KINGSLEY — The father of a victim of a former school principal convicted of sexually abusing students is speaking out against the re-election bid of a sitting Kingsley Area Schools trustee.
Jamie Mullin’s son was one of eight young men to accuse Karl Hartman, a former Kingsley teacher and principal, of sexually assaulting them when they were boys. Hartman faced 11 sex crimes charges, including a first-degree count. He eventually pleaded guilty to three felonies stemming from incidents in 2004.
Yet Mullin said the community support Hartman received during the investigation into his crimes and after his guilty plea broke his heart.
That support included 90 letters asking for leniency from the judge who decided Hartman’s prison sentence.
Mullin got his hands on all 90 letters. He said he saw too many names he recognized, too many people he once believed to be his friends, too many Kingsley teachers and staff.
One of the letters was from Katrina Schueller, wife of current trustee and incumbent candidate for school board Mike Schueller. Schueller is running for a partial term that would keep him on the board through 2024.
Mullin said Mike Schueller’s presence on the board is a danger to Kingsley schools.
“What message does that send to the other people who were teachers and volunteers who wrote those letters? That they have a person who will now support them? That’s insane,” he said. “How are kids supposed to come forward — with anything?”
Schueller said Thursday he no longer supports Hartman after hearing information in July that changed his and his wife’s minds.
“I do not support Karl Hartman in any way. My family does not support him,” Schueller said.
In the letter addressed to 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, Katrina Schueller only invoked her husband’s support of Hartman in the closing paragraph.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t continue to pray for Karl and for his accusers, but my family will continue to proudly stand beside our friend an support him,” she wrote.
Despite the letters, Elsenheimer handed down the maximum sentence of 3 to 5 years.
Schueller said he reached out to Mullin four times in early July to tell him about his change of heart. But Schueller said Mullin never returned the messages.
Mullin confirmed that and said he had no interest in speaking with Schueller, adding that Thursday was the first time he’d heard Schueller and his wife changed their minds.
“Of course it makes me feel better — if it’s genuine,” Mullin said. “But the timing is pretty suspicious to me.”
Schueller said he has been public about no longer supporting Hartman, but only telling those who’ve asked him.
Kingsley trustees unanimously voted to appoint Schueller to the board in July. That was a swift punch in the gut to Mullin.
Mullin turned over the letters to the school board and district administration after Hartman’s sentencing. He and others spoke at board meetings about the continued support for Hartman in the schools. He said they must have known about Schueller.
Clay Skrzypczak is running for the Kingsley board as an incumbent. He was one of the “aye” votes for Schueller.
Skrzypczak said he was aware of the letters but did not know the specifics, including Katrina Schueller’s letter. Only after Mike Schueller’s appointment did Skrzypczak learn of their support.
Vivien Snyder, also an incumbent and also an “aye” vote, said Schueller has addressed the allegations about his support for Hartman “pretty sufficiently.”
Max Anderson was the other candidate up for the vacant board seat in July. He is also running for a full term on the Kingsley board.
He felt he was the more qualified candidate, but he believes “small city politics” played a role in Schueller’s appointment.
“We need to heal, and that is going to include a lot more transparency from the board,” Anderson said. “We have to be there in support and help and protect the children of this school.”
Schueller and former Kingsley trustee Kent Stiner are the only partial-term candidates whose names appear on the ballot. Jeremy DeFrance is running as a write-in.
DeFrance said the Kingsley community deserves better than Schueller and Stiner, a former trustee who abruptly resigned under hostile circumstances.
DeFrance simply is not OK with his children being in the same place as people who’ve supported Hartman. DeFrance also said Schueller’s denouncement of Hartman does not make him feel any better.
“All the letters, it shows poor judgment to even think to express that support right,” DeFrance said.
Schueller’s support of Hartman is not the first time the board has dealt with such an issue.
Former trustee Kelly Esman resigned in December after it was revealed she wrote a support letter for Hartman.
Esman said in the letter that she does not believe Hartman sexually abused the victims, adding “these allegations come from a perversion of Karl’s loving and caring nature.”
Skrzypczak confirmed Esman resigned because she wrote that letter.
Mullin said he would make it “very difficult” for Schueller to function as a board member if he is elected. He will speak at every meeting and plans to organize protests outside the building. His hope is to apply enough pressure to force Schueller to step down.
“On the surface, Mike’s a good guy. He was my friend and so was his wife,” Mullin said. “But this is something we cannot stand by and let happen.”