By Harold C. Ford
On Wednesday, Oct .20, near the end of another long meeting (four hours and 22 minutes), the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) voted 6-0 to invite C. S. Mott Foundation CEO Ridgway White to visit and talk about the future of the long-abandoned Flint Central High School-Whittier Middle School campus.
Votes supporting the motion, made by board treasurer Laura MacIntyre, came from: Carol McIntosh; MacIntyre, treasurer; Joyce Ellis-McNeal, secretary; Adrian Walker, assistant secretary/treasurer; Chris Del Morone, trustee; and Allen Gilbert, trustee.
Del Morone and Gilbert are the board’s two newest members, chosen from a field of 11 candidates by the five seated board members at a special meeting Sept. 29.
Danielle Green, FBOE vice president, was absent from the Oct. 20 meeting.
Del Morone initiates discussion
During a free-flowing discussion by board members during the next-to-last agenda item, titled “Remarks from Individual Board Members”, Del Morone initiated the discussion with the following words:
“I don’t know where we would bring up a discussion on the Flint Central-Whittier campus of the building(s) and the future use of that land. I think there’s an opportunity to partner with others in the community, maybe the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Kettering University amongst others to just turn that into a state-of the-art high school … where they join with us to do some good things for the students.”
Additionally, Del Morone reflected on his response to a question during his board interview Sept. 29: “If you build it, they (students) will come. My contention is, if we build it, they will stay and will bring back others who have left, and others who want to come into the district …”
Del Morone made reference to the Flint Cultural Center Academy (FCCA) that opened in 2019 in the heart of the Flint Cultural Center. The Mott Foundation committed $35 million toward the costs of designing, constructing, and outfitting the school. (Visit the East Village Magazine (EVM) website for an update on FCCA, now in its third year of operation.)
MacIntyre makes motion
MacIntyre, a frequent critic of foundation support for public schools, introduced the motion to invite White to begin talks: “I’d like to make a motion to invite Mr. Ridgway White to the board to (discuss) the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).
MacIntyre said, “He (White) was put off for a while because we had business to take care of.” She urged “an open conversation out in public … partnership, not overseeing.”
Support for MacIntyre’s motion came from Del Morone.
Ellis-McNeal said, “He [White] is welcome to come here with an open dialogue.”
McIntosh said, “The [earlier MOU] deal was not beneficial for the district.” She noted that Thomas Parker, a Mott Foundation program officer, was present at the Oct. 20 board meeting. Interim Superintendent Kevelin Jones said, “He’s here every week.”
“He [Parker] works closely with Mr. Ridgway White,” McIntosh said. “He is involved in all of our conversations (regarding) our partnership with Mott … We are working diligently …”
MOU unleashes chain reaction of events
Public revelation of a Memorandum of Understanding by EVM in April and May 2021 from an anonymous source unleashed a chain reaction of events likely unprecedented in the history of Flint Community Schools (FCS).
The MOU revealed details of a Flint Education Continuum (FEC), potentially costing several hundred million dollars, that would endeavor to resuscitate Flint’s public school system. The FEC would have involved three levels of government, several Flint-area nonprofits, and all three of Flint’s major institutions of higher learning.
The purpose of the FEC, according to the MOU, would have been “to develop and expand the framework for an education continuum in Flint which ranges from birth to college and career … to leverage federal, state and local dollars to create an exponential impact that goes beyond schools to whole neighborhoods.”
At the center of the FEC was a plan to rebuild or renovate all of Flint’s 11 existing school buildings at a cost of $20 million to $25 million each.
The FEC also called for the development of a strategic plan in 2021 that would be extended to a 10-year plan “with milestone reviews at the 3-, 5-, and 7-year marks.”
Events unfold in rapid-fire fashion
Events listed below all happened in 2021.
- Apr. 21: Details of the FEC, contained within the MOU, are first revealed by EVM from an anonymous source in an online posting. The posted article is later included in EVM’s May 2021 print edition.
- June 16: The FBOE serves FCS Superintendent Anita Steward a document that warns “continued unacceptable performance, and/or conduct, could result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.” The board orders Steward to “cease all communication … with partners and community foundations.” A board evaluation only six months earlier, issued Jan. 7, 2021, concluded “the superintendent’s job performance was “highly effective.”
- June 16: Steward is publicly reprimanded by the FBOE; she responds with a spirited public defense.
- June 28: White appeals for support of the FEC at an FBOE meeting. “My goal at the Mott Foundation is to ensure that every child in Flint has an equal opportunity for success,” says White.
- June 28: McIntosh and board trustee Diana Wright clash over Wright’s suggestion that the proposed FEC be put on the July board meeting agenda. “It is my expectation,” she declares. McIntosh responds firmly, “It will not be on the July agenda.”
- July 1: In an interview with EVM, Steward says that, “Board members have been invited to participate in these (MOU/FEC) conversations. Some of them have participated. Some of them have elected not to attend the meetings.” Steward tells EVM, “I’m in a difficult space with at least four board members.”
- July 16: White announces a pause of grant funding for FCS in a memo to board president McIntosh. White writes: “Community partners must be able to communicate with district leaders.”
- July 22: White reverses his position and announces a restoration of FCS grant funding from the Mott Foundation.
- August: Two central administrators – Steward and Ayunna Dompreh, executive director of finance – charge MacIntyre with creating a “hostile work environment.” McIntosh says “The situation did have the ingredients to become physical or violent.” MacIntyre denies the charges. “I am not a physical threat,” she says.” Steward and Dompreh take leave from their positions and remain on leave as of the date of this article.
- Aug. 18: FBOE members learn that FCS had, thus far, canceled six days in the 2021-22 school year due to excessive heat in school buildings caused by deficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems. On three other days, a minimum level of 75 percent student attendance was not achieved. The Michigan Department of Education permits a maximum of six excused days before significant state aid penalties kick in.
- Sept. 7: Two veteran board members, Wright and Vera Perry, vice president, abruptly resign from the board. Perry tells EVM she was “not used.”
- Sept. 8: The FBOE approves a $440,000 plan to remediate black mold problems at the 101-year-old Doyle-Ryder building. Doyle-Ryder students are relocated to the Potter building while repairs are being made.
- Sept.: Steward files a lawsuit against the FBOE charging “Whistleblower Protection Act violations, ELCRA (Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act) violations, Breach of Contract and tortious Interference and Negligence.” Tom Pabst, Steward’s attorney, tells MLive/The Flint Journal, he “doesn’t see Steward returning to the district.”
- Sept. 8: Kevelin Jones, FCS assistant superintendent, is named “interim superintendent.” He becomes the eighth person in 16 years to sit in the FCS superintendent’s chair. (As of the posting of this article, Steward remains FCS superintendent, and Jones, interim superintendent.)
- Sept. 8: McIntosh signals a resumption of talks with the Mott Foundation.
- Sept: EVM research finds that Flint’s 11 school buildings average 70-years-old. The average age of buildings in the U. S. is 44 years.
- Sept. 15: The presence of bats in the Potter building, now housing both Potter and Doyle-Ryder students, is reported to the FBOE. A $22,500 plan to remove the bats is approved by the board; a plan to patch the holes in the roof through which bats enter is not presented.
- Oct. 20: The FBOE unanimously approves a motion to start discussions with the Mott Foundation about the vacant Central-Whittier property. \
EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.