Scottsdale Unified School District
Denise Birdwell

Scottsdale (Ariz.) school board puts superintendent on paid leave

Feb. 22, 2018
Board takes action amid conflict of interest allegations involving a former chief financial officer.

Citing "the best interest of the district," the Scottsdale (Ariz.) school board has voted unanimously to place Superintendent Denise Birdwell on paid administrative leave.

The Arizona Republic reports that the vote followed a closed-door session in which the five-member board was given legal advice on issues related to the district's use of an outside architecture firm for construction projects and conflicts of interest related to the district's former chief financial officer.

The school board action comes a week after Birdwell announced that one of her top hires, Chief Operations Officer Louis Hartwell, will resign at the end of the budget year. Another of her hires, Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith, resigned last month after a district review identified conflicts of interest.

The Scottsdale Unified District has about 24,000 students in 30 schools.

Birdwell joined the district as interim superintendent in January 2016 and was given the permanent job later that year. She hired Smith and Hartwell.

Smith resigned in January after the district's investigation found that she facilitated the hiring of a consulting company that she previously ran and her sister now leads. Records also show Smith signed off on purchases from the company, Professional Group Public Consulting.

Birdwell has known Hartwell personally and professionally for years. She hired him in October 2016, saying he was the most qualified applicant for the job. Hartwell is the brother of Birdwell's landlady and housemate. 

A campaign formed by community and education groups has called on the board to fire Birdwell and to form a committee to select her replacement. A rally  last week drew hundreds in support of the campaign.

The district's teachers union issued a vote of "no confidence" against district leadership in January, 

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