By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – School Supt. Catherine Cost faced criticism from board trustees during a Sept. 17 study session concerning the way she handled communications about volunteer and suspected child sexual predator Michael Beebe.
Cost said she is sorry the trustees have had to undergo the stress of residents approaching them with questions about the situation.
“Had I had a crystal ball and could see where this would end up, I certainly would have made different decisions,” Cost said. “I am glad that we are on the road to healing, and helping us focus on the children in this district.”
Trustee Theresa Crnkovich asked Cost how, in retrospect, she would have communicated differently as the situation developed.
Cost said the difficult aspect was when she first learned some of the information in May, and felt she must respect the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and even though parents wanted to know the name of the person under investigation, she believes she could not have changed her initial communications in that respect.
“Once we had the police report, more frequent communications would have been ways to help families stay in the know and know how we were reacting,” Cost said.
Crnkovich said the board should have heard more from Cost in May, to which Cost said she did not have anything concrete from police officials to share at that time.
“We did not have any knowledge until August,” Cost said.
Board Treasurer Robert Kirby said community members have approached him and expressed, with disbelief, how he did not know about the developing situation, since he is on the board.
“It was bad communication,” Kirby said. “I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know he was a (parent volunteer), I didn’t know any of this. I had Channel 4 telling me. We should know as a board.
“I am not downplaying what the parents should know, but we should be the first line of defense, and we were not, and if we are not, who is going to protect the kids? We have to be there, as a group. We have to be that united front.”
Kirby asked Cost to put herself in the board’s shoes as they were getting “blindsided” by the situation, and parents expressed increasing concern. He said communication between the superintendent and the board needs to improve.
Crnkovich said that while she knew early on it was a police investigation outside of the realm of the school system, she had no framework or background perspective from which to understand the situation.
Cost said when she heard in May that a parent went to the police, they were allegations and not charges.
“I understand your yearning for more knowledge, but I was just trying to balance the confidentiality of a police report and a police investigation with a school and its governing board,” Cost said.
Kirby said the board wants to know at least what the superintendent knows.
Trustee Dana Browning said that when Cost learned the name of the parent volunteer being investigated, she should have shared that information with the board.
“That would have given us a chance to get together as a board, with you, and talk this out,” Browning said. “Instead, you didn’t tell us that, and it put us in a really bad situation.”
Cost said she did not want to do anything which would taint the police investigation, and she said she “did not have anything definitive.”
“I did not want to jump to conclusions, and I did not want to hinder a police investigation,” Cost said. “I think what I would do differently the next time is contact our attorney and say, ‘What am I able to say, and what am I not able to say?’”
“I would hope that attorney would tell you that you should have informed your board, which you didn’t,” Browning said. “This has left a very bad taste in my mouth for the public and the board. We did not know what was going on, and if we had, it would have been a different story. But the story is already played out, it’s an ugly story, and I just don’t understand why you did not tell us that. That little piece of the puzzle, I think, could have changed a lot of things.”
Cost said she did not know the exact allegations initially, and all she knew was that they were sexual in nature.
“I understand your desires to have me do this differently going forward, and I will,” Cost said. “I was really operating to protect the integrity of the investigation and to let the police sort it out.”
Kirby said from his vantage point, it is “almost insulting” telling them about a confidential document, that they might “spread the alarm.”
“We’ve got to get better at this,” Kirby said. “I guess the past superintendent gave us a lot of information – maybe more than we needed – and I feel like we are getting less, and I want to try and find a happy medium, to where you feel comfortable giving us the information, that you know that we are not going to spell it out to the community, because we need that information.
“I don’t like being blindsided. I don’t want someone coming up and screaming at me, that I knew something, that I have no clue of, and I don’t think you want to put the board in an awkward position. But this one, here, stunk all to hell. We definitely need to fix a lot with this one.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])