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Trustees in Lynwood May Slash Power of Schools Chief

April 04, 1985|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

LYNWOOD — In a move to dramatically reduce the powers of the city's superintendent of schools, the Lynwood Unified School District board tentatively agreed Tuesday night to transfer many of Charlie Mae Knight's duties to one of her top aides.

"If this comes to pass it will essentially make Dr. Knight a lame duck superintendent," said board member Thelma Williams, a supporter of the embattled Knight.

"I think they want Dr. Knight to resign," she said after the emotional, closed-door meeting where the superintendent came under fire. "But I don't think she will. She's tough, real tough."

Although no vote was taken, three of the board members--Richard Armstrong, Helen Andersen and newly elected trustee Willard Reed--asked the district's attorney to draw up a new job description for Knight, one that will vastly reduce her role in the 12,000-student district.

The proposal would strip her of responsibility for attendance, curriculum and bilingual education. Knight, known for her aggressive and outspoken style, would be in charge only of business services and personnel.

If the board goes through with the job change, LaVoneia Steele, assistant superintendent of educational services, will assume many of Knight's duties.

'Must Take Some Action'

"It has become increasingly clear that the board must take some action to improve this district," said Andersen, a four-year board member who declined to discuss specifics surrounding Knight's future in the district.

Andersen did say low student test scores and low morale among teachers in the predominantly Latino and black district are major concerns among board members.

"Certainly something is lacking on top,"

Andersen said. "We are trying to address solutions to those problems."

Knight, who has been embroiled in a number of controversies during her nearly four years in the district, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday's special board meeting. Last September, the 52-year-old administrator narrowly survived an attempt to buy out her $63,000-a-year contract when the board deadlocked, 2-2, on the motion.

Majority Shifted

But the election last month of Reed--who was critical of the superintendent's leadership throughout the campaign--swung the board majority to Knight's opponents.

Williams said the board has no basis for "stripping" Knight of her power. Williams said that in the 18 months she has been on the board, it has never evaluated the superintendent's performance.

"How can you demote someone without due process?" Williams said. "We've never given her a chance to defend her approach. It's wrong to do this."

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Tuesday, but Andersen said it is unlikely any formal action on Knight's contract will be taken then.

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