HUNTINGTON PARK — A junior high school principal active in the Latino community has been transferred after faculty members accused her of racial favoritism and misuse of funds.
Soledad S. Garcia, principal of Gage Junior High School since 1983, was reassigned last week to an administrative position in the district office of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said Sidney A. Thompson, deputy superintendent.
Thompson said the reassignment was not punitive but an acknowledgment that Garcia could no longer work effectively with a substantial portion of the staff at the year-round school. A group of teachers recently circulated a petition and held a small demonstration in front of the 3,160-student school, calling for her ouster. A small number of community members also demonstrated in support of Garcia but did not sway district officials.
"We had a situation at the school that would not have been conducive to any kind of learning process for the kids," Thompson said. "What we have is a situation in which there are allegations going back and forth that are very difficult to prove. Minimally we have an atmosphere that would not be good for youngsters."
Garcia did not return several telephone calls seeking comment last week.
Thompson said district officials are investigating how Garcia filled supervisory positions at the school. So far, no evidence of favoritism has been found.
Auditors last spring turned up some spending irregularities at the school, Thompson said, but "they could find nothing that would indicate someone took or lost substantial amounts of money."
A Gage employee was disciplined last spring for the unauthorized purchase of computer cabinets with district money, Thompson said. The employee circumvented a policy that restricts spending for items costing more than $300, such as the computer cabinets, which cost about $4,000. The employee worked through a vendor to buy the cabinets with numerous invoices that, taken separately, did not require district approval, Thompson said.
"What happened was apparently some dummy purchase orders were made up between the company and the school," Thompson said. "Instead of showing large amounts of cabinetry purchased, it showed small amounts of supplies that were never delivered."
Thompson said the district disciplined the employee. But he declined to specify what action was taken because it was a personnel matter that he considered confidential.
But several other school officials said the employee, Fernando Ramos, was removed from his position as the school's coordinator of a federal program, called Chapter 1, which aids underachieving students. He was then put in charge of one of Gage's counseling centers.
"The main problem that occurred, was that we dealt directly with the vendor and there was one more step that needed to be taken," Ramos said recently, declining to confirm or deny that he was the employee involved. "We needed to communicate more clearly with the district offices. It was just a problem that came up and had to be clarified to the district."
Employee Took Responsibility
Thompson said Garcia had a responsibility as principal of the school to prevent such policy violations, and district officials scolded her for that.
But, Thompson continued, "we didn't find anything there that indicated the principal did this. He (the employee) took the responsibility for that."
In addition, auditors in 1984 and again last year warned Garcia that money earmarked for student body activities had been improperly spent to purchase a copier used by school personnel and to buy paint to spruce up a classroom, according to a district report.
A group of instructors led by teacher Ed Zschoche say their working relations with Garcia began deteriorating shortly after her arrival in 1983. Zschoche is chairman of the United Teachers of Los Angeles chapter that represents teachers at Gage.
They accused her of punishing teachers she did not like by removing them from desired assignments or administrative positions and changing their teaching schedules. Year-round schools have three teaching schedules. They also accused her of favoring Latino educators at the school, which has a student body that is 96.8% Latino.
In an Aug. 29 letter to Supt. Leonard M. Britton, Zschoche wrote that 126 teachers and eight administrators had left Gage since Garcia became principal. In a subsequent interview, he said the majority, many of whom were experienced educators, left because of Garcia. Zschoche said 49 teachers recently signed a petition pressing for Garcia's removal. He said he had wanted to collect 60 signatures before submitting the petition to Garcia. There are 157 teachers and administrators at Gage, according to Sab Yamashita, assistant principal.
At a press conference called last week to demand Garcia's removal, UTLA President Wayne Johnson instead announced that Garcia had been transferred.