Traverse City school officials have released to the public an investigation into the district’s superintendent.
In February, a group of principals in Traverse City Area Public Schools – the Traverse City Administrators Association – made allegations that Superintendent Paul Soma has bullied and intimidated female administrators.
One allegation describes Soma yelling at a female principal about his authority over her, repeatedly telling her his title is superintendent. In another instance, Soma allegedly reminds a female principal that she has her job only because he gave it to her.
Those allegations, which were detailed in an eight page letter to the TCAPS board, prompted the board to hire a third-party investigator, Rehmann, to dig into claims.
On Monday, board members voted to clear Soma after reviewing the report. The Rehmann report concluded there was no evidence of gender-based discrimination or retaliation against principals who made complaints. It found Soma did not violate state or federal laws, nor did he violate TCAPS board policies.
The report does say that Soma has a tendency to engage in “combative verbal interactions with subordinates and staff,” and that he uses terms like "disloyal." But the investigator concludes that he was combative with both women and men – and not one gender more than the other – and therefore there was no evidence of gender discrimination.
Names redacted in investigative report
The TCAPS board voted to redact nearly every name in the report to protect the privacy of those who brought the complaints.
“It’s an all or nothing proposition from our perspective,” says board member Scott Hardy. “Either we redact all the names so that they’re all equally protected as they have a legal right to be, or we don’t redact any of them.”
Board president Erik Falconer defended the decision to redact names. He says they want people to feel comfortable making complaints in the future and not to worry about being identified.
Superintendent denies claims
Paul Soma has categorically denied allegations of gender discrimination and retaliation from the beginning.
Soma says he was interviewed by investigators, but overall they spoke “very little.”
He says he’s hopeful looking forward.
“I’ve never claimed to be a perfect individual,” says Soma. “I think the report and the testimony in there point to some perceptions about me that I need to reflect on, and I plan to do so.”
Ryan Schrock, president of the Traverse City Administrators Association, has reviewed the report.
“Initial reaction, I’m not shocked,” says Schrock.
He says that the principals’ overall concerns are about leadership in the district and not about legality.
“We wanted to have a conversation with the board to talk about the leadership in our district,” says Schrock.
He says they are now making progress on that, working with the TCAPS’ executive team and a leadership coach on conflict and approaches to conflict. Schrock is hopeful moving forward, but he says there has to be a willingness on both sides to work things out.
“I don’t believe that it’s something that can’t be fixed,” he says.
Board looks to the future
TCAPS board members say the district has work to do to improve the relationship between principals and the executive team.
“We have fences to mend at this point, and we’re in the process of doing that,” says Scott Hardy.
Erik Falconer says they’re coming up with goals for Soma to fulfill in the coming year, and Soma has been successful in following directives from the board in the past.
“The superintendent needs to work aggressively to improve the situation,” Falconer says.
He says they also need to improve as a district.
“Something like this is very stressful to an organization, very stressful to many individuals and many parties,” says Falconer. “We are going to embrace the challenge of getting better as an organization ... That starts with the board."