Madison Parish school boss suspended|[9/07/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2006

TALLULAH – Madison Parish School District Superintendent Michael A. Johnson filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Sixth Judicial District Court against the school board after it suspended him pending an internal investigation.

Johnson’s attorney, Joy R. Jackson of Tallulah, said the school board’s action is unjustified.

&#8220It’s nothing,” she said. &#8220Basically, (they) say they are investigating central office operations, which could cover anything. They have nothing, and his due process rights have completely been violated.”

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Court documents show the superintendent is seeking reinstatement and a temporary restraining order against the school board. A hearing before Judge Michael Lancaster is set for Sept. 30 at 9:30 a.m.

&#8220Being placed on administrative leave in order to allow the (board) to go on a witch hunt will cause the school district to lose most, if not all, the momentum it is building,” the suit says. &#8220An investigation, if it can actually be called a legitimate investigation, can be done with the petitioner actively fulfilling the obligations and being given the rights under his lawful contract with the (board).”

Board members voted Friday to suspend Johnson while special counsel investigates possible wrongdoing. Dr. Patricia Candler, an employee of the district’s central office, was appointed acting superintendent during a regular school board meeting Tuesday.

&#8220Various board members have received information that gives cause for concern,” Terry Farlow-Hall wrote to board President Reuben Hayden. &#8220This information may or may not be accurate but needs to be investigated.”

Farlow-Hall, seeking her second term in office, did not return messages.

During a special meeting Friday, Farlow-Hall asked the board to hire Grant & Barrow of Gretna, La., for an independent review of Johnson’s job performance. But it was unclear why the superintendent’s work was being scrutinized.

Neither special counsel Jack Grant nor board attorney Jon Guice returned messages.

Five of the seven board members voted to suspend Johnson 30 days with pay &#8220so that he cannot be accused of interfering” with the investigation. Hayden voted against the 30-day suspension. One member was absent.

The agenda was amended to include a 30-day &#8220limit” on Johnson’s suspension. Originally, Johnson was to be suspended indefinitely. Five members voted for that motion, with Patty Fairbanks Watts dissenting.

Johnson’s suit claims the board did not grant his due process rights when it failed to give notice of complaints or charges against him and to allow him to appear in a hearing before he was suspended.

&#8220The (board) has sought continuously, individually and collectively to undermine petitioner’s progress under his contract,” the suit says. &#8220They have denied him all due process rights guaranteed by law and through his contract.”

A native of Harlem, N.Y., Johnson, 55, signed a three-year contract with the district in August 2005, at $95,000 a year. He replaced Samuel Dixon, who had been superintendent for nine years.