School Trustee Files for Stress Compensation

Times Staff Writer

Elected school board member Bernice Woods has filed a workers' compensation claim seeking "lifetime medical care" to relieve stress allegedly applied to her "psyche" by Supt. Ted D. Kimbrough.

The on-the-job injury claim, lodged against the Compton Unified School District, accuses Kimbrough of generally harassing Woods--a constant critic of his administration--from March of 1984 to now. Kimbrough will appear at a June 30 administrative hearing in Norwalk to answer the charge.

But earlier this week, the superintendent flatly denied the accusation and branded the 62-year-old Woods' quest for medical care as "totally unethical."

"I have never heard of an elected public official making such a claim against a district in which she is supposed to be a trustee," Kimbrough said. "It is a very unique situation," in part because it amounts to "a public admittance of her incompetence to serve on the board."

Term Expires in 1987

Woods, an 11-year trustee whose current four-year term expires in 1987, could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Lawrence Gross, was also unavailable for comment, according to his secretary.

The dispute is only the latest in a long line of confrontations that have focused on Kimbrough and left the seven-member Compton board bitterly divided at a time when their 29,197-student district faces some of the most serious educational problems in the county. Not the least of those problems is a tattered image.

"It's just going to bring additional negative publicity to us," board President Kelvin Filer said in reaction to Woods' mental-disability claim. "What I hope is that people will see this as such a ridiculous claim that they won't give it a second thought."

Filer, an attorney, said he "can't believe" that Woods would make such a claim. "I don't see how an elected official has suffered stress in carrying out their duties. . . . Stress comes with being a public official."

Board member Mary Henry said she was also outraged by the action.

"In my three years on the board I have not seen any change in the pattern of (Woods') behavior," Henry said. "This is simply my own personal opinion, but I believe that Mrs. Woods is trying to ensure her future financially, and she is using the school district to that end."

While applauding Woods' past contributions to the district, Henry contended that her colleague "has been in a very calculated manner working up to this time. There have been statements that the superintendent has been 'out to get' her."

'Greed and Lust'

Henry described the case as "a very sad one. . . . Greed and lust and the desire for comfort might have come into play."

If Woods were to win her claim for lifetime care, Henry said, "We're talking probably half a million dollars. . . . She's in good shape, she'll probably live forever."

Trustee John Steward, whose own conflicts with Kimbrough have erupted into at least one public shouting match, said that he believes Woods' complaint stems from a fall she suffered in March, 1984, as she was leaving a school board meeting. Two of Woods' teeth were knocked out and her hip was injured, Steward said, to the extent that she is unable to drive and sometimes walks with a cane.

Steward said Woods was apparently receiving compensation for her physical injuries, but the benefits recently were interrupted or stopped.

"I think that's where her term of harassment came from," Steward said. "She has been affected by this, there's no question."

Denies Benefits Halted

Kimbrough, however, denied that Woods was no longer receiving benefits.

"This is the kind of thing that just blows people's minds when it comes to taking advantage of the public dollar," he said. "It is a bizarre misuse of a trustee's charge when they are elected."

Because she is a trustee, Woods will also have her legal expense paid by the district, Kimbrough said.

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