Salt Lake City school board places superintendent on leave

Timothy Gadson was hired one year ago, and the NAACP questions how he and other Black leaders in the district have been treated.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City School District Superintendent Timothy Gadson III, center, was joined by Melissa Ford, Salt Lake City Board of Education president, and Leeson Taylor, executive director of school leadership and performance, as they toured East High School on the first day back for the fall session on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.

Salt Lake City school board members have put Superintendent Timothy Gadson on a leave of absence, a district spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.

[Update: Salt Lake City mayor calls for ‘open, honest process’ after school board puts district’s first Black superintendent on leave]

The district declined to comment on why Gadson has been placed on leave or when the decision was made. The school board asked District Business Administrator Alan Kearsley to “take the supervisory lead for the district until further notice,” he said in an email he sent to district leaders Tuesday.

The school board offered Gadson a severance payment of four months of his salary, board member Mohamed Baayd said. That would come to about $73,000 of his $220,000 salary. When Gadson declined the offer, he was put on administrative leave for 21 days, Baayd said.

The board held a closed-door meeting on Thursday after having two closed sessions in June. The agenda for those meetings said they were held to address “character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of an individual; and/or deployment of security personnel, devices, or systems.” No other information was provided.

Gadson was hired in July 2021 after the previous superintendent, Lexi Cunningham, resigned. Former board member Michael Nemelka indicated at the time that Cunningham would have been forced out, after a heated closed meeting, had she not resigned.

The two-year contract Gadson signed expires June 30, 2023. It sets his salary at $220,000, with the opportunity to potentially earn a 1% bonus if he and the school board agree to annual goals and he meets them. He was also offered up to $21,000 in moving expenses.

The contract says the board can terminate Gadson only for cause, and only after a two-thirds majority vote, with written notice to him. “For cause” is defined in the contract as certain criminal convictions; refusing to follow legal board directives; misconduct involving or harming students; failing to acquire or maintain an administrative certification, or any “egregious failure” to meet conduct or performance standards.

[Read more: Meet the new superintendent over Salt Lake City schools]

The decision to place Gadson on leave follows questions from board members about a trip he took in January to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. Gadson taught at GCU from 2010 to 2015, as an adjunct professor and field experience supervisor, according to a 2017 version of his resume.

A school board member received an email alleging that Gadson’s trip was paid for by GCU, The Salt Lake Tribune reported in June. But Baayd said Gadson produced records showing he had paid for the trip himself.

The private religious school wanted to offer virtual early college classes to Salt Lake City students and professional development courses to district employees, according to emails released to The Salt Lake Tribune through an open records request.

After Gadson visited the GCU campus in January, two of his leadership cabinet members — Leeson M. Taylor II and Kimberly Mackey — went in March, the emails show. Taylor was hired in August as the district’s executive director of school leadership and performance, at a salary of $140,088.

Mackey had been hired Jan. 24 as executive director of organizational and strategic leadership, at a salary of $131,365, according to a hiring report submitted to the board. She left the position on June 20 and is no longer employed by the district, district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said.

Chatwin said she doesn’t believe Gadson ever presented the possibility of contracting with GCU to the board.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Utah-Idaho chapter for the NAACP, asked the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice in June to investigate alleged discrimination and harassment by the board toward Gadson, his assistant superintendent and other Black officials in the district. Taylor and Mackey are Black, as is Associate Superintendent Gwendolyn Johnson-White.

Johnson-White was hired in July at a salary of $169,249. She also has taught at Grand Canyon University, according to one of the released documents.

Williams also asserted that the district has violated the rights of students with special educational needs by failing to conduct annual reviews of Individualized Education Plans — or IEPs — as required by law. In some instances, she said, plans have not been reviewed for nearly three years.

Gadson and the board released a statement acknowledging that some plans had not been updated, and said that the district would develop “a plan to improve its compliance percentages through not only a system of checks and balances, but also through specific professional development.”

Gadson earlier this year decided to postpone any consideration of closures for schools in the district, despite declining enrollment.

[Read more: As Salt Lake City booms, its schools are emptying]

He had previously alerted the board that the district’s staffing formula called for shedding 76.5 full-time educator positions for the upcoming school year. The board voted in February to soften that cut and avoid laying off any teachers by approving a plan to cut the equivalent of 42 full-time educators instead.