Letters reveal controversial past for PSD’s Kramer

Attempt to unjustifiably remove principal, other ethical issues reported at last position



Assistant Superintendent Roberta Kramer refused to answer any questions regarding her time as superintendent of Riverside School District in Chattaroy, Washington at the Pioneer Center on Wednesday.

IAN SMAY, Evergreen reporter

Letters and documents sent to members of the Pullman School Board and Superintendent Bob Maxwell in April 2017 outlined a number of allegations of unethical behavior carried out by Assistant Superintendent Roberta Kramer during her eight years as superintendent at Riverside School District in Chattaroy, Washington, near Spokane.

A majority of the letters and documents were sent by Donna Skoog, an English and drama teacher at Riverside High School for 28 years before her retirement in 2014, who said she sent the documents in light of the ongoing actions in the Pullman School District involving faculty concerns with district administration.

Issues raised in the documents range from placing Riverside High Principal John McCoy without due process, pressuring of school officials and knowingly seating an ineligible board member. The letters and documents were sent to Maxwell, community members, board members and various faculty in the district, Skoog said.

After speaking with Skoog, McCoy and former Riverside Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Marty Friedman, the Evergreen reached out to Kramer in an attempt to allow her a chance to comment on the allegations and the current issues in the school district. Kramer declined to comment on any part of her time at Riverside School District.

“It’s not appropriate for me to talk about Riverside School District,” Kramer said.

Maxwell, who also attended the interview with Kramer and PSD Communications Coordinator Shannon Focht, said he did not remember receiving the letter or its contents. Maxwell also said the recent complaints made against the administration surprised him and they plan on working to address the situation.

Failed attempt at principal removal

Skoog had been retired for about two years when she received a call on a spring day from McCoy, who was one of her friends from her time at Riverside. McCoy had called to tell her he had suddenly been placed on leave.

“He tells me, ‘Did you know I was put on administrative leave,’” Skoog said. “I asked why and he told me he didn’t know.”

However, McCoy would soon learn the reasoning; Kramer had placed the principal on leave for allegedly talking about a student’s actions in an inappropriate sexual nature, referring to special needs students in offensive terms and making fun of a male student who had dressed effeminately.

McCoy vehemently denied the claims, but the issue had quickly turned into a full-blown scandal. He said the incidents in question never happened, and the first accusation arose from him raising concerns at a meeting over the placing of elementary students with high school students after a member of the latter had reportedly carried out inappropriate actions on a bus with children.

The rest of the story reads like a screenplay; private investigators were hired by both sides, board meetings were packed with concerned community members and tears were shed, McCoy and Skoog said.

“I’ve watched things on Netflix like that,” Skoog said about the situation. “It’s like ‘oh my goodness, wow.’”

After the initial claims made against McCoy were investigated and turned out to be false, he said Kramer insisted on finding a reason to fire him.

“You stay out on administrative leave, I’m going to dig until I find something,” McCoy said Kramer told him on the phone. “You stay home until we find something.”

In the end, after school board meetings packed with community members and Spokane media, McCoy was fully-absolved of the allegations, and eventually reinstated to his post in Aug. 2016, according to KHQ.

The investigator hired by Kramer and the district did not find sufficient evidence, while McCoy’s investigator helped build a strong enough case that multiple witnesses ended up recanting their statements, McCoy and Skoog said.

During the investigations, Kramer had told faculty they were barred from communicating with board members or attending their meetings, Skoog and McCoy said.

The aftermath of the scandal proved disastrous, as multiple board members resigned in the months following the end of the investigation and the decision to reinstate McCoy. Kramer soon left the district to take her current position in the Pullman School District.

“All the board members are gone but two,” McCoy said.

He said Kramer’s departure marked a change that the community saw as necessary for the district.

“With Roberta leaving, the community breathed a huge sigh of relief,” he said.

Staff pushed into unethical positions

McCoy said he felt the attempt to oust him from his position as principal may have been due to disputes between him and Kramer over disagreements about various decisions.

One came when a dispute arose over the dates for the District 7 championship cross-country meet. McCoy, Skoog and Friedman all said Kramer wanted the meet to happen on a Friday and Saturday, which would have eliminated the first day of scheduled contests on Thursday.

After District 7 Director Russ Brown refused to schedule it as Kramer wished, Friedman and McCoy said Kramer instructed them to support her in a vote to not renew Brown’s contract because he “wasn’t doing his job.”

“I told her I had been vice president of District 7 for 15 years and I think [Brown’s] done really well,” Friedman said.

He went on to ask Kramer why she felt Brown wasn’t preforming satisfactorily, which Kramer didn’t have an answer for, he said.

“She said ‘I know he’s just not doing it,’” Friedman said. “I told her I wasn’t going to vote against him because he’s doing his job.”

He said this angered Kramer, who eventually told Friedman they wanted him to leave his post as assistant principal and instead focus on his athletic director duties as the district wanted to go in a different direction.

Although it meant taking a significant pay cut, Friedman accepted what was basically a demotion, which he said was a good decision looking back.

“I wanted to get away from her so bad I was willing to do that other deal,” Friedman said.

Skoog also said she suffered from Kramer’s pressure to carry out questionable actions. Kramer’s son was one of Skoog’s students and was struggling academically, which Skoog said worried Kramer when state testing rolled around.

Kramer asked Skoog to give her son extra attention and coaching for the state tests, sometimes crossing into unethical and possibly illegal territory, Skoog said.

Skoog, who outlined this issue in one of her various letters, said she was afraid of losing her job if she did not carry out Kramer’s requests.

“She would not stop getting in contact with me, it was frightening,” she said.

However, this was not the only run-in Skoog had with a tough decision forced by Kramer, as the administrator also forced her to reinstate a National Honor Society student back in to the club despite repeated rule infractions.

Skoog ended up resigning from her post as NHS advisor after submitting to Kramer’s requests.

“It made me sick that I did it,” Skoog said.

Ineligible board member causes meeting outburst

Through investigations in the attempt to remove McCoy from Riverside High School, it was revealed that a board member had been seated despite living outside of district boundaries.

While conducting interviews in to McCoy’s past in an attempt to proactively discover any blemishes on his record that could be used by the school board, it was discovered that a board member may have lived out of the district, McCoy, Skoog and Friedman said.

The board member had been informed by Kramer that legal counsel approved of the person’s eligibility due to the member owning property in the district, McCoy said.

It was shown at a board meeting that the by-laws did not allow for anyone living outside of the district, which the investigator proved through photos of them mowing lawns and living and a house in Spokane instead of Chattaroy, McCoy, Skoog and Friedman said.

The member stormed out of the meeting in tears, insulting the community member who had called them out during their departure, the three said. The member in question then insulted a child of the community member in the hallway outside of the meeting.

“[The board member] passed by [the community member] and said, ‘You’re an asshole,’’ Friedman said.

McCoy said it was following this incident that Kramer resigned.

After all was said and done, McCoy said the school district went back to normalcy, passing two school levies by large margins after being unable to get one passed for years.

Personally, McCoy said he just wanted to resume his duties as principal.

“I could have chosen to sue the whole district but I decided to stay here,” McCoy said.

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