Fourth Scottsdale Unified administrator placed on paid leave

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The Scottsdale Unified School District has placed the administrator in charge of its human resources department on paid leave days after parents uncovered payment discrepancies to three employees.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Pam Sitton was placed on leave effective Monday for “allegations of unprofessional conduct.” A district spokeswoman did not elaborate on the allegations that prompted the decision to place Sitton on leave.

Sitton is the fourth SUSD administrator placed on leave this year amid a bevy of scandals surrounding the district. The other three administrators -- Superintendent Denise Birdwell, Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith, and Chief Business Officer Louis Hartwell – have since resigned.

[RELATED; Scottsdale Unified approves $180K in severance agreements for embattled administrators]

Earlier this month, Arizona’s Family reported that Pima Elementary Principal Alexis Cruz-Freeman received a $3,000 bonus she did not qualify for. In a letter to parents, Cruz-Freeman said the payment was an error and said she would return any funds she received.

Concerned parents later discovered that Michael Roberts, a district-level administrator, also received a $3,000 doctoral stipend without the degree.

“Any money already paid will be returned, and the stipend will not be paid moving forward,” said SUSD public information officer Erin Helm by email.

Helm said like Cruz-Freeman, Roberts is in the process of getting his doctorate but has not yet completed the degree. She said the stipend was “paid in error.”

The district is currently investigating more than $7,000 in annual bonus payments collected by Dr. Christopher Thuman, according to a source. Thuman is a former district administrator who is now the principal of Ingleside Middle School. Helm said Tuesday she was working to get more information about the Thuman matter and could not immediately comment.

UPDATE 4/19: A letter to Thuman from an attorney hired by Scottsdale Unified confirmed the investigation into the stipend he received. The district has halted payment of a $7,239 stipend because it was not approved by the Scottsdale Unified Governing Board, according to the letter by attorney Susan Segal.

The letter, dated Thursday, notes that the investigation is into the stipend and not Thuman himself, adding, "To date, we have found no wrongdoing on your part."

Former Superintendent Dr. A. Denise Birdwell "apparently agreed" to maintain Thuman's district-level salary after his transfer to the principal level position, Segal wrote.

An unidentified administrator told Thuman he would receive a $7,239 stipend to bring his salary up to his previous mark of $105,302, but the stipend for the 2017-18 school year was never approved by the governing board, according to the letter. 

"We are investigating why an Administrator approved this method of payment for the 2017-2018 school year," the letter states. Segal said she would make further recommendations to the governing board. 

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

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

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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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