Art Johnson: When criticism turns to vendetta

Enough already. The bleating of the negligibly small number of local parents who filed complaints of criminal fraud and cover-up charges against former superintendent Art Johnson., is way overdone. These parents have a right to complain. But more reasonable heads also have the right to counter, “Enough. You have had your ‘day in court’, now get on with your life and spare the school district your destructive rancor and bitterness.”

These parents remind me of the dodo bird. This creature became extinct, an example of how the non-adaptive do not survive and flourish because they lose their ability to cope with the realistic outcomes of the world.

Let’s go back. In February 2010, four parents submitted an ethics complaint to the state of Florida, saying Johnson “intentionally distort(ed)” or misrepresented facts regarding misappropriation of money. The state summarily dismissed the Complaint.

In October, four parents submitted another complaint alleging criminal fraud and document destruction. The Complaint was disregarded. That same month, another Complaint was submitted to the school district audit department, alleging a cover-up by Johnson. The school board commissioned an outside audit firm to review the complaint. $38,000 later, the audit report found “no evidence of misconduct” by Johnson. The SunSentinel headline was “INQUIRY EXONERATES JOHNSON”. “In the end, audit committee members voted (unanimously) Friday to accept the report…”

My observation is that these parents and the teacher’s union have been the tail that wagged the dog since the new school board was elected last fall.

If there comes a time in the public arena when criticism turns to vendetta, and disagreement turns to demolition, then the legitimacy of the original beef has been shoved aside when the politics of personal destruction come into play. That is the line that has been crossed by those people who insist on having Art Johnson’s head on a pole.

A small group of meddlesome parents weren’t content with barroom tactics that pushed a weak-kneed school board into over-reacting, and firing the best superintendent the Palm Beach County school district has seen in at least the last 25 years. The school board didn’t even wait for the results of their audit before kowtowing to the loud people and the teacher’s union at their meetings, and firing Johnson.

There are a lot of players in the local educational system: teachers, students, principals, administrators, school board, parents, teacher’s union and businesses (which become either plagued or blessed with students who graduate and enter the work force).

When one or two of these players follow a destructive path, the whole system usually suffers. So it happened that a few parents and the union sought to criminalize some errors in judgment, cherry-picked from a sea of positive results accomplished over the years by Johnson. This is the man who steered the school district to the highest ratings in Florida among urban districts over a six-year period. But Johnson’s tenure was ended at a critical moment in the school district.

The investigations and the audit show that Johnson committed no misconduct or crime. Anybody who knows Art Johnson knows there is nothing criminal about him. His laundry is not dirty. Enough with trying to discredit the audit. Let it go. The school system should not be ruled by loud mobs or by committee. Let’s get on with the task of educating children.

The parents in this sordid little episode need to take a lesson from the fate of the dodo bird, who could not accept reality, who could not adapt to changing situations, and whose stupidity caused his extinction.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.
John R. Smith

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