P.J. Kapfhammer blasted officials from the teachers’ union a day after he resigned from the Oregon school board last week.
Kapfhammer, who was president of the board, announced his resignation at a meeting last Tuesday. On Wednesday, he told The Press that union officials from the Oregon City Federation of Teachers, which is in negotiations with the board to renew its contract, is the reason he stepped down.
“The union leadership goes into the classrooms, they tell lies. They tell the kids that the board is firing their teachers, which are lies. There is no truth to this. We have to follow the rules. There’s protocol. I can’t combat the lies because as a school board member, I am restricted in what I can do,” said Kapfhammer.
Relations between Kapfhammer and the union have soured in the last several months. Last year, he alleged that a union official circulated false comments about him throughout the district.
“The union copied some stuff off my Facebook page and made some comments about me and then circulated it throughout the schools. It was sent to a classroom that my daughter was in,” he said.
At a meeting last month, the board ordered Dave Shafer, president of the union, to vacate his office at the Wynn Center, which is owned by the school district. Kapfhammer said at the time he didn’t think the union should be “serving us with legal papers from our own address.” He was referring to a lawsuit the union had filed against the board in April. It alleges a breach of the collective bargaining agreement to arbitrate a grievance by the union’s committee chairperson, who was reprimanded by the board for allegedly misusing the district’s inner-school email system for union business. Kapfhammer alleges his truck was keyed by someone after the meeting.
Relations were further strained after the board entered negotiations to renew the teachers’ contract last month. Kapfhammer said he would aggressively oppose raises, and eliminate step increases in favor of merit pay. A recent meeting with the union became so intense that people got up and left, said Kapfhammer.
“I’ve done everything I can to bring this district to where it needs to be. We have a superintendent, Lonnie Rivera, who puts the kids first, who works tirelessly every day to benefit the kids in this community, and we have a good school board. We’re improving,” said Kapfhammer, “But I won’t let the union lie about me and hurt people around me.”
The district was headed towards placing an operating levy on the November ballot. Jane Fruth, treasurer of the district, recently said that spending exceeded revenue in the last fiscal year and that it is not “sustainable.”
The board has until July 25 to decide whether to go with a levy in the fall. But Kapfhammer said last month that he was against it because most of the revenue would go toward teachers’ salaries. It was the wrong time, he had said, to ask for raises.
Shafer last week disputed Kapfhammer’s allegations about the Facebook comments. Shafer said Kapfhammer’s own comments that were critical of Jim Stewart, a candidate running in last year’s election to the school board, were copied by someone who sent it to union officials. “It had nothing to do with the teachers’ union,” he said. “It was P.J.’s post on his own Facebook page. I don’t think anyone needed to circulate it His daughter is fully aware of what he puts on Facebook.”
Shafer also countered Kapfhammer’s claim that the recent collective bargaining meeting was heated.
“Nobody walked out,” he said.
He also took issue with Kapfhammer’s claim that union officials were telling students that the board had fired their teachers.
“I don’t know what he is referring to. I can’t defend something in which I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Shafer.
Regarding Kapfhammer’s truck being keyed, Shafer said surveillance cameras should have identified the responsible party if it had occurred after the meeting. “It would have been shown on camera. Obviously, there were no consequences for whoever did that. I don’t know who did it. I have no clue. I certainly would not have done that.”
Kapfhammer is no stranger to controversy. Last year, the Maumee Municipal Court found him guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, for a verbal confrontation he had with an unidentified man outside the weight room at Clay High School. Kapfhammer, who was chairman of the school board’s safety committee at the time, said he was trying to get the man, who was autistic and unresponsive, to identify himself. Kapfhammer had denied threatening him, though he conceded he had raised his voice.
In 2012, Kapfhammer was accused of making threatening comments to school board member Diana Gadus at a policy meeting in the conference room of the administration building. Gadus had filed an incident report with the school administration about the heated meeting. Gadus had stated that she and Kapfhammer had been discussing contract renewals for the next board meeting when the verbal altercation occurred. Kapfhammer had denied he had threatened Gadus.
Kapfhammer, who is co-owner of Maumee Bay Turf Center, was elected in 2011 along with board member Jeff Ziviski after they campaigned for more transparency on the board and against the board’s approval of pay hikes for administrators at a time when busing for Clay High School students had been eliminated in the financially strapped district. Many in the community had been critical of the raises, including an $11,000 hike for former Superintendent Mike Zalar. The board later approved a shuttle bus for Clay students, and Zalar gave back his pay raise the following year.
“By his nature, he is a polarizing figure - either you love him or you hate him,” Ziviski said of Kapfhammer last week. “He is an easy target for people, but at the same time I think he is misunderstood. If people would remove the stereotype they have of him and get to know him, I think they would have a different opinion of him. They would realize he truly was looking to do what was in the best interest of the children of our district. As for the impact he had on our school system, I think he was the right person for the district at the time he was elected.”
Ziviski said the board will look for a replacement to fill the remainder of Kapfhammer’s unexpired term.
“The district is in an excellent position right now. We have the best superintendent in Northwest Ohio in Lonny Rivera. He is a unique individual who truly cares about children and will do whatever it takes to ensure that this district keeps moving forward. He will lead this district to be the best it can, and he has a board that supports him 100%,” said Ziviski.
Carol Molnar, who was vice president of the school board, became president of the board, and Ziviski became vice president, after Kapfhammer resigned.