GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — School board members for Kent Intermediate School District asked the superintendent to negotiate a settlement agreement with an assistant superintendent after listening to reasons why he should be fired.
Bill Smith has been on paid administrative leave since June.
On Friday, board members listened to evidence from an internal investigation into Smith’s conduct, review of the district’s partnership with the software-company Kickstand and fervent denial of wrongdoing from Smith and his attorneys.
The disciplinary hearing was called as a special meeting. The board tabled discussions after more than five hours, asking both sides to take two weeks to come to a settlement agreement that will separate Smith from the district.
“I urge you to do your very best,” KISD School Board President Andrea Haidle said to both sides before the meeting adjourned.
Haidle’s comment came after Smith’s representation laid out plans for a lawsuit if the board voted to fire him, to which she acknowledged as a threat to the district.
EDIFY/KICKSTND: ‘BILL’S BABY,’ ‘BAD DEAL IN HINDSIGHT’
As part of his termination recommendation, KISD Superintendent Ron Caniff presented his analysis of the district’s relationship with Kickstand, a company that bought a lesson planning software called “Edify” from the district in 2014.
Smith is credited with being instrumental in getting Edify off the ground several years ago and operating it through the district.
Since Smith was placed on paid administrative leave, Target 8 has received several tips regarding the district’s involvement with the private company.
Caniff told the board the district has a net loss of roughly $1.1 million since the purchase agreement was signed five years ago.
The overall operating budget for KISD is roughly $300 million per year, Caniff said later when questioned for context.
According to the superintendent’s calculations, more than $772,500 was spent on employing people with district money to support the software. Smith’s attorney, Bradley Glazier of Bos and Glazier, pointed out some of the salaries may have been paid for by grants the district received.
>>PDF: Caniff’s letter
Caniff also accused Kickstand of “inflating” license numbers in invoices, despite Smith knowing only a few thousand people were using Edify. He alleged Smith’s allegiance aligned with the private company rather than the district.
For instance, an April 2016 email stated there were a little over 2,100 people actively using the software in the entire district, but an invoice dated July 2016 charged the district for 10,200 licenses for the entire school year.
Kickstand charged for 17,000 and 20,000 licenses in subsequent years, according to invoices obtained by Target 8.
During the meeting, Caniff cited an email sent by Smith in January 2019 that noted 3,000 people actively use the software.
KISD confirmed Kickstand vacated office space on district property earlier this month. A memo sent to the company last month severed support by the district, including offices, though Kickstand is still on the hook for the remaining balance of a $1.6 million purchase price.
Robert Schindler of Lusk Albertson outlined what prompted his internal investigation for the board during the hearing.
He said two employees came forward with formal complaints against Smith in June, shortly before he was placed on paid administrative leave. He interviewed 31 employees in addition to the complainants and Smith.
“He became upset, he became red-faced, pounded his fists on the table and yelled at the complainant,” Schindler said a director disclosed to him during an interview.
The complainant alleged it was Smith’s response to questioning involvement with Kickstand.
The other complaint surrounded an employee who took on an administrative role from one that was nonadministrative and felt undercut by the contract’s salary.
Schindler said the complainant described similar behaviors to the first complainant, which also became a pattern in different interviews he conducted with employees.
The investigation could not substantiate allegations Smith discriminated against women, but the board agreed with the Schindler’s assertion he created a hostile work environment for employees.
Smith spent time defending himself against the allegations. He and his attorney cited years of exemplary reviews by Caniff and the former superintendent. The latest was just two weeks prior to Smith being placed on leave.
Smith’s attorney previously sent Target 8 this statement in regards to the accusations and investigation:
“Bill Smith categorically denies the claims attributed to unknown sources within the Kent ISD. Gender has not influenced any of the decisions he has made on behalf of the school district. As shown in his exemplary performance evaluations, Bill has successfully worked with the men and women in the district throughout his time at the Kent ISD and during his 28 year career in public education. Bill looks forward to the completion of the investigation. He plans to continue to serve the students, parents and staff of the Kent ISD.
You can read excerpts from his June 2019 review below: