By Harold C. Ford
(Note: The following article is about two recent meetings of the Flint Board of Education on May 8 and May 15. Subsequently, a “Special Board Meeting” was held May 21 at the district’s administration building rather than the usual location at Southwestern Classical Academy. The special meeting had been scheduled for May 20, was cancelled on May 20, and then held on May 21. The only action item at the special meeting, according to the online agenda at the district’s website, was “Personnel Recommendations.” No minutes from that special meeting have been made available to the public at the time this article was written.)
Flint Community Schools (FCS) is nearing the end of its first year of a critical three-year partnership agreement imposed by the State of Michigan. However, what dominated the board of education meetings in May was discussion about hiring a new human resources director and school psychologist. And the destination for FCS middle schoolers has shifted once again and now appears to be the Northwestern campus.
Two potential hires by FCS consumed 40 percent of the last two regular meetings of the Flint Board of Education May 8 and May 15. Board members primarily wrangled over compensation packages for a new executive director of human resources and school psychologist.
Executive director of human resources (HR):
Unresolved details about compensation postponed a final decision on the HR position until a special meeting of the board on May 20, then switched to May 21. Minutes from that special meeting have not been made available to the public at the time this article was written.
HR candidate Cassandra Wilson was a recommended hire to the board at a salary of $125,000. She would replace Michael Hall, the district’s current HR director. Casey Lester, the board’s assistant secretary/treasurer, estimated that a typical benefits package would increase Wilson’s compensation package to approximately $200,000.
FCS Superintendent Derrick Lopez told the board, “This is not even a competitive wage,” adding that Wilson’s previous salary was $150,000.
“I don’t think her previous salary is an issue,” said Diana Wright, board president. “It doesn’t matter because this is Flint.”
“You oftentimes pay for the skill set that you get,” Blake Strozier, board vice president, responded. “You’re paying for the experience and the workmanship. This person is going across the country to find good teachers to come into this district.”
“We don’t know if she can perform or not,” said board trustee Carol McIntosh. “I don’t see why we would bring somebody into a (financially) troubled district … and we don’t know if they are capable of performing.”
Lester suggested the wage offer might be “fiscally irresponsible.” He proposed a starting salary “in the middle,” of $115,000.
“We can always give her a raise,” McIntosh said.
The decision to hire Wilson failed on a tie vote. Anita Steward, assistant superintendent, pledged further vetting of the candidate and negotiating an acceptable compensation package.
FCS board members also wrestled with a compensation package for an additional school psychologist. The hire of Maxwell Taylor, Ph.D.-psychologist at Taylor Psychological Clinic in Flint, would be “off schedule,” meaning outside the district’s bargained contract with the United Teachers of Flint.
Lopez proposed that Taylor would be part-time and paid an hourly rate of $120.
“I think the price is a little steep,” responded Betty Ramsdell, board secretary. “It’s very steep,” Lopez agreed. “It’s a huge amount of money.”
“I’m concerned that the price is quite a bit for a part-time employee,” Wright concurred.
Lopez claimed current FCS staff cannot handle the number of special education students who need Individualized Education Program Conferences (IEPCs) as required by law. “We have an increased number of special education referrals as a result of the water situation,” Wright observed.
“We’re out of compliance with respect to the state,” Lopez warned. “This is a service that we have to do in order for us to be in compliance with the law.”
Lopez cautioned the district would be in danger of losing “thousands of dollars” and face the possibility of litigation. “I am concerned about the long-range consequences.”
Other possible consequences:
FCS is nearing the end of its first full year of a three-year partnership imposed by the State of Michigan. FCS must make significant improvements in three areas:
- increase attendance to 90 percent;
- reduce suspensions by 10 percent; and
- improve test scores by 10 percent.
If the efforts fail, the district could face three possible consequences: being absorbed by another district; being reconstituted; or being shut down.
Paucity of information:
The average citizen would be hard-pressed to find information about progress toward improved FCS attendance, test scores, and reduced suspension rates. Little information is provided at board of education meetings or on the district’s woefully outdated website.
The board’s action items are often vaguely worded and recorded. At its meeting on May 15, for example, the board approved by a 5-0 vote the purchase of “all items” from the Competitive School Safety Grant Program in the amount of $302,748. Not a single item was described by board members or found in the information made available to the public.
The district’s website is either absent information altogether or usually rooted in yesteryear. The “Superintendent’s Message” is from former Interim Superintendent Gregory Weatherspoon dated July, 2018. The message from the “Principal’s Corner” at Southwestern Classical Academy is dated October 3, 2016.
Access to FCS board members, administration, and staff is challenging. Inquiries are routed through a high profile public relations firm, Detroit-based Lambert.
And little information is available about area schools from the area’s major newspaper, MLIVE/The Flint Journal. An examination of its website on the morning of May 27 found the following: five slideshows about area proms and nine pieces about high school athletics.
Paucity of interest:
Citizens are afforded the opportunity to speak at every public meeting of the Flint Board of Education. During the last 10 meetings for which minutes have been posted at the FCS website, March 4 to May 8, not one person had addressed the board.
At its last regular meeting, the audience — including me, two persons representing public interest groups, a representative of the PR firm Lambert, and five unidentified others — numbered nine. They were outnumbered by the 15 staff of the district, including board members and employees.
Flint’s citizens rallied gloriously in response to a government and its water system that failed them. One would expect a similar response to a school system that, by many accounts, is failing children.
Nearly 200 15-year-olds not ready for high school:
One measure of a successful, or failing, school system would be the rate at which it successfully graduates students from one grade level to the next. At the May 8 board meeting, Superintendent Lopez expressed concern about 188 students who will reach the age of 15 years but, at present, are academically ineligible to advance to the 9th grade.
“They need to be in a bridge program for 9th grade,” he declared. “They are so far behind now that we’re just going to be marking time until they walk out the door. And we cannot allow that to continue to happen.”
Middle school destination still uncertain
The “bridge program” proposed for 15-year-old 8th graders would likely unfold on a middle school campus. FCS is now targeting the old Flint Northwestern High School campus as the next destination for its middle schoolers.
FCS officials have contemplated five different destination plans for middle school students in the past 15 months. They have included: a new campus at the site of the closed Central High School; reopening the closed Northern High School; moving to the Baker College campus in Flint Township; and reopening an upgraded Northwestern High School. Middle school students are currently attending Holmes STEM Academy, Potter Elementary, Scott Middle School, and Southwestern Classical Academy.
Flint’s board of education took a necessary step in the direction of consolidating its middle school students next school year with the passage of a “boundary changes” resolution at its May 15 meeting. According to the language, all of the district’s 7th and 8th grade students “will be assigned to the city wide 7th and 8th grade program; site to be determined.”
Flint board members appear to be frustrated by the ongoing uncertainty of a home for the district’s middle school students. “That’s too much to think about,” said Perry. “I’m going to drop my 7th grader off here, my 8th grader off there, and next year my 8th grader is going somewhere else in the 9th grade.”
“If we decide that we’re going to create a middle school at Northwestern, then we need to go all in, seek funds to do the upgrades, make that a strong program,” Wright said.
The new school year for Flint students begins Wednesday, Aug. 7.
EVM education reporter Harold C. Ford, retired from more than 40 years as an educator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.