Independent investigation into pay-for-play claim launched

After pressure from CIF and multiple requests from TPHS parent Wendy Gumb, the SDUHSD school board hired an independent investigator, the Sobel Group, to investigate the TPHS baseball program’s donation policy in light of allegations of a “pay for play culture,” according to TPHS Principal Rob Coppo.


Coppo does not believe a pay for play culture exists and says such a culture would “destroy an athletic program.”


Gumb, in a 16-page complaint filed through CIF, claimed that TPHS students were denied access to TPHS batting cages, that emails requesting donations from parents were coercive, and that the TPHS Foundation lacks transparency in expenditures. 


After her son transferred to TPHS from Canyon Crest Academy, Gumb heard from students and parents that TPHS baseball players were prevented from using on-campus batting cages. Baseball is a spring sport, but the coaches organize fall and winter practices for students interested in joining the team. 


Gumb, who describes herself as the parent “who does not get involved,” asked other parents in the baseball program about the batting cage restrictions and alleges that parents and “district office personnel” warned her not to talk to the “mafia”-like Foundation, as it could “hurt” both her son and her. 


Executive Director Nicole Baril says the TPHS Foundation is accessible and transparent.


“[The Foundation] is extremely accessible. Wendy Gumb has never come to me with any questions,” Baril said. “We are 100 percent transparent … With every group we have a liaison who runs all the finances and any parent can ask the liaisons ‘Hey, what did we spend on equipment, or coaching, or the banquet?’ If they have further, deeper questions, they can come to me.”


Furthermore, Baril does not detect a mafia-like fear of the Foundation from parents or district office employees.


“I find that absolutely hysterical. We have parents in here every single day, so many parent volunteers, parents with questions, parents that want to understand and help,” Baril said. “We are here to support the kids, the parents, the school, the coaches and the teachers.”


Gumb declined to discuss her claims with head baseball coach Kirk McCaskill. 
“He’s a coach, and my son is a player, and I think the relationship is between them,” Gumb said. 


Her son was in the midst of team tryouts when she was gathering information.
However, McCaskill believes Gumb should have approached him with her complaints. 


“I have never met Wendy Gumb. She has never talked to me or come to talk to me about the program,” McCaskill said. 


Specifically, McCaskill believes Gumb should have discussed her allegations directly with him.


“I do not have any idea of that happening. I have not had anyone come up to me and say ‘Hey coach, I have gotten kicked out of the cages’,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill said there is also not a “pay for play”culture or  favoritism at tryouts. 
“I don’t know who donates or who doesn’t donate. I know that I am going to put the best players on the field that give us a chance to win, whether they have paid or have not paid,” McCaskill said.


According to Baril, students are only barred from accessing the batting cages if they are practicing independently without a coach. The foundation rents out the batting cages to outside parties when school practices are not being held.


Gumb, who said she was undeterred by the intimidation she detected, decided to email Coppo about the coach hiring process and the stipends they receive. However, Coppo told her that payroll and hiring were conducted at a district level. Gumb decided she would contact SDUHSD board member Beth Hergesheimer. 


“[Gumb] told me she had concerns about pressures on parents for donations to extracurricular programs, and I indicated that without those contributions district funding would not go as far,” Hergesheimer said. “For example, the district might only be able to fund the primary team coach, but not all of the support/specialty coaching positions.”


Unsatisfied with her conversation with Hergesheimer, Gumb decided to broaden her questioning to include the entire school board. Gumb went to four school board meetings. After Gumb filed a 16-page complaint form through CIF, CIF officials met with SDUHSD officials to resolve the matter. The Sobel Group, independently contracted, began its ongoing investigation in January. 


Gumb said she has sensed a culture of secrecy and a lack of accessibility. 
Baril says the TPHS Foundations financials are published and accessible to the public. 


“We are a non-profit organization, so we have certain requirements, such as that we have to publish our financials,” Baril said. “At the same time, we do provide detail to our liaisons; they’re the ones running [the individual accounts] and if a parent wants to see it, they can come see it.”


Baril says that the TPHS Foundation does not make its check registry public, but if a parent wanted to see the details of how donations are spent, she would show them that. However, Gumb says that the Foundation is not transparent with financial information. Both women agree that Gumb never came to the Foundation office to request financial documents.


“I did not talk to the foundation because I was scared,” Gumb said.


Coppo could only say that he had a “productive conversation” with Gumb since the Sobel Group started its investigation but said that he could not disclose more about that discussion. Gumb said Coppo said he wished Gumb had approached him earlier; something Gumb claims she did by email in the fall.


Coppo supports the investigation and “welcomes looking into [the controversy] to find about more about it.” 


Gumb said the Sobel Group investigation will provide many answers in the coming months.

 

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