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Sarasota Monday, Oct. 28, 2019 3 weeks ago

Maultsby resigns district position

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Superintendent had recommended dismissal of the district chief operating officer following allegations of harassment.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Sarasota County Schools Chief Operations Officer resigned Tuesday, a day after Superintendent Todd Bowden announced plans to terminate his contract. 

The decision came after the district launched an investigation following complaints made by school district employee, Cheraina Bonner. Bonner, who worked as Jeff Maultsby's administrative assistant, said she was sexually harassed by Maultsby and was placed in a hostile work environment after she reported the incident. 

Bonner made complaints against Maultsby, Bowden and Al Harayda, the district's employee relations administrator. 

An investigation completed by Vicki Sproat with Sproat Workplace Investigations found there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Maultsby sexually harassed Bonner and that he threatened to retaliate against her if she reported her concerns, among other things. 

“After reviewing the entirety of the text messages exchanged between Mr. Maultsby and Ms. Bonner and the transcripts and exhibits from each interview conducted by Ms. Sproat, it is clear Mr. Maultsby behaved inappropriately, and his actions are unbefitting of a school district employee," Bowden said in a statement. 

Additionally, the investigation concluded that Bowden failed to respond to Bonner's complaints.

Bonner told investigators that she shared several details, including sexually suggestive comments Maultsby made to her and text messages in which Maultsby said he missed her, with Bowden on April 12. However, Bowden said the original meeting had far fewer details. 

Now the school board will discuss the investigation and its findings with Bowden during a special meeting at noon on Nov. 5

Board members will need to determine if Bowden followed the board's sexual harassment reporting procedures which state that if a supervisor takes a complaint from an employee who doesn't want to file a report, the supervisor must initiate the process. 

Bowden first heard the complaint April 12 and filed the complaint himself May 22 after he said were repeated attempts to get Bonner to file herself so an official investigation could begin. However, Bonner told investigators she feared retaliation if she filed.

In a statement, Bowden said he could not comment on the contents of the report prior to the special meeting, though he disagrees with the report findings and several conclusions made. 

"I look forward to delivering a full response to school board members next week," Bowden said. "I regret that Ms. Bonner has to wait even longer for resolution to the complaints, and I appreciate her patience and fortitude throughout this process, and I hope our employees can continue to do what we do best: educate and inspire our children.”

During the meeting, board members could vote to reprimand, suspend or terminate Bowden. Those actions require a 4-1 supermajority vote. 

All actions, aside for suspension without pay, require a 30-day notice. If the board voted to terminate Bowden without cause, he would be given 20 weeks of severance pay and would not be able to appeal the decision. If he was terminated with cause, he would not be given compensation but could appeal the board's decision. 

The special meeting will begin at noon, and a regular school board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5. Both meetings are open to the public in the school board chambers, located at 1960 Landings Blvd.

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