The O’Farrell Charter School in southeastern San Diego remains embroiled in a legal fight over unpaid severance after quietly firing its top administrator eight months ago.

Former Superintendent Jonathan Dean is seeking at least $250,000 through private arbitration and says the school has failed to pay the severance after terminating him without cause 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.

Dean, 55, also has alleged wrongful termination and age discrimination.

Board members haven’t publicly explained their unanimous vote to fire Dean, but records inewsource obtained revealed the school was investigating him for misconduct allegations involving a female staffer. An email to staff announced his departure but made no mention of his firing or the investigation. It said only that Dean was “leaving our school.”

Dean, who oversaw O’Farrell’s educational program for more than a decade, has denied any wrongdoing. The female staffer no longer works at the school.

O’Farrell officials and Dean’s attorney, Jon Vanderpool, declined to comment. Multiple attempts to reach the female staffer have been unsuccessful.

School officials haven’t said whether they completed the investigation or whether an outside firm was hired to conduct it. The board has regularly met in closed-door sessions to discuss Dean’s case, and financial records show O’Farrell has paid at least $60,000 for legal services since August.

If he was terminated without cause, Dean’s contract stipulated a severance payout equal to one year of his regular pay, which was $250,000. In exchange, he was required to release all claims “in a form satisfactory to O’Farrell,” according to the agreement.

Jonathan Dean is shown during an interview with KPBS in 2018.

The school had also offered a severance package to the female staffer when she quit in October 2019. She had initially signed the agreement that would have continued her pay and benefits for another eight months in exchange for not pursuing any claims against the school.

But less than a month after signing the deal, she revoked her consent. Her attorney, Eugene Long Jr., told O’Farrell officials in a November 2019 letter that the staffer agreed under “duress and fraud.”

Long no longer represents the woman. He told inewsource she informed him she was going to represent herself.

The staffer’s resignation letter, in which she described Dean as a mentor, gave no insight on the misconduct claims.

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

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.

Susan Cuttitta, a longtime school employee, was hired as O’Farrell’s superintendent in September after leading the school during the nearly five months that Dean was on administrative leave before his termination. She is being paid $180,000 annually.

Type of Content

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

Jennifer Bowman is an investigative reporter at inewsource, covering Imperial County and the South Bay. She used to cover education for inewsource. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers in Michigan and North Carolina. At the Asheville Citizen Times,...