Wauwatosa school administrator to resign after investigation

Kristin and Brett Bowers

Wauwatosa School District's Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning will resign. An internal investigation prompted by FOX6's reporting concludes Kristin Bowers violated policy with her involvement in the district's contract and payments to her husband's employer. 

Bowers' resignation is tucked into Monday night's personnel consent agenda for school board approval. The agenda does not indicate whether Bowers has a resignation agreement with the district that includes a payout.

In a phone call, superintendent Demond Means declined to answer questions about whether the district had a resignation agreement with Bowers.

In her first statement on the matter, in the form of a letter the school district sent alongside its investigative report, Bowers said she has "striven to be a model of professionalism and integrity," and disagrees with the conclusion, but not the facts, of the report.

The report highlights details from public records a FOX6 investigation uncovered, revealing Kristin Bowers' involvement in the adoption and implementation of the college and career readiness program AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) while the company was compensating her husband. Brett Bowers started as a part-time AVID staff developer and eventually became a full-time assistant senior division director.

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In 2019, Wauwatosa School District received a legal opinion saying Kristin Bowers should stay out of AVID decision-making, specifically related to the program's contract. But public records show Bowers continued to give input on AVID decisions in the following months and years. She reviewed the AVID contract, telling the assistant superintendent of business services "there is a need to purchase everything listed." Bowers agreed to meet with AVID representatives about the district's contract, approved a $22,950 AVID expense, called meetings about AVID expansion, and worked behind the scenes on presentations selling a three-year, $170,000-plus AVID contract to the board and to the public

Wauwatosa School District

In Wauwatosa's investigation, Bowers said she approved the AVID expense at then-superintendent Phil Ertl's direction, but later told him it made her feel "uncomfortable."

The report does not address Bowers' email to the district's business office saying there was a need to purchase everything listed in the AVID contract. The report says Bowers' direct report, Nicole Marble, claimed there was "not much room for negotiating" the AVID contract. 

Wauwatosa School District would later admit it violated its own policies by not seeking out quotes and bids from other companies when exploring the AVID contract.

Wauwatosa also paid Brett Bowers directly for professional development consulting work. The district's investigation says his consulting work was unrelated to AVID, but two former Wauwatosa employees tell FOX6 Brett Bowers mentioned AVID on multiple occasions during his consulting presentations to staff. 

Current and former Wauwatosa School District employees who did not want to be identified out of fear of hurting future job prospects tell FOX6 while some staff members were genuinely excited about AVID, those who were skeptical about the program's ability to deliver on its promises felt like they could not speak up because of the Bowers' relationship.

Wauwatosa's investigative report, which took more than two months to produce, says the district interviewed four people: Kristin Bowers, former superintendent Phil Ertl, Bowers' current direct report Nicole Marble, and her former direct report Mark Carter.

The investigation also involved a review of district policy, a review of public records (many of which FOX6 had already uncovered), the 2019 legal opinion about the Bowers' relationship, a timeline from Kristin Bowers, and a letter from AVID about Brett Bowers' compensation.

Three other current and former employees who were involved in AVID discussions tell FOX6 they had knowledge of the situation and would have liked to participate in the district's investigation, but no one approached them. The investigative report says a Buelow Vetter attorney and current superintendent Demond Means conducted the interview.

Public records show Means originally strategized with Bowers about her defense after FOX6 started asking questions in October, including a draft statement that mischaracterized the contents of the 2019 legal opinion.  

But after board members learned what FOX6 uncovered, the school district put Bowers on paid leave, voted to make the legal opinion public, launched an investigation, and voted to end its relationship with AVID after the current school year. 

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In Wauwatosa's investigative report, Ertl and Kristin Bowers say they thought the potential for a conflict of interest was mitigated when Bowers informed Ertl her husband had taken a full-time job with AVID in 2019. The report does not address when or if Kristin Bowers informed her superiors of her Brett Bowers' previous, part-time AVID work, nor does it clarify when Brett Bowers' part-time AVID work began.

In her statement accompanying the report, Bowers says the district's AVID investment and expansion was the result of then-superintendent Phil Ertl's vision. Three current and former school district employees say Ertl seemed excited about AVID, but they also saw Bowers as one of its primary drivers.

Wauwatosa's report emphasizes the claim Brett Bowers received no additional, direct compensation as a result of school district's contract with his employer, supported by a letter from AVID. 

Wisconsin law prohibits "public officials" from using their positions to benefit themselves, immediate family, and organizations with which they are associated.

Wauwatosa School District policy prohibits activity that "conflicts or raises a reasonable question of conflict" with school duties and responsibilities.

Wauwatosa Police say they are investigating. 

The report's conclusions say Bowers violated policy, and the conflict of interest issue should have been revisited upon her promotion to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, as it "seems highly unlikely" she would have been able to recuse herself from AVID decision-making. 

The report also recommends Means "consider appropriate action," along with a review of school district policies.

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