By Harold C. Ford
The newest member of the Flint Board of Education, Casey Lester, will preside over the board in 2020. At its annual organizational meeting Jan. 8, Lester was the unanimous and uncontested choice of all seven members of the board, which governs the Flint Community Schools (FCS), to serve as president for a one-year term.
Diana Wright, the board’s immediate past president who said in December that she would step down, was chosen vice president. Incumbents Betty Ramsdell and Danielle Green, will serve as secretary and treasurer, respectively. All received unanimous support and no election was contested. The board’s assistant secretary/treasurer position will be vacant.
“I’m going to need your help”
“I’m going to need you to be with me,” Lester said only moments after seating himself in the president’s chair. “I’m going to need your help.”
Lester was appointed to the Flint board in December of 2018. He served as its assistant secretary/treasurer in 2019.
Lester, 35, moved to Flint in 2008. His LinkedIn profile at that time indicated no previous board experience. He is employed by Huntington Bank.
Lester and his board colleagues face formidable challenges in 2020 that include:
- Crafting a consolidation plan that will close several more Flint school buildings;
- Adopting a plan to rid the district of at least 22 closed buildings and 16 vacant properties;
- A 4.0-millage proposal headed to the March 10 ballot that would more quickly pay off Flint Community Schools’ (FCS) massive debt and address infrastructure needs;
- A dramatic declination of student enrollment that is now less than 4,000 of an estimated 15,000 school-age children who reside in Flint;
- The loss of 76 educators with some 965 years of experience in the first 11 months of 2019;
- The staffing of vacant classrooms with paraprofessionals and guest teachers still seeking certification;
- Reported challenges in building climate, both socially and physically;
- Two lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, one that challenges FCS disciplinary procedures, and another that seeks additional disability services for Flint children exposed to lead during the water crisis;
- Meeting the requirements of a three-year (2018-19 to 2020-21) partnership plan imposed by the State of Michigan to improve test scores by 10 percent, reduce suspensions by 10 percent, and increase attendance to 90 percent.
“A unifying voice”
Blake Strozier, the board’s immediate past vice president and logical choice to lead the board in 2020, had decided he would not seek an officer’s position on the body this year. “I picked family over board,” he told East Village Magazine (EVM). Strozier lost his father and gained a daughter in 2019.
“I believe he’s a unifying voice,” said Strozier after Lester’s selection. “Above all I believe that he has the information and the knowhow of financing to allow the board to understand the different components of what needs to be done.”
“The thing that I do the best…is I listen,” Lester told EVM. “I try to learn from every conversation…I speak with every single one of my board members…as frequently as I can and I listen to their opinions. I try to take that opinion and somebody else’s opinion and mesh them together.”
Consolidation plan front and center:
“The consolidation plan,” was Lester’s response when asked by EVM what the top priority was for him as the new board president. “We’re a very large district with shrinking student size,” he said. “I don’t think that it has to be that way.”
“There’s 15,000 school age kids in the city of Flint,” he continued. “We capture 3,700 of them. If we continue to focus on closing schools…we’re not going to be able to (keep them open). If you plan to fail, you’re going to fail.”
Lester pointed to a special board meeting the very next day, Jan. 9, to discuss consolidation and plans to downsize the district, as the next step. “From there, what do we do to grow?” he mused. “What does it mean to capture the 11,000+ (Flint) children out there?”
“It just takes us looking forward instead of back,” Lester concluded.
EVM Staff Writer and Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.