Financial troubles upend this tiny L.A. County school district since its former superintendent’s suicide

Phrase reverberated by the Lennox Faculty District in early June that former Supt. Kent Taylor was discovered useless in his house — stunning information that adopted the favored chief’s abrupt resignation in April with out public rationalization.

Taylor had lately licensed the monetary good well being of the Lennox district, which he promoted as a mannequin of revolutionary applications in engineering, dentistry and on-line research. Seen as daring and charismatic, he was well-known the place he lived in Colton — successful 5 native faculty board elections. A product of Inglewood public faculties, Taylor, 54, was seen by his supporters because the hometown boy made good.

However within the months since his loss of life, later dominated a suicide, deep troubles have been unmasked on this tiny faculty district that serves largely low-income Latino college students, 93% of whom qualify at no cost lunches and whose educational achievement is beneath state requirements. The rapid-fire revelations have included the close to monetary insolvency of the district, allegations in opposition to Taylor of sexual misconduct, potential bank card misuse by a minimum of 4 present and former district officers and an inside investigation of expensive contracts.

The turmoil has taken a toll on this method of 5 elementary, one center and three constitution faculties within the shadow of LAX flight paths. The district’s troubles have compelled greater than $5.Four million in finances cuts, resulting in reductions in employees, companies and education schemes — and the fallout from ongoing investigations shouldn’t be but recognized. A state official final week indicated {that a} additional evaluate of questionable exercise in Lennox might end in funds being withheld.

The brand new superintendent, Scott Worth, former monetary chief for the L.A. Unified Faculty District, insists that insolvency has been averted.

“We’ve got turned the nook,” Worth mentioned. “We really feel assured in our course.”

On the monetary brink

Shortly after Taylor’s departure, the Los Angeles County Workplace of Training criticized Lennox for squandering a once-healthy reserve by “deficit spending and failure to keep up ample reserves and fund balances, lack of ability to precisely estimate the ending fund stability” and “lack of monitoring of money.”

Following Taylor, greater than half a dozen senior employees and longtime staff resigned, together with the highest finances, services and personnel managers, in keeping with faculty district information and interviews.

After Worth got here on board in September, the county authorised an $11-million mortgage to maintain the district’s $71-million finances afloat. It have to be repaid by July 2020, which Worth has pledged to do.

Lennox School District headquarters

The headquarters of Lennox Faculty District, which includes 5 elementary, one center and three constitution faculties.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Occasions)

The district has prevented trainer layoffs however has ended its dentistry program and after-school Mandarin-language instruction, and trimmed again engineering coaching. Many elementary college students will now not take discipline journeys to a school campus. In all, 24 positions have been minimize within the small faculty system at a time when check scores have been rising. In 2019, 36% of scholars met state requirements in math and 43% in English.

“We’ve got demonstrated a united dedication to reductions that reestablish our fiscal duty and least have an effect on college students,” Worth mentioned.

Sexual harassment declare

Davon Dean, former communications officer for the Lennox district, filed a sexual harassment declare in opposition to the district in August, after sending a letter to the district outlining the allegations a number of days earlier than Taylor resigned. The declare alleges that Taylor pressured him right into a sexual relationship, insisting on a “minimal of three lengthy, physique hugs per day” throughout which Taylor would grope him and simulate intercourse behind closed workplace doorways.

Former Lennox schools Supt. Kent Taylor

Former Lennox faculties Supt. Kent Taylor is seen in 2012.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Occasions)

Dean additionally alleges that Taylor would insist that they share a lodge room after faculty board conferences, conventions and different occasions to interact in sexual exercise, the declare mentioned.

The discomfort of the connection in the end compelled Dean to stop his job, mentioned Jon Webster, the legal professional representing Dean.

An legal professional representing Lennox, Tom Madruga, described the connection as consensual.

When the harassment allegations surfaced, Madruga organized for an outdoor agency to analyze for the district. That inquiry later expanded to incorporate bank card use and the work of consultants, Worth mentioned.

The district has declined to launch the outcomes of its inside investigation into the harassment allegations to the general public, citing the opportunity of litigation.

