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Compton school district fires superintendent

The board of the Compton Unified School District has voted to fire the district superintendent over her use of district credit cards for personal purchases.

Kaye E. Burnside had been on administrative leave since late May. The board’s 4-2 vote Tuesday night to fire her came after a district-commissioned investigation into her credit card use.

The investigation found that Burnside had made about $14,000 in personal charges on the district card and did not reimburse the district for several thousand dollars’ worth.

The exact amount of unreimbursed charges is still unclear.

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Burnside said in a public statement before the vote that she believed she had reimbursed the district for all personal use of the card and that she had been unaware that it was against district policy to make personal charges on the cards. Previous administrators had been doing so for 26 years, she said.

She called the district’s investigation shoddy and incomplete.

In her statement, Burnside threatened legal action against the district, saying that if the board voted to fire her, it would be wrongful termination.

“I had the courage to make decisions that moved the district forward. In doing so, I undoubtedly stepped on some toes,” she said. “The manner in which I have been treated clearly smacks of retaliation and harassment.”

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School board members declined to comment in detail on the reason for Burnside’s firing. Board President Mae Thomas said, apart from the credit card issue, she felt Burnside had brought in too many consultants at a time when the district was facing staff layoffs.

“I think the teachers need to have more of a voice in what we do,” Thomas said.

The handful of community members who spoke at the meeting backed the ousted superintendent, citing gains in test scores and student achievement in her two-year tenure. Yolanda Lopez, a Mexican immigrant and the parent of two district students, said Burnside took pains to reach out to previously disenfranchised Latino families by providing translated materials and improving the district’s programs for students learning English as a second language.

“When the superintendent came, she listened to the parents’ complaints — she opened the door,” Lopez said in Spanish.

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Burnside was not the first public official who has run into issues with the district’s credit card. A former school board member, Basil Kimbrew, was convicted of misappropriating funds in 2005 for charging nearly $2,000 on his school board credit card to pay for a private party after he was forced to step down from the board.

The school district’s turbulent history includes an eight-year stint in state receivership prompted by a dismal financial and academic record. The state took over operation of the schools in 1993 as a condition of an emergency $20-million loan to the district.

Although the district has continued to struggle since returning to local control in 2001, it has made academic gains in recent years. The district as a whole showed significant gains on statewide assessment scores in the last school year, although it did not meet federal benchmarks.

Former Deputy Supt. Karen Frison has been acting as superintendent since Burnside was placed on leave. Thomas said the board had not determined how to move forward with finding a permanent replacement.

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abby.sewell@latimes.com


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