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State investigating Mansfield City Schools treasurer; hearing slated for June

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Kuehnle photo

Robert Kuehnle (left), treasurer for Mansfield City Schools, is under investigation by the Ohio Department of Education for alleged misconduct at his previous district in 2012-2013.

MANSFIELD -- The Mansfield City Schools treasurer faces a June hearing before the Ohio Department of Education for alleged misconduct that took place in his previous job.

Robert Kuehnle is under investigation for an alleged pattern of conduct he engaged in with a number of students while working as treasurer at Benjamin-Logan School District, according to a Nov. 13, 2018, letter from the Ohio Department of Education.

The meeting, scheduled June 18 and 19, could determine if Kuehnle will keep his license, according to the letter.

His attorney denies any wrongdoing on the part of his client.

"Robert Kuehnle wholeheartedly rejects that anything unethical happened with any student," said James C. Carpenter of Steptoe and Simpson in Columbus. "I am confident evidence presented at the hearing will show nothing inappropriate or unethical was done."

Kuehnle declined comment on the matter when questioned by Richland Source.

Mansfield City Schools Board of Education president Renda Cline said the district will let the investigation play out.

"It's not for us to determine the investigation," Cline said. "It's like anything, there's a presumption of innocence (until proven guilty)."

The ODE letter to Kuehnle, sent by Paolo DeMaria (superintendent of public instruction) and Lori M. Kelly (director of the office of professional conduct), cites four instances of alleged behavior unbecoming of a school administrator:

A) On or about Dec. 4, 2012 at 2:11 a.m., you tweeted Student 1, a high school student at the time, for a non-educational purpose.

B) You paid $800 for Student 1 to attend a trip to Boston and proceeded to have a lunch with Student 1 with no other adult present.

C) On or about Jan. 24, 2013, you tweeted Student 2, a high school student at the time, implying Student 2, was tall, blonde and beautiful.

D) An investigation was completed by the Benjamin-Logan Local School District for your actions noted above, along with other allegations of misconduct, which resulted in a written reprimand being issued to you by the board of education on Dec. 15, 2014.

The letter continues, "your acts conduct, and/or omissions as alleged in Count 1 above, constitute a violation of (Ohio Ohio Revised Code)."

According to the Ohio Department of Education website, Kuehnle's two-day hearing is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The site notes all hearings are open to the public and subject to change.

Carpenter said Kuehnle is one of the best treasurers in the state.

"He's won awards as a treasurer," Carpenter said. "He helped the school come out of its poor financial status. He does a tremendous job.

"Complaints come up, but at this point, nothing suggests anything unethical happened," the attorney said.

Carpenter said evidence will show the parents were aware of an $800 payment to Student 1 to go to an economics conference. 

"I can't really say much, but evidence might show that the mom and dad knew about the (meal)." 

Richland Source obtained more than 110 tweets from Kuehnle during his time at Benjamin-Logan, with topics ranging from sports to tweets directed to female students.

None of the tweets Richland Source reviewed were made to male students. His Twitter account remains active, but private.

"Went to DQ today to see (name of female student) and she wasn't there. What happened?" he tweeted on Aug 4.

At 2:15 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2012, he tweeted to another female student about not enjoying being awake.

Robert Kuhenle Tweet

A tweet dated Jan 24, 2013, from Robert Kuehnle to a female student. Kuehnle was the Benjamin Logan School District treasurer at the time.

At 6:58 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2013, he tweeted in response to a female student wanting to go snowboarding, "(name of female student) again with the tall, blonde, and beautiful stuff...?" 

Carpenter said most administrators and teachers tweeted with students on a regular basis.

"I have affidavits from each of the (tweet recipients) stating they did not find these tweets inappropriate," the attorney said.

Richland Source made a public records request to review Kuehnle's personnel file at Mansfield City Schools on March 12. It was received on Monday, April 8, with three full pages redacted.

