KSD School Board member Julie Backer admitted she stepped out of line advocating for students with special needs in an interview with TKC, but also provided documents refuting the real estate claims against her. A 51-page censure resolution with supporting documents detailing Board Policy violations by Backer was released Tuesday, Feb. 11 by KSD administration.
Prior to the meeting and censure, Board President Darnel Frost gave Backer the chance to resign in a voice message Backer provided.
“On BoardDocs there is the motion of censure, and we’re going to talk about the fact that I did present you with the chance to step down,” Frost said in the message. “Of course, you chose not to. We’ll still have the option of you stepping down, that’s still open, but for now we’re moving forward with the censure.”
The censure accused Backer of violating Board of Education Policy and said she was “alleged to be offering her services as political muscle due to her KSD Board position” among other claims.
“In advocating for special needs kids, it’s hard for me, on a personal level, to not help someone when I think they need it,” Backer said. “Have I stepped out of my lane advocating for kids who needed a voice? Absolutely. Did I get up that morning and [maliciously] think, ‘I’m going to take down the school district today?’ No.”
The censure included an email on behalf of Special School District stating Backer attended IEP meetings and announced her status on the KSD School Board and the Governing Council of SSD. Backer said this did not benefit her, but now she realizes there are better avenues to help those students. This comes following Frost announcing that Backer and the board had come to an agreement that the board would not vote on a resolution of censure at a KSD School Board meeting Feb. 10. The agreement said Backer apologized for her actions that were inconsistent with Board Policy, and agreed to focus on unified Board action moving forward.
The following day, the censure documents listing allegations against Backer were posted to BoardDocs on the KSD website. Backer, who said she did not know the documents would be released following the signing of an agreement, said she was notified of the documents’ release by a local community member who had seen the published censure resolution.
Frost said he did not know what specifically would be posted to BoardDocs, but that official Board documents discussed at School Board meetings are always published the day after a Board meeting by KSD administration. He said while Backer was not notified that the resolution of censure was published, it is not policy to alert Board members as the protocol is common knowledge.
“They knew when I signed [the agreement] it would be hard for me to ever push back on them,” Backer said. “Now I signed an agreement that said ‘Yes, I could be a better Board Member, I have stepped out of my lane before,’ so now I’ve admitted to something without being able to put my side of the story out there. They were able to put their side of the story out there and then the press ran with it.”
The censure resolution disclosed statements signed off on by current Superintendent Dr. Michele Condon, one writing that Backer had said she was going to “make the new superintendent [her] bitch.” This is in reference to Dr. Jeff Arnett, the former incoming superintendent who terminated his contract with KSD in March of 2018.
Backer denied this, calling Condon’s statement “ridiculous.” Condon has declined multiple requests for comment.
Additionally, the censure stated, “In February 2018, Backer approached the incoming superintendent on a visit to the district after he signed his contract and proposed that he use her as his real estate agent.” Backer refuted accusations in the censure, “I did not have a real estate license at the time Dr. Arnett was preparing to move to the area.” Documents sent to TKC by Backer show that she did not obtain her license until March 2018, the same month Arnett terminated his existing contract. Al Rosen, manager at Coldwell Banker Gundaker, verified the documents and said Backer is an independent contractor.
Emails also provided by Backer show a conversation between Arnett and Cindy Coronado, a realtor for Coldwell Banker Gundaker. Arnett told Coronado he was referred to her by Backer as a possible real estate agent, but that he had “been introduced to another realtor by a similarly long-time Kirkwood resident.” Coronado replied that “I very much appreciate Julie’s referral but I am sure that you are in good hands with your realtor so no worries.”
In a statement to TKC, Coronado wrote, “In no way, shape or form did [Backer] ever have the ability to make a nickel from this referral. Even if Dr. Arnett would have elected to use my services, she would have zero financial gain.”
According to Frost, everything in the censure was absolutely accurate. He said the Board has had an ongoing file on Backer over the last few years following her violating Board policy, but files only began once violations occurred. Many of the supporting documents in the censure resolution are from years ago, and Frost said those violations were being handled behind closed doors.
“Really, to be honest, there’s been sort of a file going because some of the stuff had been addressed over the past couple years, but the most egregious things were probably within a handful of months,” Frost said. “It’s been an ongoing collection of information, but a more full investigation happened after the Saturday Board meeting [Feb. 1].”
Frost said publicly announcing a censure of Backer came as a last resort as she has been pushing for a specific in-house superintendent candidate who has not applied at this point in time. Backer, who is up for re-election in April, views the censure differently. Backer denied pushing an in-house candidate, saying she only told Frost they needed to vet every qualified candidate, internal and external. She said in a statement to TKC, “The timing of all of this proves it’s political motivation. Many items in the resolution are years old yet only are being brought up now, on the eve of the election.”
Backer said she hoped to move beyond the allegations following their agreement.
“After that meeting on Monday I was like, ‘We survived this. Julie, you better walk a straight arrow, you know, stay in your lane, do what you’re supposed to be doing,’” Backer said. “I thought, ‘We’re all going to heal, this is not best for the district to air all of our dirty laundry. How in the world is that what’s best for our district right now?’ That’s not a good idea, and that’s why I signed the agreement. I thought let’s just get on with our business and move on. I have no idea how in the world anyone could think by putting those documents the next day for everyone to see would be what’s best for the district or healing.
“I think there’s a lot of damage, a lot of carnage everywhere,” Backer said. “Not just with me or my family, not just with Mr. Frost and his family, but with the administration and the perception of the district in the St. Louis Area and the state. I don’t know why anybody would think it’s good to do this to our district. Why would you want such a stain on our Kirkwood, we live here, this is our community. And to pursue something like this that leaves such a stain on something I’m so proud of, it’s just sad.”
Frost also expressed regret over the circumstances.
“This entire situation, there’s no winners here,” Frost said. “It’s just sad, it did not happen the way I would have wanted things to happen. I think we can always grow from situations we go through. I think there’s growth for us all in this, and how we work together, how we treat each other. Kindness matters, and I think if we continue to be kind to one another, if we continue to work together, we can get to where we want to be as a district.”
This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on February 16, 2020.