Editor: We have received a number of comments to our post about former principal Jill Green of Explorer Elementary charter school travails. Here is Jill Green’s original statement, made in August. The San Diego U-T had made it public.
By Jill Green / August 2011
As the founding principal of Explorer Elementary Charter School, my devotion to the children, families and teachers at the school was the high point of my professional career. The pride I had in locating a space for the school to allow it to open in 2000, as well as its move to Liberty Station in 2005, encouraged the growth of one of San Diego’s most respected schools with a wait list of over 1200 children and a national reputation as a model charter school. Being able to choose and work with an outstanding faculty to care for children’s academic and emotional development made the school uniquely powerful in guiding children gracefully and sensitively to fulfill their potential.
My retirement was not something I chose but rather it was the result of the Board of Directors informing me in March 2011 that my contract would not be renewed for the 2011-2012 school year. It was a sudden and complete surprise to me, especially given that my 2010 review (a review of the past four years of my performance) was stellar and that just three months earlier in December 2010 I was awarded a $10,000 performance bonus by the Board.
Over the eleven years as principal I had the use of a credit card for academic expenses and also for gifts of gratitude, meals, staff events and luncheons, and business dinners. My use of the card throughout the 11 years was consistently for these same types of expenditures. Shortly after the Board indicated that they had concerns about the use of that card, I was told my contract would not be renewed. This was not only a complete shock but contrary to the way we manage issues at the school, as a major tenet of Explorer is to problem solve with thoughtful conversation leading to resolution.
I attempted to do just that by 1) immediately ceasing to use the card for any purpose as a good faith gesture to allow us time to resolve any misunderstanding, 2) offering to pay back in full any and all charges that the Board had a problem with and 3) offering to accept any specific policy that the Board would like to implement related to the card or reimbursement procedures, including the end of the use of the card if they felt this was a budgetary policy they wanted to institute. In addition:
- All credit card expenditures were documented, SCHOOL-RELATED purchases of equipment, supplies, events and meals with parents, faculty and Board members (including Board Chair Margaret Egler on multiple occasions).
- Every time I used the credit card for a school purchase, I documented the receipt (e.g., “bookshelf for library”).
- Every time I used the credit card for meals or staff events, I listed on the receipt the event and/or the names of faculty, Board members or parents who joined me for the event or business dinner.
- I turned in my receipts regularly to Jan Economy, office manager for Explorer, who turned them in regularly to Kay McElrath, CFO of High Tech High Learning. Monthly, Ms. McElrath reviewed the receipts, received the credit card bill, and paid the credit card bill. Board Treasurer Brad Blose reviewed the expenditures and included them in his monthly report to the Board. Nothing was ever said to me by Kay, Jan, Brad or the Board at any time prior to March 2011 about my expenditures being inappropriate or excessive. In fact, despite this monthly review process, I was never questioned about any issues or use of the credit card until more than a year after some of the charges were made and right before I was told that my contract would not be renewed.
- The procedure was the same for the entire 11 years I was Principal with use of the credit card. Nothing has changed except that the school has grown in size and the number of business dinners I had with faculty, staff, school supporters and Board members had increased accordingly. A number of these dinners were with Board members themselves, who knew we were dining on the credit card, and the Explorer office used the card routinely each month to buy the snacks and coffee for Board meetings.
- Business lunches/dinners and providing food for faculty, staff and Board events have traditionally been part of my job as Principal. I was never told by anyone that this was wrong or a misuse of funds, and in fact I felt (and it was said or implied by the Board for all the years prior to 2011) that this was an integral part of my job as “CEO” of the school. Business dinners often included wine both for me and whomever I was dining with, which was appropriate under the circumstances of these meetings. The restaurant venues were mid-range, respectable restaurants that are appropriate for business dinners, not high end restaurants and not bars or other inappropriate venues.
- I believe our enormous success as a public charter school, particularly in terms of fundraising and faculty/staff/parent cohesion, was tied in part to these appropriate uses of the credit card for faculty team building (for 11 years, not a single faculty member left Explorer for any reason other than having a baby or relocating to another part of the country), to promote faculty/staff/Board cohesion and morale, to host school social events, and for modest thank-you dinners and gifts for parents and faculty who contributed something significant to the school (since 2000, I helped raise more than $10 million for Explorer Elementary for capital projects and for on-going operations).
- As I said, even though I vigorously defended every charge as being related to the school and my job as Principal, I offered to pay back any charges that any Board member questioned for any reason, and to cease and desist in any use of the card. These good faith offers made in an attempt to resolve the matter were rejected by the Board.
- Simply and unequivocally put, the card was NEVER USED FOR PERSONAL EXPENSES.
To this day I am confused, frustrated, hurt and heartbroken over the events that led to the end of my tenure as Principal of Explorer Elementary. I am especially upset that these events have and will continue to have a profound impact on the Explorer community, a community I successfully helped to build literally from the ground up and a community that I still care deeply about. I have always given my heart and mind to the children and their families without reservation.