Education Beat: Teachers’ unrest hits Flint school board, ALA building next one to close

By Harold C. Ford

“I was kind of overwhelmed today.” –Michael Clack, Vice President, Flint Board of Education

“Obviously tonight, and the past couple of weeks, are very emotionally charged.” –Dylan Luna, treasurer, Flint Board of Education

At the Feb. 14 meeting of the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) ,  scores of teachers protested a scuttled tentative settlement of a grievance filed by the United Teachers of Flint (UTF) against Flint Community Schools (FCS).

A crowd of UTF members and supporters, estimated by the union at about 200, picketed outside the building where the meeting was taking place.

Dozens then moved inside, where seven speakers assailed the FBOE for its alleged unanimous rejection of a tentative agreement reached in January between bargaining teams representing FCS and the UTF, and warned that as it grapples with downsizing, the district risks losing its teaching staff which they asserted it cannot do without.

Flint teachers and supporters at the Feb. 14 meeting of the Flint Board of Education (Photo by Harold Ford)

East Village Magazine (EVM) contacted all seven board members, FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones, and Bridgett Jones, FCS communications specialist, seeking a response to the UTF’s press releases and actions.   None responded.

However, a statement by FBOE President Joyce Ellis-McNeal was read aloud by FBOE Secretary Claudia Perkins at the meeting.  It begins,  “The School District of the City of Flint Board of Education rejected the proposed tentative grievance settlement agreement between the School District of the City of Flint Board of Education and the United Teachers of Flint MEA/NEA. While the Board appreciates working collaboratively with the UTF, the Board must be fiscally responsible.  

Board member and assistant secretary treasurer Laura MacIntyre introduced a motion to file an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the UTF,  charging public “mistruths” and “misinformation.” “They’re not bargaining in good faith,” she said.  But the motion didn’t get a second and she withdrew it.

The full statement from the district is included below.

While labor relations dominated the first half of the board’s three-hour meeting, the second half featured another decision about rightsizing the district’s building lineup. All seven FBOE members voted to close Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA, formerly Scott School) at 1602 S. Averill Ave. in Flint in the 2026-27 school year.

For many teachers and district officials, the two issues – an oversized FCS infrastructure and finding resources for an upgraded teacher contract – are related.

Teachers to board:  “Shame on you”

Starting at 6 p.m., a half hour before the scheduled start of the FBOE’s COW meeting, about 200 teachers – an estimate provided by teacher union leader Bruce Jordan – and their supporters formed a picket line on the sidewalk in front of the ALA building where FCS board meetings are currently held.

Teachers and their supporters carried signs that read: “No Trust”; “Stop the Attacks”; “Here We Go Again”; “Support Public Education”; “Value Students, Respect Educators, Fund Our Schools”; and “Overlooked, Underpaid Educators”.

Hoisting their signs, about 125 demonstrators then filed into the ALA auditorium at the scheduled 6:30 p.m. start of the FBOE meeting where call-and-response chants of “No confidence, no trust” permeated the atmosphere perhaps a half-dozen times.

Seven speakers – all in support of the teachers, and many with related remarks about the district’s fiscal challenges – made their way to the microphone during the “public comments” agenda item.

Karen Christian, president of United Teachers of Flint (UTF) (Photo by Harold Ford)

“The settlement agreement would have allowed you to honor your teaching staff,” said Karen Christian, president of the UTF.  “Some of our [FCS] teachers with great experience left for other districts to better pay and security for their families

“Buildings are not generational wealth,”  she added, “You need to sell buildings that need to be used for other purposes. You need to rightsize the district … This problem is caused by spending more than you bring in … We voted you in. We can vote you out.”


Emily Doerr, an FBOE candidate in the November, 2022 election who narrowly lost her bid to serve on the board, said,  “Shame on you for not supporting teachers … You have to do very hard decisions around closing schools and getting financial burdens off your books. You need to do it and not on the backs of the teachers.”

Jordan, a director of the Michigan Education Association (MEA)  also contested the contention by board member of the district’s buildings as “generational wealth.”

“You got 40 buildings; 20 need to be maintained,”  he stated. “You have a board member that it’s all about ‘generational wealth.’ We cannot allow you to drop one brick on the backs of our teachers any longer…

“Four of you campaigned for the restoration and fiscal solvency of Flint schools. If you don’t do something soon, they’re not going to be here. They’re leaving in droves … Within a year there won’t be enough staff to educate our kids.”

Recent FCS educator and Flint city resident Nadia Rodriquez placed the blame directly on the board.

“The board and the district’s operational deficit is your own doing,”  she said. “You have not completed a plan to consolidate and close school buildings in ratio to current student enrollment. You have not offloaded abandoned buildings and properties. You have not honored the very platform four of you ran on … You are slumlords.”

Speaking for a many in the crowd, Debbie Hopkins, an FCS teacher since 1987, said “I’ve stayed through the tough times like all these people in here … You are going to lose some of your very best teachers.”

Dena Ashworth, an FCS educator since 1998, agreed.

“My pay has been frozen since 2014,” she said. “I have family members who have just become teachers in other districts who are making $71,000 and they have less education and teaching [experience] than I do … You cannot afford to lose me … Give us our [pay] steps!”

