By Harold C. Ford
In its recent meetings, the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) faced looming critical deadlines about staffing decisions and building closures, suggested Northwestern might become Flint’s one high school, and heard that former president Danielle Green, accused of assaulting board treasurer Laura MacIntyre, will not be charged.
“We knew this day was coming,” Carol McIntosh, vice president of the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) stated in an April discussion.
“If we don’t close schools, it’s a drain on our system; our deficit will increase …Time is of the essence … We need to take action,” Chris DelMorone, FBOE assistant secretary-treasurer, agreed.
FBOE trustee Allen Gilbert weighed in. “Delay … could be a critical mistake.”
April 30 deadline on staffing
That critical deadline is April 30. Per contractual obligation with the labor organization that represents its teachers, the United Teachers of Flint (UTF), the district must notify staff whose contracts will not be renewed.
Before notifying FCS staff of nonrenewed contracts, FCS will need to decide which of its eleven buildings to close and which will stay open for the 2022-23 school year that begins in August. Decisions about use of the buildings will, of course, impact staffing decisions.
And before the district can wisely utilize its COVID relief funds (ESSER, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds) –about $140 million, according to FCS Assistant Superintendent Keiona Murphy, a sum more than that received by the City of Flint – to make desperately needed repairs at any of its school campuses, it needs to know what its building lineup will be for 2022-23.
Thus, decisions on the buildings lineup determine how the district uses ESSER monies for building upgrades, which also determines its staffing decisions. All these elements are interrelated.
Enhanced EDEP looming in the background
Looming in the background of the board’s recent deliberations is the State of Michigan – particularly the Michigan Department of Treasury (DOT) — that has been monitoring the FCS financial profile for years. FCS has been in financial distress since taking out a $20 million loan in 2014. At least two amended EDEPs (Enhanced Deficit Elimination Programs) were sent to the DOT in calendar year 2020.
FCS was one of 10 districts in Michigan (out of about 500) that were listed as “Current EDEP Districts” as of Sept. 1, 2020. DOT’s forecast was ominous: “the District projects to remain in deficit until FY 2035-36.”
Significant loss of student population has contributed to the district’s financial woes. Currently, each student who leaves FCS takes $8,000-$9000 in state aid. Recent counts of FCS student population hover near 3,000, less than one-third of school-age children who live in Flint.
“We just have to keep moving,” said Kevelin Jones, FCS superintendent at the FBOE’s Feb. 9, 2022 meeting. “But we have to determine what we’re going to do with the buildings.”
On Dec. 15, 2021, Plante Moran Cresa (PMC), an auditing firm specializing in 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 students. PMC told the FBOE it only needed four elementary schools; FCS currently has eight.
Any decisions about building closures will most likely lead to public outcry and controversy as they have in the past.
However, the FBOE does not appear to have determined what buildings to close, if any. “We have not really come up with what buildings are going to close, which ones we’re going to keep open,” declared Carol McIntosh, board vice president. She also said decisions have not been made about renovations or costs.
Also, at the Feb. 9 meeting, the FBOE gave preliminary approval to a long-awaited strategic plan, its first since 2017. One week later, on Feb. 16, the plan was tabled. Details of the plan have yet to be released to the public. Formulation of the plan followed several public meetings where input was sought from stakeholders.
“Kicking the can down the road”
“I believe that what we’re doing as a district is kicking the can down the road,” Chris DelMorone, FBOE assistant secretary/treasurer, charged. “If you’re not cutting personnel, if you’re not closing buildings, I don’t know where you cut.”
“We have some hard decisions to make,” DelMorone said. He reminded board members that employees are entitled to 90 days’ notice before the end of contracts in August, 2022.
McIntosh agreed. “We’re not doing our due diligence,” she said. “We do just enough to make it and then the district is falling apart …because the hard decisions and the heavy lifting, we just seem to abandon that.”
“We’ve got ESSER dollars and the sun’s about to set on ESSER dollars,” warned Joyce Ellis-McNeal, board president.
Significant state of disrepair
At most FBOE meetings in recent years, the dire state of infrastructure at Flint school buildings has been a topic. On Feb. 9, 2022, Dan Mack, account executive at Johnson Controls, reported on his company’s efforts to address the infrastructure challenges in the past two years. “The state of disrepair was significant at most of the buildings,” Mack said.
Infrastructure topics that have been regular FBOE agenda topics have included: HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, air conditioning); electrical grids; plumbing and water quality; roofs; parking lots; technology needs; and athletic facilities.
At present, Doyle/Ryder Elementary students attend Potter Elementary while the district attempts to remediate black mold problems and bat infestations caused by a roof in disrepair at 121-year-old Doyle/Ryder built in 1901.
Collectively, Flint’s buildings have 792 years of wear and tear; their average age is now 71. The average age of 84,000 school buildings in the U.S. is 49 years, based on a Nov. 2017 Education Week report.
Mott Foundation buildings proposal yet to appear on FBOE agenda
Still, the Flint-based Mott Foundation’s proposal to renovate or rebuild FCS school buildings at a cost of several hundred million dollars – first reported by East Village Magazine (EVM) nearly a year ago in April and May of 2021 – has yet to appear on an FBOE agenda.
At the center of the proposal was a plan to rebuild or renovate all of Flint’s 11 school buildings at a cost of $20 million to $25 million each.
Ridgway White, fourth-generation leader of the Mott Foundation, appeared at the board’s June 28, 2021 meeting and said, “My goal at the Mott Foundation is to ensure that every child in Flint has an equal opportunity for success … Allow us to partner with you.”
On Sept. 8, 2021 McIntosh, then-FBOE president, signaled a resumption of talks with Flint’s largest foundation.
