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Dehesa school district picks new superintendent

The tiny Dehesa School District in east San Diego County has hired a new superintendent after going through three leaders in the past year.

On Thursday the Dehesa school board hired Bradley Johnson, chief business officer at the also-tiny Rancho Santa Fe School District, as its new superintendent. Johnson will start on Feb. 10 and will be paid a $176,000 annual salary.

Dehesa has needed a new leader ever since former superintendent Nancy Hauer resigned with a year’s salary, effective Oct. 31.

She was indicted in May for allegedly over-charging fees from charter schools. Hauer was indicted along with 10 other people in connection with what prosecutors say was a statewide network of fraudulent charter schools called A3 that was allegedly used to cheat the state out of tens of millions of dollars.

Dehesa authorized some A3 charter schools under Hauer’s leadership, including a school that paid for students’ personal information which the school used to falsely enroll students, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors blamed a lack of proper oversight by Dehesa and other districts that authorized A3 schools for enabling the A3 schools to proliferate and carry out fraudulent activities.

Hauer, who pleaded not guilty, went on paid leave shortly after she was indicted. Two retired superintendents have since filled in as temporary district leaders.

In a letter to members of the school community, Dehesa School Board President Cindy White said that board members chose Johnson because he has the ability to manage Dehesa’s operations and finances. Previously, Dehesa had employed a superintendent and a separate business officer for the single-elementary-school district of roughly 150 students.

With Johnson’s appointment, the two positions will be combined to save money.

“Mr. Johnson brings to this position years of experience in public education administrative leadership roles,” White said in her letter. “His expertise is matched by a calm confidence that our Board believes will help our District manage our current issues while setting a clear direction to continue providing excellent education to all of our students.”

Johnson became the chief business officer at Rancho Santa Fe, a district of about 600 students in north San Diego County, in 2017. Before that, he was a manager for construction company Gafcon, where he worked with Grossmont Union High and Sweetwater Union High school districts on their facilities programs, Johnson said. He also has taught as a faculty member at for-profit colleges, including Ashford University.

Johnson will take the helm at Dehesa at a time of significant budget cuts. Dehesa has said it must make staffing cuts to make ends meet next school year, after its charter school fee revenue dropped due to corrections to charter oversight fees and the loss of some charter schools, including A3 schools that closed after the indictment.

Dehesa also has been over-spending, Acting Superintendent Rich Thome has said. In the 2017-2018 school year, Dehesa spent $29,636 per student — more than twice the state average for elementary-only school districts, according to Ed-data.org.

Johnson, who said he was approached about the Dehesa job opening, said he believes he can use his background and experience to help the district overcome its challenges.

“It was a great opportunity for me to utilize some of my skill sets I learned over the years and some of my training and background in order to help the district get through some of the challenging times it is going through right now,” Johnson said.

Johnson also will lead the district as it revamps its approach to overseeing its five current charter schools.

Every California charter school must be authorized by a school board to operate; most often, it’s a school district board. It is that school board and school district’s job to hold the charter school accountable.

This will be the first time Johnson will be in charge of helping oversee charter schools. He said he has received some training in charter school oversight through the California Association of School Business Officials’ certification process.

He added that the Dehesa board and the district’s legal counsel will brief him on Dehesa’s charter schools, as well as the new charter school laws that went into effect this year.

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