SAN FRANCISCO — The former superintendent of an embattled East Bay school district has been accused of criminally misusing a work-issued credit card and illegally guiding lucrative school district contracts to a girlfriend in Orange County, authorities say.
J.L. Handy, who was fired nine years ago as superintendent of Compton's schools amid allegations of financial mismanagement, recently surrendered to police and is free on $15,000 bail.
He declined to comment Tuesday through his attorney, who denied the charges. Handy, 61, who abruptly resigned in October after seven years as superintendent of Emery Unified schools, just across the bay from San Francisco, scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Oakland Superior Court.
He is charged with two felony counts of misusing public funds in connection with his alleged use of a district credit card and a district expense account to make more than $65,000 in personal purchases. The purchases included car repairs, luggage and leather goods and regular trips to Southern California, authorities said.
He also faces a conflict of interest charge for channeling about $200,000 in school grant applications through a woman named Jean Cross with whom authorities say he shares a home in Laguna Hills. Cross received a 10% commission for each successful grant the district received, officials say.
"Dr. Handy did not intentionally misappropriate money from the district and he did not engage in any conflict of interest," said Harold Rosenthal, Handy's attorney. "The grant writing arrangement with Miss Cross and the method of her compensation were neither unusual nor improper."
Alameda County School Supt. Sheila Jordan said the charges were a blow to the district's pride.
"It's a very sad day in education when a leader like Dr. Handy betrays the trust and respect people placed in him," she said. "When any public figure does something this egregious, it contributes to cynicism and apathy. We need to show parents that this isn't acceptable and that we have strong role models and strong leaders. We will stay on course."
The charges against Handy are only the latest painful twist for the 900-student school district, one of the state's smallest. It is now more than $1.5 million in debt and faces an unusual government bailout that includes financial takeover by state education officials.
Along with separate investigations into Handy's activities by state school officials, local police and an Alameda County Grand Jury, the five members of the Emery school board also face an August recall by angry parents, many of whom say the board allowed Handy to run amok. Two board members have already resigned.
Today, Sacramento legislators are expected to consider a bill by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) to lend the district $2.3 million in exchange for accepting years of financial oversight by a state-appointed auditor. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Gray Davis next month.
Officials point out similarities in Handy's actions in Southern California and Emeryville. After Handy was fired, Compton's school district was left millions of dollars in debt and became the first in California to be taken over by the state. Eight years of financial oversight ended last year.
Emery school officials have asked Aroner to postpone the state loan request for at least a year to allow them time to clean up their financial mess.
"We'd prefer to climb out of this financial hole by ourselves without help from the state," said board Vice President Barbara Krzywicki.
But some officials say the board is merely out to save itself.
"They're feeling the heat of the recall," said Hans Hemann, Aroner's legislative director.
Krzywicki said: "With the very small stipend we receive from the long hours we put in, I wouldn't call this a job but a public service we provide. What's to save?"