SUSD superintendent on paid leave amid parent outcry & investigations

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Scottsdale Unified superintendent Denise Birdwell was put on temporary administrative leave. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Scottsdale Unified superintendent Denise Birdwell was put on temporary administrative leave. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

One week after a demonstration by hundreds of parents and teachers calling for the ouster of Scottsdale Unified's superintendent, the district's governing board voted unanimously to place Dr. Denise Birdwell on "temporary paid administrative leave" effective immediately "in consideration of the best interest of the district."

The decision was announced after a five-hour meeting in closed session with district counsel.

"I at this time will make a motion that, in consideration of the best interest of the district, Dr. Birdwell be placed on temporary paid administrative leave and that counsel for the district proceed as directed in executive session," said Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg.

The motion passed 5-0. Afterwards, board members hurried out of the meeting room and declined to comment.

"As this is an ongoing personnel matter, no further details can be shared at this time," said District spokeswoman Erin Helm in an emailed statement after the vote.

Over the past month, two top administrators have resigned amid public pressure linked to investigations by an attorney hired by the district and probes by the Arizona Attorney General.

[READ MORE: Hundreds rally for leadership change at Scottsdale district over corruption allegations]

The investigations were launched after complaints by parents about a construction project at Hopi Elementary and work awarded to a firm run by an unlicensed architect who had a felony conviction for stealing public funds. Emails show a concerned citizen also complained to district leadership in June about the use of a consulting firm called PGPC, which is run by the sister of Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith.

An attorney hired by the district determined Smith facilitated in the hiring of PGPC and authorized several payments to the company. The attorney said the arrangement appeared to violate state statutes on conflicts of interest. Smith submitted a letter of resignation Jan. 26.

[READ MORE: Scottsdale district's CFO resigns amid conflict of interest allegations]

On the same day as the large protest Feb. 13, Chief Operating Officer Louis Hartwell announced plans to resign in June. Hartwell oversaw the Hopi project, which included the controversial contract with Hunt & Caraway Architects.

Susan Segal, the attorney hired by SUSD, has accused Hunt & Caraway of overbilling the district potentially by "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The governing board voted Wednesday to formally accept Hartwell's resignation, which is effective June 30.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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