KALKASKA — A reduction in Terry Starr’s charges seems to only have bolstered the Kalkaska community’s calls to reinstate their beloved superintendent.
It proved enough Tuesday evening for the Kalkaska Public Schools Board of Education to unanimously return Starr, their leader since summer 2018, to paid leave starting this week.
“That (change in charges) prompted the meeting, to see what our choices might be on how to proceed,” said board President Rachael Birgy, who said discussion and board member opinions varied during the evening’s closed session. “We do feel as a whole that this was the best unified decision for us to make at this time, to continue to support Terry.“
Starr was suspended without pay last spring after being charged with false report of a felony and intentional false report of child abuse, both felonies, and a misdemeanor count of falsely and maliciously accusing another of a crime, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
Investigators claim that in January 2018 Starr, then-principal of Elk Rapids’ Cherryland Elementary School, sent a batch of anonymous letters to several district officials — himself included — accusing high school Principal Mike Travis of sexually assaulting a now-graduated student back in 2013.
Starr has maintained his innocence throughout, the Record-Eagle previously reported, and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Dozens of community members have argued in Starr’s defense at Kalkaska Public Schools meetings, and Tuesday proved no different. The special meeting was originally called to discuss “personnel matters” in closed session — that was amended to discussion of “attorney-client privileged documents” just before public comment.
The meeting’s audience, suspecting Starr was the topic of that discussion, came out in droves.
“He’s always put others — the kids, his staff — before any kind of political consideration or himself. He’s the kind of person that any community would love to have, should love to have, leading their school district,” said Craig Mosher, whose children attended Elk Rapids schools during Starr’s 18-year tenure there. “If I had to draw a picture of the perfect teacher, educator, leader, it would be pieces of Terry.”
Others detailed Starr’s support of his students, which included attending each Christmas concert, Saturday morning basketball game and track meet.
“The fact that he can meet a kid one time and know their name is so meaningful as a parent,” Nancy Grody said in public comment. “I think our school district benefits by keeping him.”
Starr’s felony charges were dropped last week after his defense attorney discovered a major oversight in the case, screeching his early January trial to a halt during jury selection.
He now faces two misdemeanor charges — false report of a misdemeanor and intentional false report of child abuse.
It means the next action in Starr’s case comes in 86th District Court.
And, nearly a year after he was charged, another delay.
“We’re watching the justice system go off the rails here,” Mosher said. “It’s going to fall apart, because Terry does not have a dishonest bone in his body.”
He thanked the board for its continual support of Starr.
“Just hang on a little bit longer,” he said. “Because when this guy comes back as superintendent, he is going to do positive things for your school district, for your students — things that you will be cheering about years from now.”
Starr is scheduled for arraignment in 86th District Court on Feb. 5.
See updates at www.record-eagle.com.