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Community Members Allege Kent Schools Superintendent Violated His Contract

Ashley Gross
Superintendent Calvin Watts at an April 25, 2018, school board meeting

The drumbeat of complaints about Kent’s superintendent of public schools is growing louder. Last month, the Kent Education Association took a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Superintendent Calvin Watts, who has led the district of more than 27,000 students since 2015.

Now, a group of parents, district staff and community members who call themselves 27kSD4change has sent a 32-page complaint to the school board leveling a number of allegations against him, including a failure to notify the board beforehand about an outside consulting assignment for which he was paid. The group has asked the school board to terminate his contract.

School board members didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. Watts declined to answer specific questions regarding the allegations. He issued a statement saying he remains focused on the academic success of the students in the district.

Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX
Kent's school board

“Our operational challenges since I have arrived, while immense, are not insurmountable,” Watts said in the statement. “Together we are making positive progress to restore our district’s fiscal solvency and each day we are improving our overall effectiveness and efficiency system-wide.”

The Kent school district has struggled with a budget crunch and has laid off administrators in an effort to reduce costs. It’s planning to shrink its teaching staff by 60 positions through attrition.

One of the concerns that the group 27kSD4change raised in its complaint is that Watts received money for an outside consulting gig but only told the board in February after the fact, even though his contract requires him to get prior approval from the board.

“(I) want to first share that most recently I had the opportunity to serve as a consulting superintendent in Education Research and Development Institute, otherwise known as ERDI,” Watts said at a school board meeting on Feb. 14.

ERDI is an organization that pays school superintendents for their feedback on technology products. Watts said he received an honorarium of $2,250 for his four days of consulting. He said he took two days of vacation and one furlough day for the three work days he was out of the office.

Elizabeth Christie, who has six nieces and nephews in the district and helped draft the complaint, said his failure to get approval from the board beforehand isn’t the only problem. She said the Kent school district spent $260,000 on software without a competitive bidding process from a company named Allovue that partners with ERDI, raising questions about how that deal came about.

That is one of the reasons why she said the board should let Superintendent Watts go.

“There’s enough evidence of a breach of his contract that they would have cause,” she said.

She said if the board wants to be more cautious, they could appoint an independent investigator.

“There is no trust in the leadership in this district,” the group said in its complaint. “When there is no trust, it is time for change.”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.