CALUMET TOWNSHIP | The community's displeasure with a salary increase for the Lake Ridge superintendent escalated into a disagreement Monday night between her husband and some residents.
The Lake Ridge School Board voted Monday night to table a request to increase the salary for Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley by $23,750, bringing her salary to $150,000.
The community has come out in full force angered by the raise request, saying it's a poor school district that had to close an elementary school last year, eliminate programs for students and reduce the number of teachers and other staff.
There have been a number of uncomplimentary comments and personal attacks made publicly about the superintendent at the past three meetings. Her husband, Carlos Shirley, has been attending the meetings, and heard some of the remarks Monday night and responded.
The disagreement and shouted obscenities were captured on video and uploaded to YouTube.
Johnson-Shirley issued an apology Tuesday morning regarding the situation.
"I'm embarrassed for my school district because I have worked so hard to elevate the school district through positive measures and academic achievement," she said. "I've tried to create a model of excellence and to market our district as a place where people would want to attend.
"However, this mob behavior, vigilante-style behavior has brought the district back down to the bottom. There were some threats made against me at the last meeting," she continued.
"My husband is worried about me. He had moved the cars over to another parking lot to reduce any problems, and the crowd followed him. I make no apologies for my husband defending me. He was pushed to the limit."
The couple who argued with Johnson are Trina and Reynaldo Vargas. A video of the incident was uploaded to YouTube.
Trina Vargas said the incident began when she was walking out of the School Board meeting. She said she was mumbling to herself, and she said the superintendent's husband gave her a "crappy" look and Vargas said she returned it.
"He said 'We can clown. He said your mama,'" Vargas said. "I took that to mean that he was challenging me to a fight. I'm a woman, and he's in a professional environment and he should have acted professionally. I personally have nothing against Dr. Shirley on a personal level. I don't feel she deserves a raise or an extension. The state should step in and take over and oust the whole School Board. They need to get people from other cities to sit on our board so they are not biased."
The Vargases later reported the incident to the Lake County Sheriff's Department. Police responded at approximately 8:30 p.m. to the 3900 block of Calhoun Street in Gary. Vargas said she is not done with the incident and believes Johnson should have been arrested.
Fayth Janek, who is running for the Lake Ridge School Board position vacated when Toni Modglin resigned, said the argument should never have escalated.
"I agree her (Sharon Johnson-Shirley's) husband had a right to be angry, but his behavior was inappropriate. The situation could have been handled differently. The community is in an uproar about this raise. For this situation to escalate to this level just blows me away," Janek said.