A former member of the El Monte Union High School Board of Education denied Wednesday that she disparaged a former superintendent who sued the district on gender discrimination and retaliation claims, saying the majority of the trustees put her on leave and eventually fired her for legitimate reasons.

Maria-Elena Talamantes, who served on the board during the entire time plaintiff Irella Perez was superintendent, said the board’s problems with the then-schools chief ranged from alleged improper uses of public funds to her inability to use proper grammar in communications — both internal and those sent to the community.

Talamantes said the board went so far as to recommend that Perez take a class to improve her writing, but that their suggestion was ignored.

Perez was hired in March 2015, was put on administrative leave a year later and was fired in August 2016. Perez alleges that Talamantes — who was a board member from 2012-17 — was one of her harshest critics, openly wondering how the plaintiff, a single mother, could be a good mom to her children while filling such a difficult job as leading a school district. Perez also alleges that despite being a woman herself, Talamantes preferred a man for the job.

But EMUHSD attorney Dennis Walsh has argued that Perez’s firing was justified for a number of reasons, including spending of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to send area voters — but not parents — a mailer in September 2015. The brochure described the district’s achievements and included quotes from board members at the time, Esthela Torres de Siegrist and Salvador Ramirez, prompting the Fair Political Practices Commission to fine the district, according to Walsh.

Talamantes said she never thought Perez might not be able to perform her job as superintendent and be present for board meetings late into the night just because the plaintiff had children she was raising alone.

“I was attending those same meetings as a single mom,” Talamantes said, adding that she had no problem with Perez bringing her children to work under appropriate circumstances.

However, Talamantes said she was concerned that Perez once allowed her offspring to cook on district property. She said that even though Perez was supervising the children, the district could be liable if they were accidentally burned.

Talamantes acknowledged she did not always respond to Perez’s emails to her, but said she was equally negligent with others who sent her similar correspondences. She also said that her long commute to her job in the Riverside County community of Menifee stripped her of time she needed for answering emails.

Talamantes testified that Perez never asked for a meeting to discuss her grievances against her, leaving the trustee unaware that Perez was unhappy with her. Talamantes also said that another board member falsely accused her of disparaging Perez by using inappropriate language.

“I was appalled,” Talamantes said.

Talamantes, who was among the board that unanimously voted to hire Perez, said she was not concerned that the plaintiff had never served elsewhere as a superintendent or assistant schools chief. She said the board believed that Perez’s previous service as a member of the Whittier City School District Board of Education gave her insight into how trustees interact with superintendents.

Asked by plaintiff’s attorney Jamon Hicks if she believed Perez did an “amazing job,” Talamantes replied, “I think … until some things came to light, yes.”

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