Decision on Inglewood Principal Affirmed

Times Staff Writer

At an emergency meeting marked by charges of political favoritism, Inglewood school board members voted once again Thursday to reverse a decision to dismiss Leonard Matthews, a politically connected former high school principal accused of embezzling school funds.

Board members voted, 3-1, to approve Supt. George McKenna’s recommendation to demote rather than fire Matthews, the former principal of Hillcrest High School, who officials say has agreed to pay the district $10,000 in restitution for funds he allegedly misused.

Board member Zyra McCloud and several residents spoke out loudly against the decision.


Ken Gossett, a local businessman, said: “Probably nowhere else in the United States would a board of trustees consider putting a person in a classroom who apparently admits to misappropriating $10,000 in public funds. . . . It is completely out of balance that you would tolerate such behavior, much less reward it.”

Matthews was not present. He and his lawyer, Carl Douglas, repeatedly have declined comment on the allegations.

Some Outraged

The vote was the second this week on the Matthews case, which has outraged some school employees and community members who say the board should fire Matthews. They say he is being protected because he has been active in the campaigns of board members Larry Aubry, Caroline Coleman, Lois Hill-Hale and Joseph Rouzan, a former Inglewood police chief.

Aubry, Coleman and Rouzan voted Thursday to reverse Matthews’ dismissal. McCloud voted no, and Hill-Hale did not attend the emergency 4:30 p.m. meeting.

McKenna and the board members said politics had nothing to do with the decision.

They noted that Matthews--who was transferred to a central administrative post after charges against him surfaced in late 1987--could again face dismissal if he is convicted of a felony. Inglewood police, who investigated the case for a year, have referred the results of their inquiry to the Los Angeles County district attorney.

At Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting, board members voted, 2 to 1, to rescind their decision in October to initiate dismissal procedures against Matthews. Instead, they demoted him from a $55,000 administrative post to a $42,000 teaching position. However, county attorneys deemed that action illegal because three votes are required for the five-member board to approve an action. That opinion forced Thursday’s emergency meeting, when the board ratified its previous vote.

Before Thursday’s vote, five residents, including Gossett and PTA Council President Norma Smith, criticized the board for being too lenient with Matthews. McKenna and the board members did not respond.

Police affidavits say Matthews set up a bank account into which he systematically diverted at least $4,000 in Hillcrest funds from employees’ paychecks, a school snack store and donations to Hillcrest from businesses during 1986 and 1987. Matthews allegedly used the school money for personal expenses including clothes, groceries and Christmas decorations for his front yard, police say.

Board members said Matthews was previously disciplined by the board in 1987 for using school district equipment to prepare political flyers for candidates.