Bremerton superintendent placed on paid leave

A different sort of fireworks went off just before noon July 4 after the Bremerton School District board placed superintendent James Crawford on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of an investigation.

A statement released by board chair Alyson Rotter following the meeting, says: “We decided that administrative leave was necessary and appropriate in light of the preliminary results of an investigation into allegations regarding Dr. Crawford’s use of the district’s network and his candor when he was given opportunities to address such use, and also because of concerns we have received regarding the tenor of Dr. Crawford’s interactions with district staff members.”

The statement went on to say that placing the superintendent on leave was a temporary step as the results of the investigation and knowledge of “the workplace culture under Dr. Crawford’s leadership” are found out.

The decision comes about a week after the board voted to not extend the superintendent’s contract, a decision that sparked confusion and some anger among those present at the June 26 meeting. Just like that previous meeting, the board took no public comment July 4.

Despite the holiday, it quickly became standing room only with concerned members of the public flooding into the board’s chambers. Board proceedings were inaudible at times as people angrily shouted at members of the board. Yells became louder when assistant superintendent Garth Steedman was selected as interim superintendent, and the noise dissolved into shouts of “Recall!” as the meeting progressed. Rotter declared the room would be cleared if the crowd did not settle down, but the outbursts continued.

Crawford did not comment at the meeting. Members of the public raised small signs stating, “I support Superintendent Crawford,” in protest of the move. Sheri Kistner-Schulz, a retired Bremerton teacher, was among those who believe the wrong move was made. “If there was something so heinous that he’s done, we should have already known right now.”

Former Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton added: “I think what they are doing is a travesty. I think they’re besmirching a good man’s reputation.”

This was the latest development in a series of executive sessions and special meetings starting last month that involved meetings with legal counsel. The board had also accepted a letter of engagement from municipal law firm Haggard & Ganson LLP in their consent agenda June 20, a letter that indicated the firm would “conduct an independent investigation of the conduct of a school district officer.”

A July 3 meeting led directors to schedule the meeting on Independence Day. When Rotter was asked why the meeting was scheduled on the holiday, she replied, “Time was of the essence with this decision.”

Despite the circumstances, James Crawford puts on a smile before a meeting to place him on administrative leave.

Despite the circumstances, James Crawford puts on a smile before a meeting to place him on administrative leave.