Fired Darrington school official continues to collect pay as hearing delayed again

DARRINGTON — Superintendent Larry Johnson continues to collect a paycheck while the Darrington School Board, which fired him in February, continues to wait for Johnson’s appeal.

The appeal hearing was delayed for a third time last week, when the hearing officer involved announced that the hearing had been rescheduled from this month to Feb. 20.

More than a year has past since Johnson was placed on paid leave from his job as school superintendent following the death of a Darrington school employee at his home in October 2010.

Johnson, whose annual salary is about $117,000, remains on administrative leave with pay and benefits during the appeal process.

After the board’s vote Feb. 9 to terminate his contract, Johnson was entitled by law to appeal the decision and he chose to do so. The date of the closed-door hearing moved in succession from spring to summer to fall as Johnson repeatedly asked for more time to review evidence and interview witnesses.

The hearing officer did impose a cutoff of Jan. 10 on all new evidence in order to help avoid further delays, said school board president Julie Kuntz.

“During this legal matter new evidence has been brought to light that in fairness to all concerned must be reviewed,” Kuntz said in a written statement. “We deeply regret the emotional toll this has taken on the district and its employees and families. At the heart of our concern is the increasing financial burden that these delays bring. The school board wishes to assure our community that we are trying to navigate this process in the most timely and prudent manner. We respectfully ask for the patience and support of our community.”

The school board voted to terminate the superintendent because board members believed Johnson had a “less-than-professional” relationship with an employee, and that his alleged conduct “ultimately harmed the school district.”

It has been more than a year since the school district’s finance director died after a drug overdose at Johnson’s home in Darrington. An investigation by the district turned up evidence that Johnson, now in his late 50s, apparently treated the co-worker more as a close friend than an employee. Sheriff’s investigators said they found no evidence of foul play or of a crime in the woman’s death.

Dave Holmer, the high school principal, continues in his role as interim superintendent.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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