Behind closed doors: SUSD considers bevy of legal remedies in wake of Attorney General lawsuit

The Scottsdale Unified School District met at Mohave District Annex to discuss a number of legal issues on Feb. 27. (file photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District appears to be pursing a settlement agreement with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office behind closed doors.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board is expected to consider a bevy of legal actions following an executive session this afternoon. The school board’s meeting is called for 1 p.m. at Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road.

An agreement with the Arizona Attorney General’s office is expected to be discussed this afternoon, Public Information Officer Erin Helm confirmed in a Feb. 27 phone call.

Dr. Denise Birdwell

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Arizona Attorney General’s office filed a civil lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior court against the Scottsdale Unified School District, requesting to halt the ongoing construction at Hohokam Elementary School and Cheyenne Traditional School.

The court filing stems from apparent procurement violations that occurred in connection with SUSD’s bid process for construction projects specifically at Hohokam and Cheyenne, the document states.

The Scottsdale Unified School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Denise Birdwell was placed on temporary paid administrative leave on Wednesday, Feb. 21, following a five-hour Governing Board executive session meeting.

Two other senior administrators have resigned amid the Arizona Attorney General’s investigation, which was first confirmed last November, and a district internal review.

Former Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith gave her resignation on Friday, Jan. 26. Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell’s resignation was accepted by the Governing Board in a 5-0 vote on Wednesday, Feb. 21. His resignation is effective June 30.

Mr. Hartwell has also been placed on leave, according to a Feb. 27 statement from the SUSD communications office.

“Dr. Birdwell and Louis Hartwell are on leave, pending the outcome of investigations,” the email to the Independent states. “They each have contracts with the District, and must be afforded due process under the law. We are working diligently to comply with the law and to address the serious concerns about the allegations involving both employees.”

The Governing Board’s executive session agenda includes five items ranging from legal advice discussions on the Arizona Attorney General’s investigation into the district’s procurement practices, to administrative personnel action.

A notice of amendment posted to the district website on Feb. 26 shows that the Governing Board’s executive session agenda has been amended to take action on a number of district administrator and employee contracts that are the subject of negotiations or in settlement discussions conducted in order to avoid or resolve litigation.

The action items are set to commence no sooner than 3:15 p.m., the agenda states.

The listed personnel titles included on the agenda are:

  • Superintendent;
  • Finance/chief business & operations officer;
  • Acting superintendent;
  • Educational leadership/assistance superintendent;
  • Assistant superintendent of personnel and specialized services;
  • Director of human resources;
  • Associate superintendent;
  • Administrator on assignment (Coronado Success Initiative);
  • General counsel.

A second action item for discussion or consideration of employment, assignment, appointment and salaries of district administrators is also slated on the agenda.

The district administrators who may be discussed are listed as:

  • Educational leadership/assistant superintendent;
  • Assistant superintendent or personnel and specialized services;
  • Director of human resources;
  • Associate superintendent;
  • Administrator on assignment (Coronado Success Initiative);
  • General counsel

Following the executive session, the Governing Board is expected to reconvene its special meeting where possible board legal action may be taken to include:

  • Suspending construction on Hohokam Elementary School and Central Kitchen projects;
  • Approving an agreement with the Arizona Attorney General’s office re: Case No. CV-2018-003-472;
  • Approving an Acting Superintendent;
  • Authorizing the Governing Board president and/or Governing Board vice president to work with district general counsel on personnel, administrative, operational and other district matters.

Barbara Perleberg

“The Governing Board will continue to work diligently with outside legal counsel, and in cooperation with the Attorney General, to determine additional appropriate actions that are in the best interest of the district,” said Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg in a Feb. 27 emailed statement.

“As Board members we do not, nor should we, use news media or social media to comment on specific legal matters involving personnel. Our lack of commentary should not be taken as a lack of concern or action. The district remains committed to a fair, legal due process, reliant on facts.

“As we work to move forward, the Governing Board is focused on restoring confidence in SUSD, while also respecting the incredible work done by our staff, principals and educators this past year.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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