TRAVERSE CITY — Independent investigators are set to launch a probe into a bevy of accusations levied by a number of female principals against Traverse City Area Public Schools’ superintendent.

TCAPS board of education trustees, during a special meeting Saturday, voted unanimously to approve the “engagement of special counsel” from the firm Rehmann to investigate the accusations against Superintendent Paul Soma by the Traverse City Administrators Association in a letter sent Feb. 28. Trustee Jan Geht was absent.

The independent investigators will delve into claims Soma violated parts of two federal civil rights acts, Title VII and Title IX, and one state civil rights act, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, all of which prohibit discriminatory treatment of employees or persons based in some part on sex, religion, race, national origin, age, height, weight, familial status or marital status.

The TCAA’s letter accused Soma of relying on “bullying and intimidation to establish control and remind people of his authority,” most directed toward female principals.

Soma is accused of yelling at a female principal to demand she tell him what his title is in an effort to assume his position of authority over her and her subordinance under him; told a female principal that she is in charge of her building only because of him and because he gave her that job; and gave continuous feedback to a female principal that she is “disloyal.” A female principal who approached her direct supervisor regarding Soma’s actions was told to “smile more, be more friendly, and to never question Mr. Soma” according to the letter.

“The concerns raised in that letter were not new,” Andrew Shotwell, the TCAA’s attorney, said at the meeting. “The TCAA started voicing these concerns in September of 2017 and voiced them again repeatedly throughout the special investigation, specifically on Oct. 18, Nov. 10, Nov. 15, and nothing was done with that information. On Dec. 22, the TCAA, through our office, sent a detailed seven-page memorandum of retaliation events that had occurred since September of 2017. Nothing was done with that.

“If the TCAA hadn’t sent the letter on Feb. 28, I’m not sure anything would have been done.”

TCAPS attorney Kevin Harty said moving forward with the investigation is a must.

“I can’t give it a different interpretation other than to say there is some alleged discrimination and a hostile environment based on sex,” Harty said. “As an employer, you have an obligation to investigate those claims. When you are presented with allegations that you have sex discrimination within your institution, you are obligated to investigate that. It is extremely clear.”

Board President Erik Falconer said he wants the investigation to move forward as “expeditiously and objectively as possible.” An investigator will begin interviews within the district Monday with relevant parties, and Falconer said those interviews are set to continue through Wednesday. Board trustees will convene at 6 p.m. Monday in a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss Soma’s evaluation and vote on a new contract for the embattled superintendent.

“We’re trying to gather all of the information we need as a board to make the decision on Monday night,” Falconer said. “Given the allegations that the investigation covers, should they be substantiated through the investigation, it would ultimately be the board’s decision on how to respond that would supersede a contract that has already been signed.”

Soma made an emotional address to the board but did not speak specifically to the accusations he faces.

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