Longform

Townsel-ectomy

Page 2 of 5

Now, after two years of relative quiet from the ethnic politics, scandal and financial turmoil that rocked this district in the past, Roosevelt is gripped by the fear that the turmoil is about to return.

The issue at hand, that of Townsel's wrongdoing, is supposed to be about money. But if the district's history is any indication, it's likely to be about race and politics and a whole lot of other things.

When asked about the case against Townsel, the Reverend Brooks, his staunchest supporter, says, "Remember this, black men are under the gun in this country. It started with Adam Powell."

Charles Townsel is infamous in the Sacramento County, California, Office of Education. Twenty years ago, he was superintendent of the Del Paso School District in the Del Paso Heights suburb of Sacramento.

Del Paso is a low-income district with many of the same financial problems as Roosevelt. Back then, the district was nearly 85percent African American, the remainder divided between Latinos and Anglos.

In those days, a time between the civilrights movement and the backlash over affirmative action, minority administrators were scarce, though their numbers were beginning to climb. Townsel became director of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Meanwhile, his school district faced mounting financial problems.
Townsel tangled with county auditors over expenses they routinely questioned and frequently disallowed--things like travel expenses, consultants' fees, long-distance phone calls, furniture and membership dues.

"It was something all the time," remembers Marge Buckendorf, who oversaw DelPaso's expenses for Sacramento County. "We had to do a special audit on that district because he had so much that was wrong."

Townsel responded to New Times' inquiry with a certified letter suggesting he would be willing to discuss only the issues at hand inthe Roosevelt School District. But then he failed to return repeated phone calls.

Most of the pertinent 20-year-old financial records of the Del Paso School District no longer exist. However, Sacramento Bee reporter Art Campos detailed the nearly constant financial andpolitical turmoil the district endured under Townsel. County auditors and Del Paso school board members tell New Times that the Bee's accounts are accurate.

While Townsel was superintendent, theU.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; California Department of Education; Senate Finance Committee; Auditor General's Office; and a Sacramento County grand jury all took issue with Del Paso and Townsel's expenses.

The county refused Townsel's travel claims "primarily for such items as lost airline tickets, duplicate meal charges and discrepancies in hotel stays and conference dates," according to news reports confirmed by the auditors.

The district had to repay $7,640 in federal funds for sending children, parents and staff on an unauthorized field trip to New York.

Del Paso also had to repay $197,891 for violations in federal job programs.
The California Department of Education said $103,972 in state and federal funds were not properly accounted for. Meanwhile, a Sacramento County grand jury took issue with how $65,000 in Title7 Emergency School Aid funds for disadvantaged children were spent.

By 1979, Del Paso was $217,398 in debt and took out a loan from the county to cover the deficit.

And the community was in turmoil.
A citizens' group worked to recall three Townsel supporters on the board.
One of the people leading the charge against Townsel was another African American, Grantland Johnson. He is now regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a former Sacramento city councilman and county supervisor. His wife, Charlot Bolton, was a member of the Del Paso School Board during Townsel's tenure.

"We weren't about to wait for the public institutions to do something," Johnson remembers. "It was clear to us that had it not been a low-income, minority district, none of this would have happened. It never would have been tolerated.

"We had the research that clearly showed malfeasance and mismanagement," Johnson says. "People in positions of responsibility very well could have conducted much more thorough, intrinsic investigations."

And so the community took matters into its own hands and, in doing so, was plunged into the most turbulent racial and political era in its history.

Dora Huntzig, another Del Paso board member and an opponent of Townsel, remembers those days vividly.

"The racial thing came in because I'm Hispanic," she says. "The theme was always, 'What are we doing for the black community?' Well, what about the black children who went to school there?"

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Lisa Davis