Following a closed session at the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 7, the board announced that it has negotiated a settlement and exit plan with Superintendent Candace Singh.
Board President Suzanne Lundin explained that the settlement – for nearly $400,000 – ended what would have been a protracted and expensive legal battle. The board voted to approve the settlement agreement by a 4-1 vote.
According to Lundin, there is no insurance for these matters.
The lawsuit that the board avoided centered around the superintendent's recent allegations of harassment, intimidation, bullying, and retaliation, and allegations of a hostile work environment, which stemmed from the comments and behavior of a current board member, Caron Lieber.
There were no specific details about what actions Lieber took, except that she voted against Singh's raises. Specifically, according to Lieber, she asked Singh to freeze her salary. She is one of three incumbent board members on Tuesday's ballot. Her responses to a Village News questionnaire revealed displeasure with Singh's salary and pay increases.
"I voted against the superintendent's raises on all but one occasion in the past four years," she was quoted in the news coverage.
Singh is among the highest-paid superintendents in Southern California and possibly the nation and represents one of the smallest districts. With benefits, she is receiving more than $400,000 a year.
Lundin noted at the meeting that this is not the first instance of Lieber and Singh bumping heads. In a public revelation, Lundin said in January 2021, a formal complaint was filed against Lieber. Previous information about that litigation had not revealed the complaint was by Singh. It is believed it is also related to the votes against Singh's raises.
"Singh alleged Mrs. Lieber's creation of a hostile work environment through harassment, bullying and intimidation," the board president said in a quote provided by the district's public information director. "That situation took nine months to resolve, and the September 2021 settlement agreement included, in part, the entire board's commitment that these behaviors would end."
There were no details or definition provided by the district about what occurred or was being prohibited.
In September 2022, new allegations of harassment and retaliation by Lieber were made by Singh, which allegedly created the potential for litigation.
The settlement, a total one-time payment of $387,000, meets the requirements mandated by the superintendent's employment contract, which includes 12 months' salary and unused vacation time. Dr. Singh's last day with the district will be Nov. 30. She served the district for 11 years.
"This is unquestionably the best possible financial outcome for the FUESD because it is far less than the cost of litigation and damages, which have run into the millions in school districts and other government entities," commented Lundin.
Lundin went on to clarify that Singh did not resign in early October. The board's Oct. 3 announcement indicated that the superintendent expressed her interest in moving on to the next phase in her career and that negotiations were in the very earliest stages.
Additionally, Lundin noted that the superintendent's decision to leave was based on her complaint of ongoing harassment and retaliatory behavior by a single board member – Lieber. The board president said, while Lieber has recently argued against the superintendent's 5% salary increase, Lieber approved this increase in the superintendent's four-year contract in 2020.
It is not within the board's authority to unilaterally make changes to an employment contract, especially after the terms have been agreed to by the parties, PIO Seth Trent noted in a press release.
However, according to the contract the district signed with Singh, it states they can change the contract by mutual agreement.
Lieber has previously stated that she simply was listening to her constituents and what they wanted her to do. There are about 700 employees of the FUESD school district and they all have salary caps while Singh doesn't.
"Today's settlement ends a sad chapter for the FUESD," Lundin said. "While our amazing staff works tirelessly to support the educational and social-emotional needs of our students, our district has been forced to deal with this distraction, the upheaval of leadership, and a financial settlement."
"With this matter settled, we look forward to refocusing our efforts on supporting and directing the district to provide the very best education possible to our students," said the board president.
"We also look forward to working closely with our school's leadership team, which includes teachers and staff, and the community to select a new superintendent who will lead the district with the excellence expected of the FUESD," the board president added.
Singh, who didn't attend the regular business meeting, joined the meeting after the closed session.
She said she enjoyed her complex job but admitted the manner of leaving was not ideal.
"I felt like I had a target on my back," she said of being harassed.
She said how proud she was of the district and that working for the district was "the honor of my career."
As the board and audience stood to applaud Singh, there was opposition. "If you really love the children, don't take the money," shouted Tara Jenkins, who after the meeting ended explained to several board members that $40,000 to $50,000 was a more appropriate amount.
Lieber was asked for a comment after the meeting. She said, "I think Dr. Singh made a lot of great changes for our school like smaller class sizes, intervention teachers, visual and performing arts, full-time PE teachers, and after school intervention teachers. My only concern with our superintendent was her pay.
"As a 4-year board member I represent my constituents. I have never stopped listening to them and voicing their concerns. We have only 5,000 students, with 75% of our students on free or reduced lunch. My constituents have expressed, for the last four years, that a salary of over $327,000 is too high for our small district."