An investigation of former Interim Superintendent Yousef Awwad mostly exonerates the fired official but he did approve a salary bump for his girlfriend.

This story has been updated.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Nearly 2,000 pages of investigative documents on the actions of former Portland Public Schools Interim Superintendent Yousef Awwad and the board's response were released Monday. Portland Public Schools on Monday released 1,900 pages of documents connected to the investigation of its former leader Yousef Awwad.

Awwad temporarily stepped into the superintendent role twice during the tumult that followed Superintendent Carole Smith's sudden resignation in 2016.

It was during his second temporary stint as superintendent that board leadership began investigating him following multiple complaints. Awwad has claimed that the investigation was a witch hunt motivated by personal animus from the board chair Julia Brim-Edwards, who has denied these accusations. Awwad is planning to sue the district for wrongful termination.

The new documents should shed light on what transpired around the investigation and the ultimate decision by the new permanent superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero, to fire Awwad last November.

"It's natural for those who assume leadership of any organization to identify and build a leadership team that complements the Superintendent's leadership style and vision," Guerrero said in a statement the district released along with the documents. "It is important for me to have a deputy who shares my vision for student-centered decision-making."

The independent investigation commissioned by the board shows Awwad did not technically violate policy but he did not recuse himself from approving a raise for a woman he was dating in the finance office. District Financial Services Director Donna Chu got a salary bump from $120,000 to $133,000. Awwad, then deputy CEO, was not Chu's direct supervisor — with Interim Chief Financial Officer Ryan Dutcher and then-Deputy CFO Lori Baker, in between. However, Dutcher is an ouside consultant and Baker had left by the time the investigation started.

"The relationship between Awwad and Chu is not a violation of the strict language of the directive because there is no direct reporting relationship," reads the Oct. 2 investigation report by attorney Renee Starr. "But that does not eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest, a perception of favoritism, or the potential for a future harassment or discrimination claim if the relationship ends or becomes non-consensual."

Following Awwad's departure, the board wrote and approved a nepotism policy designed to prevent such ambiguity in the future.

"We are all working very hard to ensure that the Portland Public Schools district is rooted in integrity, treats people with respect and delivers the highest quality educational experience for our students," board co-Vice Chair Julie Esparza Brown said in a statement.

UPDATE (7/9/18): The quote from Esparza Brown was misattributed. The stage of Awwad's lawsuit was clarified.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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