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Kent School Board Proposes To Add Conflict-Of-Interest Language To Superintendent's Contract

Ashley Gross
The Kent School Board

The Kent School Board is preparing to vote Wednesday on a controversial extension of the superintendent’s contract that adds language on conflicts of interest and outside consulting work.

Some parents in the Kent school district filed a complaint in May alleging conflicts of interest by Superintendent Calvin Watts. They pointed to his participation in events put on by Education Research and Development Institute, a Chicago-based company that pays top school officials honoraria of about $2,000 for giving feedback on education-technology products.

The parents said that raises conflicts of interest if the superintendent receives compensation for meeting with companies that would like to eventually sell their products to school districts.

Now the school board is adding more specifics about when he can do that kind of consulting and under what circumstances he can keep the honorarium.

The new addendum requires the superintendent to give to the school district any funds he receives for consulting work if it’s done during “normal business hours.” The new contract language also addresses consulting work that the superintendent engages in during his personal time.

“If the superintendent provides consultative services regarding evaluation of a product or service that is promoted by the company/entity and potentially used by the district, he shall not receive anything of economic value for this consultative work without the approval of the board of directors,” the addendum says. “The superintendent will submit any request for consultative work on personal time to the entire board for approval 45 days before the start of the work.”

But the board’s decision to renew the contract through June 2021 before getting to the bottom of the allegations in the complaint is drawing criticism. Ken Smith is an accounting professor at Central Washington University who researches school district governance.

“I’m surprised that a board would extend the contract of someone who has unresolved, uninvestigated allegations,” Smith said.

Board President Maya Vengadasalam declined to do an interview before the board meeting. Watts has said he’s done nothing improper and that he received approval from the board before taking part in the product feedback meetings.

KNKX asked for documentation of those approvals through a public records request six weeks ago but hasn’t received anything yet.

The board has kept Watts’s salary at $254,500 and said it will consider a percentage increase before July 1 annually.

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.