The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board on Tuesday night unanimously ratified settlements worth more than $500,000 involving former principals Christine Castillo and Ian McFeat.
Board members did not discuss the issue before or after the vote, but local resident David Haxton rose to object after the settlements were approved in open session that they were not truly “confidential,” as they were revealed to newspapers. The Outlook reported on them after making a public records request.
“Because of newspaper reports, the board and superintendent look deceitful in what they agreed to and what they announced to the public and what the actual agreement said,” Haxton said.
According to a settlement agreement signed by former La Cañada Elementary School Principal Castillo on Dec. 4, Castillo will receive $385,000 in a lump-sum payment. Her husband, McFeat, who had been LCHS’ principal before being named an executive director on Dec. 10, will receive a sum equal to $133,192, according to an agreement he signed, also on Dec. 4. Superintendent Wendy Sinnette signed both agreements on Dec. 5.
Castillo had sued the district, alleging sex discrimination and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional stress. According to his settlement, McFeat was to “immediately” submit a letter of resignation, with his employment terminated effective June 30. McFeat had expressed workplace complaints against the district including “alleged retaliation, discrimination and harassment,” according to the settlement document.
Castillo’s initial pleading was filed about two years ago. She alleged that Sinnette reacted negatively to the news of her pregnancy; according to court documents, Sinnette was told in August 2012, just a month after Castillo had moved from Seattle to accept the position at LCE. The principal later received an evaluation that included negative remarks from a staff survey, and in June 2015 was reassigned to a teaching position. After The Outlook first wrote about the case in 2017, a board statement voiced strong support for Sinnette.
Haxton told the board McFeat had appeared to believe his agreement would be confidential and he could look for a job as a district executive.
“Instead, anyone who might think to hire him can Google and see exactly what that settlement agreement was, which was no work for the next nine months, you just have a title,” Haxton said. “To have a policy that you don’t agree to confidentially would be a good policy because it doesn’t create those unrealistic expectations.”
Board member Dan Jeffries said the board and superintendent could not comment on the item because it was not formally placed on the agenda under the Brown Act, which outlines rules for open meetings, and that it was a personnel matter.
“There’s certain situations where we can discuss things and certain situations where we can’t, and we’re well aware of the situation and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Jeffries said.
Before the board went into closed session to discuss the agreements, no members of the public spoke.
After the meeting, Sinnette said there “wouldn’t be anything else in public discussion” when asked if the agreements would come back before the board.
The design of a proposed La Cañada High School pool drew lots of debate about its size, location and cost, but ultimately the board delayed a decision to next month and asked for more information.
“It sort of feels like none of us are able to make a decision tonight,” said Jeffries toward the end of the discussion.
The pool was identified in the Facilities Master Plan as a construction project for the district’s Measure LCF bond program, with funds provided through the $149 million general obligation bond that voters approved in November 2017. The plan cited the need for a pool to replace the one now in use.
Gonzalez Goodale Architects, who studied the site, brought in aquatics specialists and met with community members, recommended a 40-meter pool south of the South Gym on campus, according to a school district agenda statement.
During a colorful presentation, members of the architect group displayed four different options for the pool. The options consisted of 33-meter pools at the south side of the South Gym and between the North and South gyms, and separate 40-meter pools at the same locations.
The projected price tags: more than $8.9 million for the recommended 40-meter pool at the south side of the South Gym (with potential additional cost for electrical service upgrades at more than $307,000); more than $8.3 million for a 33-meter pool at the same location (also with possible additional charges of $307,000-plus); more than $7.2 million for a 40-meter pool between the North and South gyms (with potential service upgrades of more than $172,000); and more than $6.5 million for a 33-meter pool between the two gyms (with the possible extra cost of more than $172,000).
A 50-meter pool, which generated a lot of discussion at the meeting, would add an extra $1 million with an unclear amount for additional excavation and existing utility re-routing. Annual operating costs for that pool, without labor, were estimated at $182,000. The 40-meter pool’s annual operation costs would be $162,000, the 33-meter pool’s costs $148,000.
Board member Joe Radabaugh noted that the 33-meter and 40-meter pools cost more than the original budget for the project, and would like to study the matter further.
Haxton, the local resident, saw the issue as a competition between the 33-meter pool and the 50-meter pool.
“It’s a very important decision what you do, because it’s a 50-year decision,” he told the board. “If it’s a bad decision, your grandchild is going to see the plaque with your name on it and be embarrassed that you’re the one that made it that way.”
However, improvements on the south side of the gym would conflict with an adjacent practice baseball field and a shifting of the field and associated amenities would be required, according to the agenda statement. Additional parking would also be needed. There are approximately 110 existing angled spaces, and the widening of a lot with 90-degree parking would add approximately 50 spaces.
BIG DIG UPDATE
Sinnette said the district had hired Nimya and Moore Environmental Consulting about the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project, nicknamed the Big Dig.
The superintendent said the consultant will conduct an analysis of health risk assessments from Los Angeles County supervisors and a local parents group, and will identify an action plan going forward.
The project, whose first phase began in late November, is expected to involve 425 diesel truck round trips a day. The route would take the trucks through the intersection at Berkshire Place and Oak Grove Avenue and onto 210 Freeway entrances in both directions.
In November 2017, the county Board of Supervisors approved a scaled-down project to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment. The project started after a nine-year process that included feedback from local residents, environmental groups, the cities of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena and the community of Altadena.
Sinnette said the action plan will address the district’s concerns and what needs should be mitigated.
A group including parents will be formed to “further our work,” complete with independent analysis, site visits, monitoring and exploring litigation strategies, she said.
The modernization of aging Palm Crest Elementary was discussed, with the board asking staff members to continue to refine the plans as presented with more information about costs, landscaping and security.
The budget for the upgrades is approximately $27.5 million from bond revenue.
A presentation from Irvine-based LPA Architects described the building’s 26 “typical” classrooms, three special education rooms, 4.5 specialty classrooms, half a classroom for administration and student support and two child education center classrooms for a total of 36.
The proposed program would have 28 “typical” classrooms, four special education rooms, 5.5 specialty classrooms, half a classroom for administration and student support, two child education center classrooms and one vacant classroom for a total of 41.
Sixty-eight parking stalls are proposed, compared with the current 61, according to an agenda statement.