The Richland School Board named the district's director of financial services as acting superintendent Friday as Superintendent Jim Busey remains on paid administrative leave.
Busey has been under investigation for having an allegedly inappropriate relationship with a district employee since early November, and was placed on leave Dec. 10.
The board met for almost four hours in a closed-door session Friday before announcing in a brief public meeting plans to offer Rich Puryear the temporary position.
"Our district's business will go on at the usual high standard we expect," school board Chairman Rick Jansons told the Herald.
Jansons continued to decline to talk about the ongoing investigation. However, he and others said they were concerned about the investigation harming the public perception of its $98 million bond proposal on the February ballot.
"I have actually heard some people say if (the board) can't settle this to my satisfaction I can't support the bond," said John Deichman, a co-chairman of the Richland Citizens for Good Schools booster group.
Busey, who spoke to the Herald earlier this week, said the district already investigated in November his relationship with a district employee and found no issues. It only became a problem when the district's investigation became public, he claimed.
Busey said he was offered a buyout but he was not willing to accept it and would prefer to remain superintendent. Busey earns $160,730 a year, according to a March 2012 addendum to his contract. The superintendent said if the board wants him to leave, he would have to be compensated for the remaining 21/2 years on his contract, which is more than $400,000.
Jansons has denied the board has reached any conclusion nor has it offered Busey a buyout.
Puryear has been with the district since 2000. He previously worked in the Othello and North Franklin school districts, as well as for Educational Service District 105. Puryear also is superintendent of Star School District, which runs a single elementary school east of Pasco.
Puryear told the Herald he looks forward to working with staff and parents to continue the good work the district already is committed to.
District officials gave no timeframe for when the investigation would be finished. Jansons said it is taking longer than initially expected and that the holidays would cause further delays.
But Jansons said he and other board members are concerned that some district residents were basing their opinion on the coming bond vote on their perception of the Busey investigation.
"The bond is a separate issue," Jansons said. "It's important that this bond be judged on its own merits."
If approved by voters, the bond would pay for a new elementary school and middle school, rebuild three central Richland elementary schools, build a facility for the Three Rivers HomeLink alternative education program, install a new heating and cooling system at Chief Joseph Middle School and cover improvements for Fran Rish Stadium.
Deichman said this is the second distraction to affect the bond. Earlier this fall, board members took heat from parents at Jefferson Elementary School when the board initially planned to close the K-5 school to make it a home for HomeLink. The board eventually voted in November to keep Jefferson open as it is.
The issues surrounding the investigation of Busey also are creating consternation, Deichman said, and he wants the board to resolve the situation soon.
"I think the community is becoming restless with this because they see it as a black and white issue," he said.
The bond is badly needed to upgrade district facilities and to address overcrowding in some of the district's suburban schools, Deichman said. And while he hopes for the investigation to wrap up, his organization will continue to push forward with promoting the bond, putting out yard signs and distributing literature.
"We're going to move ahead with vigor," he said.