About 50 parents and concerned residents raised complaints to the Stanwood-Camano School Board during a special meeting Wednesday morning.
Seven people spoke in the 25-minute public comment period about their displeasure that board President Al Schreiber endorsed candidates via email for the four open School Board positions. This included an endorsement for Keith Pappas, who withdrew from the race after ballots were being printed.
“The School Board is tainted by what has happened here,” said George Zeigen, a retired Stanwood Middle School counselor and School Board candidate. “What Al has done is unethical.”
Melissa O’Neil spoke about larger trust issues with the superintendent and a group of parents who saw this election as a chance for change and were furious with this latest situation.
Lindsey Spoor said that the special meeting was held at a time that teachers, bus drivers and many parents wouldn’t be able to attend.
Ellen Hiatt asked the board to read the packet she had given them, including a timeline of actions taken by board members and administration that she said would intimidate a board candidate and efforts by several to influence the election.
“You promoted a candidate that you knew had dropped out of the race in order to appoint your own board member rather than work with the only running candidate for the seat,” she said. “Mr. Schreiber, we want you to step down immediately.”
The speakers argue Schreiber endorsed Pappas because if Pappas won and chose not to serve, the board could appoint its own pick. Schreiber did not speak at the meeting.
Kelly McGill said that it has been clear for months that Pappas has withdrawn, and the voter pamphlet underscores this.
“Further, members of the public informed you of this last Saturday, and you immediately withdrew your online posts. Unfortunately, you decided the following day to double down on this strategy and send out a broadcast email repeating your ask,” McGill said. “To knowingly endorse a candidate who has withdrawn very reasonably appears to be a political maneuver to ensure the board get to choose the candidate, and the plan only works if the public unwittingly goes along with it, trusting your advice as a leader. This action works against the confidence the public has entrusted you with.”
In a phone interview with the Stanwood Camano News, Pappas said Schreiber approached him, saying he was going to endorse Pappas.
“I told him no, and I sent a letter to him and the School Board basically saying I didn’t want to be a part of the election,” said Pappas, who did not attend the meeting Wednesday. “No one else on the board was involved, just Al.”
He said his opponent Charlotte Murry should win Tuesday.
“That should be the end to this story,” Pappas said. “It’s not illegal for Al to go out and promote somebody, maybe his reasoning was wrong, but people need to realize that the school district is not in disarray.”
However, if Pappas does win, he said he will accept the School Board seat and serve the term.
After an hourlong executive session following public comment, board member Julie Dean said that the board doesn’t endorse or oppose any candidate and encourages any community member to submit complaints to the Public Disclosure Commission. The board, she said, will support any investigation.
School Superintendent Jean Shumate said the district referred concerns from McGill, O’Neill and Kassandra Burnham about campaign activities to the PDC on Tuesday. The PDC is the independent agency responsible for investigation of complaints concerning alleged violations of Washington.
“It is clearly the most qualified third neutral party to investigate these complaints,” Shumate said.
However, the commission told the district it cannot accept referred complaints and that the concerned individuals need to file their complaint directly.
McGill said the group of concerned parents will file complaints with the PDC as well as continue to seek an investigation into if school board policies were broken.