In Mansfield's 2017-18 evaluation dated October, 2018, on a 5-point scale, Kuehnle received scores of 2.9 in leadership; 3 in financial management; 3.2 in facilities, property and capital-asset management; 1.5 in professionalism; and 1.7 in communication and collaboration.

In Leadership, under achievements, "Mr. Kuehnle did a great job working with Food service to provide free lunches district wide."

In Financial Management, under achievements, "As a financial manager, Mr. Kuehnle does very well."

In Professionalism, under concerns, "Mr. Kuehnle walked out of a meeting with two Board members rather than discuss concerns calmly."

Also among concerns, "Mr. Kuehnle has refused to follow directions from the Board (continuing education)."

"The Board would like to see continued improvement in Mr. Kuehnle's manner when talking with the staff."

In the concerns, needs improvement section, the evaluation states:

"We prefer to discuss concerns with Mr. Kuehnle rather than his attorney via our attorney. That is not an appropriate or efficient or even functional interaction between the Board and its Treasurer. We are on the same team and are working towards the same goals and we must be able to discuss difficult topics face to face."

Richland Source also received Kuehnle's personnel file from his 12-year tenure at Benjamin-Logan.

Documents show the Benjamin Logan school board requested the treasurer to stop "interfering with the management of the classrooms and from attempting to intimidate or harass members with his presence."

A Sept. 19, 2014 document states members of the Benjamin-Logan Education Association met with the board of education president and vice president with a complaint of "unprofessional conduct by the district's treasurer."

According to that document, the BOE conducted an investigation into the matter and was made aware of the following allegations: harassment, bullying and being condescending to members of the teachers' union, according to the document.

Kuehnle was asked to complete an anger management and bullying course by the end of January 2015, the document stated.

The document lists four conditions in total:

"Mr. Kuehnle needs to complete an anger management/bullying course by the end of January 2015. The BOE will provide compensations for this courts for travel expenses as well as the registration fees for the course.

"Mr. Kuehnle will continue to fulfill his duties as district treasurer only involving himself and his office in the financial responsibilities of the district. These duties will be primarily performed from the central office building. He needs to allow individuals to perform their described role and responsibility within the district as well.

"Mr. Kuehnle will be removed from the Wellness committee as of today (Dec. 15, 2014). The BOE will determine, in conduction with the superintendent, the members who will fill this vacancy. 

"Involvement with students needs to be limited to items that directly affect the district's finances. All other interaction either during school hours or at the other school sponsored events needs to be kept at a high professional level. 

"Failure to comply with the above conditions by Mr. Kuehnle could result in non-renewal of contract and/or separation of employment."

A written note at the bottom with signatures of other administrators reads, "Mr. Kuhenle didn't want to sign this document on 12/15/14."

Kuehnle wrote a supplemental statement on that date.

"This memo is the product of a pre-determined outcome," he wrote. "...I object to the memo in its entirety and will comply only to avoid the appearance of insubordination."

On Feb. 26, 2019, the Mansfield City Schools Board of Education voted to extend Kuehnle's contract for one year. The board voted 4-1, with Chris Elswick voting against the extension.

"I didn't vote in favor of the extension because I don't trust him," Elswick said. "He has had some very deceptive behavior in my opinion and some of the charges are concerning -- pertaining to girls."

Gary Feagin, vice president of the Mansfield City School Board of Education, said the board was aware of the investigation before it awarded Kuehnle an extension. He noted the investigation did play a factor in the length of the extension.

"The board has spoken to Kuehnle about the investigation and at this point, we are comfortable with him remaining in his position," Feagin said.

This is not the first time the treasurer has encountered controversy.

Kuehnle and two other Madison-Plains school board members were removed by a judge at the Madison County Court of Common Pleas in 2005. 

According to the court document, Kuehnle, Blenda James and Angela Isaacs were found guilty of gross neglect of duty, misfeasance, malfeasance, and non-feasance pursuant to Ohio Revised Code.