SARASOTA — The chief operating officer for the Sarasota County School District resigned, shortly after the superintendent said he wanted to fire him over sexual harassment allegations.
Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden was seeking the firing of Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby after the report became officially public Monday.
Maultsby resigned Monday, members of the Sarasota County School Board confirmed Tuesday evening.
His resignation came the same day Bowden informed School Board members he intended to terminate Maultsby’s contract.
“I was shocked that he resigned before Todd gave him (official) notice,” said Eric Robinson, a member of the Sarasota County School Board.
He said he believed Maultsby resigned rather than be fired.
Maultsby quit 10 days after the board received the report from a Fort Myers firm that took him to task for his behavior toward his assistant, Cheraina Bonner.
“There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Jeff Maultsby sexually harassed Cheraina Bonner and that he created a hostile work environment,” the report by Sproat Workplace Investigations states.
“The evidence and the findings, especially when viewed collectively, support the conclusion that Maultsby used sexually abusive and vulgar language and engaged in verbal, visual and physical conduct toward Bonner that unreasonably interfered with her work performance and which also created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment.”
The report shows Maultsby threatened to retaliate against Bonner when she told him she planned to report his misconduct.
Maultsby uttered the phrase, “snitches get stitches,” and would later repeat the threat in a text message, which included a link to a New York Times story about the killing of a whistleblower.
The report states it is “reasonable for Bonner to become more concerned about her safety” after Maultsby knew she had complained to Bowden about him.
The report was also critical of Bowden’s response to the complaint against one of his top administrators.
“There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Dr. Todd Bowden’s actions played a primary role in the District’s failure to promptly and adequately address Bownner’s claims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation and threatening behavior,” the report states.
The School Board meets at noon Nov. 5 in a special session requested by School Board members to discuss the contents of the Sproat report, and then at 6:30 p.m. for a regular session.
That meeting will follow a special meeting at noon that day that board members scheduled to discuss Bowden’s response to the original allegation of sexual harassment from a district worker.
The meeting and Bowden’s statement follow a study by Sproat Workplace Investigations from Cheraina Bonner against Maultsby.
Bowden has been the target of angst from the report which took him to task for his handling of the incident.
“Regarding allegations made against me and Mr. Al Harayda, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the contents of the report prior to the special meeting of the Board,” he wrote. “I will share in advance, however, that I disagree with the report findings and several conclusions made by Ms. Sproat.”
He said he will be “delivering a full response to School Board members next week.
“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,” he wrote.
Robinson agreed with that conclusion. He also viewed some actions taken were retaliatory against the victim.
“You can’t create policies that legislate common sense,” Robinson said Monday.
However, Robinson predicted none of this will affect Bowen and he will get a raise, bonus and “perfect evaluation” from the School Board.
Bowden has received favorable reports from three School Board members. It would take a super majority of four board members to fire the school superintendent.
School Board member Shirley Brown, who has supported Bowden, said Monday she has reached no conclusion yet and described herself as working her way through the numerous emails, reports and other materials relating to the allegations.
“We needed it in writing to take action,” Brown said, citing how Bonner was initially hesitant to file a formal complaint.