By BROOKE STEVENSON
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — The familiar 4-3 split of the Wyandotte Public Schools Board of Education was seen again Tuesday during members’ evaluation of Supt. Patricia Cole.
Typically the evaluation is held in closed session without the superintendent present. But at Cole’s request, it was held in open session during the board meeting.
Her contract is not up for another two years, and the evaluation has no effect on it.
Trustees Kathy Bedikian and Michael Swiecki and Secretary Michael Peters praised Cole for her for her accomplishments throughout the district. President Robert Kirby, Vice President Kevin Van Boxell, Treasurer Dana Browning and Trustee Jerry Kupser voiced concerns and displeasure with Cole during the evaluation.
The split has become commonplace on the board over the last few years and has been a cause for controversy in the past.
Bedikian and Peters said they believed much of the praise the district gets throughout the state can be attributed to Cole.
“I think we give her a run for her money,” Bedikian said about the arguments and debates the board has.
“Through all of that, the district continues to tick along and continues to move forward under the leadership of Dr. Cole.
“I couldn’t be more happy, and I couldn’t be more willing to say positive things about her and this district.”
Swiecki agreed, saying the district is lucky to have someone like Cole who spends so much time in the district. He that added he appreciates all the communication he and the superintendent have about the goings-on in the district.
“I wish I could share the same feelings,” Kupser said in response to Swiecki’s comments. “I wish I could also say the superintendent has kept all board members equally abreast of the situations or the conditions here in the schools.”
Kupser does not believe Cole has put forth an effort to open lines of communication with him.
Browning has issues not only with lines of communication with Cole, but also believes there is an air of intimidation throughout the board. She took issue with Cole calling a teacher’s supervisor after Browning had lunch with the teacher at the school.
“I guess the bottom line was you wanted to know what I was doing there,” Browning said to Cole. “I have always been upfront with you, and I expect the same from you.”
Browning also is disappointed at how the board works together and the lack of communication she believes exists.
“I’m trying to work hard for this community, for the students and for this board,” she said. “Though sometimes it may look like we’re falling apart at the seams, I am not ready to throw in the towel yet.”
Van Boxell said he still has the same concerns he had during last year’s evaluation.
“I think communication should be equal across the board with all members,” he said.
He also takes issue with hiring practices and “confidential matters,” saying he would like to see them worked out.
Kirby echoed other board members’ concerns with communication. He said issues wouldn’t have to turn into a fight during meetings if communication between members was more open.
“We don’t get along as it is,” he said. “I’m not telling anybody anything they don’t know. I would like for us to have some harmony, because we haven’t had it.
“It seems like every time we take a step forward, an issue comes up and then we regress.”
He added that he’s not advocating for Cole’s dismissal, but said he just believes that in an evaluation all of the issues should be brought forward.
“I think we do have some problems up here, and I think we can fix them,” Kirby said. “But mutual respect is just that: It has to go both ways.”
While Cole must wait until the next meeting to respond to the board’s evaluation, many residents spoke on her behalf.
Sara Fitzgerald, a third-grade teacher at Taft Elementary School, said even though the board may have issues, students in the district are thriving.
“I think as teachers, (Cole) inspires us and allows us to do the job that we so desperately need to do for the kids,” Fitzgerald said.
Resident Robert Schweyen said the board should recognize that it is harder to run the district in hard economic times, and that Cole and the administration has handled it well.
“She’s juggling 13 or 14 balls at a time, and some of you guys are chucking rocks at her,” he said. “Then you’re griping when she drops them.
“Board members are either looking at bright spots — and there are a lot of bright spots — or they are picking these little details out that they can gripe about.”
Cole will respond the the board’s evaluation at the next Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. March 3.