OAKLAND — The new principal of Skyline High School has been accused of using student activity funds to pay for personal expenses, including a hotel room in New Mexico, and he is unlikely to be rehired for the coming school year.
Al Sye is the latest in a string of principals at Skyline, the city's largest school, in the Oakland hills. For weeks, students, teachers and parents have traded rumors about a district investigation into the school's new leader, and whether Sye would be fired from the job he had just started.
A memo written by Sye and obtained by the Tribune sheds light on the nature of the allegations, which range from sexual harassment and offensive racial remarks to the misuse of funds. In the letter, which Sye wrote to Oakland's chief academic officer and sent to about a dozen other district officials, the principal said he suspected the district's investigation was fueled by ulterior motives.
"My basic human rights have been denied during this process," Sye wrote.
"We must move forward and insure (sic) the Skyline family is provided leadership that is not undermined by those who are against change for a productive direction at the school."
The decision to discipline — and to not rehire — a principal was announced publicly at a recent Oakland school board meeting. While sources have confirmed that the vote was about Sye, neither the principal nor the school was named in the announcement.
To date, parents, students and teachers have received little official information about Sye's status, other than that he is on leave for two weeks.
"The kids had just come to me and said Mr. Sye was leaving, and I said, 'What?'"" Judi Marquardt-Norris, a Skyline parent, said this month. "I've been through so many principals now, I'm losing track."
Sye's five-page memo, dated Feb. 12, lists more than a dozen so-called "false allegations" made by unnamed staff members, followed by a response to each one.
Some staff members, for example, had reported that Sye called one of his employees "ghetto," and that he asked for a non-African-American replacement. To that charge, he responded: "We did have a staff member who was not professional and acting 'ghetto.' I said we need to diversify our staff to reflect the student population. Do you consider this philosophy a lack of respect for African-American women?"
Sye also denied that he knowingly misused the credit card attached to the student activities account, more than once, "for personal gain." He acknowledged that he paid for an Embassy Suites hotel room in New Mexico with the student fund credit card. But, he said, that was because of "a mix-up with the hotel" — that he accidentally handed the clerk the wrong card during check-in.
Sye reimbursed the student account $162 more than two months later, during the investigation.
Last summer, a large committee of students, teachers, other staff members, district officials and community members chose Sye to be Skyline's new principal. Many hoped he would bring stability to a school fraught with turnover. Sye replaced Heidi Green, who resigned last spring after being reassigned to another school. Its previous leader, Amy Hansen, resigned shortly before the beginning of the 2006-07 school year to take another principalship.
Chris Dobbins, the school board member who represents Skyline, said he couldn't comment on the investigation, but that he supported Sye. "I'm a big fan of him," Dobbins said. "I hope he stays."