Second in command at Portland Public Schools fired, will sue
As recently as six months ago, he earned nearly universal praise from school-board members and parent activists.
But on Thursday, the deputy CEO at Portland Public Schools, Yousef Awwad, says Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero fired him in retaliation for raising questions about actions by the school board chairwoman, Julia Brim-Edwards, during a closed session of the board.
"I'm sure that it's retaliation," Awwad told the Portland Tribune. "I'm going to sue."
Back in August, when Awwad served as interim superintendent, Brim-Edwards launched an investigation of Awwad for conducting a consensual relationship with a subordinate. Awwad says he had reported that relationship to his previous boss, the former interim superintendent Bob McKean, who had given his OK.
Awwad says he was given a copy of the investigative report weeks ago, and it cleared him of any wrongdoing. The Portland Tribune requested a copy of the report on Oct. 6, but the school district has not yet released it to the newspaper.
After the investigation concluded, Awwad accused Brim-Edwards, in emails to her and other board members, of having personal reasons for scrutinizing him. (The Tribune has also requested those emails, but PPS has so far declined to release them.)
On Thursday, Awwad described the content of those undisclosed emails and other private conversations, saying Brim-Edwards went after him because he had, a year earlier, objected to her seeking a high-level administrative position with the district in the wake of Superintendent Carole Smith's resignation. He says Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive, had wanted to be superintendent and that he said she wasn't qualified.
He also accused Brim-Edwards of violating state law by authorizing district spending on an outside lawyer to investigate him without seeking a vote of the board in an open session.
Brim-Edwards, late Thursday, issued a written statement, saying the board wasn't involved in Awwad's firing.
"It is the superintendent's responsibility to hire, manage and oversee the district staff, including former employee Yousef Awaad [sic]," she wrote. "The board played no role in today's termination. The board's prior investigation of Awaad [sic] was based on serious allegations about misconduct that the board had a duty to investigate. Independent of the board, Superintendent Guerrero made his own decision today about the composition of his senior team."
Awwad said Thursday that in the weeks since the investigation concluded, he has been negotiating with the district on a public statement about its finding. Awwad said he wanted the statement to include an apology to him. Instead, he was fired.
"'I'm going to exercise my right to terminate you,'" Awwad says Guerrero told him.
Until Brim-Edwards launched the investigation, Awwad was in good standing with the district.
Hired under Smith, he rose through the ranks from chief financial officer to deputy CEO to interim superintendent in 2017. He also briefly served as acting superintendent in 2016. He earned about $190,000 a year.
"He was talented, and he did a good job," said Courtney Wilton, who served as an interim chief operating officer under Awwad until May.
A spokesman for the school district, Dave Northfield, confirmed Awwad's departure "effective immediately."
Awwad says he's still mulling his options.
"I've done a lot for the district," he says. "This is how they reward me. I'm shocked. I don't know what to say. I'm going to check my legal rights first and go from there."