Clover Park School Board member censured over racial remarks, policy violations

Parents of students of color in one South Sound community are standing behind a decision by their school board to censure one of their own. 

Clover Park School District Board Member Paul Wagemann was censured for a second time earlier this week after an outside investigator hired by the district substantiated multiple claims that he bullied the superintendent and used offensive language.

During Monday’s board meeting, Wagemann had many supporters in the crowd testifying to his strong character and good nature, but, some parents in the community say he is racist and should resign.

Taniesha Lyons once ran for Wagemann’s seat but lost. She says the board member’s antics are nothing new.

"I just would like to see him resign," he said.

Monday’s board voted to censure Wagemann after an investigator hired by the district determined the board member violated district policy.

The investigator’s report says district superintendent Ron Banner accused Wagemann of repeated harassment and intimidation. Fellow board members say he is antagonistic and disrespectful, and that relationships soured to the point where Wagemann threatened to sue the superintendent. 

Also in the report, the investigator substantiated that Wagemann used racially charged language – including using the term "crack the whip," saying in some Black communities it is okay to call women the b-word, and using the phrases "race pimps" and "cotton pickin.’"

During Monday’s board meeting, Wagemann pushed back against the report. 

"There were many people in the room when the comments were made taken out of context," he said. "As we go through this, this becomes almost a kangaroo court."

"It’s so deliberate and so intentional," said equity-focused educator Kimi Irene Ginn, who says the censure is just one step. She is working on ending the board member’s tenure.

"We’re looking to make sure there are candidates that are running that are running with equity, diversity and inclusivity," she said. 

Wagemann did not immediately return a message seeking comment for this report. He was appointed to his position in 2009 and ever since has won re-election. His seat will be up for challengers on the 2023 November ballot.

The district’s communications office shared the following statement from board president Alyssa Anderson Pearson, board president.

The Board of Directors of the Clover Park School District on June 13, 2022, voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution censuring Director Paul Wagemann for his conduct toward Superintendent Ron Banner. 

In February, Mr. Banner, who is African-American, submitted to the District a complaint alleging racial discrimination by the District through actions of Director Wagemann. The District initiated an investigation under various Board policies and related administrative procedures, including Policy 5010 and Procedure 5010P prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race and other characteristics. 

Procedure 5010P describes a process that the District must follow for investigations of formal, written complaints of racial discrimination, such as that submitted by Mr. Banner. That process includes conducting an investigation and culminates in a report from the superintendent or designee to the complainant summarizing the results of the investigation and containing conclusions regarding whether the District followed nondiscrimination laws. 

Utilizing that process, the District hired Chris Burton, an outside attorney and investigator, to review relevant documents and interview witnesses. Mr. Burton interviewed five witnesses, including Mr. Banner and Director Wagemann, and reviewed at least 24 documents. By report dated April 20, 2022, Mr. Burton described the facts obtained during that investigation. 

Because the superintendent was the complainant, the District hired Dr. Gene Sharratt as an independent decisionmaker to issue the decision on the complaint required by Procedure 5010P. Dr. Sharratt is a former school and educational service district superintendent with 30 years of K-12 experience. 

By decision dated April 27, 2022, Dr. Sharratt found that a preponderance of the evidence related to the complaint exists to support Mr. Banner’s claim of policy violations. Dr. Sharratt concluded that Director Wagemann "failed to comply with the applicable Clover Park School District Policies relative to the complaint." Dr. Sharratt also concluded that there was a "conflict between superintendent Banner and school director Wagemann, which potentially impairs the board to carry on their responsibilities." He recommended various corrective measures, including that the Board censure Director Wagemann for "his repeated violations of school district policies." Dr. Sharratt noted that Director Wagemann was previously censured by the Board on November 8, 2021. 

Members of the Board put forth Resolution No. 22-178 to censure Director Wagemann as recommended by Dr. Sharratt. That resolution reaffirms our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion as expressed in Board Policy 1109; acknowledges that it is the Board’s responsibility and obligation to uphold the requirements of Policy 5010 on nondiscrimination; and makes clear that the Board is committed to enacting corrective actions aimed at remediating this course of events. 

The resolution adopts the investigative report, decision, and corrective action recommendation regarding the complaint by Mr. Banner. The Board finds that the conduct complained of is not in alignment with the Board’s stated and express commitment to fostering equity and inclusion and its legal requirement to maintain a work and school environment free from racial discrimination and harassment. The resolution censures Director Wagemann for the conduct described in the decision on the complaint. 

Finally, the resolution directs the District administration to implement the three other recommendations by Dr. Sharratt: 

  1. Director Wagemann and Superintendent Banner will be offered (but not required to attend) mediation services to engage in a formal process of resolution. 
  2. The full Board will undertake school board training provided through the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) on board and superintendent relations. 
  3. The full Board will engage in WSSDA Equity and Inclusion training and review its commitment to school district policies and individual board behavior relative to discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying behavior by individual board members and/or the Board as whole. 

To conclude, the Board takes seriously its responsibility under federal and state laws to ensure its employees have a work environment that is free from racial and other discrimination. Those protections apply to all employees, including the superintendent. By adopting this resolution, the Board has made clear that it is unacceptable for District employees or elected officials to make statements that could result in a hostile work environment. 

We look forward to continuing this important work with Superintendent Banner to support our students.