KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo Public Schools employee who sued the school district, claiming she was penalized for raising concerns about how school board members were using money, says the former superintendent tried to stop it but was pushed out.
“I could’ve ignored it and walked away like many others have, but I couldn’t live with myself if I did. I had to speak up,” Tabatha Coleman told News 8 Thursday.
Coleman said she was demoted after she reported board members misused almost $250,000 in stipends over the last 16 years. She said members billed for any appearances in the community regardless of they were related to the board’s work.
“Some board members would show up at a basketball game for five to 15 minutes and leave and bill for it,” Coleman said. “Some board members would show up at ‘welcome back to school’ events — these ice cream socials that the schools, the students would put on at elementary schools — and bill for each one that they went to during the day.”
Coleman said board member Patti Sholler-Barber, who was formerly the board’s president, did it the most often.
“Far and away, she was usually three times (other members) in reimbursement or in payment per quarter,” she said.
Coleman took her concerns to then-Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri in September 2021.
“When she found about it, she said, ‘I want to run a tight, ethical ship.’ So as she found out about these activities that were happening that were unethical and even illegal, she pushed for that to change,” Coleman said.
There was pushback from Sholler-Barber and the board. A January 2022 email from Raichoudhairi to Coleman obtained by News 8 said that “(Sholler-Barber) won’t do anything about compensation” in an organizational meeting.
“It was really just putting it off and delaying it to make sure that the public would never find out what they were doing and that that was happening,” Coleman said.
In another email in August 2022, Raichoudhuri told Coleman to “just let it all go and pay” Sholler-Barber after she submitted hours for a board member certification class she did not attend.
“Not worth the headache,” Raichoudhuri’s email said.
“I knew what she was dealing with in that office. I knew how stressed she was in contending with them, pushing back on things, trying to do what was best for students, and not governing or managing the board,” Coleman told News 8.
She said the board forced Raichoudhuri to step down or be fired publicly. She resigned in December.
Earlier this month, Coleman filed a whistleblower lawsuit against KPS. In it, she accused the board of misspending money and violating the Open Meetings Act.
“The community deserves better and deserves a better future,” Coleman, who still works for the district, said. “Future generations of KPS students have a right to expect that this school system will do its absolute best for them and not just deliver mismanagement, corruption and cover-ups.”
KPS previously told News 8 that an investigation conducted by an outside legal firm found no merit to Coleman’s complaints.
Asked for comment, Scholler-Barber told News 8 she was “not authorized to make any comments in light of the pending litigation.”