Covington resigns as superintendent - KCTV5

Covington resigns as superintendent

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Kansas City Schools Superintendent John Covington abruptly resigned Wednesday night.

He announced his resignation to the board during a closed meeting. It is effective in a month.

Board member Arthur Benson also announced his resignation effective with Covington's. He said his resignation date would be the same as Covington's.

"This is an unspeakably bad outcome for the school district and its children," Benson told KCTV5.com.

Parents were shocked when they heard the news about his resignation Wednesday night. Click here to read their comments.

Covington became Kansas City schools superintendent in July 2009. He presided over the closing of nearly half of the district's buildings and other sweeping changes. Recent test scores were lower than officials had hoped, but they said they were expected in the wake of the changes.

Following the closed meeting, the board met in its regular meeting with Covington in attendance.

Board members said they had been ordered not to discuss Wednesday night's twists and turns.

Sources tell KCTV5.com that Covington's resignation stems in part from differences with board President Airick West.

Covington took the unprecedented step on Tuesday of filing an open-records request on West seeking documents related to his alleged involvement on behalf of a potential contractor for an estimated $86 million project.

Benson, who played a lead role in the appointment of Covington as superintendent, told KCTV5.com that a routine closed session began at 5 p.m. Wednesday. He said Covington handed his resignation to West at 5:50 p.m.

"The blockbuster didn't come until all the staff had left the room, and then he resigned," Benson said.

Benson said he then hand wrote out his resignation letter and turned the piece of paper over to West at 5:53 p.m. Benson said he then left the board building.

"I was shocked. I was completely surprised and shocked. I knew there had been substantial differences," Benson said.

He declined to discuss those differences. He also said he would not reveal the reasons that Covington cited because they are privileged as part of a closed session discussion.

"I think we have the best superintendent in the nation for reforming urban education," Benson said. "He just today completed extremely successful labor negotiations with the teachers union that would have provided him with the flexibility he and the principals needed to complete the transformation of the school district."

Benson was the plaintiffs' attorney in the 26-year-old desegregation case that ended in 2003.

West told reporters Wednesday night that the board did not accept Covington's resignation during the closed session.

Covington had his chief of staff file the Missouri Sunshine Law request for emails by West on both his school district and personal addresses. Covington directed that the other board members be provided a copy of the request.

The district is seeking bids for a project known as "Cornerstone" to make district buildings more energy efficient. The district would use federal stimulus dollars to pay for the upgrades, which were expected to take 18 months.

Sources tell KCTV5.com Covington informed board members that West had contact with a contractor planning to bid on the project and then contacted the administration about the issue. Bidders are to refrain from contact with board members.

Covington asked West to provide him with the name of the contractor, saying the contractor would have to be disqualified, sources say.

When West refused to provide the name, Covington decided to file the open-records request and have the district rebid the project, which will delay it by months, sources say.

"The office of the superintendent is requesting all emails between board President Airick Leonard West and any bidders or potential bidders for the district's ESCO, Cornerstone project or any bid, project or other matter associated with the project," according to a copy of the open-records request obtained exclusively by KCTV5.com.

The request goes on to say, "While I am requesting all correspondence related to these matters, I am specifically seeking emails from on or about Aug. 16, 2011, that were later forwarded to (the) administration."

Covington asked that the emails, even those on West's personal accounts, "be produced in their original form with nothing redacted."

The superintendent said he was entitled to see the emails because West uses his personal accounts to conduct board business.

"Per the Missouri Sunshine Law, I am requesting any and all emails sent or received on this topic by Mr. West, regardless of the email account, as they clearly constitute actions in his capacity as KCMSD Board Chair and fall within the purview of the Missouri Sunshine Law," according to the open-records request.

Duane Kelly, the longest serving board member and a former school teacher, said he was stunned by Covington's decision.

"We got the news and everybody's jaw dropped. There was no reason given," Kelly said. "All we can do is speculate."

Kelly said he tried to calm those alarmed by Covington's resignation by reminding them of Kansas City's revolving door of superintendents.

"I keep telling them, 'Relax folks.' I have seen 25 of these. We're going to make it," he said.

Covington is the sixth full-time superintendent the district has had since August 1999. Over the past 45 years, only Bernard Taylor has lasted more than two years.

The Kansas City School Board voted on April 30, 2009, to hire Covington. He signed the contract in May and began work on July 1. He announced his "right-sizing plan" to close schools in February 2010.

A divided board approved the school closing plan that spring.

Marilyn Simmons, who was board president when Covington was hired but voted against the right-sizing plan, said she wasn't surprised to learn about Covington's and West's differences.

"This is their mess," she said. "I think it is a terrible time for the children, the staff and the teachers. There is much work to do."

Simmons said the right-sizing plan was "too much" and has upset children's lives.

"Covington and the board have to take responsibility for it," she said.

Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed said he was shocked by Covington's resignation.

"I hate to hear this news. I hope he stays," Reed said. "I think consistent leadership is important and at the end of the day our young people are the ones who lose out....They were on a good path."

Before coming to Kansas City, Covington was superintendent in Pueblo School District in Colorado and Lowndes County Public Schools in Montgomery, AL. He is a graduate of the 2008 class of the Broad Superintendent Academy and a veteran educator. He is from Alabama.

The board will hold an emergency board meeting at noon Thursday. Watch KCTV5 for updates on this developing story.

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