Hazlett Returns As PSA Business & Finance Head

SAN BERNARDINO – Peggi Hazlett, who was lionized as the prime mover in the effort to rehabilitate the Public Safety Academy last year but then resigned as the charter school’s executive director when it was suggested she was likewise profiting from her association with the school, has now returned to serve as the academy’s director of business, finance and communications.
The San Bernardino Public Safety Academy was founded by Michael Dickinson, a one-time arson investigator, in 1999 as an unaccredited educational seminar for teenagers pertaining to fire science. The seminars broadened to include law enforcement issues, and with the assistance of others, Dickinson established a campus at the former Norton Air Force Base. In 2005, the school received accreditation and Dickinson made a petition to transform the school into a charter academy under the sponsorship of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, achieving that goal in 2006.  The academy found a niche among students who aspired to careers in the field of public safety.  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 2011, a report commissioned by the district found the academy’s accounting practices deficient and cataloged arrearages with regard to accounts payable.
In May 2011, 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 head principal, Kathy Toy, recommended that the board of trustees terminate Susan Dickinson, Michael Dickinson dismissed the board of trustees before they could do so.
At that point Hazlett, who was a board member of the Public Safety Academy, on June 20, 2011 filed suit on behalf of herself and her board colleagues 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. The board then terminated 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.
With the academy’s charter due for renewal earlier this year, the academy’s board began casting about to hire a new CEO to reassure the San Bernardino City Unified School District the academy was again focused on its educational mission. But the board succeeded only in stepping further into controversy on February 8, when without giving previous public notification it chose Hazlet to serve as what was first deemed to be CEO. To take the position, Hazlett abruptly resigned as special assistant to San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris. Hazlett’s hiring was undertaken so hastily that one of the academy’s board members who was absent from the meeting, San Bernardino Fire Chief Michael Conrad, did not learn that the hiring had occurred until after the meeting. While Hazlett and the board members present justified the alacrity of the move as being an emergency action, there was an immediate firestorm of controversy when it was learned that Hazlett boasted a rather thin academic record, with some college coursework in public administration at San Bernardino Valley College, but no college degree. As Conrad went public with statements to the effect that he disapproved of the process by which Hazlett had been elevated from the non-paying board of directors to the paid position of chief executive, other board members sought to defend selecting her, pointing out that she had worked as a special assistant to Morris and his predecessor as San Bernardino mayor, Judith Valles, before that was an environmental projects assistant with the city of San Bernardino  and was also the chief financial officer as well as  an administrator and instructor at the Dikaios Christian Academy in San Bernardino from July 1994 to July 1996. By virtue of that experience, the majority of the board deemed her to be qualified to serve as charter academy CEO. Charges that Hazlett simply lacked the academic credentials to serve in the capacity of a CEO of an educational institution were resounding, however, and on February 28, the board met to clarify that her status was actually that of executive director rather than chief executive officer and her area of responsibility would be to oversee the academy’s daily operations, finances and business affairs on an interim basis.   She resigned from the board on February 29 and on March 1 began as executive director. But her secret elevation to the paying position by the board while she was a member of the board resulted in the filing of a complaint with the district attorney’s public integrity unit. On March 15, Hazlett abruptly resigned as executive director and the public integrity unit dropped its inquiry.
Last week, after more than a two-month cooling-off period, the charter school’s board moved to hire Hazlett as director of business, finance and communications. She went to work on May 17.
The district has decided to forego hiring an executive director, and Hazlett’s function will fill much of that role. One of the advertised qualifications for the post was “a college degree in business management, finance or related fields and five years experience” or in the alternative, “ten years experience of articulable progressive responsibility involving the described job responsibilities, preferably in either an educational or governmental environment.” According to the board, Hazlett met the alternative qualifications.  Hazlett beat out two other applicants for the job.

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