By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

When interim school Superintendent Alan Newell was hired, no one from Del Norte County checked his references.

And because Newell came from a district that suffered from management problems, his hiring in Crescent City has attracted some criticism from a Bay Area newspaper that charged bad superintendents have an easy time finding work.

Del Nortes school board president, Faith Crist, admitted Newells credentials were not checked before he was hired in July.

We took his name off a recommended list and all of those names had their history and experience on there, Crist said.

Crist said she wasnt sure who or what organization compiled the list. But, she said, the board relied on it for finding a replacement for former superintendent Walt Hanline.

The list makers say the board shouldnt have trusted them so completely.

We simply provide a list, we make no recommendations. The person says theyre qualified, we dont, said Milly Martinez, a staff member with the nonprofit Association of California School Administrators.

To get on the list, superintendents seeking employment have to pay a membership fee and supply a resume, said Martinez. But the group doesnt make recommendations or do background checks.

Newell said he became aware of the Contra Costa Times column soon after it was published, and was critical of the author, columnist Theresa Keegan.

In her report, she charged that Newell left his previous district under a cloud of non-performing students and financial problems in 1998.

While the Antioch Unified School District did indeed require the help of the states Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistant Team (FCMAT), Newell denied Keegans allegations that Antiochs financial problems were his fault.

A nine-month review of Antiochs finances, contained in a 30-page state report, however, does show there was plenty to be worried about at Antioch when Newell was superintendent there.

Incomplete recordkeeping was noted. Expenses for several building projects were not properly recorded, receipts were not kept, files were out of order and reports to the state were not complete, according to FCMATs report. All of which resulted in a multimillion-dollar deficit for the districts budget.

Also, the district was criticized for a land bank program that appeared to be aimed more at making a profit for the district rather than providing for future space needs, the state concluded.

Newell said he is talking with an attorney about what he sees as unfair allegations by Keegan and the Contra Costa Times, but said he didnt want to comment further on the budget problems at Antioch.

He did say, however, that Del Norte County taxpayers shouldnt be worried about his performance here.

Budgetary work is pretty much done here anyway and the authority of approval or disapproval is up to the board, Newell said.

Newell also said hes here to respond to emergencies and help guide the search for a new superintendent.

Nonetheless, there is still the question of why the board didnt check Newells past, before relying on him to keep this district running.

Im not going to comment on that, said boardmember Bob Berkowitz.

Crist said Newell was mainly hired as a consultant to help the board find and screen a permanent superintendent, and during that process, references will be checked.

We will check references, definitely, she said.

Newell said he believes his experience qualifies him to help Del Norte County find an able replacement to lead the school district.

He emphasized that checking references and past performances of potential hires for the top job will be a standard part of the process.