Trustees mull Marsh audit at raucous meeting

Someone could be going down. But will it be embattled Principal Jeff Sloan or the superintendent who has accused him of misusing public funds?

Parents, teachers and students filled Chico Junior High’s gym March 29 for a special meeting intended to air charges against Sloan, principal of Marsh Junior High School.

The meeting featured dueling lawyers, gavel-banging and an audience that was more interested in cheering for Sloan than sticking to the three-minute-per-person comment period set by school board President Steve O’Bryan.

It was the first look the trustees were supposed to get at the audit, and they spent about 20 minutes looking it over before hearing from lawyers and questioning Sloan.

The audit charges that Sloan, who was ultimately responsible for how fund-raised student body monies were handled, allowed “misuse” of the funds by directing them to such things as classroom supplies, lunches for administrators and to cover site budget overruns. Some money was shifted to the wrong accounts or mixed with non-student-body funds.

Addressing the board, Sloan countered that the school’s part-time account clerk handled the money the same way that other campuses do, and if any mistakes were made it could be due to the lack of training offered by the district.

“None of this report has anything to do with one penny missing from the ASB account,” he said. “This is not a Marsh issue. It’s a district issue.”

Paul Minasian, Sloan’s attorney, asked the board to rescind the notices of potential layoff or reassignment that had been sent to Sloan and Assistant Principal Frank Thompson, and also refuse to place the audit in Sloan’s personnel file.

“You’re taking something away from someone—their reputation,” Minasian said, predicting that if the report goes into Sloan’s file, Superintendent Scott Brown will use it to oust him as part of a “death of a thousand blows.”

Woody Merrill, the board’s San Diego attorney, insisted that placing an audit report in an employee’s file is not a disciplinary action, and thus due-process rights are not triggered.

Taking Merrill’s advice, O’Bryan forbade testimony of “witnesses” Minasian had hoped to call, including other principals and the superintendent.

Many speakers blamed Brown for trying to go after Sloan for personal reasons.

As the board retired to closed session, Minasian formally objected, saying that legally, since Sloan had asked for an open hearing, board deliberation must also be open.

No action was taken by the board, which will reconvene in closed session to continue its deliberations on April 21.