Peggi Hazlett has resigned as the interim executive director of the San Bernardino’s Public Safety Academy, less than a month after she assumed the job.
Hazlett, a member of the Public Safety Academy’s board of trustees and a special assistant to San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris, had resigned both of those posts to take up the $88,000-a-year job as the school’s top administrator on March 1. But on March 15, she abruptly tendered her resignation.
She gave no grounds for her action. There had been some degree of controversy over the board’s decision to elevate her to interim executive director, particularly with regard to the lack of advance public notice of the action and the consideration that Hazlett lacked both undergraduate and advanced degrees commonly held by school administrators and that her oversight of the academy’s financial circumstance was redundant.
That issue was smoothed over before Hazlett assumed the post, however, when it was agreed that she would carry the title of executive director rather than chief executive officer, and board president Rich Lawhead leapt to her defense in pointing out that she had strong organizational skills, extensive contacts in the community, a proven track record on the board and in previously running a Christian-based home-schooling academy in San Bernardino for two years.
The Public Safety Academy is a public charter school dedicated to preparing teens and pre-teens for careers in public safety. The California Education Code provides for the formation of charter schools under the aegis of a sponsoring local school district, which in this case is the San Bernardino City Unified School District. Charter schools function outside the normal parameters of normal schools and can offer a curriculum and educational smorgasbord unavailable in traditional public schools.
The academy, which now has its campus at the former Norton Air Force Base, was founded as an unaccredited educational seminar in 2000 by Michael Dickinson, a one-time arson investigator. In 2005, the school was given accreditation. Nevertheless, under Dickinson, the Public Safety Academy fell short of both educational and accounting goals over the several years of its operation, then plunged into chaos last year. Four years ago a financial review revealed the school had not kept accurate payroll and accounting records, and had spent $164,000 that was not budgeted for. There were also questions about $20,000 worth of expenditures for laptops that were either never delivered, misappropriated or stolen. In January of last year, a report commissioned by the district found the academy’s accounting practices deficient and cataloged arrearages with regard to accounts payable.
Last spring, Michael Dickinson’s wife who served as a principal at one of the school’s campuses, Susan Dickinson, fell under the charter school board’s focus after a report surfaced that she had crossed the line in prepping her students for questions contained in the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting exam by showing them some of the questions contained in the test. When the charter school’s principal, Kathy Toy, recommended that the board of trustees terminate Susan Dickinson, Michael Dickinson dismissed the board of trustees before they could do so.
On June 20, 2011 the Public Safety Academy board, led by Hazlett, filed suit against Public Safety Academy Inc., an adjunct to the academy set up and controlled by Michael Dickinson, who received $121,000 per year in salary for his services. That suit sought to restore the authority of the board that Michael Dickinson had terminated. In July, the court ruled that the board had legal authority to run the charter academy, and the contracts of Michael Dickinson, as the chief executive officer, and Dickinson’s hand-picked chief financial officer, Mike Davis, who was paid $120,000 per year, were terminated.
In recent months, the Public Safety Academy has scrambled to maintain its existence and at its February 8 meeting, the board settled upon Hazlett as the dynamic leader needed to lead the school.
At present, the academy is in the process of seeking to have its charter renewed by the San Bernardino City Unified School District, and Hazlett had overseen the preparation of that charter reapplication. Her departure at this point could complicate the process.
The board was scheduled to meet late this week to discuss finding a replacement for her.