By Harold C. Ford
In a five-and-a-half hour meeting ending at midnight Feb. 9, the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) worked its way through a packed agenda and acted on a half-dozen key matters.
The board’s actions covered new hires and compensation packages; critical and ongoing infrastructure needs; the intricacies and interplay of the district’s Emergency Deficit Elimination Program (EDEP) and the temporary infusion of federal dollars via Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) legislation; and tabled a long-awaited strategic plan.
New hires and compensation
The new hires that garnered the most attention from board members were the appointments of three new central administrators as proposed by Kevelin Jones, Flint superintendent:
- Keiona Murphy, elevated from her interim status as assistant superintendent to assistant superintendent with a salary of $114,954 and an additional $4,200 stipend.
- Diona Clingman, appointed to executive director of academics, a new position, at a salary of $111,034 for 245 days.
- Sharita Galloway, moved into the executive director of human resources (HR) position with a salary package identical to that of Clingman. Jorgina Rubin had been filling the HR position on a temporary basis.
Several board members criticized the pay gap between newly-hired classroom teachers and central administrators. As examples, Hannah Freeman and Monica Hicks-Jackson were elevated from “guest teacher’ status to being fully employed at salary levels of $35,869 and $39,545 respectively.
“Shameful,” Laura MacIntyre, FBOE treasurer, decried. “There’s such a huge discrepancy between the executive salaries and the teacher salaries.”
“Top heavy,” continued MacIntyre. “Why do we need an executive director of academics? … We need teachers, we need counselors, we need nurses…”
“I struggle with that (salary levels),” Joyce Ellis-McNeal, FBOE vice president, agreed.
“I share Trustee MacIntyre’s sentiments, especially as it relates to the need for teachers to be compensated,” said Adrian Walker, FBOE secretary. “We have to make sure we’re competitive with other school districts …”
“Our teachers aren’t making enough,” Carol McIntosh, the FBOE’s immediate past president, asserted.
Jones came to the defense of central administrators’ work assignments and compensation packages. “It was a lot of work,” he said, to determine appropriate workloads and levels of compensation. “We (central administrators) are currently carrying as much as we can carry.”
“Teachers deserve so much more,” declared Danielle Green, FBOE president, “(but) I choose to support Mr. Jones and his team.”
“Our backs are to the wall,” Chris Del Morone, FBOE assistant secretary-treasurer, stated.
After prolonged discussion, the FBOE voted 7-0 to approve compensation packages as recommended by Jones and his team.
Significant state of disrepair
Nearly every FBOE meeting in recent years includes one agenda item, or more, that address infrastructure challenges in the buildings of Flint Community Schools (FCS). The Feb. 9 meeting was no exception.
Dan Mack, account executive at Johnson Controls, reported on his company’s efforts to address FCS infrastructure challenges in the past two years. “The state of disrepair was significant at most of the buildings,” Mack reported.
Mack said Johnson Controls launched a two-phase effort to address some FCS infrastructure needs:
- Phase 1 targeted lighting, water conservation, air handlers, boilers, and the building envelope.
- Phase 2 primarily addressed HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems.
“Air conditioning is the number one priority with the balanced calendar,” Mack said. The FCS school year starts in August and ends in June the following year.
“There are other systems in these mechanical rooms that still need to be addressed,” stated Mack as he showed photos of the bowels of FCS buildings that constitute the headquarters for each building’s HVAC systems.
The Johnson Controls team was forced to prioritize the district’s most important infrastructure needs as there wasn’t sufficient funding for all the needed upgrades. Mack reported that he had to reduce his company’s services by $4 million in order to provide the district’s most pressing needs.
On Dec. 15, 2021, the Plante Moran Cresa (PMC) auditing firm that specializes in real estate reported that FCS is facing a 10-year capital need of $174 million to properly maintain the 11 school buildings that currently house its students. PMC told the FBOE it only needed four elementary schools; FCS currently has eight.
Collectively, Flint’s buildings have 792 years of wear and tear; their average age is now 71 years. The average age of about 84,000 school buildings in the U.S., according to a Nov. 2017 Education Week report, is 49 years at present.
The Flint-based Mott Foundation’s proposal to renovate or rebuild FCS school buildings at a cost of several hundred million dollars – first revealed by East Village Magazine nearly a year ago in April and May of 2021 – has yet to appear on an FBOE agenda.
