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6 Investigates: Pawnee ISD superintendent accused of retaliation

Posted at 2:20 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 23:30:49-04

PAWNEE, Texas — Pawnee is a small town with fewer than 200 people, a few churches, and just one school, located in Bee County.

It's a family-oriented community, but one filled with division, according to local residents.

The heart of the community — the Pawnee Independent School District — was a gathering place for community organizations, and children had use of the school playground during off-hours.

Parents and residents said this changed when the district hired superintendent Michelle Hartman.

They also say she retaliated against them after filing complaints or speaking up.

"She's (Hartmann) nice to your face, but if you go against the grain, she will retaliate," said Pawnee resident Melinda Gorzell.

Several of Gorzell's grandchildren were enrolled in the district, and she also worked as a bus monitor for Texas Rural Student Transportation, which contracts with the district to provide bus transportation for students.

Gorzell said one of her grandchildren, who is on a specialized plan because he has a disability, was forced by the janitor to clean on his hands and knees after accidentally tracking mud into the school. She said when she complained to Hartmann, she found herself without a job that same day.

"She called Texas Rural Student Transportation, complained, on my off time, and had me fired," she said.

6 Investigates spoke to nearly a dozen parents, residents, and former teachers of the district who all said Hartmann threatened to have them either fired from jobs, keep them from being hired, or demote them.

Some shared audio recordings of conversations they claimed to be with Hartmann. In one audio recording, a person is told if they do not do what they are told, they will lose their job with a company contracted with the district.

Most of these people were afraid to speak on camera, fearing retaliation.

"I've seen the negative outcomes of other people that have spoken out," said one former teacher who spoke with 6 Investigates with the promise that we would not identify them.

The teacher claims Hartmann threatened to demote them, and when they applied for a job in another district, she tried to prevent them from getting that job.

"She called the superintendent and told him not to hire me," the teacher said.

About a month after 6 Investigates began looking into these allegations, we learned Hartmann would be leaving the district. The public was notified Wednesday that she has resigned to take a job with Texas A&M University.

However, the community is asking for the board to make changes to some of its policies based on its interactions with Hartmann.

One of those policies is that they have to submit complaints to the superintendent, and then that person decides whether those complaints are shared with the board.

The people we spoke to said it was difficult to follow this policy, especially if their complaint was about the superintendent, and hope the board will change this policy soon.

Daniel Williams said he has never met Hartmann, but alleges she filed a false police report against him.

In the report, Hartmann claimed Williams was complaining about the school district on social media, and made a comment about her to a relative.

He said her complaint led to Bee County officials issuing a trespass warning against him, preventing him from attending board meetings and commenting on items that matter.

"It upsets me greatly because the fact I want what's best for this community and I can't even attend an event to figure out or speak my mind," said Williams, who ran for a school board position in 2020.

We attempted to speak with Hartmann in person, but she declined to speak with us. Instead, we spoke with members of the board of trustees, including Pete Dobson. He said he had heard rumors, but nothing concrete, and promised to look into any allegations brought to the board.

Trustee Marivel Deleon showed support for Hartmann, saying she is the best superintendent in the area and does what is best for students and staff.

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