Mesa Public Schools’ governing board unanimously voted Monday night to accept Superintendent Ember Conley’s resignation from the district, two weeks after the board abruptly placed her on administrative leave without providing a reason. 

Board members still did not provide a reason for the resignation on Monday. 

The board appointed Pete Lesar, a retired Mesa assistant superintendent, as interim superintendent of the state’s largest school district.

Kiana Sears was the lone member of the board to explain her vote, but she only said that she disagreed with the “financial provision” of the district’s departure agreement with Conley.

She did not say what that provision entails. 

Conley’s contract included a number of provisions that could have cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in payouts in the event she was fired. But because she resigned, it’s unclear what the district may have to pay Conley. 

Board member Marcie Hutchinson told The Arizona Republic after the meeting that the board will make the terms of its departure agreement with Conley as well as her letter of resignation available in the coming days. 

Conley’s leave has prompted questions about district spending and special education around the community. 

A former Mesa school board president has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to investigate raises given to Mesa Public Schools executives. Community members have also questioned a rise in administrative spending last year. 

Questions raised about finances 

Board President Elaine Miner promised financial transparency and said she’s “looking forward” to educating the community. 

The mystery surrounding the leave has spurred questions about more than $400,000 in bonuses awarded to district executives over the summer, as well as administrative spending. 

Mesa Public Schools in November sought — and won — a $54 million voter-approved budget override, funded by local property taxes. Those taxpayer funds are partly to cover teacher salaries and classroom costs. 

The executive team bonuses approved in June added $22,500 in bonuses each to all 15 members of the superintendent’s cabinet for the 2019-2020 school year. Deputy and assistant superintendents were also granted $8,000 in tax-sheltered annuities while the other executive team members were granted $6,000 in annuities.

Mesa’s school board defended the bonuses and Miner said at a Nov. 26 meeting that she does not consider what the district categorized as “additional compensation” bonuses. 

A spokeswoman wrote that bonuses to executive team members are a “long-standing practice in Arizona school districts.” 

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.

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