“They should have known”

Investigation shows that the Fillmore Unified School District Board allegedly improperly hired Fillmore High School Principal Russom Mesfun, relying upon cronyism instead of due diligence. Personal friendships concealed serious flaws. Karen Ashim’s letter (below) reveals possible scandal of fiduciary failure of the school board:

Dear Fillmore Unified School Board members,

I want to inform you about the results of my recent and continuing investigation into the background of Russom Mesfun as it relates to his conduct at Fillmore High School. Note that I uncovered this information in only a few days and with limited resources. I suspect this information is only the tip of the iceberg. A more thorough investigation, given more time, more resources, and conducted by a trained investigator will no doubt expose far more than I have.

I have found a consistent pattern of unacceptable behavior at each of the last four schools where Mesfun has been employed. The pattern has been one of harassment, retribution, incompetency, disrespect, and destruction of staff morale.

I have received emails from teachers who worked at Britton Middle School at Morgan Hill and found articles in the Morgan Hill Times. One Morgan Hill teacher writes, “The one time I really got angry about Russom was when he used parent volunteers to spy on me in my classroom.” Another Morgan Hill teacher writes, “He used to use students to spy on teachers and report back to him! He was out to get every woman! You should talk to (teacher name not for publication) who was out on medical leave, and he tortured her…. The stories are endless. ”

The Lodi lawsuit and deposition by Mesfun speak for themselves. When Mesfun was under consideration for his job in Lodi the assistant superintendent of LUSD, Dr. Brown, met with Nishino and Mesfun at Starbucks in Morgan Hill.

A reasonable supposition is that Nishino used this opportunity to gloss over Mesfun’s inappropriate behavior and performance at Britton Middle School. This likely was one of the reasons for the statement in the law suit, “they should have known.”

I have received email from teachers with documents from Montero Middle School in Oakland which I include with this letter. Rachel Uthman, a former vice principal writes, “I left my position at Montera because Russom Mesfun, the new principal wrote the position out of the budget. This was a deliberate act of revenge. He wrote my position out of the budget because I voiced concerns about him consuming all of my work time with his countless demands for me to witness him harass and bully others throughout each work day. Mr. Mesfun took a personal grudge against anyone who questioned his unscrupulous management practices.”

Finally, you have heard from many teachers and other people of the harassment, retribution, and incompetency of Mesfun at Fillmore High School. This individual is batting four for four with unacceptable behavior.

Several times I have stood before you at school board meetings and warned you that poorly thought out changes in school policies will have negative consequences for Fillmore students. In each of those cases my predictions have come true.

I pray, for the sake of the school district, that my next prediction will not come true. I expect that, as the information about Mesfun’s previous conduct comes out, some FHS teachers and staff will begin to file lawsuits against Mesfun, Nishino, and FUSD if they have not already. The financial impact on the school district could be great. In Lodi the settlement was $250,000.

Two of the allegations in the Lodi lawsuit against the school district were that the board members should have known and they should have acted. They should have known Mesfun was unsuited for the position of principal. They should have acted when they were told of the unacceptable actions of Mesfun. In agreeing to the settlement of the lawsuit the Lodi school board in essence acknowledged these statements are true.

The same claims can be made regarding FUSD but this time with far more evidence to back them up. Mesfun’s conduct at Morgan Hill is now coming out in the open. The Lodi lawsuit documents his conduct at Christa McAuliffe Middle School. The documents I am including with this letter tell some of what he did at Montera Middle School. Finally, you have heard, both in private and in public, of Mesfun’s unacceptable performance at FHS. You must ask yourselves what a good lawyer could do with this information.

Why you have chosen not to believe people who are your friends, neighbors, and even former colleagues is a mystery. You have trusted the teachers at FHS and other FUSD schools to educate and care for your children and grandchildren. Yet now you choose to believe outsiders with bad track records and turn your back on your constituents.

Taking action to end a personnel problem of the magnitude that exists at FHS is not micro management. It is good sense and one of the reasons a school board exists is to provide citizen oversight. It is also your fiduciary duty to ensure FUSD uses all financial resources appropriately, and paying for a lawsuit is not the appropriate use of limited funds. Stop the bleeding at FHS. If you know Mesfun has chosen to leave Fillmore, let the FHS staff know so they can move on knowing there is light at the end of a very dark tunnel. If he is not leaving, do all that is necessary to ensure he will not return to FUSD next year. If and when lawsuits happen, you will at least be able to say you took action.

Sincerely yours,
Karen Ashim
Recently retired Fillmore High School Head Counselor
Teacher & librarian 1986-1998
Assistant principal 1998-2002
Counselor 2002-2013

Superior Court Legal Complaint against Mesfun

Juanita White Statement (Redacted)

OUSD Witt Response

Lodi Settlement Amount From Lodi Business Services (Redacted)

Faculty Concerns

Case Information Summary Lodi Case CV034869

More documents will be posted here as they become available.