Perrysburg school official apologizes

By Joshua Benton and Carl Ryan
Blade Staff Writers

Page 21

Gary Hutchison, first-term president of the Perrysburg school board, publicly apologized yesterday for leaking details of a secret board plea bargain to the mother of an accused criminal – an act that has left some board members wondering if they can trust their president.

“I thought it was important that people knew I was trying to do something to put closure on the event,” Mr. Hutchison said last night.

He made the apology at a 7:30 a.m. board meeting yesterday.

The case involved Daniel Sternsher, 32, the school district’s former technology coordinator. He pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of criminal damaging last month after be hacked into the district web page and added, among other things, derogatory comments about a high school teacher.

Mr. Hutchison acknowledged to Perrysburg police that he had told the man’s mother, Carol Sternsher, about a plea bargain the board had agreed to during a closed session in March. He said he and Mrs. Sternsher are old friends.

Mr. Hutchison said he “had apologized to [school board members] weeks ago personally,” and that “each one of the board members accepted my apologies.”

He later revised his comments, saying “I’m not so sure the word is `accepted.’ I did not really ask for their acceptance. What I did is told each member that I was the source of the information. They said they understood.”

The incident has enflamed a divided community, one that has faced three tumultuous levy campaigns – all failed – as city residents try to find a way to deal with the growth that has left their schools too crowded.

In August, voters rejected a $42.9 million bond issue that would have provided funds for new school construction. In November, they cleaned house on the school board, electing three board members endorsed by the anti-levy group Citizens for Sensible Taxation. Mr. Hutchison was one of them and was named president by his colleagues.

But board member Grant Garn, after yesterday’s meeting, said that trusting Mr. Hutchison “would be very difficult. But we’ll pick up and go forward.”

Board Vice President John Kevern said he would put the matter behind him. “But whether it’s behind the voters and the public, I don’t know.”

When opponents first heard about Mr. Hutchison’s leak, before the April 21 meeting, they called for his resignation. Mr. Hutchison said that he has not been asked to resign since that meeting.

He said that if he were in a similar situation today, he would act differently.

“I considered what I did as somewhat of a rookie mistake,” he said. “I felt compelled to give a member of our community comfort. I think now I would just grit my teeth and not do it.”

Another levy request – again likely to be divisive – is expected to be on the November ballot.