Written by: Jeremy Baumhower
If you were to tell me two months ago that I’d be neck-deep in school board election politics, I’d say you were crazy. No one could have predicted the craziness my life has become since first breaking the news of the secret attempt to fire Washington Local Schools (WLS) Superintendent Patrick Hickey. I’ll try my best to recap. You try your best to believe it.
It all started after I shared a video on Facebook of a WLS Board discussion of Brondes Ford wanting to donate $270,000 in exchange for on-site advertisement placement, a video that almost ruined a man. The video featured a heated exchange that showcased numerous people yelling at a man I admire. It culminated in David Hunter, a 22-year board member, dropping a stack of emails directed at the superintendent. My video post included a diatribe of pure emotion aimed at Hunter, and when I hit “Post,” I could feel my id rejoice.
The next day, however, I woke up drowned in Catholic guilt. Hunter was my 6th grade CCD teacher at St. Clement’s. The fact that I remember so few of my teachers tells you the impact he had made on my life, so I felt my karma was getting out of balance. Immediately after posting the video, I was getting deluged with phone calls and messages from concerned people regarding WLS and, specifically, Patrick Hickey. They were all saying the same thing – Hickey was about to be fired. “The Board (of Education) has the three votes needed to fire Hickey and the public does not know.”
One BOE member, later identified as Jim Langenderfer, was described as “orgasmic” at sharing the classified details with one of my sources. I was confused; was this over the Brondes deal? It wasn’t.
It was explained to me on September 9th that Hickey had been suspended and was being investigated over a teacher’s complaint. The information continued, “Hickey was allegedly having an affair, and was currently not allowed on any WLS-owned grounds, including sporting events his children were participating in.” I was overwhelmed with the data dump and confused as to why I was being told details of an ongoing investigation. Who wanted to fire Patrick Hickey? Why doesn’t anyone know any of this? Is this really happening?
It was at this point that I started yelling and making a lot of noise about the behind-the-scenes happenings at WLS via my social media megaphone. I started the #IStandWithMrHickey campaign. Thankfully, my words did not fall on deaf ears. As I was starting to scream, I was working to confirm what I was told. The only thing I confirmed was that Hickey had not been seen at any school for some time even though it was the second week of school. My repeated requests of Hickey for information were all answered with a “no comment.”
It wasn’t until David Hunter spoke during the Saturday morning BOE meeting that I had any confirmation from the district. It was really happening. The initial people who called me were nervous, convinced the three votes were already cast to fire Hickey. Even scarier, the public would have no idea what was happening until the deed was done.
The BOE drama was best described to me as a coup d’état with two members hiding for two years in plain sight. The coup was patiently waiting for the third member to join their ranks to begin the change and fire Hickey. The names of the school board members associated with the coup were Patti Carmean and Jim Langenderfer. They were both elected in 2013 after upsetting two longstanding members of the BOE. The story was that they had won through foot soldiering and robo-calls by a local union on Election Day.
The two losing incumbents believed they did not need to campaign based on “the recent performance of WLS and the passing of school levies.” Neither board member raised any campaign monies and lost to a strong presence at the polls. The third coup member was Cindy Perry, a school board candidate and former president of the local OAPSE chapter. She was described to me as the “ringleader” and the person “pulling the strings” behind the scenes. As OAPSE President, Perry was the person responsible for negotiating the most recent contract. There was a key component and concession: school aides’ hours were reduced from eight to seven hours per day, effectively causing a reduction in pay for 30 employees. The savings cost to the district was $100,000.
Perry and team were given the option of lowering the negotiated pay raise from 3.0% to 2.5%, a choice that would have kept the aides’ hours at eight. It was declined. The closer for the contract was that each OAPSE member was to receive a $250 signing bonus.
With only 30 of 300+ members facing wage cuts, the majority voted in favor of the deal. The brothers and sisters of the local chapter quickly approved the deal. As details of the contract became clear, however, an internal backlash from members started against Perry. Instead of taking responsibility, Perry started claiming she was “strong armed” by Hickey and his team to sign the deal. Cindy felt she had been tricked and the coup was born.
