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School trustee Kelly apologizes for behavior

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Sonoma Valley Unified School District trustee John Kelly read a public letter of apology to Karla Conroy at the Nov. 14 school board meeting.

Conroy, who retired in June as the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, filed a formal complaint against Kelly in May alleging that Kelly created a hostile work environment.

The board named an investigator, Amy Oppenheimer, to look into the charges. Oppenheimer interviewed 19 individuals including administrators, board members, teachers and parents. Most of the names of the people interviewed were kept secret to reduce concerns about retaliation.

Kelly was a district consultant from 2014 to 2016 and was a district employee for several months in 2016. After his departure from the district, Kelly filed to run for the school board and defeated incumbent trustee Gary DeSmet in the November 2016 election.

Oppenheimer delivered a 45-page report on the incident to the district.

In her conclusions, Oppenheimer says, “there is a constituency of people who are upset with Kelly’s tactics and believe it harmful to the District. There is also a constituency of people (such as Witness D and Witness P) who believe that Kelly is bringing important issues to light and that they are (finally) getting the Board to take issues they care about seriously. It may be that he (and they) believe the only way to do this is to act aggressively. That is, they may feel the end justifies the means.”

In ending, Oppenheimer says, “The undersigned cannot opine on which opinion is correct. However, the District does seem to be in serious distress and it is difficult to believe that the current situation, one that includes a divided board and a board member interrogating employees, will benefit the students in the District.”

Kelly stepped down from the dais to read his letter of apology.

“Ms. Conroy, members of the Sonoma Valley School board and staff, I genuinely and humbly apologize for any part I had in creating an environment that felt less than positive and supportive. The confrontational tone that would be appropriate in a courtroom is totally and completely inappropriate to school board interactions.

“It was never my intention to cause discomfort, express disrespect or impugn Ms. Conroy’s character. As a school board member, it’s my duty to be more than a passionate advocate; it’s equally important to be a constructive role model for the students we serve.

“I take this responsibility very seriously.

“While I can’t alter the past, I have conscientiously sought to engage in ways that feel more respectful, positive and supportive and express my own opinions with greater courtesy, appreciation and thoughtfulness.

He continued, “I’m disappointed in myself that this lesson came at the expense of Ms. Conroy’s discomfort and for that, I’m truly sorry.”

School Superintendent Chuck Young said that he had met with Kelly and that no further action would be taken. Young said Conroy asked for a public apology and Kelly made the public apology.

Some members of the public questioned Young, but he said that it wasn’t a report written on how to fix the board. “But it was a large step in making the board a better board,” he added.

Conroy is out of the area and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Email Bill at bill.hoban@sonomanews.com.

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