Because it’s been widely broadcast by the mainstream media, you may have already heard that Scottsdale Unified School District superintendent Denise Birdwell was placed on administrative leave last night by the SUSD governing board.
This action comes after a tumultuous two-year tenure, which has seen almost complete turnover in senior-level district staff, wholesale replacement of principals, lawsuits involving the special education department, and charges of bid-rigging, unqualified vendors, conflicts of interest, and general abusive and harassing actions toward teachers and parents.
A quick recap of how we got here:
Previous superintendent David Peterson resigned under a cloud of suspicion about, among other things, conflicts of interest.
Denise Birdwell, who left a trail of destruction during her tenure at Higley Unified School District, was recruited as the interim replacement by none other than SUSD governing board member Pam Kirby, who crowed loudly about it.
About eight months ago, a concerned parent notified the board of Birdwell’s malfeasance. Board members (including Kirby) lashed out at this parent and others, ignoring the evidence and accusing them of falsifying information.
And then, nothing. It wasn’t until November that an independent investigator, Susan Segal, was hired to look into some of the allegations. However, it was pretty clear from her scope of work (as we understood it, since no scope-of-work document or retainer agreement was ever made available to the public) that Segal was being constrained in such a manner as Birdwell could guide the investigation toward a favorable outcome.
But with continued pressure from parent-taxpayers (and thankfully the mainstream media took interest in the story), Birdwell’s hand-picked contractor for the Hopi Elementary School rebuild, Hunt & Caraway, was ultimately found to be employing an unlicensed architect, Brian Robichaux, for that project. Robichaux also happened to be a felon–convicted of stealing from the taxpayers on another public works project–as well as Birdwell’s longtime personal friend.
The next domino to fall was Birdwell’s handpicked CFO, Laura Smith, who was unqualified for her six-figure job AND happened to co-own a company that was doing business with the district and was co-owned by her sister (which Birdwell knew, but was never publicly disclosed).
The most recently identified administrative miscreant is Birdwell’s COO, Louis Hartwell. In addition to being her de facto brother-in-law, Hartwell is staggeringly unqualified, AND he faked a large part of his resume and work history, AND did so with Birdwell’s assistance. Birdwell managed to ease Hartwell’s fall from grace via a resignation that won’t be effective until June. So we (the taxpayers) will comfort Hartwell with tens of thousands of dollars while he looks for a new job (if he can get one).
Even though Birdwell is now effectively gone (though unfortunately on paid administrative leave, when she should have been fired outright), there are plenty of dominoes left to fall among her remaining hand-picked staffers.
But the worst part, in my humble opinion, is that we still have a compromised governing board. It appears that one member actually asked a few tough questions along the way, and provided some push-back to the Birdwell/Kirby agenda. And one of the members may have been VERY naive.
But three of them (president Barbara Perleberg, VP Kim Hartmann, and puppet master Pam Kirby), were pretty clearly in-the-know on most of what Birdwell did. In addition, all three claimed during their campaigns, professional training and qualification that should have easily allowed them to understand the depth of Birdwell’s corruption.
So, I can’t say that I’m happy that Birdwell is gone. It’s just another step in a long journey ahead to restoring integrity to SUSD admin. The next step is getting rid of Barbara Perleberg, Pam Kirby, and Kim Hartmann, and replacing them with elected representatives… who represent US instead of their own self-serving political aspirations.