SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Sarasota County School Board and Superintendent Todd Bowden have reached a mutual separation agreement that if approved by the board will result in Bowden’s tenure ending on December 31.
This follows a special meeting of the School Board last Tuesday where board members voted to give Bowden 30-day notice before a December 10th meeting where they would decide if any disciplinary action, including a reprimand, suspension or termination, will be taken against him.
Instead, the board will be able to vote to approve this mutual separation agreement at their 3pm meeting on November 19th. It calls for:
- Bowden to be placed on paid administrative leave through December 31, after which his tenure will end
- Be paid severance for 20 weeks as well as any unused leave or benefits
- Be reimbursed for $65,523.11 in attorney’s fees and costs related to the sexual harassment allegations against COO and assistant superintendent Jeffrey Maultsby
The agreement also says Bowden will be available through the end of the year to answer any questions for the acting superintendent, though he will have no official duties, and he will cooperate with the School Board and its attorneys regarding any litigation or other legal matters where he may be a witness or where his help is needed.
You can read the agreement for yourself below:
In a statement, Bowden, who has been superintendent since March 2017 and with the district since August 2007, said:
“For three years I have had the privilege of serving Sarasota County schools as superintendent. I have witnessed excellence among our teachers, dedication between our principals, care from our staff and innovative approaches to learning by our administrators. Because of their efforts, our students have excelled academically and are well-positioned to become caring and informed citizens of the world."
"I am grateful for the opportunity to serve so many, and I hope the next superintendent will further propel this outstanding school district to excel even more. Personally, my wife and I plan to remain in the area where our two children will continue their education in Sarasota County schools.”
His current contract for the superintendent position began in February 2019 and ran through June 2023. In an exclusive interview with ABC7, Bowden said he did not want to stop being the superintendent of Sarasota schools, but public pressure has mounted.
In a poll on Facebook with more than 1,000 votes, 94 percent of people felt Bowden should be removed from his position:
A 118-page report by Sproat Workplace Investigations concluded Bowden “did not take prompt or appropriate steps" to investigate Cheraina Bonner’s claims that she had been sexually harassed by her boss, COO and assistant superintendent Jeffrey Maultsby, as well as claims of a hostile work environment, retaliation and threatening behavior.
“I was very pleased that he is offering to resign with not some crazy astronomical demand, I think his demand is still high,” said Sara Blackwell, an attorney for Bonner.
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.
“I think that the independent report was helpful, but I think it’s all a hundred percent his actions [that led to Bowden’s agreement to step down],” said Blackwell.
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.
You can read the full report from Sproat Workplace Investigations below: