COLUMBUS — Mansfield City Schools Treasurer Robert Kuhenle offered his side of the story Wednesday during the Ohio Department of Education hearing involving his alleged conduct in a previous career stop at Benjamin-Logan Local School District.
ODE is looking into Kuehnle for an alleged pattern of misconduct unbecoming of a school administrator, said Mary Hollern, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Ohio who is representing the ODE. The allegations stem from incidents in 2012 and 2013.
Kuehnle, questioned by his council, discussed the allegations of misconduct as an administrator while detailing his responsibilities at Benjamin-Logan Local Schools and as a member of the district's Wellness Committee.
Kuehnle worked at Benjamin-Logan from November 2003 to January 2016 and received positive reviews, according to evidence submitted throughout his tenure.
For example, on his 2009 evaluation Kuehnle is listed as an “excellent” treasurer. The review stated he worked cooperatively with staff and maintained a high standard of ethics and integrity.
Kuehnle mentioned in March of 2014 that he got a letter from the board of education asking him to remain in his administration building and to not have communication with students.
Kuehnle said this made doing his job difficult, but he complied.
The student involved in a tweet in question from Kuehnle including the phrase “tall, blonde and beautiful” was the first witness to speak.
Richland Source was asked not to identify students in this case.
She is referred to as Student 2.
The female student, now 23, said she and her family were close with Kuehnle. She would see him often as her mother was a teacher in the district and they were often in the same room or buildings.
“My mother had a saying that meant your life is pretty good,” she said. “She’d always say, life’s tough, tall, blonde and beautiful. It was her way of saying, don’t sweat the small stuff.”
The tweet in question to Student 2 came in response to a tweet from her about not being allowed to go snowboarding.
“Again with the tall, blonde and beautiful stuff...?” Kuehnle tweeted on Jan. 24, 2013 in response.
Kuehnle’s testimony described his knowing of Student 2’s prospect of getting an athletic scholarship for volleyball and her mother wouldn’t let her go snowboarding because she could have gotten injured.
“That was my way of telling her, don’t sweat the small stuff,” Kuehnle said. “Or don’t worry about it.”
He added he had not only heard Student 2’s mother using the phrase to her, but he was encouraged to say those things as well to her.
Other tweets were discussed including a tweet to Student 1, who will testify at an unknown date in the near future. In this instance, Kuehnle said he had paid an amount close to $800 for a student to travel to an economics conference in Boston.
“I wanted her to get to do it,” he said Wednesday. “I had done it and it’s an incredible program.”
He discussed the opportunity with the parents who said they appreciated the voluntary support.
When Student 1 returned, she and Kuehnle went to a lunch at a Chinese restaurant.
“No one was at the central office and I wanted it to be in public,” Kuehnle said. “Her mom dropped her off, and picked her up from the restaurant.”
James Carpenter, of Steptoe and Johnson in Columbus, is Kuehnle’s attorney during the proceedings. Carpenter asked Kuehnle about his role on the Wellness Committee, which was brought up often in Tuesday‘s hearing.
Kuehnle said he was responsible for making sure the policies set by the Benjamin-Logan School Board were met.
Marge Jenkins, who was made out to be his clear opposition on the committee in testimony by multiple witnesses on Tuesday, was referenced. Jenkins is the current union president at Benjamin-Logan Local Schools.
She said during Tuesday's testimony she printed out the tweets and brought them to the attention of the school district‘s superintendent, along with the union president at the time.
Kuehnle said Jenkins was not a fan of the wellness plan or the benchmarks that her union was asked to meet.
”She hated it. She said she hated it. She was always loud,” Kuehnle said. “I believe I was always professional in my behavior.”
At the hearing Tuesday, Jenkins said Kuehnle would throw fits and throw papers, yell and kick chairs.
“No,” Kuehnle said, denying he did those things.
The ODE hearing will continue with two more witnesses to be called by Kuehnle’s team at a later date.
The hearing is expected to be completed within two months.