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Hickey, candidates spar at Washington Local school board forum

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    Former superintendent Patrick Hickey answers a question during a League of Women Voters candidate forum for the Washington Local School Board at Calvary Bible Chapel in Toledo.

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  • SPT-WASHLOCAL18p

    Nine candidates answer questions during a League of Women Voters candidate forum for the Washington Local School Board at Calvary Bible Chapel in Toledo. From left: Irshad Bannister, Patricia Pedro Carmean, Melanie Garcia, Patrick Hickey, Mark Hughes, Thomas Ilstrup, Eric Kiser, Brad McDonald and Cindy Perry.

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  • CTY-WLS18

    A billboard on Secor Road that urges Washington Local voters not to vote for Patrick Hickey, Mark Hughes or Melanie Garcia.

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A slew of accusations against Washington Local Schools board candidate Patrick Hickey that include misconduct and misuse of public funds did not come up at a forum Tuesday featuring the nine candidates running for three open seats in the public school district.

Candidates instead took turns answering general questions about school funding, bullying, special education, graduation rates, and challenges facing the district, though Mr. Hickey, 54 — who resigned as superintendent from the district in 2015 after investigations into his conduct and is banned from school property — threw a few personal jabs at his opponents.

In opening statements he shot back at critics who questioned his ability to allow Superintendent Susan Hayward do her job. He said his “sole job” as a board member would be supporting the superintendent. He then took aim at current board members, two of whom are running for re-election and joined him on stage.

“Currently the board has members with agendas on it, with filing police reports, with all sorts of things that are far away from kids,” Mr. Hickey said.

Mr. Hickey resigned amid an investigation into his conduct by Columbus-based law firm Bricker and Eckler. A document prepared by the firm and obtained by The Blade show the firm found numerous problems with Mr. Hickey’s behavior, including failure to disclose his departure from a previous school district was because of allegations of  inappropriate relationships with students; an inappropriate “emotional and/or sexual relationship with one or more subordinate teachers of the district,” and misuse of district funds.

Mr. Hickey last week denied many of the document’s assertions and contended it was being used as a “political ploy” to prevent him from winning a seat on the board. 

Though the document was not addressed at the forum, Mr. Hickey himself alluded to allegations of sexual misconduct when he accused another candidate of posting a photo on social media of Mr. Hickey with film producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Bill Cosby, both of whom are accused of sexually assaulting and harassing women.

"I do want to point out that two days ago somebody up here put a picture of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and a picture of myself on social media," Mr. Hickey said as he was asked by moderator Shaun Hegarty of WTVG-TV, Channel 13, to stay on topic.

The comment was part of his answer regarding bullying. Several candidates said adults in the community need to model better behavior for their children if bullying in schools is going to end.

“How are we going to expect our kids to behave when adults in this district aren’t? You look at social media, and it’s adults bullying,” candidate Mark Hughes said.

Mr. Hughes, 42, Cindy Perry, 58, Brad McDonald, 50, are running for school board again after failed bids in 2015. Former board member Thomas Ilstrup, 55, also is running, as are two parents new to politics, Melanie Garcia, 51, and Irshad Bannister, 34. Incumbents Patricia Carmean, 64, and Erik Kiser, 36 are also in the race.

All were present at Tuesday’s forum, hosted at Calvary Bible Chapel on West Alexis Road by the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County.

All candidates agreed it will be necessary to pass a levy in the near future, and all criticized what they view as the state government crippling the district with unfair funding.

Mr. Hickey and Mr. Hughes both indicated the district should sue the state for more funds. Mr. Ilstrup said either filing suit or aggressively lobbying Columbus may be the only way to force change. He also said he worried divisions within the district’s community could threaten future levy campaigns.

“I do think that we have seen a good deal of consternation over the last two years, and I am concerned that this district will have trouble passing a levy,” he said.

Ms. Perry said the district needs to be honest and transparent with the community if it wants to see a levy pass, characteristics she said are currently lacking. Mr. Bannister said he wants to hire a full-time public relations officer to improve community engagement, and someone to reach out to alumni for donations.

Ms. Carmean touted her experience as a retired teacher from the district and said engaging with parents is key to improving graduation rates. Mr. McDonald said his position leading the aerospace program at Toledo Public Schools means he understands the plight of teachers and would work closely with them if elected.

Ms. Garcia said she brings insight as a mother connected with the district’s parent community and will do her best to learn school governance. 

Mr. Kiser said he has a handle on the district’s financial needs and will continue to push the district forward, should he be reelected.

In Mr. Hickey’s closing statements, he asked all candidates to “...sign an agreement that there will be only positive campaigning between now and November 7.”

The suggestion comes after two billboards encouraging citizens to vote against Mr. Hickey, Mr. Hughes, and Ms. Garcia were erected by the Citizens for Successful Schools.

Robert Kondalski, chairman of the group of about 25 people who are “concerned about the direction of Washington Local Schools,” said it would be “an absolute circus” should Mr. Hickey be elected. Mr. Kondalski said he considers the other two candidates named in the advertisement Hickey supporters. The billboards counter others already up that advocate for the trio.

“There's so much turmoil that we want three people defeated who are running for the school board,” Mr. Kondalski said.

Staff writer Nolan Rosenkrans contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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