Scottsdale resident Dan Drake responds to Scottsdale Unified School District’s conflict-of-interest investigation.
Michael Chow/The Republic
Some parent and community groups are calling on the Scottsdale school board to fire Superintendent Denise Birdwell.
A gathering called #Rally4SUSD is planned at 4 p.m. Tuesday, ahead of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meeting at Coronado High School. An online petition, calling for Birdwell’s immediate termination has more than 1,000 signatures.
Birdwell and board members did not respond to requests from The Arizona Republic for comment.
A year of turmoil
Birdwell joined the district as interim leader in January 2016 and was given the permanent jobat the end of the year.
For the better part of a year, the district has been embroiled in controversy as residents raised concerns that include a lack of transparency, top administrative hires and the use of outside contractors in the contentious rebuild of elementary schools.
Hunt & Caraway Architects, one of the firms selected for improvements using a voter-approved $229 million bond issue, was led by Brian Robichaux, who was convicted of felony theft in 1998.
Laura Smith, who served as chief financial officer for less than a year, resigned on Jan. 26 while under investigation by the district. The district paid for the consulting services of Professional Group Public Consulting, a company she previously ran and her sister now leads.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office also is investigating the district’s use of contractors.
Parents raised concerns about Smith, Hunt & Caraway and other areas early on.
Birdwell recently told The Republic that she received an email from a resident last June with information that Smith’s sister was Caroline Brackley, the managing director of Professional Group Public Consulting.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I regret not researching the accusation (involving Smith) immediately,” Birdwell said.
‘The board was blind and deaf’
Stef Swiergol, a Scottsdale parent and active member of Act Now, said that despite parents’ “commendable delivery of the facts” to the board, nothing resonated with the elected leaders.
So a “rally was born,” she said.
Swiergol’s group expects to be joined by others from Respect our Scottsdale Students (ROSS), the Scottsdale and Arizona education associations, the Scottsdale Parent Council, United Scottsdale and other residents, she said.
Along with their call for a new school chief, the groups want a committee of teachers, administrators, board members and community leaders to oversee the recommendation of a new superintendent.
Mike Norton, a Scottsdale parent and active member of ROSS, said that board members who were elected “with hope that SUSD was about to bloom,” have failed the community.
“The board was blind and deaf. They could not see the carpetbaggers for what they were. They would not listen to the warnings the public gave them,” Scottsdale resident Dan Drake said.
Drake called the campaign an effort to show that the group is “not some small cabal of malcontents,” but that the community is upset with district management and the spending of taxpayer funds.
Swiergol said the groups have alerted Scottsdale police to “ensure a peaceful assembly.”
“We acknowledge this is the first step in a long process toward rebuilding trust in our elected district officials and the district management,” she said.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is investigating procurement practices for school renovations in the Scottsdale Unified School District. This video has been updated to include information about Hunt & Caraway’s 2013 contract with the district.
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