SDUT editor Don Sevrens
goes off on Tri-City

My response to Sevrens

Sevrens and CVESD
Silence is Golden

Good Journalists

The ad SDUT didn't print
Chula Vista Star-News

August 20, 2004

Sept. 10, 2004  Ollie Matos
Nikki Perez
La Prensa

Sept. 17, 2004 School
Board Demonstration by
five transferred teachers
San Diego Union-Tribune
Blog post about San
Diego Union-Tribune
coverage of Castle Park
Elementary School

Maura Larkins comment:

The Castle Park
Elementary site council and
PTA "heads" who
slammed their principal in
this story were Felicia Starr
and Kimberlee

The San Diego Union
Tribune was also guilty of
slanted reporting by editor
Don Sevrens.  

Kim Simmons was elected
in 2004 because Felicia
Starr wanted someone she
could control in charge of
the PTA.  Starr, a parent
representative on the site
council, made sure that
Latino parents didn't get a
vote. She engaged in

hostilities with Latino
parents who had innocently
tried to nominate a

As a result of the
embezzlement (the second
discovered at Castle Park
Elementary within 6 years),
there has been no PTA at
the school from mid-2005.  
Little or no oversight leaves school, sports
groups at risk
By Leonel Sanchez and Brent Schrotenboer
San Diego Union Tribune
August 26, 2007

"CHULA VISTA: The former
president of the Parent Teacher Association at
Castle Park Elementary was arrested in November on suspicion of
stealing up to $20,000.

No criminal charges were filed.

Castle Park's PTA disbanded."
San Diego Union-Tribune articles about the
"Castle Park Five"
San Diego Education
Report Blog
Why This Website

Stutz Artiano Shinoff
& Holtz v. Maura
Larkins defamation



Castle Park
Elementary School

Law Enforcement



Stutz Artiano Shinoff
& Holtz

Silence is Golden

Schools and Violence

Office Admin Hearings

Larkins OAH Hearing
Castle Park Five
San Diego
Education Report
San Diego Union-Tribune
November 11, 2004
[almost certainly submitted anonymously by Don Sevrens]
Troubled Castle Park school needs cooperation from all

When we last paid a visit to Castle Park Elementary School in Chula Vista,
five veteran teachers had been heaved overboard through administrative
transfers just before school opened. Parents held a protest rally, then
passed out leaflets on the opening day of school. Chula Vista Educators,
the teachers union, filed a grievance.

Teachers, parents, the community were all left in the dark. None of the
teachers was given a reason for the last-minute moves.

Principal Olympio Matos referred all questions to Superintendent Lowell
Billings. Billings would say only: "It's a personnel matter."

Actually, the nub of the problem seems to be the principal's desire to
drastically alter Castle Park's cherished computer lab and replace the
certificated teacher running it with an aide or a classified employee.

Castle Park is kindergarten through grade six, with 577 students. It's 80
percent Latino, two-thirds from low-income families. The school has been a
revolving door, with eight principals or interim ones in a decade.

Principal Matos, who arrived a little more than a year ago, previously held
positions at Bayside Elementary in South Bay Union and Casita, an
elementary technology magnet school in Vista Unified.

Castle Park test scores, as one might imagine, are below the median
across the board. Last year, under Matos, scores declined further. Castle
Park is just one of 42 schools in the sprawling Chula Vista elementary
district, which serves Chula Vista, Bonita, South San Diego, parts of
National City and even a sliver of Spring Valley.

Have things settled down any since the rocky start to Castle Park's new
school year?

Not really. A sixth teacher decided to accept the district's offer to
accommodate voluntary transfers if teachers wished to leave the troubled
school. But the district, which has 1,500 teaching positions, now says it
cannot find an opening for him. He's left in a no-man's land, unable to
teach full-time at Castle Park, unable to get a comparable position

Even more disturbing are signs that retribution is being exacted on parent
volunteers at the school.

One active parent from Castle Park had served as chairperson for two
years of a districtwide budget advisory committee. She was enthusiastic
and eager to continue on the 50-person panel. Other parents wanted her
to do so.

But she publicly criticized Matos for the turmoil at the school and he
decided to replace her. By everyone's account except the principal's,
Matos never told her she had been replaced. The parent showed up at a
meeting she was expected to chair. Ruled ineligible, she broke down in
tears. A district assistant superintendent present, who had to get up and
announce the chairwoman could not serve, also was embarrassed publicly.

Not until after media inquiries began did the principal even thank the
parent for two years of service.

Petty and vindictive? Probably.

Something inspiring confidence in a principal? Probably not.

There are other troubling signs at the school: Complaints about
conversations on school phones allegedly being monitored and mail to the
school allegedly being tampered with.

The Castle Park situation needs to be addressed before it degenerates
further, before it raises questions about governance at other Chula Vista
elementary schools and before the rumors discourage talented job
applicants from accepting employment in the district.

