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School board appointee met with skepticism
On May 8, Jeanie Schulze was appointed in a 3-1 vote to fill a vacant seat on the Central Kitsap School Board. But before Schulze had even taken the oath of office her position on the school board was being called into question.
Lack of support may be the least of her problems, though, as she may face a civil suit from a union member for defamation of character.
Michael Woods, a teacher at Central Kitsap High School, said prior to the appointment that he feared Schulze was too contentious of a choice to fill the seat.
“She comes with baggage,” he said.
Christy Cathcart, the former school board member whose seat Schulze was appointed to fill, expressed her own disappointment just minutes after the decision was made.
Cathcart read aloud her opinion for the school board and gathered community members:
“In the election of 2011 the community spoke and clearly communicated their preference for director District 4,” Cathcart said. “It appears to me that the majority of the current board did not listen and hear the community’s message.”
Each of these comments came before Schulze ever took a position or cast a vote as a member of the board.
The problems seemed to stem primarily from a public letter Schulze wrote and presented to the school board in 2012. In that letter Schulze criticized the teachers’ union — CKEA — as well as one of its prominent members.
Schulze accused the union of conducting a “flawed and not completely fair” interview process during the 2011 campaign, in which Schulze ran against the incumbent, Cathcart.
CKEA and a number of its members responded to Schulze with a strongly worded letter of their own. The union flatly denied the truthfulness of Schulze’s claims, saying, “Some of the events Ms. Schulze describes in that letter differ drastically from what we experienced.”
Schulze has since rescinded a number of her accusations, a fact which union president Kirsten Nicholson said she wishes never had to happen in the first place.
“Instead of bringing her concerns to the association first for clarification and discussion she brought her complaints directly to the school board,” Nicholson said. “Our preference would have been that we would have been able to have a discussion first.”
Both Nicholson and Schulze said they have met and discussed the accusations.
“I’m very pleased that I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the union president to try to figure out where we went sideway,” Schulze said.
Although neither would go into further detail about the discussion, each of them said they are looking toward the future instead of the past.
While Nicholson seemed willing to forget the past, others seemed more wary of the newly appointed school board member.
Cheryl Brown, CKEA’s chief negotiator and past president, said she plans to sue Schulze for claims the board member made in the letter.
“I have a legal opinion that says that letter, in my lawyer’s opinion, defamed my character,” Brown said.
In Schulze’s letter, she said she “became aware” early in the campaign that Brown had offered to serve as the campaign chair for her opponent.
“My concern is that by having a union member who is already committed to a candidate serve as recorder; it creates a question of whether or not the notes taken by this individual were completely unbiased or fair for both candidates,” Schulze stated in her letter.
Despite becoming aware of this information early in the campaign, Schulze apparently made no attempt to determine its veracity by asking Brown herself.
One year later, when Schulze came forward with her letter, Brown denied the accusation outright. Brown then produced emails from Schulze following the interview process, in which the board member told Brown she was satisfied that her comments had been accurately conveyed.
Brown hasn’t brought the civil suit against Schulze yet. She plans to retire in October and said she doesn’t want to bring any court action into play until certain district issues have been resolved.
The day before Schulze was appointed to the school board, she approached Brown and apologized, according to Brown, who felt the attempt was too little too late.
“It had nothing to do with the apology,” Brown said. “It had everything to do with ‘I’ve got to repair this moving into the school board.’ “
Brown said she was shocked the board chose to appoint Schulze, considering her actions against the union.
“I want to go to the president of the school board and ask him what criteria they used,” she said.
J.D. Sweet, who has taught 36 years in Central Kitsap, said he wasn’t surprised at all by Schulze’s appointment.
“As soon as I saw her name I knew she was going to be chosen,” Sweet said.
The majority of the current board members had seemingly wanted Schulze on the board for some time. All three board members who voted in favor of appointing her May 8, endorsed her in the last election.
Bruce Richards, Mark Gaines and Christ Stokke endorsed Schulze in 2011 — even though her opponent, Christy Cathcart, was sitting on the board with the three of them at the time.
Christ Stokke, the board’s president at the time, wrote a letter to the editor in a local newspaper supporting Schulze over Cathcart.
“Jeanie is a person of strong character. She embodies the board’s values of respect, teamwork and integrity … Please vote for Jeanie Schulze for Central Kitsap School Board Position 4,” Stokke said in his letter to the editor.
Eric Greene, the lone school board member to neither endorse Schulze in 2011 nor vote for her appointment this May.
“She ran for the thing and lost, and now the board can just do what they wanted to do and not have to worry about any accountability,” Sweet said.
Brown, Woods and Sweet said they felt current board members approved of Schulze in part because she would not rock the boat, as Cathcart had a penchant for doing.
“She’s in the same boat with the other three board members (Richards, Gaines and Stokke)” Sweet said. “The best situation would be to have (Schulze) chart her own course.”
Despite feeling the appointment was a foregone conclusion, Sweet said his opinion of Schulze will depend on the actions she takes as a school board member.
“If misrepresenting the truth is the way she really is, we’re going to see it,” Sweet said. “If, on the other hand, she shows a different character, she shows a different leadership style and she doesn’t allow herself to be used by other people … then that would be great. If she stands up and creates her own character that would be awesome.”
Schulze will have to run to serve the remaining two years in Cathcart’s seat this fall in the coming election.