More bad news for troubled district

Times Staff Writer

The man selected to become superintendent of the troubled San Juan Capistrano Unified School District has backed out of the deal, officials said Wednesday.

Dennis M. Smith, who had been expected to assume his duties July 1, said in a letter to the district’s board that he had reconsidered taking the position because of “uncertainty and instability” facing the district.

“I have looked forward to working with the current board members to establish a new vision that enables the district to move forward,” Smith wrote. “That optimistic view was based on the presumption that several legal controversies and leadership challenges facing the district had been resolved.... However, there are indications that these problems may persist for well into the future.”

Smith, currently superintendent of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, was named in March to replace longtime Supt. James A. Fleming, who resigned in August after a 15-year tenure marred by controversies.


Fleming was indicted last week on felony charges of misappropriating public funds, using district funds to influence an election and conspiracy to commit acts injurious to the public for allegedly, among other things, creating an “enemies list” of people opposing him.

A former assistant superintendent was also indicted.

“The conditions under which I accepted the position of superintendent,” Smith wrote on Wednesday, “have clearly changed.”

He could not be reached for comment.


School board President Sheila Benecke expressed regret at Smith’s decision. “We hired Dr. Smith to lead us into a new era,” she said in a written statement.

“Sadly, there are factions in our community that refuse to let us emerge from the past to let that happen.”