Tensions ran high at a special school board meeting on Tuesday in Sarasota, where school superintendent Todd Bowden faced mounting pressure to resign over allegations he acted too slowly when he learned that a subordinate was accused of sexually harassing a co-worker.
At the end of the five-hour meeting, the board voted to serve Bowden 30 days' notice that some action may be taken, including termination, suspension with pay, or reprimand. That session will take place Dec. 10, and any punitive steps would require a 4-to-1 majority vote. Bowden has at least two staunch supporters on the five-member board.
During the contentious meeting, Bowden faced an outpouring of anger from members of the public, who filled nearly every available seat in the room. Many called for his termination, and said he should have acted quickly and decisively when he learned that chief operating officer Jeff Maultsby was accused of sexually harassing a co-worker, Cheraina Bonner. Maultsby has since resigned.
Teresa Mast was among those who spoke out.
“We as a community stand united with moral fiber and demand that you remove Todd Bowden immediately,” she said.
Only Bowden's wife spoke in his defense during the public comment period, saying Bowden "never sexually harrassed anyone."
School board member Shirley Brown also came to Bowden’s defense by questioning Maultsby's accuser.
“Those 800 text messages didn’t all come from Mr Maultsby. They were back and forth," she said as some in the audience began to groan and jeer.
"Yeah, I know you don’t want to blame the victim," Brown said.
Board Member Caroline Zucker said she simply didn't believe the investigation report that detailed months of inappropriate behavior by Maultsby, and was the sole vote against serving Bowden a month notice of possible further action.
According to a timeline by the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Bowden learned of the alleged harassment in April. Maultsby was placed on administrative leave in June, and resigned in October.
Late Monday, Bowden offered to leave his superintendent’s post in exchange for another district job, overseeing facilities, that would pay him $175,000 a year for the next 10 years.
School board member Bridget Ziegler made the motion to meet again Dec. 10 to decide whether to terminate, suspend with pay, or reprimand Bowden. She described the 4-1 vote that approved that motion as "the best possible outcome."
“We are in a position of education, we have a lot of impressionable minds," she said after the meeting.
"It is important that we illustrate that we take this seriously, not only for our staff but for our students.”