FARMINGTON — The former executive director of Shiprock Associated Schools, Inc. cannot take his seat on the district school board even though he won the November election, according to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.
Leo Johnson, who served as executive director of the district for more than a year before he resigned in July 2012, is not eligible to be a board member because of his recent employment with the district, court documents said.
“It's a good thing, I guess,” said board member Frank Smith.
Smith was just one of the board members who disagreed with sweeping educational reforms Johnson had in store for the district last year. Johnson attempted in May to sever the contracts of all the employees at Northwest High School, one of two Bureau of Indian Affairs schools within the district.
Northwest High School serves grades 7 through 12, while Atsá Biyáázh Community School serves students in pre-kindergarten through 6th grade. The district also operates a program for disabled students.
In mid-May 2012, the district placed Johnson on paid administrative leave, with the board alleging administration misconduct.
By the end of the month, Johnson filed his candidacy papers for a seat on the board.
“He was still an employee of the school board at the time of his candidacy filing and did not submit his resignation until almost two months later, with his resignation only accepted almost a month thereafter,” court documents said.
By law, candidates running for a board seat cannot have been employees of the district within the past five years.
This detail was not brought to light until after the election, when Johnson's only opponent, Mae Sandoval, filed a grievance with the Office of Hearings and Appeals. Sandoval alleged that the Navajo Nation Election Administration Office wrongfully certified Johnson as a candidate, and in so doing upset the election.
Johnson took 53 percent of the vote, despite his recent employment with the district.
“The facts undisputedly show, and this Court so holds, that (Johnson) was not qualified to stand for election due to his employment status at the time of certification. It is also clear that (Johnson) was not forthright,” court documents said.
Sandoval is expected to take Johnson's place as an at-large board member for the SASI Board of Education.
“Some of (the board members) still support Leo,” said Smith, who said the court's decision was correct and for the better.