Superintendent Birdwell denounces claims illustrated in HUSD emails

Scottsdale Unified School District headquarters is at 7575 E. Main Street. (file photo)

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell denied claims illustrated in a recent Higley Unified School District email dump.

The estimated 8,000 emails come from 2012 Arcadia High School graduate and law student, Jann-Michael Greenburg. Mr. Greenburg sent the Independent a lengthy preliminary report detailing his opinion, along with access to the emails in full, on Monday, Jan. 15. His report alleges personal favors were being done between Hunt & Caraway Architects officials and the Higley Unified School District during Dr. Birdwell’s tenure there.

The emails obtained are limited to include the names Hunt, Caraway and Robichaux, or addressed to the firm Hunt and Caraway or Brian Robichaux.

Mr. Greenburg has filed paperwork to run for Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, but said on Tuesday, Jan. 16 that he hasn’t decided if he will run or not.

Dr. Denise Birdwell

The emails circulating around the internet are the latest form of documentation community members have obtained through public records requests in an attempt to bring to light a series of events defined as “questionable” beginning in Scottsdale in January 2016.

From January 2016 until now, a series of events led to the community questioning the ethics of their district leaders. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in November when Scottsdale resident Loyd Eskildson wrote a guest commentary in the Scottsdale Independent unearthing documents showing hired professional Brian Robichaux had been convicted of theft, a class 2 felony in Arizona in 1998.

Mr. Robichaux, former-president of Phoenix-based Hunt & Caraway Architects, had been most-recently hired by the district to design elementary schools after the passing of a $229 million bond last November. Hunt & Caraway has been involved with other district projects including athletic field improvements at three high schools.

Mr. Robichaux is not a licensed architect although he represented himself as one at least twice in district settings.

On Dec. 19, 2017, Gust Rosenfeld attorney Susan Segal told district leaders that she found no evidence of wrong doing in their procurement practices, while she did acknowledge wrong doings and evidence of over-charging by Hunt & Caraway.

Emails between former Hunt & Caraway President Brian Robichaux and Dr. Birdwell show the relationship between the two started at least three years before the superintendent joined Scottsdale.

Dr. Birdwell’s response during the SUSD Governing Board meeting called a recent TV news report on the emails “fake news.” Later in the meeting Scottsdale Education Association President Julie Cieniawski cited a December 2017 staff survey that voiced 92 percent “no confidence” in Dr. Birdwell or the Governing Board.

“We’re experiencing a culture that lacks ability, we find ourselves being bullied online, cyber attacks, personal attacks, harassments of a district that is truly focused on learning and meanwhile we have a media that has been promoting stories that have very little merit,” Dr. Birdwell said on Jan. 16.

“One might even define it as fake news. It seems that there has been politically motived individuals who would like to shift the focus of the Scottsdale district away from accountability and learning, and these individuals like to take a single fact and create a fairytale. And in that fairytale they like to misrepresent the truth.”

The email dump comes in the middle of an Arizona Attorney General’s investigation into procurement practices at SUSD, and an internal review.

Additionally, Ms. Segal is expected to present her findings on a second part of her review this month looking at a conflict of interest between district Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith and financial consulting firm, Professional Group Public Consulting, Inc. Ms. Smith is listed as a director, a principal shareholder and president of the company that SUSD has hired for services.

Dr. Birdwell sent a prepared statement to local TV news station, AZ Family, refuting the claims made in Mr. Greenburg’s report.

“I did not receive anything of value, or gain any personal benefit,” Dr. Birdwell stated in-part. “The complaint seems to be that I was soliciting support from business partners to benefit the Higley District and its employees. This represents my lawful advocacy on behalf of the district, and was part of what I was hired to do.”

Dr. Birdwell joined SUSD as interim superintendent in January 2016 after retiring from HUSD in June 2015.

SUSD Public Information Officer Erin Helm provided the Independent with a copy of the statement sent to AZ Family.

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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