Embattled Tukwila School District superintendent resigns

TUKWILA, Wash. -- Tukwila School District Superintendent Ethelda Burke has resigned in the wake of accusations that she hurled racial slurs at nine district staff members.

Mark Wahlstrom, president of the Tukwila School Board, said board members voted Tuesday evening to accept Burke's resignation.

Burke said in an interview with KOMO News Wednesday that she wasn't forced to resign, saying the board exonerated her of all accusations, but it was taking a toll on her family and this way, the district could move on with out any further distractions.

"It would have been difficult for any superintendent to go back into that environment where people were talking about just this issue," she said.

Burke bristled at the accusations that she was a racist, pointing to her upbringing in the South.

"I was born in a charity hospital, a charity hospital in Louisiana," she said. "I have had to fight to fight my way through my entire life. A racist? Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?"

Assistant principal Daryl Wright was one who was happy with the decision.

"I think it's a celebration for Tukwila, the students, the staff and our community," he said. "We deserve to have leadership that's not racist."

The board had previously placed Burke on administrative leave after district employees filed a complaint against Burke with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The employees said Burke called them slaves and made other racially derogatory statements.

J.D. Hill, an athletic and activities director in the district, wrote in his complaint that Burke said he was hiring too many people of color and said he was "making the district look too black" and turning her district into a "ghetto."

Hill also claimed that Burke instructed him to not rent district facilities to Somali groups, saying "I am sick and tired of these Somalians. They always want something for free and this is not a welfare office."

Other employees complained that Burke gave unfair evaluations and kept African American employees from moving into new positions and receiving promotions.

Wahlstrom said the district is still waiting to learn the outcome of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation.

Meanwhile, Burke's career is over.

"I've had 40 years of a clean, wonderful career in education with promotion after promotion after promotion... and my career ends in this way," Burke said. "That's very difficult."

Mellody Matthes will continue as the district's interim superintendent while the board begins a search effort for a new superintendent, Wahlstrom said.