Some suggestions for the parties to consider:

Superintendent Lowell Billings: Little is to be gained by letting this matter
fall into an expensive, protracted labor arbitration. For someone who says
he believes in mediation, you have never mediated a dispute with this
union, the record shows. That's not a sign of resolve, but more of a closed
mind. Show some good faith: Put arbitration on hold and try mediation first.

Principal Olympio Matos: Your approach to using computers in a different,
more research-intensive way may have done wonders elsewhere. But to
succeed at Castle Park, you need to persuade the faculty. Bring in a
representative from Bayside Elementary for show and tell. Arrange with the
superintendent to pull strings and allow a few teachers to take resource
days at Bayside observing and learning about its computer lab.

Chula Vista Educators and the school's remaining teachers: Matos is proud
of his record elsewhere, and his achievements have won outside
recognition. Investigate, with an open mind, how his computer approach
works. Explore the possible benefits as well as the initial start-up difficulties.

The school board: Castle Park is a problem requiring your active
involvement. Appoint a trustee to oversee the district's trouble-shooting
effort. Sample parent opinions either by questionnaire, interviews or a
meeting. Without parent trust, the educational process is undermined.

The parents: This is your school; your children's education is at stake. Vow
to stay involved, to be enthusiastic -- and to not be intimidated.
Only after the PTA president was arrested did the SDUT allow a single
negative word to be printed about the "Castle Park Family":
A gusher of ink was released by the SDUT and editor Don Sevrens to deceive
the public into believing that the problems at Castle Park Elementary began
when a new principal came to the school.  The truth was that the
school--which had eleven different principles in 11 years--had long been out
of control due to a group of power-hungry teachers who violated the law.  The
taxpayers spent $100,000s covering up the wrongdoing of those teachers,
but the SDUT helped keep the taxpayers ignorant of what was really going
on. Editor Don Sevrens worked hard to convince the public that all the
teachers at Castle Park Elementary were normal, professional, and innocent
even though Maura Larkins sent letters and documentation to the SDUT.  
San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA)
August 26, 2004

Teachers transferred for no sound reason

I am a parent of two former students at Castle Park Elementary School, a
taxpayer, and a homeowner in the Castle Park community. I have been
made aware of some disturbing trends going on in the Chula Vista
Elementary School District.

First, to transfer teachers to different schools for no apparent reason at
this late date is appalling. In late August, teachers need to be focused on
getting their classrooms and plans ready for the new school year, not
fighting to keep their positions. Any transfers should have been made
before the end of the last school year so parents also could be involved in
the changes.

I know from checking the district Web site that there are at least four other
vacancies at Castle Park besides the five teachers being involuntarily
transferred. How does bringing in nine new people improve the learning for
any Castle Park student?

I had two foster children who attended Castle Park for two years. I know all
five teachers involuntarily transferred and have had personal experiences
with all of them. I have the highest regard for all these teachers who are
dedicated to serve the needs of some of the district's poorest and most
educationally needy students.

I do not believe transferring any of these teachers against their will be in
the best interest of students at Castle Park. The district should tell the truth
to the community. In six years there has been a succession of principals
ill-suited to the needs of the Castle Park community. The one exception left
to take a position as superintendent at another South County school

I call for the school board and the superintendent to hold a community
forum for staff and parents before any teachers are transferred against
their will. I challenge the trustees to fully investigate this situation before
blindly following the superintendent's recommendations.

The truth will come out in the end, and relocating teachers will not solve the
problems at Castle Park or any school. Until a thorough investigation has
been completed, the community will not be satisfied.

Trustees, please do not ignore the Castle Park community any longer. Our
kids do matter.


Chula Vista

Less than three weeks before school was to begin, five superb and valued
teachers were given an unjust and unexplained administrative transfer from
Castle Park Elementary School.

They are being told that it is in the best interest of the educational
program. I ask, how is it that removing five dedicated teachers and leaving
the rest of the staff shocked, confused, and emotionally distraught is
beneficial for the educational program at Castle Park?

The truth is that this is a personal grudge of the superintendent, intended
to hurt and intimidate these teachers. I do not begrudge the administration
its prerogative to make transfers, but there was absolutely no respect in
the time or manner of these actions. I do expect superintendents to be
above such petty and mean-spirited behavior.

I believe these transfers were simply to get back at a couple of teachers
who are perceived as rabble-rousers, and sadly a few more were taken out
in the cross-fire. The only thing these teachers are guilty of is being
intelligent and vocal. Yikes!

I hope that the ego of Lowell Billings, district superintendent, was worth
decimating the morale and confidence of an entire school.


