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Scottsdale schools superintendent placed on temporary paid leave

(Photo: Scottsdale Unified School District)

PHOENIX — The superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District has been placed on a temporary paid administrative leave of absence, district officials announced Wednesday.

Erin Helm, a school district spokewoman, said in a short statement that the governing board determined that it was “in best interest” of the district to place Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell on a paid leave of absence.

The statement also said that it was an “ongoing personnel matter” so “no further details can be shared at this time.”

The Arizona attorney general is calling for a halt to construction work in the Scottsdale Unified School District that they say was unlawfully contracted.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday asking for an injunction to stop two projects.

Brnovich states in the documents a district committee overseeing the bidding process did not comply with state procurement laws.

He alleges the head of an architecture firm serving on the committee unlawfully influenced the outcome.

The district hired an outside attorney in November to investigate allegations regarding the district’s use of an architecture firm for construction projects and other issues involving conflicts of interest.

The state of the Scottsdale school district

This development is just the latest in a series of shake-ups for the Scottsdale Unified School District.

In January, Laura Smith, the chief financial officer for the district, resigned after having been put on administrative leave due to an ongoing conflict-of-interest investigation.

“This change does not impact the ongoing investigation related to Ms. Smith which will continue to conclusion,” Birdwell said in a statement at the time. “We anticipate the governing board will receive an update on the investigation next week.

Related: Scottsdale schools CFO resigns as district faces multiple ethics concerns

“We remain steadfast in our mission of providing the best student-focused education possible and will not waiver,” the statement read.

Birdwell outlined the “ancillary situation” to the Scottsdale Independent explaining an alleged conflict of interest, which was brought to light after the district entered into a monetary agreement with Professional Group Public Consulting, Inc.

Smith is the president and director of the financial firm.

The investigation began back in December, when attorney Susan Segal announced she was investigating the conflict, but a “series of events” that caused the community to question the ethics of its district leaders started back in 2016.

One of those events included documents that showed contracted professional Brian Robichaux had been convicted of theft in Arizona in 1998.

Robichaux was hired by the district to design elementary schools after a $229 million bond was passed. He was the former president of the Phoenix-based Hunt and Caraway Architects.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office also has an ongoing investigation into the practices of Scottsdale Unified School District, according to the publication.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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