Nonprofit Claims School Stole Its Work

     SAN BERNARDINO (CN) – A nonprofit claims the Fontana school district, plagued with expulsions, suspensions and behavior problems, promised it $4.2 million to create and operate an intervention program, then stiffed it for the money and let the superintendent’s husband misappropriate its work.
     Sharon Heaston and Group Home Support Services demand punitive damages from the Fontana Unified School District, its Superintendent Cali Binks, Fontana police officer Brian Binks and Gayle Hinazumi, the school official who Heaston says first approached her about the job.
     Heaston is executive director of Group Home Support Services. She alleges fraud, misappropriate of trade secrets, copyright infringement, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and other charges.
     In her Superior Court complaint, Heaston says Hinazumi asked her organization to “analyze data and develop a customized intervention program to decrease the number of incidents and absences for FUSD.”
     Fontana, east of Los Angeles, once was a steel town. In 2009, the school district 138 expelled students, reported 22 emergency behavior incidents, suspended 2,288 middle school students and 4,950 high school students, which cost the district $371,000 of revenue, according to the complaint. (Some school funding is based on average daily attendance, so suspensions and expulsions cost money.)
     Heaston says Hinazumi told her that “the money for the program was already approved and that Hinazumi was the person with authority from the FUSD to authorize the creation of the program and payment for that program.”
     Heaston claims Hinazumi also told her that the school district “had researched other counseling programs and found that Heaston and her company, GHSSI, were the only ones who specialized in providing a program for ‘at risk for youth’ that the FUSD needed to implement.”
     Heaston says GHSSI “spent hours and hours of time analyzing the voluminous amount of data regarding FUSD and began designing a program that would provide interventions to students and decrease lost attendance days due to discipline and incidents of discipline.”
     After seeing early plans for the project, called “Project Impact,” Heaston says, Hinazumi told her “in a foretelling manner … that she should ‘be careful’ because, in Hinazumi’s words, ‘school districts are notorious for stealing work and projects created by others so that they can bring them in-house as if they were their own creation.'”
     But Heaston says Hinazumi assured her that the project “would not be stolen by the FUSD or some other entity claiming that they were responsible for its creation.”
     Heaston says she applied for business loans to finance the project and spent a lot of money to create the project. She says she presented the project to the school board, where it was well received.
     But a few weeks later, Heaston says, Fontana police officer Brian Binks “presented plaintiffs’ project re-labeling it under a new name entitled Fontana Leadership Intervention Program to the school board.”
     Heaston says that during Binks’ presentation, he mentioned school district employees who had received copies of the project from Heaston, and called them “instrumental in the development of the FLIP program.”
     The school board approved Binks’ FLIP project and “misappropriated the program developed by plaintiffs and awarded Brian Binks with the work,” according to the complaint.
     Heaston says Hinazumi then offered her and GHSSI $1.4 million to prepare a mental health program for the school district, but after “doing a tremendous amount of work on this new mental health project, in addition to all the work on Project Impact, plaintiffs were informed that plaintiffs would not be paid for any of their work or reimbursed for their expenses.”
     Heaston and Group Home Support Services are represented by Robert Prata, with Prata & Daley, of Los Angeles.
An earlier version of this article said that police officer Brian Binks and Superintendent Cali Binks were husband and wife. The pair are not married. Courthouse News regrets the error.
     After this story posted and was removed from the website, Courthouse News received a letter from Fontana’s attorney disputing what he calls a “worthless lawsuit” without merit. “The school district has never promised anything to Ms. Heaston or any of her companies or business interests,” Fontana attorney Marvin Sawyer said. “The lawsuit is frivolous and malicious. The Fontana Leadership Intervention Program is based upon a program developed by the Colton Police Department. The Fontana Police Department aided the FUSD School Police in developing the program without any input, aid, help or inspiration from Heaston whatsoever.”

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