Capistrano Unified School District Trustees are expected to handle the long-lingering situation with former San Clemente High School football coach Eric Patton at their meeting at 6 p.m. tonight.
Patton supporters have been regularly attending school board meetings to speak in favor of the coach/teacher, who was removed from working with students after public accusations about slush funds with a former athletic equipment supplier rippled across Southern California.
Patton and his attorney have even attended a meeting, although Patton has not addressed the board.
Essentially, the allegations are that a former equipment supplier, Lapes, would create "slush funds" for coaches with money pooled when equipment was returned, or with additional charges placed on equipment purchased with district money. Imagine if the district pays for a pair of shoulder pads for $200 with all of the expected reviews and purchase orders. Then the shoulder pads are returned to the supplier. Instead of the $200 going back into school or district accounts, it was credited to a coaches' fund.
There's no allegations that coaches used the money for personal gain, but they could then spend the money -- essentially taxpayer dollars -- on their program without oversight.
Supporters say the coaches did nothing wrong. Scott Martindale at the OC Register reports a coach at Saddleback College was discplined, but by and large districts throughout Southern California took no action against coaches.
Patton, of course, was removed from his head coaching post not long before school, and the football season, began. Imagine the uproar trustees would have faced if the Tritons had not made it to the CIF finals.
As it is, insiders see the Patton situation (which also involves former Capo Valley coach Chi Chi Biehn, and Dana Hills' Brent Melbon) as a lingering problem for the "new" trustees that needs to be cleared up. Also, Superintendent Joe Farley was pretty firm early on that it appeared wrongdoing had been committed.
The OC Sheriff's investigated/are investigating, but nothing has come of that yet.
On the other side, the case was brought to the public attention and pushed by an Irvine couple who bought Lapes, then tried to sue the former owner, so Patton supporters say they have an alterior motive.
Here's a letter to the board from a Patton supporter:
Dear Board of Trustees,
I wanted to take a minute and express my displeasure with the decision to limit the speakers this past Monday night from the normal 3 minutes to 2 minutes. This was a total lack of respect for those that prepared comments. One could certainly interpret this maneuver as a violation of The Brown Act on one hand, but at the very least this was done in poor taste.
I understand there were 8 speakers, although I'm still not sure what Mr. Carter was speaking about. If you weren't aware, Mr. Carter is an administrator for the District as a financial analyst. Let's just say his comments were curious at best. His presence as a speaker and the significance of having an additional speaker that night is very meaningful given the fact that 6 of the 8 speakers were set to speak on Eric Patton's behalf.
Even with the 8 speakers at 3 minutes each, this would only total 24 minutes. I know there are only 20 minutes allotted, but you would think an extra 4 minutes in the overall scheme of things would not have been that big of a deal. Given the fact that Eric Patton's reputation and future is at stake here, I find it disturbing the Board couldn't capitulate and allocate the extra 4 minutes.
In light of the fact the only information the Board receives is from Mr. Farley and his team, you would think the Board would be interested in hearing the other side of the argument. And believe me there is another side to the argument. Please do yourselves a favor and look into the facts that we do have, but really couldn't present in a 2 minute window.
Trust me when I say if this was a civil case, it would have been thrown out a long time ago. The true evidence supports Eric Patton's innocence. What you have been privy to is manipulated data and a litany of assumptions that are incorrect, all of which can be proven.
Out of the approximate 80 districts that looked into the alleged Lapes scandal, I believe CUSD is the only district still pursuing this issue.
All of the other districts dropped the case! Doesn't this raise the slightest bit of doubt in your minds? I'm fortunate, I know Eric Patton is not guilty of any wrong doing. I've been involved in the football program the past 6 years and have had the oversight of all finances.
Given the amount of money that has recklessly been spent on this issue, the financial condition of the District, and the bad press the District will incur, I'm asking you to reach out listen to some common sense.
It's time to drop this case against Eric Patton. The facts bear it out and there is no other logical decision you can come to. You were elected to make good moral and fiscal decisions, I trust you will do so.
If you would like to know the real truth, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Mark W. Klein
FMI Products, LLC
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. One more interesting note: The board will take any action in closed session, and while they must announce the vote publicly, they will not identify any terminated employee by name in open session.