Scottsdale Unified could provide 'severance agreement' to embattled superintendent Friday

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The Governing Board of the Scottsdale Unified School District announced last-minute plans for a special meeting Friday, fueling concern by parent groups that the district could be on the verge of approving severance agreements with its embattled superintendent and chief operations officer.

The board has scheduled a 4 p.m. meeting Friday. According to the agenda, it could vote on “possible approval” of severance agreements with Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell and Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell.

The board, which is required by law to notice meetings 24 hours in advance, posted the agenda shortly after 3 p.m. Details of the possible agreements were not disclosed.

“I don’t think the board recognizes the kind of impact this is going to have on the community,” said Stefanie Swiergol, a member of the grassroots group ACT Now SUSD.

“While I understand the board might be looking at the settlement as an opportunity to put this mess behind us and potentially save money on continued litigation, we’re letting this person [Dr. Birdwell] get away with using and abusing our district with a check in her back pocket,” she said.

The board will also discuss the search process for a new superintendent, according to the public notice.

Last month, the district announced it would attempt to terminate Birdwell and Hartwell for cause. District investigations unveiled a lengthy list of legal and policy violations against the administrators.

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

Both administrators were then given an opportunity to contest the district's allegations. Hartwell challenged the charges this week and demanded a public hearing. Birdwell had until April 9 to request a hearing.

"The extended list of over fourteen violations against former superintendent Birdwell seems to be enough to justify a clean dismissal of Birdwell and any and all rights to compensation or benefits," said Scottsdale Education Association president Julie Cieniawski in a text message. "Any sort of payment to her is viewed as questionable and inappropriate. Every dollar spent for such payouts is precious money diverted away from our classrooms."

"A governing board that claims to be student-focused has an important opportunity to let their actions speak for students. Failure to do so no longer causes loss of confidence; it bankrupts the moral authority required to govern on behalf of students and staff," she said.

Swiergol added, “Rewarding someone who has damaged the district’s reputation is not the most prudent action."

At 4 p.m., the board will meet in private with attorneys for an undetermined amount of time. The board will then return to a public meeting for formal action on a vote. In the past, closed-door meetings on controversial topics have spanned several hours.

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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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