“It’s urgent,” Pete Medor, FCS interim director of operations, declared, of infrastructure needs at the Southwestern and Northwestern buildings. “The system has seen its best day; it needs immediate attention.”
Medor was referencing three FBOE agenda items: steam heat exchangers and base mount pumps at Southwestern, and a gas valve at Northwestern.
Medor noted that global supply chain issues would mean delayed delivery of materials needed to make the urgent repairs at Southwestern and Northwestern. “We’re 14 to 16 weeks out to get these materials,” he said.
At first, the FBOE rejected all three funding proposals by unanimous 0-7 votes. Then it reconsidered.
“I’m very concerned about human beings more than money,” Ellis-McNeal implored.
After more discussion, the board reversed itself and unanimously voted 7-0 to approve all three funding requests at a cost of about $600,000. And the costs are not reimbursable with federal pandemic relief funds as infrastructure repairs require a bidding or request for proposal (RFP) process.
Board members acknowledged that HVAC needs at Southwestern and Northwestern had been brought to the board’s attention in January. “I brought it to you a month ago,” said Medor.
Short-term stability, long-term challenges
Ayunna Dompreh, FCS director of finances, provided the FBOE a financial report that had the appearance of stability due to the infusion of about $32 million in ESSER (COVID relief) funding from the federal government.
“This gives us the appearance that we are not operating in a deficit,” cautioned Dompreh. “I want to stress … we are still in a deficit.”
About $20 million of the aforementioned $32 million total would normally be covered by the district’s general fund. ESSER funds will soon go away and, without adjustments to FCS finances, the district will return to its condition of annual deficits and long-term debt obligations.
Without Federal ESSER funds, Dompreh warned, FCS would currently be operating at a $21.5 million annual deficit.
“So, what changes do you want to make going forward that will help us to show when we will come out of deficit?” Dompreh asked.
Dompreh’s question alluded to the Emergency Deficit Elimination Program status with the State of Michigan that looms in the background and haunts nearly all decisions made about the district’s finances.
“You’re on track,” Jones said. He said he would be meeting with the Michigan Association of School Boards scheduled the next day, Feb. 10. “Don’t lose heart,” he counseled.
“We just have to keep moving,” Jones said. “But we have to determine what we’re going to do with the buildings.”
At its Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Feb. 9, a long-awaited strategic plan was given tacit approval by the FBOE on a 6-1 vote and sent to the board’s regular meeting on Feb. 16. Then on Feb. 16, adoption of the strategic plan was tabled to allow the board further time for study. The plan has not yet been released to the public.
The district’s current strategic plan was adopted in 2017 and will expire this year.
At the conclusion of the five-hour regular board meeting on Feb. 16, during a time set aside for board members’ remarks, Trustee Carol McIntosh celebrated an unspecified legal victory by FCS while FBOE Treasurer Adrian Walker announced his resignation.
McIntosh gleefully proclaimed, “This district had a major victory … With our new counsel (Charis Lee), our one-woman band … she was able to pull a victory out the bag for this district and this board.”
When asked by EVM if the “victory” was in the lawsuit filed by former FCS Superintendent Derrick Lopez, McIntosh replied, “No.” When asked if the “victory” was in the lawsuit brought by former Superintendent Anita Steward, McIntosh looked away and did not answer.
Steward filed a lawsuit against the district and four FBOE members on Sept. 8, 2021 alleging breach of contract and other violations. She resigned as FCS superintendent Nov. 12, 2021.
Just-elected board treasurer, Adrian Walker, announced his resignation from the school board, effective immediately, in order to take an unspecified position in Michigan’s state government. Walker was chosen to fill a board vacancy in Jan. 2021.
The next regular meeting of the FBOE will be Wednesday evening March 16 — starting at 6:30 p.m. Regular meetings are preceded by Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings one week prior with the next COW scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start March 9.
Meetings are held at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA), 1602 S. Averill Ave., Flint. Information about FBOE meetings can be accessed at the district’s website: flintschools.org.
At present, meetings can be attended in person or remotely. Recordings of FBOE meetings can be accessed at YouTube.
EVM Education Beat reporter Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.