The O'Farrell Charter School in Encanto is shown on Aug. 20, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The superintendent at The O’Farrell Charter School in Southeast San Diego was fired in June amid reports of misconduct involving a female staffer but still stands to make more than $340,000 in severance and regular pay.

Details about the misconduct allegations against Jonathan Dean, who had been the school’s top administrator for more than a decade, are hard to come by.

O’Farrell board Chairman Christian Scott confirmed the firing but wouldn’t comment further. Attempts to reach the female staffer were unsuccessful. Dean declined to speak to inewsource on the advice of his attorney. Teachers interviewed knew little about the ex-superintendent’s departure.

Minutes from school board meetings aren’t helpful either — reporting Dean’s termination but no reason behind the vote. 

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In school records obtained by inewsource, Dean denied wrongdoing. He said he mentored the female staffer and that the board “perpetuated untrue and salacious allegations.”

O’Farrell is in Encanto and serves about 1,900 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, with the majority considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. Nearly all of the school’s roughly $20 million budget comes from taxpayers.

Dean, 54, was responsible for O’Farrell’s educational program, including staffing and curriculum. He was placed on paid administrative leave in January and continued collecting about $20,000 a month in salary until his termination in June.

Why this matters

The O’Farrell Charter School is funded almost entirely by taxpayers. When its top administrator is offered a payout after being accused of misconduct, the school’s teachers, students, financial supporters and taxpayers should know why.

During that period, Dean was prohibited from accessing school emails and speaking with other employees while officials investigated the claim against him.

Because O’Farrell’s five-member governing board unanimously voted to fire him without cause, Dean is eligible for $250,000 in severance — equal to one year of his regular pay. In exchange, he was required to release all claims “in a form satisfactory to O’Farrell,” according to his contract.

But the severance is now part of a legal fight. Dean’s attorney, Jon Vanderpool, said in documents served to the school in July that the ex-superintendent has yet to receive his severance. Dean is demanding private arbitration proceedings after unsuccessful settlement attempts, Vanderpool said.

In addition to his breach-of-contract allegations, the ex-superintendent is claiming wrongful termination and age discrimination.

Dean also alleges the board violated his privacy after school officials “reviewed personal phone records and counted the number of calls between Dr. Dean’s accuser as compared to other (O’Farrell) personnel before sharing this information with Board members.”

Vanderpool declined to comment to inewsource about Dean’s case, citing the ongoing proceedings.

Dean’s contract specified misconduct as a cause for termination, which would have made him ineligible for severance. 

But after a closed session on June 9, board members fired Dean without cause. They thanked him “for his efforts over the last several years,” according to meeting records.

Dean was to be paid for any accrued vacation, and his contract stipulated that the school would continue to pay his and his wife’s health benefits until he turned 65. O’Farrell officials told Dean after his firing that “the school would be willing to consider” a lump sum payout of his remaining salary and insurance benefits.

Dean was in the Army for three years before beginning a more than 20-year career in education. He previously was the principal of a Bakersfield junior high school.

Susan Cuttitta, a longtime O’Farrell employee who previously served as director of operations, is now the school’s interim superintendent.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman serves as inewsource's Assistant Editor. Before that, she was an investigative reporter focusing on government accountability issues in southern San Diego and Imperial counties. She also used to cover education. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers...