it really does. The rest of us are just facilitators to make whatever
happens in the classroom work.
That was really a very difficult meeting for me. I prepared a statement ahead
of time because I didn’t want to sound bitter and angry and it was very very
I’m angry with Mr. (Daniel) Shinoff, the board’s attorney, because he said I
asked not to have a public meeting, which is absolutely not true.
[Maura Larkins comment: I also asked--in writing-- for my firing by
Chula Vista Elementary School District to be announced in a public
meeting, as was my legal right. Dan Shinoff handled my case. The
district refused to announce their action against me in a public session.]
I showed up at the meeting about 15 minutes before and learned at that time
that I was supposed to speak for 20 minutes and I had no idea, he had never
told me that so I protested to him and said I didn’t think that was fair. He said
‘Well, how much time do you need to speak?’ and I said, ‘About three, maybe
five minutes,’ and he said, ‘Okay, I’ll limit my comments to same amount of
time.’ He never said anything that that constituted as me asking not to have
Another thing he said in that article (in an interview published in this
newspaper), so I feel compelled to talk about it since he talked about my
releasing his bills. Well his bills are public documents and I tried to protect
those bills by having them redacted. I asked a different law firm, I didn’t ask
Mr. Shinoff’s law firm to redact their own bills.
He asked me about that weeks before and I had told them who the lawyer
was that redacted them and I told Comischell. I called the lawyer, Melanie
Peterson, and told her Mr. Shinoff was really upset about how bills got
redacted and she said to tell him to call her. So he knew that so for him to
say in the paper that I had just sent them out and wasn’t a lawyer didn’t have
the right to do that, that’s just completely false.
And you were never given a reason for your dismissal besides “serious
No. The only document I have is the document from August, my evaluation,
which I responded to. Then they wrote a letter to me about the parent
complaint, a disciplinary letter saying you should’ve done this and I
responded to that as well. So I haven’t heard anything since.
When I talked to Comischell she said I’d get a document so I was expecting a
document or I was expecting him (Shinoff) to read something at the hearing. I
still don’t have anything. So to me, I should still be working and I don’t know
what cause that they have.
The things in the August document, they weren’t serious?
Well they were things like I should’ve hired somebody sooner for HR because
we knew that Rodger (Smith) was leaving. But you know you don’t hire
someone six months before they start the job you generally hire three
months or so before they start the job. You generally wait so I didn’t agree
with that. So I asked another person on staff to move into that position and
the board said that was not legal.
I felt the things they were criticizing for were things within my purview as
superintendent to do. And they felt they had to make all the decisions.
Another one was that Holly McClurg’s (the staff person who filled the HR
position until a permanent replacement was hired) name was in the board
agenda and I shouldn’t have done that and I went back and counted all the
names of people hired in the agenda and there were 200 something. So
those are the kinds of things that were in there.
To me they were picky and they were easily remedied so I didn’t feel there
was any substantial cause in that document and I don’t feel there was
substantial cause in the issue over the parent either so I don’t know what the
substantial cause is.
If there were substantial cause, why wouldn’t they have told me? It doesn’t
make any sense to me at all. If I did something egregious to hurt the district,
why haven’t they come forward and told me what I’ve done?
I really believe it’s more of a personality issue, what I said before — what my
vision of what the superintendent’s job is and what the board’s job is and
their idea of what it was.
What are your plans now and are you going to stay in San Diego?
Well, no. I will probably move back to Long Beach. My husband and I are
making plans deciding what we’re going to do. I am doing some consulting
already and I’m enjoying that. I know that Tom Bishop, after he left, he
coaches a lot of small district superintendents around the county so he’s
quite busy and I hope to be busy too.
McClain: ‘I truly feel that I have done the best job
I can do’
Del Mar Times
April 1, 2010
For the second time in approximately two years, the Del Mar Union School
District is on a quest to replace a sacked superintendent after the board of
trustees voted 3-1 to fire Superintendent Sharon McClain on March 31 at a
Board president Comischell Rodriguez was the sole “no” vote and Steven
The multi-use room at Del Mar Hills Academy, where the meeting was held,
was packed and more than 25 people spoke out, all in opposition to firing
Rodriguez said the vote terminated McClain due to a material breach of
contract and “serious performance violations.”
The ramifications of the board’s decision took place immediately, ending
McClain’s salary pay and benefits. Less than 20 minutes after the meeting
ended, Ocean Air parent Eileen Hoppen resigned from her spot as the co-
chair of the financial task force.
“I believe that the recent actions of the DMUSD Board of Trustees make it
apparent that the interests of the board are not in the best interest of the
children of DMUSD,” Hoppen wrote in her resignation letter. “I firmly believe
that despite the hard work of the financial task force the board will ignore,
table or forge ahead with whatever the board’s agenda is.”
“There will be no further discussion on this personnel matter due to pending
litigation,” said Rodriguez after a closed session debate that lasted an hour
and 40 minutes.
An interim superintendent is to be named at a 5 p.m. meeting today.
After the vote, Rodriguez shared a tearful hug with McClain, who packed up
her office on Tuesday afternoon and said she was not surprised by
“I truly feel that I have done the best job I can do,” McClain said. “I feel that I
wanted to stay, I would’ve stayed because I love this district.”
McClain said she was given no reason why the board voted to remove her.
She said she does not feel that she did anything wrong and she will be
speaking to her lawyer.
“I don’t agree with their decision at all,” said McClain, noting the only reason
she could think of for her dismissal was the personality clash between her and
the board. “I feel badly that we couldn’t get along.”
McClain said a superintendent’s job is to run the district and she was never
really allowed to do that. She had brought several plans before the board to
chip away at what could be a $2.5 million budget deficit facing the district. Her
last budget-saving recommendations were taken off the March 10 agenda
and at the March 24 meeting the board did not set a date to hear them again.
McClain said the board seemed unwilling to acknowledge the budget elephant
in the room.
“There is a budget crisis that needs to be addressed,” McClain said.
The meeting began at 12:45 p.m., the week before spring break — a time
parents accused the board of picking in order to prevent people from
attending. Before public comment McClain read a prepared statement, her
voice cracking when she talked about how wonderful the district is.
When the audience stood up to give her a standing ovation, tears filled
McClain’s eyes as she mouthed “thank yous” to the parents and staff who
have supported her.
Speakers said they were appalled, outraged, confounded, disgusted, baffled
and blind-sided. Several parents told trustees who voted to fire McClain that
they would not be re-elected in the fall.
“This is an unspeakable time to terminate this superintendent with the amount
of issues facing this board,” said Sage Canyon parent Lesley Ballard.
Ballard said McClain has become a scapegoat for all the problems within this
Carmel Del Mar parent Kate Takahashi likened the board’s reasoning to a
personal vendetta and a “hissy fit.”
Parent Simon Bruce said the board simply fell prey to “petty power politics”
and failed to manage the talent and appreciate the high level of performance
they were getting from McClain, who was recently elected to serve as the
Western States’ representative at the Urban Superintendents Association of
Both McClain and trustee Doug Perkins said this decision was the result of
seven months worth of discussion, a period that has been very taxing on
McClain’s family, according to McClain.
Her husband, Joe Condon, a former superintendent, spoke out during public
comment, saying that he had warned his wife not to take the job of
superintendent for the Del Mar Union School District. He said the district’s
governing board has one of the worst reputations in the state.
Condon was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, representing the Hawaii vacation he
was about to take his wife on.
“The best thing about it (McClain’s dismissal) is I get my life back,” Condon
Oct. 3, 2012
Update: Sharon McClain wins against Dan Shinoff and
Del Mar Union School District; award is $388,537.