Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board expected to sever ties with senior administration

Dr. Denise Birdwell

Hefty administrative changes appear to be on the horizon for the Scottsdale Unified School District, as a March 20 Governing Board agenda points to severing ties with Dr. Denise Birdwell.

The move comes amidst an Arizona Attorney General’s investigation into the district’s business practices, among other public outcries regarding school construction projects, teacher employment agreements, a hired architecture firm, procurement practices, nepotism, conflicts of interest and overall lack of community trust for several months.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has scheduled a 3 p.m. March 20 special meeting, two hours prior to the scheduled start of a regular meeting. The afternoon agenda shows the elected leaders meeting in executive session for legal advice, before possible discussion and action relating to Chief Business and Operations Officer Louis Hartwell and Dr. Birdwell.

The agenda shows for both employees:

  • Discussion and possible action to approve Severance Agreement;
  • Discussion and possible actions regarding dismissal process:
    • Presentation of Statement of Charges;
    • Issuance of Notice of Intention to Dismiss;
    • Appointment of Hearing Officer to vote or have Governing Board hold hearing;
    • Placement on Administrative Leave of Absence.

Dr. Birdwell was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 21 following a public rally in February.

Mr. Hartwell submitted his resignation in February, effective June 30, but has now been placed on administrative leave as well, according to SUSD officials.

Former school district Chief Financial Officer, Laura Smith, resigned from SUSD in January after being placed on administrative leave. On Jan. 30, Gust Rosenfeld attorney Susan Segal, told district officials that she believed Ms. Smith’s ties to Professional Group Public Consulting, Inc. were in violation of Arizona law.

Louis Hartwell

Both Ms. Smith’s and Mr. Hartwell’s tenure at SUSD were at the forefront of the rally calling for new district leadership. Participants cited the need for a new superintendent, new Governing Board, and fiscal responsibility, among a bevy of other concerns.

SUSD-hired architecture firm, Hunt & Caraway Architects and its former president Brian Robichaux were among the defendants listed on the Attorney General’s civil lawsuit court filings with Scottsdale Unified School District.

Superintendent Birdwell joined Scottsdale Schools as interim superintendent on Jan. 11, 2016, following former Superintendent Dr. David Peterson’s abrupt resignation in December 2015. Dr. Peterson was about one year into a three-year contract renewal at the time.

Dr. Birdwell first agreed to an annualized $200,000 contract from Jan. 19, 2016 to June 30, 2016. On April 7, she signed a second annualized contract for $204,000, effective July 1 through June 30, 2017. At its Dec. 13, 2016 meeting, the Governing Board approved a permanent contract with Dr. Birdwell, effective through June 30, 2019.

The meeting will be at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. in Scottsdale.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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