Superintendent Barbara Erwin submitted her resignation Tuesday, leaving the Scottsdale Unified School District community debating the state of schools she’ll leave behind in June.
Addressing parents in a morning Scottsdale Parent Council meeting, Erwin took credit for solving the problems of a district reeling from bidrigging, purchasing and state Open Meetings Law violations, as well as financial instability when she arrived in March 2000.
"Four years ago I came here to do a job," she told about 200 parents. "We moved the district into a stable position.
"The budget may not be in a good place, but at least we are not using the plant fund for operating the district. The things I was asked to do are done."
Erwin, 52, said she refused to speak to reporters Monday, as word spread throughout the district of her departure, because she preferred to announce her resignation the day after the St. Charles Community Unit School District No. 303 in Illinois voted to hire her.
Her resignation is effective June 30, and her job begins July 1 as chief of the growing 13,100-student district just outside her hometown of Chi- cago. The move raises her base pay from $165,000 — the highest superintendent salary in the East Valley — to $195,000.
Annie Hickie, an activist and school board member in the 1980s, said that not everyone in the district sees Erwin’s exit as a successful conclusion to resolving tensions in the district stemming from past abuses.
Calling Erwin a "dictator" in her handling of district decisions, Hickie said she made changes, rubberstamped by the governing board, without the parent and student boards that had a say in past district matters.
She said Erwin also kept a tight lid on district financial information, making it difficult to ease the suspicions and uncertainty that arose after the contract of her predecessor Betty Pepper was bought out by the governing board in 1999.
"She’s leaving this district without a plan — no financial plan, no academic plan," Hickie said.
Such heated words emanate from the "pro-kid" decision Erwin’s not been afraid to implement swiftly, said Suanne Rudley, president of the Scottsdale Parent Council.
"I think one of her strongest legacies is to develop consistency and equity in our schools," Rudley said, citing Every Day Math, a math program implemented in the district, as an example. Before Erwin, she said, schools had different schedules and focused on different subjects.
"Every school did their own thing," Rudley said. She added that the district’s problems aren’t completely solved, though it is moving in the right direction. The resignation of former Sequoya Elementary School principal Maureen Booth over allegations she changed test scores to bring in teacher bonus pay suggests there could be areas the district could iron out, Rudley said.
The governing board learned of Erwin’s departure too late to schedule discussion in Tuesday’s board meeting of how they will choose a replacement, but the board meets again for a budget work study session 7 p.m. Jan. 27.
"I think financially we’re in considerably better shape than we were at four years ago," said board member Karen Beckvar. During Erwin’s administration, the district ended its reliance on a "plant fund" of money earned from selling Scottsdale High School two decades ago.
Erwin’s departure allows the board to reconsider its chief’s salary, Beckvar said, as the board prepares to cut $3.5 million from the next budget in the face of increasing benefit costs, slightly decreasing enrollment and a plan to raise teacher salaries.
Erwin said she was approached in November by the Illinois district, which was looking to replace its retiring superintendent.
"As Davy Crockett said, I am going home," Erwin told parents.
She said the next superintendent has an opportunity to move the district to the "next level" because of the work of her and her staff, and added: "I will be working hard and diligently to my very last day."
Improvements a new superintendent could focus on would be continuing a push for education funding in the Legislature and bringing together factions of the district that have worked against one another, she said.
"If we start fighting amongst ourselves, which is what we have done historically, then it is easy to take sides and not get anything done," she said.
Erwin in Scottsdale
August 1986-96: Duane Sheldon is superintendent.
October 1996: Governing board hires Linda Powell as superintendent.
April 1997: Powell suspends building manager Ed Biszantz amid allegations of improper business practices and announces she won’t renew the contracts of six building services employees.
May 1997: The school board buys out Powell’s contract. She files a lawsuit to get her job back after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office accuses the board of violating the Open Meetings Law. Betty Pepper is named interim superintendent.
Summer 1997: The state auditor general and attorney general begin investigating allegations of Open Meetings Law violations and bid-rigging.
June 1998: The board appoints Pepper superintendent.
September 1998: The attorney general’s office files a pair of lawsuits alleging $11.7 million in misuse of public funds and three dozen violations of the Open Meetings Law.
October 1998: Board settles both lawsuits, admits wrongdoing, pays $300,000 in penalties and agrees to obey the law. The attorney general orders the district to release the Lassen Report, which details illegal bid practices.
April 1999: The district governing board buys out Pepper’s contract.
July 1999-March 2000: Don Enz is interim superintendent.
March 2000: Barbara Erwin is hired as superintendent from the Allen Independent School District in Texas and is heralded as the hope of smoothing out a district on shaky ground.
Jan. 10, 2002: Cherokee Elementary School teacher David Renaud is arrested, and pleads guilty in June, to child molestation charges. Principal Chris Meisinger resigns, despite parent protests, in the face of an investigation he had warning signs about Renaud.
May 2002: Board determines not to go forward with a $220 million capital override out of concern there won’t be enough support in the face of a struggling economy and a previous failed bond election to build another high school later discovered unnecessary.
Dec. 15, 2003: Former Sequoya Elementary School principal Maureen Booth resigns in the face of allegations, including she changed test scores. She had been on leave since Sept. 10 and was fired Oct. 2. Parents rallied to save her job.
Jan. 12: The St. Charles Community Unit School District in Illinois hires Erwin as superintendent beginning July 1.
Jan. 13: Erwin resigns effective June 30.