Superintendent Art Johnson's job on the line? - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Superintendent Art Johnson's job on the line?

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson's contract, and possibly the fate of his job, will be the topic of an emergency discussion by the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday night.

Johnson, 66, is signed to lead the Palm Beach County Schools, the nation's 11th-largest school system, through June 2014, with a $300,000 annual salary.

But two weeks ago, the board ordered an investigation by an outside auditing firm for possible misconduct. The latest crisis for the school system's chief who has been in power since March 2001.

The recent allegations concern Johnson's supervision last year of controversial former Chief Academic Officer Jeffrey Hernandez, who used paid leave and sick days to consult for schools in Memphis, Tenn.

Johnson is accused of having a hand in the alleged fabrication of Hernandez's payment records, and allowing Hernandez to allegedly violate employee policies against using sick leave improperly.

Johnson declined to comment about the pending discussion of his contract when reached by phone Tuesday night.

The School Board can fire Johnson at any time without any reason, by giving him 90 days notice. He would be eligible for up to six months of his salary.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson on Tuesday afternoon asked for Johnson's contract to be discussed, citing "the immediacy of the issue."

Robinson declined to comment about her request when reached on her cell phone Tuesday night. She also wants the board to have a separate emergency discussion about asking the Palm Beach County inspector general to investigate the deletion of all of Hernandez's work e-mails from January to June 2010.

A school district police investigative report — which was released after the auditing firm was hired by the board — confirmed Hernandez sent e-mails during that period by recovering some of them from other employees. But the "non-criminal personnel investigation" concluded on January 11 that there was no evidence "which would suggest that anything inappropriate occurred".

Robinson said "there is a question of destruction of public records".

Hernandez resigned June 30, after a year of tumult over extra testing and other academic initiatives that also brought intense criticism against Johnson.

Hernandez has said his work for Memphis at a rate of $1,500 a day never conflicted with his $180,000 annual employment contract with Palm Beach County schools. Johnson has said he gave permission to Hernandez for the consulting.

Johnson has served longer than most superintendents across the nation.

Broward Superintendent James F. Notter became the 18th permanent superintendent of the Broward County school system in August 2007. He took the job on an interim basis in November 2006 when the School Board forced the resignation of Frank Till.

Alberto M. Carvalho became Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in September 2008.

Under Johnson's watch, the Palm Beach County School District has earned an "A" rating from the Florida Department of Education for six-straight years based on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. No other urban district can make the claim.

Johnson is a career public educator who rose through the ranks in the county to become a high school principal, chief academic officer, and ultimately, the superintendent. He also served two years as an elected School Board member.

Johnson critic Peter Kimball, of Jupiter, one of four parents whose examination of Hernandez's work records led to the outside investigation, said he wasn't sure why the board suddenly wanted to discuss Johnson's contract.

"I wouldn't start writing the obituary yet," he said.

Marc Freeman can be reached at mjfreeman@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6642.

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