Chula Vista
San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA)

August 21, 2004
Section: LOCAL
Veteran teacher transfers surprise educators, parents

Chris Moran STAFF WRITER  

Teachers and parents at Castle Park Elementary School are protesting the
superintendent's decision to transfer five veteran teachers out of the

About 75 teachers, parents and students held a rally at the school
Thursday night to criticize the decision and organize a call and letter
campaign directed at school board members and administrators.

First-grade teacher Nikki Perez; third-grade teacher Stephenie Petitt;
sixth-grade teacher Victoria Singleton; and special-education teacher
Robin Donlan said they received notices that they are being transferred
from Castle Park and expect to be given their new assignments soon. They
said fifth-grade teacher Peggie Myers, who is out of the country and has
not yet received a notice, will also be transferred.

The teachers said they did not know why they had been transferred and
had not been given a specific reason, even in one-on-one meetings with
the superintendent.

Chula Vista Elementary School District Superintendent Lowell Billings
confirmed that he had ordered the transfer of several teachers from the
school. He said that laws protecting employees' privacy prevent him from
giving details about the moves.

"Our interest is to look at what is the best interest of the educational
program," Billings said yesterday.

People gathered at Castle Park on Thursday didn't see it that way.

"Are they taking into consideration how devastating this is to our children?"
asked Princess King, the mother of a special education sixth-grader at
Castle Park. She praised Donlan in particular for helping her child learn
how to read.

Castle Park teachers said that with Donlan's transfer and the retirement of
three other special-education teachers this summer, Castle Park has no
credentialed special-education teachers.

[Maura Larkins comment: Donlan and the rest of the "family" were
perfectly happy that Maura Larkins' students had a substitute who
hadn't even done any student teaching!]

Donlan and Myers are past winners of the school's Teacher of the Year

[Maura Larkins comment: Donlan and Myers were not chosen by the
staff as a whole, but rather by a committee.  Interestingly, the
committee chose its own members year after year.]

Although the teachers directed much of their frustration at Principal
Olympio Matos, Billings said it was he, not Matos, who made the decision.
Matos' secretary directed a reporter to the superintendent's office for

"What did we do? That's all we want to know,"
[Nikki] Perez said.

Perez said she had intended to teach at Castle Park for many years and
asked the gathering, "Where is Mr. Matos going to be five years from now?"

Castle Park has had eight principals and interim principals in the past
decade, including two who are now South County superintendents: Billings
and San Ysidro's Tim Allen.

About 80 percent of the 577 students at the kindergarten through
sixth-grade school last year were Latino. Approximately two-thirds were
from low-income families and more than 40 percent did not speak English
[Maura Larkins comment: The irony of this story is that it does not mention Maura Larkins,
for whom the contract was violated in a truly egregious manner because
Peg Myers and
other teachers wanted it to be violated.  It appears that Chris Moran was not allowed to
mention me.]

San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA)
February 11, 2006
Section: LOCAL
Contract broken in transfer of 5 teachers
Superintendent needed to give reason, ruling finds

Chris Moran STAFF WRITER  

Chula Vista's elementary schools superintendent violated union contract rules by not
explaining to five Castle Park Elementary School teachers why he transferred them to other
schools in 2004, an arbitrator has ruled.

Only one of the five, first-grade teacher Nikki Perez, has returned to the school. Jim Groth,
president of the teachers union, said the other four teachers declined to return because of
the disruption of switching schools mid-year.

Tom Cruz, Chula Vista Elementary School District's assistant superintendent for human
resources, agreed that a mid-year transfer would be disruptive but said the district had to
follow the letter of the arbitrator's ruling.

The ruling on Dec. 21 states that the teachers are entitled to reinstatement to their old jobs
"commencing with the next semester." In Chula Vista, that meant Jan. 30.

The arbitrator upheld the authority of Chula Vista Superintendent Lowell Billings to move
teachers from school to school. But the district's contract with Chula Vista Educators
requires Billings to have a "conference" with each teacher.

Billings met with each of the five teachers, but did not explain his decisions other than to say,
"It is in the best interests of the educational program," the ruling states.

The arbitrator ruled that the contract does not allow the superintendent to repeat this "as a
mantra" in meeting with the teachers.

"This was not a `conference,' as that word is defined, but a unilateral ukase," the arbitrator

"To this day, the five teachers don't know why they were administratively transferred," Groth

The case isn't over. The union also seeks payment to Perez and former Castle Park
teachers Stephenie Petitt, Victoria Singleton, Robin Donlan and Peggie Myers for expenses
related to their transfers. These include time spent packing and unpacking and the purchase
of teaching materials needed, as some of them changed grades.

The five teachers had been active at Castle Park on the school site council, which governs
the school, and the budget committee, which makes recommendations on how to spend

Ollie Matos testified that several of the teachers refused to cooperate with
changes he wanted to make to improve the school, the arbitrator's ruling states. Billings
made the transfers.

