The Kent School Board says it will conduct a formal inquiry following a complaint filed by a parent calling for an investigation into Superintendent Calvin Watts’ “potential conflicts of interest.” An online petition calling for Watts’ resignation has 576 signatures.
Amid ongoing calls by Kent School District teachers and staff for Superintendent Calvin Watts to resign, parents and community members have filed multiple complaints to the Kent School Board related to the schools chief.
On Friday, the School Board said it will conduct a formal inquiry of one of those complaints, which requests that Watts be investigated “for all potential conflicts of interest.”
Another complaint, filed earlier in the week by a group called 27kSD4Change, alleges that Watts violated several parts of his contract, “placed his own self-interest above the interests of the students,” and misled Kent teachers and employees. Watts deserves blame, the group says in its 32-page complaint, for the district’s budget crisis and the fallout from the budget problems.
Watts’ contract runs through June 2020. He was hired in 2015 on a three-year contract, and the School Board renewed it in June 2017.
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The community members who submitted the complaints join a growing number of people who are calling for changes in Kent, the state’s fifth-largest school district. The Kent teachers union passed a resolution in April calling for Watts’ resignation, and the unions that represent district paraprofessionals and office professionals passed similar resolutions.
An online petition calling for Watts’ resignation has 576 signatures.
The School Board met in closed session Friday evening to discuss the first complaint, filed May 7 by Kent parent Dana Rosenberg. The complaint asks that an outside, independent investigator review all tax returns, payments and potential abuses of travel reimbursements, and “any payments received that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.”
Board President Maya Vengadasalam told the people who had waited for the two-hour closed session to end that board members had talked with Watts extensively about the complaint.
Among the many allegations in the 27kSD4Change complaint is that Watts didn’t receive School Board approval for consulting services and speaking engagements. The complaint cites a Feb. 14 School Board meeting during which Watts said he was paid $2,250 for serving as a consultant a week earlier at an organization that pays district leaders to meet with and give feedback to educational technology companies. Watts said the consulting work was done over four days, three of which were during the school week. He used two vacation days and a furlough day, he said, and there was no cost to the district.
His contract requires that he “devote his time, skills and attention to his employment” while superintendent, but with prior approval he may take consultative work. When payment is received, the superintendent should take time as leave or assign the funds to the district.
The group says Watts failed to ensure that the district run a balanced budget by not performing an adequate financial review. Watts has previously said the budget problems started before he started as superintendent in 2015.
“This overlooks his duty as captain of the KSD ship,” the complaint said. “…As the captain of the ship, he is ultimately responsible for the financial stability of the district. The current crisis illustrates he has failed for multiple years.”
In February, the district announced it was eliminating 45 positions and reducing benefits for administrators and staff members. The announcement came the same week that residents voted on two levy measures, which both barely passed. The complaint alleges that Watts misled taxpayers by saying that the levies were needed to prevent layoffs, which occurred anyway.
In March, district officials walked back an earlier warning that it was eliminating 127 additional positions when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a new school-funding bill that will bring an extra $75 million to the district.
The district hasn’t been clear about the budget crisis, said Michele Greenwood Bettinger, a member of 27kSD4Change whose two children attend Kent schools.
“There are so many frustrating things in all of this,” she said.
Watts addressed the complaint in a message on the district’s website Wednesday, in advance, he wrote, of local media coverage. He wrote that he supports and appreciates the people who have engaged with the School Board, and encouraged them to continue to do so.
While it may be unusual for him to address the complaint, Watts wrote, “there is nothing usual about what is taking place in pockets of our district.”
“I accept the responsibilities, vision and mission I have been charged with by our school board and I continue to work in partnership with our board on behalf of our district,” he wrote. “I remain committed to the fundamental purpose of Kent School District, which is successfully preparing all students for their futures.”