Supporters of a high-ranking Lennox School District administrator placed on paid leave in connection with a probe into the misuse of public funds passionately defended him at a special school board meeting Monday night.

A handful of colleagues and friends addressed the board to vouch for the integrity of Brian Johnson, the district's assistant superintendent of administrative services. Johnson has been an employee of the K-8 school district - which sits in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport - for more than 25 years.

"He is probably the most ethical, honest person I've ever met," said Meg Sanchez, an assistant principal at Lennox Middle School. "He is such a rule follower that those of us who really know Brian - he doesn't color outside of the lines. - He's just the last person in the world that I think would do anything inappropriate with any part of any budget."

The nature of the investigation remains murky, as school officials have not disclosed the amount of money in question or described the red flags they say were discovered.

But it involves the construction project of a new campus for Jefferson Elementary, to be built adjacent to the current campus at 10322 Condon Ave. The project is in the beginning phases, but work has ground to a halt, sources say.

Johnson was placed on leave last week. On Friday, Barbara Flores, the district's new superintendent, sent a mass email to employees stating that the district is in danger of losing state construction dollars due to a possible lack of administrative oversight and supervision. Without naming Johnson, the email also alluded to "possible changes in district staffing" and an investigation to determine whether any wrongdoing has occurred regarding management of public funds.


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The board on Monday had little to say publicly about the matter, but did, in a 3-1 vote, opt to hire a third-party company to audit the district's finances. Voting against it was board member Juan Navarro, who said he didn't want to spend $15,000 to hire Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team - known throughout the state as FCMAT. (Board member Angela Fajardo abstained.)

Meanwhile, not everyone who spoke to the board came to Johnson's defense.

Jose Luis Nuno, a parent, said friendship shouldn't get in the way of a thorough investigation.

"I know many of the teachers have a good relationship with Mr. Johnson, but you have to put that aside," Nuno said. "You can (know) him for 20, 30 years, but that's a friendship. This is business. This is money."

Shannon Thomas Allen, another parent, wondered out loud whether there is a wider scandal.

"My question of the day is not about Brian Johnson's character or what he does in his personal life," she said. "My question of the day is, OK, if he has something to do with this, that's fine. But in my heart, and in my mind, I believe that he's not the only one."

But the majority of the dozen or so speakers were supportive of Johnson.

"While I do not know all the facts, I do know Brian Johnson," said Silvana Fusco, a veteran teacher in the district. "I know Brian to be an ethical and moral person. - In the justice system, a man is innocent until proven guilty. But in this case it seems he is guilty until proven innocent."

Taking a more neutral stance was Brian Guerrero, president of the Lennox teachers union.

"Personally, I wish him all the best," he said. "Money has to be managed right. And they've got to do whatever they've got to do - I'm glad they are doing the audit."

In defense of Johnson, Guerrero said that, until this year, he was probably wearing too many hats. Johnson was in charge of not only administrative services, but also construction budgets.

The district until this year had been operating with just three members of the top-level cabinet. This year, it expanded the circle to four with the hiring of Jose Dominguez, an assistant superintendent.

"It seems like that fourth superintendent was a good decision," he said. "Hopefully, it wasn't too late."

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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