By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES — Des Moines School Board members have yet to explain why they covered up the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Nancy Sebring.
Board President Teree Caldwell-Johnson announced Sebring’s immediate resignation following an 80-minute closed door meeting with the full board on May 10. In explaining Sebring’s abrupt departure, Caldwell-Johnson said the former superintendent needed additional time to prepare for her move to Omaha, where she expected to start a job leading that school district July 1. She also was helping to plan her daughter’s wedding.
Other board members did not dispute the account, and neither did Sebring in her resignation letter, emailed May 9 at 11:30 p.m. to Caldwell-Johnson and Dick Murphy, vice president of the board
“As you know I have accepted a position with the Omaha Public Schools which begins July 1, 2012. Due to many personal issues which must be addressed prior to July 1, I respectfully request that the Board accept my resignation effective immediately,” she wrote.
In fact, new details show she offered her resignation only after Caldwell-Johnson and Murphy confronted her with detailed sexual emails Sebring had sent from her work email, some during the school day. They were to a married a man with whom Sebring, who also is married, was having an affair.
Sebring resigned from her position in Omaha soon after the emails were posted publicly on the Internet. The board there unanimously accepted her resignation.
For three weeks, the board maintained the cover story. Caldwell-Johnson and Murphy acknowledged the existence of the emails only after the Des Moines Register wrote about them Saturday.
Caldwell-Johnson and Murphy, as well as board members Cindy Elsbernd, Bill Howard, Pat Sweeney and Joe Jongewaard, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Board member Connie Boesen answered her phone but said she was not able to talk.
Minutes after sending Des Moines board members her resignation, Sebring sent an email to Caldwell-Johnson saying, “I want to thank you once again for your guidance throughout the day today … it means a great deal to me. I apologize for the difficulty this has created and hope the board will also accept my apologies. I look forward to talk to you in person as the transition occurs.”
The district redacted several other exchanges between Sebring and Caldwell-Johnson, emails obtained by Iowa Watchdog show.
The new details suggest the state ombudsman’s office will drop its investigation into a formal complaint against the Des Moines board alleging members met illegally May 10 behind closed doors.
Sebring requested board members close the meeting and the board allowed it, saying they were discussing employee performance matters. They emerged and voted publicly to approve Sebring’s resignation. She was not at the meeting, according to media reports.
Iowa Watchdog questioned the legality of the meeting, given the initial explanation for Sebring’s departure. But district officials now could easily argue they were covered under the Open Meetings law exemption regarding personnel matters, said Angela McBride, assistant ombudsman.