Darnise Williams, Sequoia Union High School District's former superintendent, was implicated in a pay scandal in the Los Angeles Unified School District prior to being hired by Sequoia, a recent Los Angeles Times story has revealed.
Williams, a popular superintendent who left her position at Sequoia less than two years into her three-year contract under undisclosed circumstances, was one of a number of Los Angeles school district employees who allegedly took thousands of dollars in overtime pay that wasn't properly authorized, according to court and district documents obtained by the LA Times.
At the time, Williams worked for the Los Angeles school district in then-Superintendent Austin Beutner's cabinet as senior director, a position she held for a year. Prior to her cabinet position, she was administrator of instruction in LAUSD's Local District West. She was demoted for her part in the scandal in July 2020 after filing for and receiving three years' worth of extra pay totaling $78,051.
In all, a handful of upper-tier staff collected $750,000 during a three-year period starting in 2017. Overtime pay above salaries is granted in the LA school district only in rare, emergency situations, according to administrators cited in the LA Times story. Staff who submitted for the pay didn't follow district rules when applying for overtime compensation and did so repeatedly. Other administrators then improperly approved the pay, according to the LA Times.
"The extra pay coincided with the run-up to the teachers’ strike of January 2019, when district officials stressed that the school system was operating as efficiently as it could and struggling to provide basic services to students — leaving it unable to afford raises sought by teachers and low-paid nonteaching staff," the article noted.
The scandal came to light in court documents filed by a former employee who was suing for harassment.
In an email on Sept. 28, a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson said: "In 2020 and under a former superintendent, the District was made aware of allegations of potential violations of district policy related to additional work compensation. After a full investigation, it was determined there were no violations of law, and the District took the necessary steps and approach. Given the gravity of these allegations and the responsibility to ensure all guidelines and procedures are adhered to, this administration is conducting a full review and reserves the right to take appropriate action as necessary."
The emailed statement added that all personnel matters are private and confidential, so district officials cannot comment on why an employee transitioned to other positions within Los Angeles Unified.
Williams did not respond to requests for comment.
Sequoia Union High School District said in a statement that the district was not aware of any of the claims referenced in the Los Angeles Times article during Dr. Williams' hiring process and that it is not conducting an investigation at this time.
"As Superintendent, Dr. Williams was only entitled to pay as per the terms of her contract. Dr. Williams' contract did not include overtime pay. All purchases and reimbursements made by the Superintendent's office were reconciled according to District procedure," Sequoia Union said.
Williams's departure in mid-December 2022 from Sequoia set off a firestorm in the school community. She was the district's first Black female superintendent, a hire that was widely lauded by the community. Many felt she was pushed out by the board, which said the decision was by mutual agreement. Others decried the decision as racist.
Details were never revealed as to why Williams resigned. She was subsequently hired as superintendent by the Pacifica School District and began there on July 1.
Pacifica School Board President Lynda Brocchini, in an email on Thursday, Sept. 28, said that the board underwent an extensive background check of Williams prior to hiring her, which included conversations with her previous employers. "I can confirm that LA Unified was one of those districts," she said.
"After those conversations, the Board of Trustees was satisfied with the results of the vetting process and determined that Dr. Williams was the best candidate to serve as the superintendent of the Pacifica School District," said Brocchini.