SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The day after a blistering special meeting of the Sarasota County School Board, Superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden came to ABC7 to share his perspective as he awaits a decision by the board on what, if any, disciplinary action he should face over his handling of sexual harassment allegations.
The board voted Tuesday to give Bowden a 30-day notice, as required by his contract, ahead of a meeting on December 10th at 9am where the board could vote to reprimand, suspend or terminate him.
This follows a 118-page report by Sproat Workplace Investigations that concluded Bowden “did not take prompt or appropriate steps" to investigate Cheraina Bonner’s claims that she had been sexually harassed by COO and assistant superintendent Jeffrey Maultsby, as well as claims of a hostile work environment, retaliation and threatening behavior.
While talking to ABC7, Bowden spoke about how the sexual harassment allegations unfolded, including his initial meeting with Bonner that he says appeared to be more of an issue between a boss and an employee and not one of sexual harassment. Bowden said it was a second meeting with Bonner where the allegations became clear and he got HR involved.
Bowden describes the next two weeks as “clumsy,” with missteps over confusion on how the investigation should proceed, something Sproat Workplace Investigations acknowledged in the report, finding the district does not have clear policies and procedures on how to handle allegations like sexual harassment. Bowden says one regret he has is not getting all of the information from Bonner up front, which he says would have enabled him to take action faster.
Bowden also addressed an agreement he sent to the School Board, offering to step down if board members agree to give him a new role as the Executive Director of Facilities, Planning and Construction.
Bowden says that one of the way his contract can be ended is by mutual agreement and with the special meeting coming up, he and his attorney came up with a proposal in which Bowden acknowledges he “shot for the moon.” Bowden says he was hoping to create an agreement that would free him from politics, something his current position is highly subject to.
He added that much was made over the “10 year” portion of the agreement, but says his attorney explained the agreement couldn’t be open-ended. Bowden says they decided on that length of a term based on his likely retirement age.
But at the end of the day, Bowden says he does not want to stop being superintendent of Sarasota Schools. He will have to wait until December 10th to learn if he will be.
At the special meeting Tuesday, board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson spoke out against Bowden, focusing on his lack of action taken and the missteps highlighted by investigators, while board members Carolyn Zucker and Shirley Brown spoke out in favor of Bowden, focusing on Bonner’s accusations that she was passed over for a raise and that many of the texts between her and Maultsby seemed friendly.
Chairwoman Jane Goodwin, long aligned with Bowden, said she struggled with this topic but ultimately decided to support Ziegler’s motion to give Bowden 30 days notice, as did Robinson and Brown. Zucker voted against it.
Sproat Workplace Investigations concluded that Bonner was sexually harassed by Maultsby and also unveiled claims that Maultsby made numerous unwelcome sexual comments about other female employees. Maultsby resigned from his position the day the report was released to the public after having spent weeks on paid leave.
Read the full report below: