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Five Members of Va. School Board Resign

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Five members of the Virginia Beach, Va., school board have resigned after a special grand jury declared that some board members were fiscally irresponsible and "unfit for further service."

The 76,000-student district's former superintendent, who went on to head the public schools in Gwinnett County, Ga., has also resigned from his post there.

A panel of circuit court judges convened the grand jury last fall to examine why the district ended the 1994 fiscal year with a $12.1 million deficit in its $360 million budget.

In its Feb. 28 report, the grand jury said "the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates an attitude of fiscal unconcern amounting to recklessness" by many members of the school board, the board's budget director, and Sidney Faucette, the former superintendent.

The grand jury cited numerous examples of inflated revenue estimates and unbudgeted expenditures that ultimately resulted in the shortfall.

The report urged all but two of the 11 board members to resign or risk being prosecuted for malfeasance of office, a misdemeanor crime punishable by a maximum $250 fine and loss of public office.

Donald F. Bennis and Karen O'Brien were too new to the board to be held accountable for the district's financial problems, the grand jury said.

The recent departures from the board brought to seven the total number who have quit in the past six weeks.

Early last month, one board member said he was no longer was interested in the post. Another left in protest after the board reinstated the district's financial manager, who was strongly criticized in the report as being responsible for the financial problems.

Only one board member, Tim Jackson, and Budget Director Mordecai Smith declared their intentions to remain in office last week despite the grand jury's call for them to step down.

The remaining board member was expected to announce his intentions late last week.

Repercussions in Georgia

Mr. Faucette left Virginia Beach last July to become the superintendent of the 85,000-student Gwinnett County, Ga., district.

He resigned soon after the critical grand jury report was released late last month.

"After the report came out, it's logical to understand that confidence in his leadership was shaken," said Berney Kirkland, the community-relations director for the Gwinnett County schools. "Had we known about the deficit in Virginia Beach, the board wouldn't have hired him."

Mr. Faucette was unavailable for comment last week.

Several of the Virginia Beach board members said they felt unfairly blamed for the mismanagement of Mr. Faucette and others.

'Bad Advice'

Joe Taylor, who resigned last week, said board members who earn $3,600 a year and serve on a part-time basis had no reason to question the superintendent's budget figures. "The board got bad advice, and we are being unjustly burned for it," he said.

A new superintendent, Timothy R. Jenney, took office Feb. 20. He said last week that he planned to move as quickly as possible to "begin the process of building back the trust that has been lost."

Mr. Jenney said two of the board positions will be filled by a circuit court judge, who will appoint members to two-year terms. The City Council will appoint temporary members to hold the remaining posts until an election is held May 7.

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