CERRITOS — After 15 months as superintendent of the turbulent ABC Unified School District, Kenneth L. Moffett has decided to call it quits.
The resignation, effective in 120 days, comes just a week before a new majority on the school board takes office. The new members, elected earlier this month, include two of the district's harshest critics who asked for a grand jury investigation of ABC last year.
Referring to that investigation and other turmoil since he was hired in August, 1986, Moffett said in an interview that he has spent much of his time "being a fireman" rather than an administrator in the district with 22,000 students.
"I didn't enjoy that," he said. "I had to ask myself if I was happy."
The seven-member board unanimously accepted the resignation during a closed-door session Monday.
"This will give the four new members a chance to select a new superintendent," said Moffett, who came to ABC from the Lennox Elementary School District. Lennox is an unincorporated area next to Los Angeles International Airport.
"It is sad," board member Peggy Lee said of the resignation. "I'm shocked but not surprised. Ken has been so busy playing 'Smokey the Bear,' putting out political fires that he did not have time to be superintendent."
"Ken is not willing to stay because of the public pressure that has focused on issues that have nothing to do with the quality of education," said retiring board member Dianne Xitco.
The four newly elected members are Dixie Primosch, Jim Weisenberger, Bob Hughlett and A. Cecy Groom. They will take office Dec. 1, replacing Xitco, board President Elizabeth Hutcheson, Richard Arthur and Homer Lewis.
The Los Angeles County grand jury began an investigation of the district in 1986, after four parents--including Primosch and Weisenberger--complained about alleged financial improprieties by the school district.
After several months of investigation, the grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing or mismanagement. But it did suggest that the district improve communication with parents. It also recommended that the district set up an advisory committee to give advice on the sale of surplus property, and that the district seek appraisals for such sales.
A second agency is still investigating the district. Last week, two representatives from the state controller's office conducted an audit of the 1984 sale of Bloomfield Elementary School in Hawaiian Gardens to see if it was done properly, said Mara Clisby, assistant to the superintendent. She said a report is expected in about three weeks. The audit was undertaken at the request of someone, perhaps a parent or a citizens group, in the district, Clisby said.
The district closed two schools, including Bloomfield, due to declining enrollment three years ago. Bloomfield was sold to Hawaiian Gardens Redevelopment Agency for $3 million. The other school, Cabrillo Lane Elementary in Cerritos is being leased at no cost to Cerritos College.
Another controversy has revolved around Whitney High School, the district's college-preparatory school. In June, two teachers from two of the district's other high schools suggested that Whitney is an elitist institution that receives preferential treatment from the district. Shortly afterward, the district administration and the Parents Teachers Students Assn. became embroiled in a legal fight after Whitney Principal Robert Beall shredded a PSTA newsletter that contained an article critical of the two teachers. The district did not want to stop publication but wanted to tone down the article, Clisby said.
The ACLU went to court on behalf of the members of the PTSA after the editor of the newsletter was told that the computer was not available for the association. In October, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian ordered the district to allow the PSTA to use the computer at Whitney at least four hours a week to publish the newsletter.
The district has also had budget problems. It had to cut $2.8 million from its 1987-88 budget, which included eliminating 15 custodians, 4 administrative jobs and 30 classified ones.
Moffett said he had been wrestling with the idea of resigning for a few weeks. He said he had to decide what was best for his family. He is married and has two children, 18 and 10.
"The board has been marvelous. The staff, the principals, everyone have been great. And it certainly has not been the parents or the kids," he said. "It is important to go forward on a positive note."
He said he did not have a job but would look for one.
The board gave Moffett an excellent evaluation rating and $2,000 bonus in July. He had a four-year contract at $83,000 annually that would have run through July, 31, 1990.
As for the new board, Moffett said he would be more than willing to work with it in searching for a new superintendent.
Groom, one of the incoming board members, said Moffett's "resignation gives the board an additional task of finding a new superintendent."