Fayetteville School Board terminates superintendent

Matthew Wendt / Courtesy

The Fayetteville Board of Education terminated the contract of Superintendent Matthew Wendt on Monday after a district employee accused Wendt of sexual harassment in March.

The board made the decision after a special meeting held Monday evening, where they voted 7-0 to terminate Wendt effective immediately.

According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Wendt was terminated on three findings of facts from the investigation on Wendt’s behavior, including “offensive and derogatory communication with a female subordinate employee,” that were in violation of the district’s policies.

Fayetteville attorney Suzanne Clark notified board president Justin Eichmann on March 14 that she would be making a sexual harassment complaint against Wendt on behalf of her client, an employee of the district. Clark met with school district general council Chris Lawson the next day, and informed him of the nature of the allegations. Clark also provided voice recordings and text messages from Wendt to her client as evidence.

Wendt, through his attorney, issued a statement denying all sexual harassment allegations.

Counsel for the district announced that an investigation into the allegations would begin immediately on April 8, and that the superintendent would be placed on paid administrative leave at that time.

The investigation concluded on April 13, and a special meeting of the board was held on April 18, where the board voted to further consider the matter. The board took the issue up again at this week’s special meeting, where they announced the decision after an executive session.

Clark last week released a six-page document to the media criticizing the board for their response time to her initial complaint, and for other aspects of their handling of the matter that compromised her client’s confidentiality during the investigation.

The document also included a statement from the employee detailing her complaint against Wendt, and including the transcript of some text messages and voice mail messages allegedly sent from Wendt to the employee.

After the release of the document, the school district sent a response offering no comment.

“Discussing ongoing personnel matters would not be in the best interest of protecting the rights of all involved,” the statement read.

Wendt’s salary was $231,080, and his contract was just extended through June 2021 in January. The board did not discuss on Monday whether he would receive a buyout.

Dr. John L. Colbert, Associate Superintendent for Support Services, who was appointed as acting superintendent during the investigation in April, will continue to lead the school district in the interim.

Board president Justin Eichmann read a statement at the close of Monday’s special board meeting.

“On behalf of the Fayetteville Board of Education, I would like to express our deep disappointment in the actions that have led to the termination of Dr. Wendt’s employment as superintendent of the Fayetteville School District,” Eichmann said.

“Every employee of the district, including the superintendent, is subject to district policies. Likewise, the due process and protections afforded to every district employee must be observed in all instances. For these reasons, the district conducted this process as it would for any employee. The protection of employee confidentiality and the provision of due process with regard to employment discipline are required by our policies and by law.

“Throughout such a process, while the district maintains confidentiality in order to protect the rights of employees, there can be wandering speculation that may be damaging to certain individuals who, through absolutely no fault of their own, then become a target. Such speculation is wrong and harmful, and there must be a basic level of decency and respect afforded to any person who is a bystander to this matter.

“The Fayetteville School District expects, and will continue to expect, that our district workplace is a safe, appropriate, and professional environment for all employees at all times. In the near future, we will focus our efforts to make sure that this expectation is a top priority from top to bottom throughout the district. We will work with the community and engage our stakeholders to ensure trust.

“While this matter has required the board’s attention for these past few months, we are gratified that the teachers, staff, students, and school board of Fayetteville Public Schools continued forward to a very successful conclusion of the school year. The important work of this district is going to continue in earnest this summer, and we are looking forward to working with Dr. Colbert, the administration, teachers, and staff to provide for a strong start to the upcoming new school year.”