Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Some employees at Lennox School District accuse superintendent of long list of misdeeds

The group accuses Barbara Flores of hiring friends to serve as consultants, fostering an inappropriately cozy relationship with the district’s employee unions, spending large amounts of public money on attorneys, falsifying her resume and harboring a bias against white males. Her supporters say the claims are without merit.

Some employees at Lennox School District accuse superintendent of long list of misdeeds

A faction of employees at the Lennox School District is on a campaign to discredit the district’s new superintendent, claiming her inexperience and incompetence is jeopardizing a district long known for producing laudable results despite its location in a high-poverty area.

In a letter to the Daily Breeze, the anonymous group of six employees accuses the new superintendent, Barbara Flores, as well as her three supporters on the elected Lennox school board, of committing a long list of misdeeds. One of those veteran employees on Friday also sent a separate packet of accusations to the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The group accuses Flores of hiring friends to serve as consultants, fostering an inappropriately cozy relationship with the district’s employee unions, spending large amounts of public money on attorneys, falsifying her resume and over-compensating for her inexperience by taking vindictive measures against subordinates, among other things.

The letter to the District Attorney’s Office insinuates that a Flores supporter on the school board is not a legal U.S. citizen, and even suggests that Flores herself, a Latina, harbors a bias against white males in a district where more than 90 percent of the students are Latino, but where many of the top administrators in recent years have been white.

“We believe that the Lennox School Board hired someone with no administrative experience who is now making it a practice to hire consultants and relying on (a law firm) to make up for her lack of knowledge, experience and integrity,” the letter to the district attorney states.

“That is why I am writing to you, recognizing the successes you have had in many communities of ridding them of corrupt, unethical public servants.”

Flores, 65, is a veteran professor of education from California State University, San Bernardino. Before her hiring in July, she had never worked as a school administrator, although she serves as president of the elected school board in San Bernardino, from where she commutes. In Lennox, she is generally supported by many parents and leaders of both of the district’s employee unions but is opposed by other employees, including managers. Like her predecessor, Fred Navarro, she earns about $177,000 a year.

Flores herself denies the accusations, chalking up the discontent to the difficulty of change.

“I believe in First Amendment rights, though I would prefer it not be anonymous, and that they have the courage to face me instead of making allegations that are untrue,” she said. “We are responsible to the children in our community – to provide the best education we can for our children. That means making everybody accountable.”

If nothing else, the complaints against Flores highlight a deepening schism in a once closely knit K-8 school district. The detractors – composed of longtime employees who decline to identify themselves for fear of losing their jobs – paint her as an under-qualified leader brought on by a slim majority of a school board that is taking an award-winning district on a fast-track to ruin.

Flores’ supporters credit her for placing the concerns of teachers, students and parents above those of higher-ups in the administration.

“We have claimed for years that district management is very top heavy,” said Brian Guerrero, president of the Lennox teachers union. “We have complained for years about perks in the administrators’ contracts – car allowances and stuff like that. … We’ve always been told, `No that’s irrelevant, no, no, no.’ She’s looking into stuff like that.”

The disharmony surfaced in November, when Brian Johnson, an administrator in the district for 35 years, was abruptly placed on paid administrative leave amid allegations that construction funds were misused. A group of supporters came to his vigorous defense, saying Johnson – who has since resigned – is a man of unimpeachable integrity.

Located in an unincorporated community in the shadow of the Los Angeles International Airport, the Lennox School District has long defied the stereotype that high-poverty communities and poorly run schools go hand in hand. Here, the whine of landing passenger jets is so incessant that all but one of the district’s schools are completely windowless.

In 1994, the district’s leader, Ken Moffett, was named Superintendent of the Year in California – and, later that year, the United States. In 2009, the Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy – a charter high school run by the district – ranked 21st on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of 100 top U.S. public high schools.