Potential bank card misuse

Taylor approved bank cards for board members and had a $10,000 month-to-month restrict on his personal district card. The Occasions reviewed his prices for 2017, they usually included months during which he spent $8,299, $8,577 and $6,304. Three different months approached $5,000. That 12 months, Taylor charged near $44,000, together with some bills on three work-related journeys to San Diego, two to Palm Springs, and visits to San Antonio, Denver and New York Metropolis.

The fees additionally included a minimum of 14 stays at resorts close to Lennox, about 70 miles from his house, totaling greater than $4,600. He acquired a wage of about $200,000 a 12 months.

In October, Lennox faculty board members agreed to show over an inside investigation and the bank card information of 4 officers named in a information request from the county district legal professional, which opened its evaluate in response to a criticism, a spokeswoman for the district legal professional’s workplace mentioned.

The request, reviewed by The Occasions, sought information for accounting supervisor Leticia Gomez, present board member Angela Fajardo and former board member Shannon Thomas-Allen. Not one of the three responded to e-mail and phone requests from The Occasions for remark. Taylor’s information are also beneath evaluate.

The district has declined to launch the outcomes of its inside bank card investigation, with Worth citing the continued evaluate by the district legal professional’s workplace. In a memo reviewed by The Occasions, Worth additionally suggested board members to say no interview requests from the information group. Board members Fajardo, Sergio Hernández Jr. and Marisol Cruz didn’t reply to a number of interview requests and emailed questions on their bank card use and different district points. Angeles Gonzalez, who was elected to the board in 2018 and didn’t obtain a district bank card, additionally didn’t reply.

Board member Alexis Aceves, a neighborhood activist who additionally was elected in 2018, mentioned she refused Taylor’s supply of a district-funded bank card, seeing it as pointless for an elected official in a district as small as Lennox.

“Gives and encouragement to spend had been anticipated anytime I used to be with Kent,” she mentioned of her interplay with Taylor.

Serving on the board is a part-time voluntary position, with a stipend of about $300 a month plus reimbursement for bills.

Lennox school board member Angela Fajardo

Board member Angela Fajardo is among the many Lennox Faculty District officers whose bank card information have been requested by the district legal professional’s workplace.

(Lennox Faculty District)

Bank card statements obtained by the state Public Data Act present that Hernández, Fajardo and Cruz traveled a number of occasions a 12 months since 2017, apparently to education-related conferences, though the aim of each journey couldn’t be decided from the statements. In 2017 and 2018, Hernández’s card, for instance, listed prices in Denver, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Phoenix, Washington and Portland, Ore.

Fajardo, who has recognized herself on social media as a Spanish trainer for L.A. Unified, spent practically $1,000 in 2017 over six visits to native workplace provide shops. She additionally spent $214.03 at Lakeshore Studying, which sells instructing provides, and $299.55 on the USC Bookstore.

Amongst present board members, Cruz charged essentially the most: $7,743 in 2017 and $9,893 in 2018. She additionally had travel-related prices and spent at workplace provide shops and retailers. On Oct. 20, 2017, she spent $410.13 at Costco. Cruz additionally charged at native eating places, together with $200 on the Cheesecake Manufacturing facility on Jan. 14, 2018, and $227.34 at Truxton’s on Could 5, 2018.

Lennox school board member Marisol Cruz

Amongst present Lennox faculty board members, Marisol Cruz charged essentially the most to her district-funded bank card.

(Lennox Faculty District)

Her spending additionally took in self-help and motivational seminar prices, together with the Acutely aware Life Expo in February 2018 close to Los Angeles Worldwide Airport. Fees throughout that interval included the expo ($170), the Well being Spectrum ($134.06) and two at Hilton Resorts LAX ($310.04 and $525.64). She additionally subscribed to self-help supplies from on-line private improvement coach Jesse Elder and a web site known as LearnDoBecome.com.

Fajardo, Hernández and Cruz have turned of their playing cards over the past a number of months, Worth mentioned.