Matos has since left Castle Park to become director of educational services at
Lemon Grove School District.

Castle Park has had nine principals and interim principals in just over a decade.
"Castle Park has had
eight principals and
interim principals in the
past decade..."

-SDUT 2004
"The situation hasn't
 Castle Park
has had eleven
principals and interim
principals in the past
eleven years."  

-Maura Larkins 2008
"Castle Park has had nine
principals and interim
principals in just over a

-SDUT 2006
San Diego Union-Tribune
May 18, 2005
Section: LOCAL
Teach-English law followed, jury says

A county grand jury report concluded yesterday that Castle Park Elementary School in Chula
Vista could improve parent involvement and staff training but has done an excellent job of
implementing a 1998 state law that curtails bilingual education.

The grand jury investigated Castle Park in the Chula Vista Elementary School District in
response to a resident's complaint that the school wasn't complying with Proposition 227, the
voter-approved state initiative that mandates educators teach English by teaching in English.

Parents can request alternative teachingSpanish-language instruction, for exampleby visiting
the school and submitting a written declaration.

The grand jury found that some parents who signed declarations asking for an alternative to
English immersion did not understand the process. Castle Park overall is following the intent
and requirements of Proposition 227, the jury said.
San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA)

September 9, 2004

Section: OPINION

Edition: 6

Page: B-13
A discordant school opening

The last-minute administrative transfers of five veteran teachers out of Castle Park
Elementary School for unexplained reasons continue to roil relations in the Chula Vista
Elementary School District.

A grievance filed by Chula Vista Educators is being processed according to the contractual
grievance procedure. Parents distributed leaflets outside the school on opening day Tuesday.
Other parents, seeking to caucus, ran afoul of a district policy that does not allow political
gatherings without a permit on school grounds.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, is trying to offer his good offices in the controversy. He said
he has met with the teachers, met with parents and is trying to meet with the administration.

"Clearly, the administration has an obligation to explain what is going on," said Filner.

Castle Park Principal Olympio Matos declines to talk. Superintendent Lowell Billings says he
cannot talk because it is a "personnel matter." Trustee Patrick Judd says it is an
administrative matter, the superintendent is within his rights, and that he is receiving calls from
parents supporting the transfers.

Parents, who have not received any type of communication from the district, can express
themselves in several ways.

The board will next meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at 84 East J St.

On Nov. 2, Incumbent Trustee Cheryl S. Cox is running without opposition. Incumbent Patrick
Judd is being challenged by Jill M. Galvez, a parent and high-tech professional, and Willard H.
Howard, retired military.

The letters to the editor section is available to readers wishing to express their
views on South Bay issues, including what is wrong -- or right -- about the district.
The "Write Us" box below explains how.

[Maura Larkins:  The statement that the "letters section is available to readers wishing
to express their views" is false.  In fact, the SDUT was conducting a very intentional
cover-up of events at Castle Park Elementary, and ignoring letters that sought to
expose the truth.]
Chula Vista district must be held accountable
San Diego Union-Tribune, The (CA)
September 16, 2004

Regarding "A discordant school opening" about the forced transfers of five teachers (South
County Editorials, Sept. 9):

As the parent of 11 children, all who have attended or are attending Castle Park Elementary
School, the first day of school which is supposed to be filled with joy, wonder and smiles, was
met with fear, anger and tears.

I have been involved with this school for 15 years, 12 of which I have been an active member
of the SSC and PTA. I have chaired the Budget Advisory Committee the past two years for the
district (Chula Vista Elementary School District).

I now am spending every free moment working on the protest rallies, speaking to the
board, writing letters and hand delivering them to all board members, as well as
numerous phone calls trying to get our teachers back.

I will not stop trying to make the superintendent, principal, and the district accountable for their
erroneous actions.
I have personally seen the ineptness of the principal at our site and
have complained to Dr. Lowell Billings, the superintendent, about him. All to no avail
other than to see our Castle Park family ripped apart.

The district's vision states that "Families, staff and our entire community are full partners,
actively working in a collaborative manner for the benefit of each child's education." How does
this transfer follow the vision statement?

The Chula Vista Elementary School District deserves an "F" for its inability to follow its own

FELICIA STARR, parent Chula Vista

[Maura Larkins comment:  Felicia Starr seems to be a favorite of the SDUT.  See its
erroneous story about her appointment to the ethics commission and its
endorsement of her candidacy for school board (below).]

Opportunities for change in South County
November 2, 2006

...We endorse Felicia Starr for Seat No. 3. She's a 17-year volunteer, a member of the city's
Board of Ethics, and understands fully that schools in the western portion of the district are not
receiving the attention they need...
Peg Myers is another
SDUT favorite.  Here is a
letter from Peg Myers'
husband regarding the
Castle Park Five