LYNWOOD — Former school Supt. Charlie Mae Knight has taken a new job in Palo Alto but is attempting to keep her legal residence here by commuting on weekends so she can serve the last two years of her elected term as a Compton Community College trustee.
Knight, who resigned the Lynwood job in August after years of friction with several members of the district's board, became superintendent of the Ravenswood City Elementary School District in East Palo Alto on Oct. 7.
"I could have sat around for a while" after receiving a $154,000 contract settlement upon leaving Lynwood, she said in an interview, "but I saw this as a challenge."
Compton college officials say they don't envy Knight's more than 350-mile commute but are happy that she is maintaining her trustee post.
"Absolutely," agreed college President Edison O. Jackson. "I think she's a very competent and able person."
"In terms of a board member being able to carry her individual responsibilities, there has been no impairment at all" in Knight's performance as a trustee, Jackson added. "She's been at the (twice monthly) meetings" as always.
Trustees Legrand H. Clegg II and Jane Astredo said they do not object to Knight's working so far away from the college and its problems as long as she is living in Lynwood. Astredo said her only concern is that the frequent commute will eventually "take its toll" on the energetic Knight.
"I'm a little weary," Knight conceded. "I left the board meeting last (Tuesday) night at about 9 o'clock" and was at work in Ravenswood at 9:30 the next morning.
Husband, Son Remain
But when she accepted the new job--for an annual salary of $65,000 plus $5,600 in tax-sheltered income--Knight said she decided that her husband, who is retired, and her son, a junior in high school, should remain behind to maintain a local address. (At Lynwood, Knight's salary was about $66,000 a year.)
"If it were not for my position on the college board"--which pays $40 a month--"they would have joined me," said Knight, who expressed no doubt that she could continue to be an effective trustee.
"Everything is looking up there, so I'd like to stay on there until (newly hired President Jackson) receives a new contract," she said. Jackson's current contract will expire about the same time Knight's term is to end. "I'd like to give him at least two years before I leave."
In order to legally retain her trustee post, Knight "must be a resident of the district," said Audrey Oliver, principal deputy in the Los Angeles County counsel's office and legal adviser to area colleges. Oliver said it would be up to a judge to decide if Knight still qualifies as a local resident, but so far no one has stepped forward to raise the issue.
While questions periodically come up about a college trustee's residency, Oliver said, "We haven't had anything quite like this one."
Just before Knight left Lynwood, a divided board of trustees here had suspended her amid a variety of misconduct accusations, some of which had previously been investigated and discarded by the county grand jury. In turn, she had filed a breach of contract suit against the district. When she resigned, she agreed to drop her suit in exchange for the $154,000 contract settlement.
So far, Knight said she is pleased with her new job because it allows her to "get far more involved in the instructional program" since it is a smaller system. "You don't get the kind of interference you get at a (larger) district."
"Sometimes I think I've died and gone to heaven," she said, although the vote to hire her was not unanimous. One of the five Ravenswood trustees objected, arguing that the decision should have been postponed because three longtime board members were not seeking reelection and were due to be replaced after the Nov. 5 balloting. "He said it wasn't anything against me, he made that clear," Knight said.
Same Problems Faced
Although the Ravenswood district only teaches kindergarten through eighth-grade and is one-fourth the size of the 12,000-student Lynwood system, Knight said its predominantly black and Latino population faces many of the same educational problems.
"They are a minority district in a sea of whiteness," said the 52-year-old educator, noting that the district is "right in the front yard of Stanford (University)."
When students exit Ravenswood after the eighth grade, she explained, they are transferred to the predominantly white Palo Alto district, which spends twice as much money per student and has high schools that academically rank among the nation's best. As a result, many Ravenswood students find it difficult to compete.