SUSD names acting superintendent amid ethics and spending investigations

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The Scottsdale Unified School District voted during a governing board meeting Tuesday night. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Scottsdale Unified School District voted during a governing board meeting Tuesday night. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The board placed Superintendent Denise Birdwell on paid administrative leave last week. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The board placed Superintendent Denise Birdwell on paid administrative leave last week. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Facing mounting pressure from parents, teachers and a lawsuit by the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the Scottsdale Unified School District’s Governing Board announced its pick to lead the district while the embattled superintendent is on administrative leave.

After a 10-hour meeting behind closed doors, governing board members voted unanimously to select Dr. Amy Fuller as acting superintendent. Dr. Fuller currently oversees the district’s Coronado Schools Initiative.

[READ MORE: Documents raise questions about SUSD superintendent's personal ties]

The board placed Superintendent Denise Birdwell on paid administrative leave last week. Birdwell has been at the center of a months-long scandal over ethics and spending at the state’s 10th-largest school district.

Shortly after 11 p.m., board members also voted to halt construction on Hohokam Elementary School and the Central Kitchen amid a lawsuit by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The projects were among several designed by Hunt & Caraway Architects. The firm, which is named in the lawsuit, was run by an unlicensed architect with a felony conviction.

[RELATED: Hundreds rally for leadership change at Scottsdale District over corruption allegations]

Fuller will take over a district that has been rocked by allegations of corruption from parents and a mutiny from the teacher’s union, which announced a vote of "no confidence" in district leadership in January.

One of Birdwell’s top aides, Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith, resigned in January. An attorney hired by the district concluded Smith inappropriately signed off on payments to a company owned by her sister, an arrangement the attorney said violated conflict-of-interest-law.

[MORE: SUSD superintendent on paid leave amid parent outcry & investigations]

Another top aide, Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell, is on administrative leave, the district announced Tuesday. Hartwell had previously submitted a letter to the board saying he planned to resign when his contract ended in June.

Near the end of Tuesday's late-night special meeting, board member Pam Kirby suggested the board schedule time on a number of items at a later date, including plans to discuss hiring a compliance officer, seek an audit of district procurement practices and review the district’s relationship with the non-profit procurement agency, 1GPA.

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

An attorney hired by the district has blamed 1GPA for not properly vetting Hunt & Caraway Architects for the felony conviction of its then-president.

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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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