A senior Minneapolis School District official was placed on administrative leave Friday while district officials investigate her relationship with an after-school program that paid her more than $26,000.
Lucilla Davila co-founded the Windom Enrichment Resource Center (WERC) to provide after-school classes in 2011, when she was the principal of Windom Elementary School.
A few years later, Davila became an associate superintendent overseeing the district's magnet schools, and the program has expanded to schools in her portfolio, including Sheridan and Emerson schools.
In a previous interview, Davila said she no longer has a formal relationship with the organization, though she occasionally works as an adviser. She said she told former interim superintendent Michael Goar that she left WERC's board when she was promoted to associate superintendent.
The investigation comes after Davila told the Star Tribune that she had never received compensation from the organization. Tax records revealed that Davila had received $15,600 in compensation from WERC in 2013 and $11,000 in 2014, when she was listed as the organization's president. The organization reported that Davila devoted about 80 hours per week as a board member of WERC in 2013.
The district declined to provide more details about the investigation.
Earlier this week, Michael Thomas, the district's current interim superintendent, said the district is reviewing its conflict-of-interest policies and practices.
"Our expectation is that employees maintain the highest standards of ethics both professionally and privately," Thomas said. "If a conflict of interest arises, we trust staff to act in good faith and openly address any concerns."
Last year, the school board approved a $150,000 contract with the organization, but the board's finance chairwoman, Rebecca Gagnon, said board members were not aware of Davila's current or previous relationship with the organization.
Gagnon said that all district employees are bound by the district's conflict-of-interest policy and that "there are clearly conflicts of interests here."
This school year, WERC programs were offered at four Minneapolis district schools: Windom, Emerson, Sheridan and Kenny. Three of those are in Davila's portfolio.
Davila said the organization also works with a private school and a charter school in Minneapolis. Under the WERC program, parents can pay $150 to $216 per semester for individual classes or up to $6 per hour for an after-school program that runs until 6 p.m.
Parents at Whittier, which also is under Davila's supervision, began raising questions when they heard that the school was considering the WERC program and assumed incorrectly that this meant the cancellation of their current after-school program, run by a popular employee. Some parents were outraged to find out that Davila, who oversees Whittier, was listed as a board member on WERC's website at the time.
The website was out of date, said Davila and WERC executive director Blanca Raniolo.
Still, Davila said she sometimes consults the organization as an adviser, but only when her work "does not tie to Minneapolis Public Schools. Then I might get a commission or percentile of something, but anything that is tied to Minneapolis, I do not benefit in any way."
Raniolo posted a statement on the WERC Facebook page Friday that said, in part: "As an educator, Lucilla Davila played an important role creating and supported WERC when she was a principal of Windom. Looks like being an Assistant superintendent of MPS has created some enemies for Ms. Davila and we all know Lucilla, and how hard she has worked for the students and their families in our schools."