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Published: Monday, June 21, 2010, 9:12 p.m.

Marysville School Board member's fate in doubt

  • Michael Kundu

    Michael Kundu

MARYSVILLE — School board member Michael Kundu said he is giving serious thought to his future in the district as criticism continues over his comments tying racial genetics to intellectual achievement.
Kundu said the remarks had the “terrible, unintended consequence” of discouraging minority students. He said freedom of speech is also at play, however, and he may refuse to step down for that reason.
“I need to make a decision whether to resign for the benefit of the students, or to stay on in order to fight the battle of protection of free speech,” he said.
Kundu sent e-mails earlier this month to fellow board members and administrators, arguing there is a “definitive factor played by racial genetics in intellectual achievement.”
The comments came during a discussion on the achievement gap — the way minorities and other groups trail their peers in school. Nearly 12,000 children attend school in the district. About a third are minorities.
Kundu has since apologized for using the word “definitive,” noting that no such link has been proven.
He also distanced himself from J. Philippe Rushton, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario who ranked the intellect of the races. Kundu based his original remarks on Rushton's work, but has since said that Rushton appears to be racist.
For some, the apologies fell short.
His colleagues on the school board tonight may call for his immediate resignation, joining a list that includes the Tulalip Tribes, the state branch of the NAACP and some district parents. In turn, Kundu, who is away on business and will miss the meeting, has asked the board to grant him a sabbatical.
Kundu, 45, was re-elected in November to a third term in office.
Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland e-mailed Kundu last week, telling the board member the remarks created an “emotional and exhausting” situation as the school year ended.
“Virtually all of our time has gone into addressing issues related to the goals and comments from the e-mails,” Nyland wrote Kundu.
Nyland also gave Kundu an overview of tonight's agenda.
“There's no easy way to require a board member to resign, and so I don't know what Michael's thinking,” Nyland said. “I think it's a difficult time for him.”
Board president Sherri Crenshaw said she hopes Kundu simply steps down. She said his comments on freedom of speech were an effort to excuse his poor judgment.
“People have to be careful with the words they use,” she said.
A bipartisan group of 23 members of the state House of Representatives last week also faulted Kundu.
State Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said Kundu's apologies may sound insincere. Sells is trying to organize a meeting between lawmakers and Kundu.
“I want to hear from him how he thinks he can gain the trust levels back — if that's even possible,” Sells said.
That meeting will have to wait. Kundu is in Washington, D.C., through Friday for his job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Kundu has been in trouble for racially charged e-mails before. An environmentalist, he had a heated exchange in 2000 with the Makah Tribe over whaling.
He apologized for his derogatory remarks about the tribe before he first won office in 2003 as part of the Marysville teacher union's slate of candidates.
The union was largely silent in 2003 but has come out against Kundu this time. Union president Arden Watson told the school board at its last meeting that the union strongly disagrees with Kundu's comments.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, arathbun@heraldnet.com.
Meeting tonight
The Marysville School Board meets at 6:30 tonight to consider formally asking for the resignation of board member Michael Kundu. The board will meet at the district service center, 4220 80th St. NE. Kundu is away on work-related business and not expected to be at the meeting.
More info: www.msvl.k12.wa.us or 360-653-0800.
Story tags » MarysvilleMarysville School DistrictRacism

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