The district’s lately authorised finances has eradicated funding for convention journey for each board and neighborhood members.

Expensive contracts

The portion of the interior investigation that handled consultants regarded intently on the work of Ben Leavitt, a key advisor behind one in every of Taylor’s most controversial initiatives: a venture to enroll tuition-paying Catholic faculty college students — many from greater than 100 miles away — into Lennox by a newly created Lennox Digital Academy. After The Occasions revealed an investigation of the association, Lennox got here beneath strain from the county to close down the net academy and did in order of July 1.

Leavitt’s agency, Faculty Administration Options, collected per-student charges totaling $752,205. Lennox paid the Catholic faculties $165 a month per scholar.

St. John Chrysostom Catholic School

St John Chrysostom Catholic Faculty in Inglewood was amongst a number of Catholic faculties that enrolled its college students within the Lennox Digital Academy, which then claimed state public faculty funding for the scholars.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

In an emailed response to questions from The Occasions, Leavitt defended the academy.

“As a normal rule,” Leavitt mentioned, “the dad and mom of personal faculty college students contribute to the general public faculty system by tax {dollars}, identical because the dad and mom of public faculty college students, however obtain a small fraction of companies from the general public faculty system.”

Leavitt additionally famous that the state appeared to acknowledge the academy’s legitimacy by persevering with to offer funding to Lennox for the Catholic faculty college students.

Though the administration of earlier state faculties Supt. Tom Torlakson permitted the funding, present officers seem like troubled.

“We’re deeply involved about allegations that public funds had been misused by the Lennox Faculty District and we’re trying into it,” mentioned Deputy Supt. Kindra Britt, who joined the California Division of Training beneath present state Supt. Tony Thurmond.

Through the 2018-19 faculty 12 months, Lennox acquired about $2.Eight million in state funds for its academy college students, in keeping with district information. As a result of the state gives transition cash for districts that face a sudden, steep drop in enrollment, the state is paying a one-year allotment of $2.Eight million within the 2019-20 faculty 12 months to make up for the lack of the Catholic faculty college students.

Britt mentioned the state routinely gives such one-time funding to help faculty districts that have enrollment declines. Nevertheless, if enrollment “was not appropriately reported, we are going to take all crucial actions together with, if wanted, adjusting funding accordingly,” she mentioned.

One other aspect of Leavitt’s enterprise ties to the district has come beneath scrutiny.

Leavitt is a companion in CWDL, a San Diego-based accounting agency that had varied contracts with the college system totaling greater than $1 million. CWDL offered administration companies for the vitamin and Related Scholar Physique accounts, and different areas as requested by the district, district officers mentioned.

Nevertheless, Lennox’s inside inquiry discovered some invoices to be “obscure, missing element and readability,” Worth mentioned. Lennox’s inside evaluate of consulting contracts was among the many supplies turned over to the district legal professional, he mentioned.

Leavitt mentioned his agency did intensive work for Lennox, all correctly submitted and authorised.

One other vendor that got here beneath district evaluate was A-Group Safety, which acquired greater than $1.2 million yearly for the final three full years of Taylor’s tenure. Worth mentioned that the corporate offered companies as charged however that they had been nonessential. The agency, for instance, was offering a neighborhood patrol, safety for the district workplace and companies at night time and over the weekends.

All through his tenure, Taylor acquired sturdy help from neighborhood members and union leaders, a number of of whom he promoted and authorised for further paid work assignments.

Beatriz Torres, who represents most non-teaching Lennox staff as president of Native 575 of the California Faculty Staff Assn., broke with Taylor final spring, shortly earlier than his resignation. She went public with a union evaluation that listed expensive consulting contracts and a surge in additional time funds, together with practically $40,000 in 2017 to Dean, the communications director alleging harassment. His common pay that 12 months was $55,709, in keeping with Clear California, which tracks public salaries.

Lennox Academics Assn. President Priscilla Avila, who was lately elected, mentioned that anybody discovered to have engaged in improper conduct ought to be held accountable and that the district’s troubles have unfairly tarnished the superb work of its staff.



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