REGION: Former school director gets $1M
By STACY BRANDT
North County Times - The Californian
August 20, 2010
A jury awarded the former executive director of the now-defunct Eagles Peak
Charter School $1 million this week in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed after
the administrator was fired in 2008, an attorney said Friday.
In the lawsuit, the former executive, Rich Alderson, accused the school’s
board of directors of firing him after less than a year on the job for refusing to
retaliate against employees who had criticized them.
The jury determined that the school acted with fraud, malice or oppression,
according to Bob Ottilie, Alderson’s attorney
Alderson said Friday that he was pleased with the outcome and hopes that
people will now have a better understanding of what happened.
“This is vindication,” he said. “I was trying to follow the law.”
Former board president Danielle Hooper didn’t return phone calls Friday, nor
did the attorney representing Eagles Peak.
The $1 million judgement includes the wages Alderson would have earned if
he weren’t fired, the money he lost in retirement contributions and about
$600,000 for emotional distress, Ottilie said.
Alderson said it was difficult to find employment after he was fired. For the last
couple of years, he has worked as an advocate for parents of students with
“I feel exonerated,” he said. “I felt like I had a pretty black mark on me for what
Though the school doesn’t exist anymore, the insurance policy it had at the
time of Alderson’s dismissal will cover the cost of the judgement, Ottilie said.
Two months after firing Alderson, the board of the Vista-based charter school
decided against renewing the contracts of three top administrators who were
part of Alderson’s team. The employees had written letters to the Julian Union
High School District, which chartered the school, saying the board of directors
had created a hostile work environment.
In his lawsuit, Alderson claimed that trustees had asked him to do something
to keep the employees from speaking up, which he refused to do.
At the time, school officials said the move to eliminate the three positions was
a way to save money during a rough year financially.
Alderson was hired as executive director in 2007 at a tumultuous time for the
A few months earlier, disagreements between the board and former Executive
Director Kathleen Hermsmeyer caused the school to split in two. Hermsmeyer
and most of the other administrators moving to the newly formed River
Springs Charter School based in Riverside County.
Before the division, the school was the largest in the region, with nearly 4,000
students. It catered to parents who primarily taught their children at home and
had learning centers throughout San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties.
The school closed last year after the school board at the Julian district
decided not to renew its charter. At the time, the district’s superintendent said
the move was spurred in large part by Alderson’s firing.
In September, Mountain Peak Charter School opened with many of the same
programs, employees, students and the same board president as Eagles
The new school is sponsored by the Mountain Empire Unified School District
and serves more than 500 students in San Diego, Riverside, Orange and
Imperial counties with learning centers in Vista, Chula Vista and San Jacinto.
Mountain Peak’s first executive director, Martin Griffin, left last year, after only
four months on the job.
Eagles Peak Charter
[Maura Larkins' note: $7.3
million was misappropriated
from taxpayers, but San
Diego District Attorney
Bonnie Dumanis filed no
charges. Dumanis routinely
protects school boards and
administrators who commit
crimes, yet she charges
little guys with felonies for
using school hoses to water
their palm trees (see
NORTH COUNTY TIMES
BY STACY BRANDT
December 7, 2007
VISTA ---- A county report
released this week says poor
judgment and lax oversight led
to several problems at North
County's largest charter
school, where allegations of
nepotism and conflicts of
interest erupted into an ugly
power struggle last year.
No criminal charges were filed
against anyone at either school.
The report was released
Tuesday by the San Diego
Office of Education, which hired
an auditing firm to look into 12
allegations against former
administrators at the school
that had been lodged by its
board of directors.
...the report offers
recommendations for how to
get the school back on track,
including repaying $7.3 million
in state funding that may have
been based on falsely reported
The report also suggests that
Eagles Peak develop policies
for dealing with nepotism and
conflict of interest, and that it
streamline how the school
[Blogger's note: Policies
mean nothing if they're not
implemented. In the
Danielle Cozaihr case, Chula
Vista Elementary School
District's board completely
ignored its own policy
regarding helping teachers
meet goals. Of course,
that's because the teacher
was already meeting goals,
and their claims to the
contrary were for the sole
purpose of getting rid of a
teacher for taking maternity
leave. The board also
ignored the penal code, the
Labor Code, and the
contract in the Maura
Larkins case. Most school
boards seem to act only to
maintain the status quo by
protecting the people who
The report doesn't place all of
the blame on former
administrators. The school's
board of directors contributed
to the problems by not keeping
an eye on expenses, the audit
states. Before last year, the
school board "provided minimal
monitoring, at best," according
to the report.
Comments from North County
" Same names, same behavior,
same outcome... They just
move from one charter to
another but they had their
training at GPA [Guajome Park
Academy]. These folks should
be held accountable ... What
about the child's life that they
affected, are the children able
to bounce back? "
" Hum no criminal charges? Why
not? The answer is simple perhaps
the San Diego County Office of
Education and the San Diego DA's
office should be investigated for not
doing their JOB!!! Where there are
hundreds and thousands of dollars
for/discrepancy and so forth the DA
looks the other way. Then on the
Palgate scandal the DA spent an
enormous amount of money
investigating $ 350.00 or so. What
is wrong with this picture? By the
way Stacy Eagles Peak is not the
biggest charter school in the North
County. The biggest and the
meanest is Guajome Park ... "
" As magistrate Judge Barbara
Major said, " If there are no
sanctions, than where is the
deterrence." The same can be
said with these charter schools,
"if there are no criminal
charges, than where is the