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Capistrano schools chief placed on administrative leave

The move against Supt. A. Woodrow Carter is the latest in a string of controversies to plague the district.

January 08, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

The beleaguered Capistrano Unified School District has placed its popular superintendent on administrative leave -- about a year after he succeeded a previous leader indicted on allegations of misappropriating public funds.

The move against Supt. A. Woodrow Carter comes three weeks after school board trustees held a meeting to discuss his performance. Hundreds of parents and students showed up at that meeting to support Carter.

The action also comes just a few weeks after two new trustees, both elected with the backing of a group of longtime district critics, were sworn in. Their election meant that all seven school board members gained their seats with the support of the Committee to Reform CUSD, a group of heavily involved parents, politicians and activists that led a recall of two trustees earlier this year.

On Tuesday night, the board took one hour of public comments before meeting in closed session.

Just before midnight, the trustees emerged and board President Ellen Addonizio told the crowd that they had voted 6 to 1, with Anna Bryson dissenting, to place the superintendent on paid administrative leave. She did not offer any explanations.

The latest action is just one in a slew of controversies to plague the district in recent years.

Two years ago, district critics led a successful campaign to oust longtime Supt. James A. Fleming, who was indicted on felony charges of misappropriating public funds, using school district funds to influence an election and conspiracy to commit acts injurious to the public -- among them creation of an "enemies list" of people opposing him.

Carter's tenure has seen its share of controversy.

In September, the Orange County district attorney's office rebuked the school board for violating the state's open meeting law when it awarded a $58,000 pay raise to the superintendent in a closed-door meeting. The D.A.'s office said the board failed to disclose its decision in a public meeting.

The office also found that Carter had signed a contract providing him with $400,000 in severance pay if the board fired him, even though the board did not discuss such a benefit in public.

Trustees rescinded Carter's contract after a public outcry about the way it was awarded, but reissued the contract at a public meeting.

The line adding the severance pay was removed, but it is unclear if the superintendent is still entitled to severance pay.

Carter was tapped for the top job after the board's first choice backed out of the deal because of "uncertainty and instability" facing the district.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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