After the Stanwood-Camano School Board went into executive session during its Wednesday morning meeting, members of the public requested the session be made public. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

After the Stanwood-Camano School Board went into executive session during its Wednesday morning meeting, members of the public requested the session be made public. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

‘That’s it?’ Stanwood-Camano parents want answers

School district leaders said little to ease concerns about suspect campaign tactics.

STANWOOD — A crowd of angry parents confronted Stanwood-Camano School Board members Wednesday over questionable campaign tactics and were met with mostly silence.

About 50 people scraped together childcare, took time off work and towed kids along to get to an 8 a.m. Stanwood-Camano School Board meeting. Speakers demanded that board president Al Schrieber step down and for a third party to investigate whether state and district policies were broken. Schreiber said nothing.

“I’m here today as a concerned parent, but more importantly, as a citizen who values the right to an honest election process,” parent Amy Sellers said.

Last week district parents called out Schreiber for endorsing a board candidate who has withdrawn from the Nov. 5 election.

They believe he intended to sway the vote to give the board a chance to appoint its own pick.

Charlotte Murry is running to represent District 2 on the board. Her opponent, Keith Pappas, dropped out of the race in July because of a family illness. But it was too late to take his name off the ballot.

He said he would still serve to prevent the board from appointing someone to a vacancy.

District parent Kelly McGill, who also serves on the Stanwood City Council, raised concerns about a meeting that Superintendent Jean Shumate and another board member held with candidate George Zeigen. In the meeting, Shumate said they shared with Zeigen “the guidelines for school districts in an election campaign, prepared by the public disclosure commission.”

It is unclear if other candidates were called in for similar meetings. At least one other candidate was not.

During a public comment period, McGill called on Schreiber to apologize.

“Mr. Schreiber, you haven’t said anything thus far,” he said. “Many of us have tried calling, texting, messaging you. I’d like to ask if you would like to make that apology.”

McGill’s ask was met with silence.

As it stretched on, the crowd began to murmur.

“Shameful,” one person said.

“Disgusting,” another shouted.

Public commenters also spoke of a culture of retaliation in the district which they say leaves staff afraid to speak out.

“I’ve seen teachers beaten down by a culture of fear by Jean (Shumate),” district parent Melissa O’Neill said. “It’s no wonder we can’t fix this issue when our superintendent brings bullying and fear to the table.”

John Russell, who raised two children in the district, didn’t share the crowd’s concerns.

“Based on my personal experience I feel that we do have a board and superintendent that are very ethical and, to the best of their abilities, follow the rules and guidelines,” he said. “I have found over the years when working with them that they are very transparent and open.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, much of the crowd hung around through an hour-long executive session for the board to reconvene. The board declined a request from the audience to stay in open session, rather than hold discussions behind closed doors.

“The board does not endorse or oppose any candidate in the upcoming election,” board member Julie Dean said.

She recommended people refer election-related complaints to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

“It is clearly the most qualified, neutral third party to investigate these complaints,” Shumate said.

None of the board members commented on allegations or on what comes next for the board.

“That’s it?” several audience members asked after the meeting was adjourned.

Ellen Hiatt, whose children also attended the meeting, found the board’s silence disappointing.

“It says ‘we don’t really care,’” she said.

O’Neill is working with a group of parents to file a recall petition to get Schreiber removed from his seat.

“We want, we demand, change,” she said. “Al needs to step down.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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