Additionally, test scores in Lennox are relatively strong, especially in light of the disadvantaged population. Two of its seven schools – Buford Avenue and Felton elementary schools – rank in the top 10 percent among similar schools statewide.

Flores’ critics say her leadership threatens to undo decades of good work.

“Less than a year ago most of us were very proud to claim Lennox as our school district,” says the letter to the Daily Breeze. “We are now hesitant to even mention that fact.”

Flores’ supporters say her style brings long-overdue transparency to the district.

Guerrero said a recent audit turned up some eyebrow-raising activity under the last administration: purchase orders written after items had arrived, “ghost employees” who no longer work for the district but remain in the system, and cash advances from credit cards in the hands of unknown possessors.

Whatever is going on – and whomever is to blame – the murky allegations over misappropriated funds have been serious enough to attract the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In December, one agent from each agency showed up together at the district office to interview employees.

Parent volunteer Teresa Canche said when it comes to listening to parent concerns, Flores is a breath of fresh air compared to her predecessors.

“If a parent went to submit a complaint, they would just leave it on the desk and we’d never hear anything about it,” said Canche, president of Lennox Middle School’s English Language Advisory Council, a parent group that advises the principal about programs for English learners. “They were so very disrespectful to us.”

Regarding the allegations of racial bias, the letter to the District Attorney’s Office brought up a specific incident.

It states that the Lennox School District’s former director of technology, Todd Barker, resigned this fall, shortly after a public event in which Flores “pointedly looked at him and stated she had been `fighting the white man’ her whole life.”

Guerrero said he witnessed the speech, and interpreted her comment not as a threat but as an allusion to her Chicano-studies background, perhaps in an attempt to connect with parents and employees in the predominantly Latino district.

“I’m white, I work with her all the time – I don’t feel like she hates me,” he said.

Flores said she believes much of the resistance likely stems from the district’s need to trim $6.3 million from its $34 million budget over the next two years. Many of these cuts, she said, will come from the administrative side of the house.

“When someone comes in to make sure you’re fiscally solvent, there is going to be pushback,” she said.

As for the letter to the District Attorney’s Office, its list of accusations is so long the cover letter consumes seven pages.

It accuses Flores of falsifying her resume, which says she earned a doctorate in 1982 from the University of Arizona in “Reading, Higher Education Administration, & Bilingual Education.”

Contacted by the Daily Breeze, university officials said although Flores did earn a doctorate there in 1982, it was only in reading – not the other two fields mentioned. University officials declined to comment further, but Flores told the Daily Breeze the two additional fields mentioned were her minors.

The letter also accuses her of spending, since July, $250,000 on the law firm Leal-Trejo, “a firm that for some reason (known only to the superintendent and board) is slowly taking over every aspect of the decision making process.”

It accuses her of hiring a consulting firm – Achievable Leadership Solution – whose lead investigator, Howard Bryan, was once mentored by Flores when he was an elementary principal in Paramount. Flores said that is true, but added that their working relationship happened about 25 years ago.

The letter even alleges that Flores has a habit of parking her car in one of the two handicapped spots at the district, charging that she has been ticketed for the offense.

Perhaps most provocatively, the letter accuses one of her supporters on the school board, Mercedes Ibarra, of living outside of the Lennox School District – and of potentially being a non-U.S. citizen.

“Because she uses numerous aliases (including Arcina and Delgadillo), it has been difficult to confirm not only her residence, but also her legal status,” the letter states. “If she is not a citizen of the United States, she would be ineligible for a seat on the school board.”

Ibarra could not be reached for comment.

The letter to the Daily Breeze also accuses current and past presidents of the teachers union of joining school board members at local restaurants for illegal secret meetings.

Guerrero says he read the letter, and vehemently denies the charge.

“I don’t know if whoever is sending them has bad information, or if whoever is sending them is making up information just to sell their cause, but my sympathy for those letters took a real dive when I saw that false information about myself,” he said. “The credibility absolutely crashed.”

Follow Rob Kuznia on Twitter at