At the end of an Oct. 20, 2021 meeting, Laura MacIntyre, FBOE treasurer, introduced a motion to invite White to begin talks even though she is a frequent critic of foundation support for public schools. MacIntyre’s motion was approved by a unanimous 6-0 vote of those board members present.
Short-term stability, long-term challenges
FBOE members have been warned by FCS central administrators not to equate the recent infusion of ESSER funds with financial solvency.
“This (ESSER funding) gives us the appearance that we are not operating in a deficit,” cautioned Ayunna Dompreh, then-FCS director of finances on Feb. 9. “I want to stress … we are still in a deficit.”
Without Federal ESSER funds, Dompreh warned, FCS would currently be operating at a $21.5 million annual deficit.
Dompreh resigned her finance position, effective April 22, for a “personal” reason. She was one of two central administrators who filed “hostile work environment” charges against MacIntyre in August, 2021.
Northwestern as Flint’s high school?
In something of a surprise at its April 20 meeting, three members of the Board of Education (FBOE) hinted that the next high school for Flint students will be the Northwestern campus located at G-2138 West Carpenter Road.
Three FBOE members – MacIntyre, McIntosh, and McNeal – suggested the Northwestern building on Carpenter Road is destined to be reopened as a high school, perhaps replacing Southwestern.
Their comments emerged in response to a request and a motion by DelMorone to provide documentation to confirm the board’s vote to reopen Northwestern as the future site for Flint’s high school students.
[Discussions and votes by the FBOE to upgrade the kitchen, running track, and HVAC systems are on the public record. But, not so a vote to reopen Northwestern as a high school based on this reporter’s notes, recollections, and public records for the past nearly six years.]
“How soon can we get to Northwestern?” McNeal asked at the end of a report by Kevelin Jones, FCS superintendent. Jones said discussions with architects would be the next step about “the renovations that need to happen in Northwestern.”
“Regarding the renovations to Northwestern,” DelMorone said, “I do not believe the board has decided at this point what those renovations should be, let alone what the short-term and long-term use of Northwestern will be, if it will be used at all. So, I think we’re taking a little bit of a jump forward.”
“There are some who believe we need two high schools in Flint,” DelMorone continued, “and others who believe, one currently (Southwestern), two eventually.”
“Correct,” Jones said.
“Does anyone believe that we need Northwestern as a high school and a new high school at the Central-Whittier campus, to have two high schools?” DelMorone asked.
MacNeal interrupted DelMorone by declaring: “Point of order, point of information. We’re not having that discussion.”
Then MacIntyre immediately continued the discussion. “We did take action and vote,” she said “before the three of you (DelMorone, Secretary Linda Boose, and Trustee Allen Gilbert) were on the board … We are moving on Northwestern.”
DelMorone then asked for documents that would prove the FBOE voted to reopen Northwestern as a high school.
DelMorone’s initial request for information was eventually turned back by a 3-3 tie vote (a majority is needed for approval) of the six board members present. His request sparked “no” votes and a flurry of intense responses by MacIntyre, McIntosh, and McNeal that, at times, became emotional and angry as evidenced by raised voices. [This portion of the Apr. 20 meeting can be viewed on youtube.com at the following link starting at about the 1:30 mark. The discussion continues for about 30 minutes.]
- McIntosh: “We voted to reopen Northwestern … about five times because all the bulk of the kids are on the north side and it’s going to take several years to build a new high school and Southwestern is dilapidated and it’s no students over there … Southwestern is almost destitute … We don’t have a new school. So, where we sending our kids? … Every time it looks like this district is going to break out, survive, and get independent … we stalemated.”
- MacIntyre: MacIntyre said she found DelMorone’s comments “dispiriting and disheartening” and judged his request for information as “taskwork dumped on Mrs. Elston (Monaca Elston, FCS executive assistant) “for things board members should do due diligence about on a personal basis … (by) paying attention at meetings … We have forces in the district and outside of the district (“partners” and “some nonprofit corporation”) … that have been blocking some of the actions and decisions we have had to take … We’re tired of our colonial overseers.”
- McNeal: “We did have that discussion and stuff before Chris DelMorone and Pastor Gilbert came on board … Northwestern always been a high school … Nobody can stop this board … Every time we get to just about this, here comes some interruption … The enemy is these outside forces.”
“I just get angry,” MacIntyre said.
“I done got upset,” McNeal added.
DelMorone responded, in part, “There are … board members and others who do not want to close a school this year, who do not want to lay anyone off, who do not want to cut pay … How do you eliminate a deficit? … We will be in the same position next year as we are now.”
MacIntyre: no criminal charges for Green
At the very end of the meeting, DelMorone stirred the FBOE pot once again when he asked FCS to request a legal judgement from Michigan’s attorney general about the PPO (personal protection order), requested by MacIntyre, against former board president Danielle Green, that prevents Green from attending board meetings. Morone said that, in effect, the PPO has removed Green as a board member.
DelMorone said there were only four legitimate ways to remove an elected board member: recall; felony conviction; resignation; or removal by Michigan’s governor.
MacIntyre opposed DelMorone’s motion arguing there has been no remorse shown or acceptance of responsibility for the alleged misdeed. DelMorone’s motion failed on a 5-1 vote. Only DelMorone voted in favor of the request for a legal opinion.
MacIntyre said Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, after a review of the case, does not plan to press criminal charges against Green. Green tallegedly assaulted MacIntyre at a board committee of the whole meeting March 23.
The next meetings of the FBOE will start at 6:30 p.m. May 11 (Committee of the Whole) and May 18 (regular meeting) at Accelerated Learning Academy, 1602 S. Averill Ave., Flint, MI 48503. Meetings can be seen remotely; register at the district’s website. Recordings of meetings can be viewed on YouTube.
EVM Education reporter Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.