By Harold C. Ford
On June 29, with barely five weeks remaining until the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the board of education of Flint Community Schools (FCS) rejected the plans for reopening schools put forward by Anita Steward, the district’s new superintendent.
A motion to move 6th, 7th , and 8th graders to the Holmes building at 6602 Oxley on Flint’s north side and to house kindergarten through 5th graders at the Brownell building, next door at 6302 Oxley, failed on a vote of: yes-3; no-1; abstention-1. Four affirmative votes are required for passage on a 7-member board.
Board officers Casey Lester and Betty Ramsdell, president and secretary respectively, were absent from the meeting.
Diana Wright, board vice president, voted no.
Trustee Blake Strozier voted to abstain. He said the plan may cost his wife, Ashley Strozier, her employment as a parent facilitator at the Holmes building.
“It disproportionately affects my family,” said Strozier. He explained that parent facilitators are not union members and, thus, are not protected by a contract.
Voting to approve the Holmes-Brownell plan were: Danielle Green, board treasurer; Carol McIntosh, trustee; and Vera Perry, trustee.
Candidate for junior high principal also turned down:
Stacey Watson, dean of students/athletic director at Atherton Jr./Sr. High School survived two rounds of interviews by the FCS administration but his candidacy for the position of principal at the Holmes building was not approved by the board.
No votes were cast by McIntosh and Green. Yes votes came from Wright, Strozier, and Perry.
Watson was first interviewed by a team of four persons that included: Cassandra Washington, executive director of human resources; Keiona Murphy, director of state and federal programs; Ernest Steward, director of parent/student intervention, safety and Title IX coordinator; and an unnamed secondary school principal.
Watson was interviewed a second time by Washington and Superintendent Steward and then recommended to the board for hire.
Board member McIntosh was the first person to raise concerns about Watson because of his close association with the Stewards. Both Watson and Ernest Steward graduated from Beecher High School; both attended Michigan State University.
McIntosh said that she was told by members of the community that Watson and the Stewards were good friends, that Watson participated in their wedding. “We should know ahead of time if you’re interviewing your friend,” she admonished.
“I think it’s a good question, a legitimate question,” Green added. “I got several calls about it too.”
Superintendent Steward, sensing the direction of the conversation, offered board members the opportunity to review interview notes and scoresheets. The offer was not accepted. At no time were Watson’s qualifications discussed by members of the board.
After brief discussion, the board turned down the bid to employ Watson with a vote of: yes-3; no-2. Again, four votes were required of the seven-member board for approval.
Perry, Wright, and Strozier voted yes on Watson’s appointment; Green and McIntosh voted no.
Steward’s honeymoon with the Flint school board may have come to an end only four days into her tenure as Flint superintendent. Her appointment had been approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote with board members heaping praise on her selection.
“I’m just so happy we got the home-grown girl,” McIntosh had said after the vote on June 25. “I think this is going to be beneficial for our district.”
7th-8th graders are without a home once again:
Thus, with students reporting Aug. 5, Flint schools do not have a destination for its 7th and 8th graders, nor do they have an administrator to lead them.
Ironically, earlier in the June 29 meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a $1,000 allocation to fund an “Enrollment Advertisement Budget.” The enrollment campaign will be managed by the district’s public relations firm, Grand Rapids-based Lambert & Co. Just what the campaign will have to say about 7th and 8th graders remains to be seen.
Continuing uncertainty at Northwestern:
Utilization of the Northwestern campus for food services is still in play. Board members unanimously approved a $30,000 budget for food services in time for submission to the Michigan Department of Treasury by the June 30 deadline.
It was hardly a vote of confidence as $20,000 was slashed from the $50,000 amount proposed by the district’s central administration. Multiple concerns were raised by board members and kitchen staff alike about plumbing, electricity, ventilation and other issues.
Concerns were also raised about the roles played by THA Architects Engineers and DSM Electrical Contracting in fulfilling contracts to create a “useable kitchen.”
“We need to hold them accountable for everything we paid them for,” said Bernard Gladney, general manager for Sodexo MAGIC. “We paid for it; it just hasn’t been done.”
Board members were advised that the district’s law firm, Grand Blanc-based The Williams Firm, is reviewing contracts with THA and DSM for possible litigation.
The Flint board has decided that the Northwestern campus is unfit for occupation by students. A June 9 report by Johnson Controls concluded that it would cost the district $4 million to bring the building up to speed.
Superintendent Steward reiterated the district’s opposition to sending students back to the Northwestern campus: “Taking $4 million and using it at Northwestern would leave us absolutely nothing for the other 12 buildings,” she said.
Steward told the board that, except for the Central Kitchen, the rest of the Northwestern building would be “layed up,” a construction term for shut down. She expressed a desire to eventually utilize the campus as a service center and a transportation hub, in addition to food services. And, she envisioned again playing football games at Guy V. Houston Stadium.
EVM Education Beat reporter and staff writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.