Campaign signs along Alexis Road near Whitmer High School, Thursday, Sept. 28.
Embattled former superintendent Patrick Hickey could land a seat on the Washington Local Schools board, even though he’s banned from setting foot on district property.
Mr. Hickey, 54, who resigned from the district in 2015 after being placed on leave twice amid board investigations into his conduct, is one of nine candidates running for three open seats.
“There’s going to be wholesale change on that board,” he said.
School board members in 2016 banned Mr. Hickey from school property after his behavior at a Whitmer High School basketball game, but he doesn’t view the ban as an issue in his race.
“Once the community votes me in, the previous board cannot handcuff the new board,” he said. “The board would be absolutely foolish not to lift the ban, because the community is speaking.”
Sara Clark, director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said any changes to the ban — either lifting it or amending it — would take another board vote.
In Ohio, board members must attend meetings in person if they want to be counted for quorum purposes or cast a vote, she said. Washington Local’s board meets on district property.
Just last week, Mr. Hickey requested permission to be on school grounds, to join others in prayer at the Whitmer High School flag pole. The district maintained its ban, and Mr. Hickey took to social media asking supporters to contact Superintendent Susan Hayward about his request being denied. He wrote that he was “stunned.” The post has been shared more than 100 times.
The district responded with its own post on its Facebook page, reiterating that the 2016 board action prohibiting the former superintendent from school grounds still stands.
RIFT IN THE COMMUNITY
The November election is the first opportunity for voters to weigh in on district leadership since turmoil surrounding Mr. Hickey shot rifts through the Lucas County school system that serves about 7,000 students.
Many believe those divisions haven’t healed, and several candidates say the community’s ability to move forward hinges on the election.
Voters will choose from two incumbents, Patricia Carmean and Eric Kiser; three candidates who ran and lost in 2015, Cindy Perry, Brad McDonald, and Mark Hughes; former board member Thomas Ilstrup; two parents new to politics, Melanie Garcia and Irshad Bannister; and Mr. Hickey. James Langenderfer’s seat is up, but he chose not to run for reelection.
Mr. Ilstrup, 55, served on the school board for about 10 years on and off, with his last term ending in 2015. He said he decided to run again because he wants to “help bring some calm back to the district.”
He said he has never seen such a packed race for the school board, and he suspects much of it has to do with the continuing saga.
His chief concern is that if Mr. Hickey is elected there will essentially be two superintendents trying to run the district. He said he worries Ms. Hayward — who just began her second year with the district — would be “second guessed at every step of the way,” making progress difficult.
“I think it will be a continuing distraction,” Mr. Ilstrup said of the possibility that Mr. Hickey is elected. “I’m sorry that this is happening this way. He did some great things here, but I think Dr. Hayward should have the opportunity to do great things as well.”
In September, 2015, the board reprimanded Mr. Hickey after a staff member alleged he harassed her and sent sexual messages to a coworker. Months later Ms. Carmean, a school board member, filed a complaint with the Toledo Police Department against Mr. Hickey saying he harassed her and school staff members.
Still later that year, surveillance video was released that showed Mr. Hickey taking pictures at night outside the classroom of a teacher who claimed he harassed her. He was put on paid leave and then resigned.
This spring, Ms. Carmean again claimed Mr. Hickey was harassing and threatening her, and she petitioned for a civil protection order. While a magistrate denied Ms. Carmean’s request, she made it clear during a May hearing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that the two should have no further contact.
Ms. Carmean, 64, a retired Washington Local reading teacher, is running for her second term. She said she hopes the friction between her and Mr. Hickey “doesn’t impact” the board’s ability to function should each of them get elected.
“I am working for the children. That’s my main focus. I am not there for any other reason,” she said.
Mrs. Garcia, a mother of three Whitmer High School students, called for Ms. Carmean to step down in 2015 and contends she is responsible for divisions in the district. Now, she said she wants the community to move on from the past.
“I don’t want all that strife and animosity. I want us to move forward,” Mrs. Garcia said. “It takes a team, a cohesive team, to work together without any special agendas. We need to move forward.”
Mrs. Garcia, 51, has never before campaigned for public office but said she felt compelled to run to try and bring a fresh perspective to the board in light of the turmoil. She said she believes that parents and community members would feel comfortable approaching her with thoughts or concerns, and she promised to advocate for kids and families.
“We need to be refocused on our kids, our staff, and get all this other stuff behind us and move forward,” she said.
WHY SOME ARE RUNNING
Mr. Hickey said he is campaigning because “hundreds of community members, students, and parents” asked him to.
“I think it’s the only way the district is going to move forward is to let the community speak on the issue,” he said. “And once the community has spoken, then we’ll have to move forward.”
He said if he is elected he’ll increase district communications with parents, request a state audit before any levy request, and make sure student activities such as Victory Day, Kids in Action, and a trip to Washington take place. He contends many of those activities were cut when he left the district, but school administrators tell a slightly different story.
A document titled “Superintendent’s Rumor Control” was posted to the district’s Facebook page last week and addressed district talk surrounding the Infinite Opportunity Olympics, Victory Day, Kids in Action, the Washington trip, and the district’s financial audits.
“Please help us to dispel rumors and prevent the spread of false information,” the document reads.
Officials said the document was not related to any candidate’s platform but a response to questions they’ve received from community members.
Mr. McDonald, 50, an areospace instructor with Toledo Public Schools, said he’s running for a second time because he wants to see change on the school board. He promised to be transparent with taxpayers and said he would bring a strong work ethic to the table.
“Our board and our school system has been a mess for the last four years,” Mr. McDonald said. “We had an outstanding district with tons of momentum, and we’ve lost that momentum. We need to put this all behind us and we need to get the ball rolling again.”
Mr. Kiser, who is running for reelection, said despite some negative perceptions district leaders are working to improve student performance and maintain fiscal responsibility. The 36-year-old wants to keep his seat on the board to continue what he says is important progress.
“I like the direction we’re headed,” he said. “I think we have a good superintendent with a solid academic and teaching background with the ability to work with our staff to improve our student academic growth.”
Irshad Bannister, a Whitmer graduate, district parent, and volunteer Whitmer football coach, will be a new face on the November ballot. He said he’ll bring a business perspective to the board with his experience as a financial advisor, something he believes is lacking with the current group. Mr. Bannister, 34, also hopes to bring “calm to the waters” in what he said is a polarizing election.
“I hope voters are able to concentrate on the things that matter to our district and filter through the things that don’t,” he said.
Mark Hughes, 42, first ran in 2015. His platform this time around is similar: promote parental involvement, explore options for new technology, partner with local universities, and prepare for another levy.
Ms. Perry, who retired from the district as head custodian, is also running for a second time. The 58-year-old wants to bolster the district’s career-technology programs, improve district communication, and maintain a healthy budget.
She called the interest in this year’s school board race “unique.”
“I think people are wanting to see transparency and community involvement. They want to know where their tax dollars are going,” she said. “I see a lot of people out there willing to run for the board, and good luck to all of us.”
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