On September 12th, the coup’s attempt to secretly fire Hickey was foiled. A standing-room-only crowd of 50+ packed the old Lincolnshire School. For two and a half hours, resident after resident praised the current leadership and demanded answers. On September 15th, the BOE members received results of the investigation. They were given the same information that was shared with me five days prior. The investigation proved many allegations were unfounded or improperly perceived, and on September 16th the board voted unanimously (4 to 0 with a noticeably missing Langenderfer) to issue Hickey a written reprimand. Hickey would retain his job and continue working as superintendent of WLS.
In the 47 days since, the coup against Hickey has been doing everything in their power to paint the superintendent in a negative light. I have investigated every allegation and found nothing to support their claims. The coup’s mouthpiece, a “licensed counselor with 25 years of Human Resources Management,” is Terri Kern. Her professional blog has called Hickey a narcissist, a bully, and a harasser. Kern has even painted me as an “unemployed, stay-at-home, chauvinistic bully.”
It’s been an ugly six weeks. I’m ready for it to be over and move forward, but tomorrow is a very important day for the future of 7,200 students. Quite simply, it’s the day voters decide if they want to put the third piece of the coup in place or not. Perry has repeatedly discussed changing leadership as well as changing the current morale among WLS employees, even though the district was recently chosen “Top Workplace” in 2014. Perry is running against four other candidates for two open board seats. She has numerous union endorsements because she has been a great “soldier” for the Democratic Party.
However, her personal agenda is very likely the reason why her own party didn’t endorse her. In fact, they gave the endorsement to a candidate with recent legal personal troubles, and past campaign finance issues. If Perry was such a great “soldier,” why didn’t she get her own party’s nomination? She is simply not qualified. Perry’s professional resume includes 30 years as a custodian for WLS. From there, she worked her way up to union president. Her time as OAPSE President involved a failed contract negotiation that led to a reduction in teacher’s aide pay.
Perry was also given multiple years of paid time off to do AFL-CIO work, which is where she performed the “good soldier” work that garnered her current union support. My last name is synonymous with collective bargaining. Being the son of a boilermaker and the cousin of Bruce Baumhower (UAW Local 12) are two things I hold dearly. I’m proud that my last name means something, because my family has worked to protect their fellow brothers and sisters.
It is with this pride that I must ask you to vote against your union’s endorsement, but only with this one name. Every person who works on the line knows that one union brother or sister who does everything they can to be in power. Some are worthy; others are not. This is a perfect storm where such a person is now in a position to decide the future of your child’s education. Her first action will be to fire the man she negotiated poorly against in 2013.
This is an event our city cannot allow to happen. Washington Local Schools are thriving under the current leadership, successfully passing five new money levies, ranked “excellent” with 60% of the children living in poverty, and have the Top Workplace and a highly motivated staff. The last thing this school district needs is a change.
Here are four candidates worthy of your vote:
· Mark Hughes – Father of three students currently enrolled in WLS, Master’s Degree, works at University of Michigan Hospital
· David Hunter – Current BOE Member with 22 years of experience, Perrysburg teacher, children are all currently WLS employees.
· Lisa Canales – Endorsed Democrat, previously sat on the WLS BOE for nearly 10 years
· Brad McDonald – TPS aviation teacher, two sons, currently the president of Whitmer Junior Panthers Baseball Organization
Pick two of the four names above and the momentum will continue. I have personally endorsed Mark Hughes because his integrity and compassion are beyond compare. WLS voters need to make a statement tomorrow. They need to show up to the polls in record fashion and express their opinion with their vote. If you love the current direction of WLS, vote #ABC or Anybody Buy Cindy. If you want to fire Superintendent Patrick Hickey, vote for Cindy Perry. Choose wisely. The future of 7,200 students is at stake.