Scottsdale principal received bonus pay she didn't qualify for

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SUSD says it will require an elementary school principal to return any funds she received from a $3,000 bonus after parents complained she should never have qualified for the extra money in the first place. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) SUSD says it will require an elementary school principal to return any funds she received from a $3,000 bonus after parents complained she should never have qualified for the extra money in the first place. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Pima Elementary School Principal Alexis Cruz-Freeman was one of five SUSD principals who received a bonus for having a doctorate this school year, even though Cruz-Freeman does not have the advanced degree. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Pima Elementary School Principal Alexis Cruz-Freeman was one of five SUSD principals who received a bonus for having a doctorate this school year, even though Cruz-Freeman does not have the advanced degree. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
When Derek Staahl entered the office and asked to sign in as a visitor, an employee told him he needed to leave the premises. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) When Derek Staahl entered the office and asked to sign in as a visitor, an employee told him he needed to leave the premises. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

The Scottsdale Unified School District says it will require an elementary school principal to return any funds she received from a $3,000 bonus after parents complained she should never have qualified for the extra money in the first place.

Pima Elementary School Principal Alexis Cruz-Freeman was one of five SUSD principals who received a bonus for having a doctorate this school year, even though Cruz-Freeman does not have the advanced degree. The bonus was on top of Cruz-Freeman’s salary of $90,243.

Cruz-Freeman did not respond to a message left at her office.

She was one of several principals hired by Dr. Denise Birdwell, the embattled superintendent the district is now attempting to fire for cause. The district has accused Birdwell of a host of legal and policy violations including conflicts of interest.

[RELATED: Felon issued checks to Scottsdale superintendent; district moves to fire her]

“Birdwell did favors for friends. It's very clear she did that with the top-level administrators, and it's becoming clear that she did that with folks at the school administration level as well,” said John Washington, one of the Scottsdale Unified parents who uncovered the payment discrepancy through records requests.

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

Arizona's Family broke the story of the overpayment on the same day a district spokesperson said SUSD leaders were "trying to find every penny they can" to give to teachers. The Governing Board voted Tuesday night to approve a 3.5 percent pay bump for teachers next year.

Records show Cruz-Freeman signed off on a supplemental contract form that lists the amount of the bonus and the reason as “Earned Doctorate.” Cruz-Freeman is in the process of earning her advanced degree but has not yet completed her dissertation and should not have received the bonus, said SUSD spokeswoman Erin Helm.

“When the school district was made aware that a stipend had been paid in error, they immediately took steps to rectify that, to ensure that any money paid so far would be paid back and that the stipend to that individual will not be paid in the future,” Helm said.

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

Helm said the stipend was paid in installments and Cruz-Freeman had not yet received the full amount, but she was not immediately aware of how much the principal had received. The payment period listed in the contract is from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Arizona’s Family called Pima Elementary and a staff member said Cruz-Freeman was in a meeting, so reporter Derek Staahl visited the school. As Staahl approached the main office, a staff member began closing the blinds.

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

When Staahl entered the office and asked to sign in as a visitor, an employee told him he needed to leave the premises. When Staahl asked why, the employee said the office was closed, even though it was during the school’s posted office hours and there were several parents and students in the room.

The employee then exited the office. A few minutes later, four Scottsdale police officers responded to the school.

“I think anyone that doesn't have something to hide would be glad to talk about these things, let alone wouldn't call the police,” Washington said.

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

Washington said the $3,000 bonus was the latest in a string of financial issues uncovered by parents – not school leaders.

“They all have qualifications that would enable them to uncover this kind of problem,” Washington said. “For us ordinary taxpayers and parents to find it, [it] really is a slap in the face to the folks on the board.”

“We put folks in place who are supposed to be solving these problems, and yet they're still going on. That's a big problem,” he said.

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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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