All comments can be viewed  at

Statements highlight divide

In addition to the public comments, three blistering UTF statements issued before the Feb. 14  meeting described a Jan. 17 FBOE decision that “recklessly rejected” a settlement agreement that had been reached between the teachers’ union and the school district administrators,  calling it “shocking … baffling.”

The statements declared a vote of “no confidence” in the school board by a 98.5 percent approval margin of its members.

Further, UTF “voted to authorize job actions up to and including a strike” and “has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission [MERC] against the Flint Board of Education.”

Claudia Perkins reading a statement from the FBOE. (Photo by Harold Ford)

The statement by FBOE President Joyce Ellis-McNeal was read aloud by FBOE Secretary Claudia Perkins at the meeting.  It reads, in whole,  “The School District of the City of Flint Board of Education rejected the proposed tentative grievance settlement agreement between the School District of the City of Flint Board of Education and the United Teachers of Flint MEA/NEA. While the board appreciates working collaboratively with the UTF, the Board must be fiscally responsible.

“At the November 8, 2023 board meeting, the district’s Chief Financial Officer Chanda Cleaves, shared that the district has a $14 million structural deficit and this tentative grievance settlement agreement will only add to that structural deficit.

“After careful consideration, the Board has decided that the current $14 million structural deficit means that this grievance settlement agreement cannot be approved by the Board at this time. The Board wants to retain its teachers with a competitive wage scale and demonstrated its commitment to UTF employees by approving the 2022-2025 UTF-Board Master Agreement which contained [wage] steps.

“According to our previous Chief Financial Officer, the cost of placing teachers on a new wage scale was $1,339,117; and the Board also agreed to move UTF employees from the 2018 hard caps [maximum wage limits] to the current hard caps which amounted to $483,133 in addition[al] costs to the District.

“As a result, the Board has established a proven track record of improving wages and health insurance benefits over the past few years. But there are limits. The UTF employees received a step on August 1, 2023 in the amount of $907,963 and will receive a step on August 1, 2024 in the amount of $946,550.

“The Board offered to settle this matter by offering another step to UTF employees which would mean UTF employees would receive three steps in one calendar year. But the offer was rejected. The Board stands by its decision and hopes that UTF reconsiders its position so the parties can work cooperatively over the remainder of the year.

After teachers left the meeting, FBOE members met with Timothy Gardner, an attorney with the Thrun Law Firm, an East Lansing-based firm that works with the school district.

MacIntyre then introduced her motion to file an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with MERC against the UTF, alleging the union is issuing public “mistruths” and “misinformation” and arguing the UTF is “not bargaining in good faith.”

Dylan Luna, FBOE treasurer, called the motion “very rash.” He suggested, “We need to step back and let a couple of days pass.”

MacIntyre’s motion lacked a seconding motion and she decided to withdraw it. However, FBOE members will meet with Gardner in a closed session Feb. 21, prior to the scheduled FBOE meeting, to further consider the matter.

Gardner counseled FBOE members, “We should have no other comment than the public statement [above] that’s been issued … That says everything for our position on this issue.”

ALA to close in 2026-27

Following the turbulent first half of the FBOE’s Feb. 14 meeting, board members tackled another emotionally-charged matter – the issue of rightsizing its building lineup – when Trustee Terae King introduced a motion to close the district’s ALA building in the 2026-27 school year.

At its Oct. 5, 2023 meeting, four months earlier, the FBOE voted to close four of its buildings currently occupied by students over a three-year period: one building in 2024-25; two buildings in 2025-26; and one building in 2026-27.

Later in the same Oct. 5 meeting, the board decided to close Pierce Elementary in the 2024-25 school year and Neithercut Elementary in the 2025-26 school year. According to the Oct. motion, that left one building to be closed in 2025-26 and one building in 2026-27.  For the next four months, no further action had been taken on building closures until King’s motion on Feb. 14.

King reminded members of the school panel that it had not yet finished the business initiated at its Oct. 5 meeting, that the FBOE had yet to decide upon the closure of two additional school buildings. “After the information we just heard today, for the third or fourth time, about the operational deficit, about the need to rightsize the district,” said King, “… my concern is we started something … and nobody wants to talk about completion of what we started.”

“The district has not taken the steps to rightsize the district and staff,” added King. “We’re asking [the state] for debt relief … and we’re not addressing the debt.”

Trustee Melody Relerford agreed with King. “We have to close schools,” she said. “We need to be able to compensate the teachers … We’ve gotta do something”

“We’re in the vicious cycle of borrowing money to pay off our operational deficit,” Luna said. “Money is not reaching our classrooms.”

“That [debt-deficit profile] leaves us at risk for state takeover,” Luna continued. “We have to have the courage and the leadership to do this … If I was a Republican legislator on the west side of the state, and I saw a district … with 20 vacant properties just sitting there, a report from Plante Moran Cresa that says you have way too many buildings … I wouldn’t give you a damn dime.”

“It is a falsehood to think you can sell abandoned properties … or even close currently operating schools to balance the budget,” argued an impassioned MacIntyre, the most persistent critic of offloading FCS properties. “If you close buildings … you lose that enrollment … You don’t actually save money; you lose money … The system is stacked against us.”

At the end of the discussion, all seven FBOE members voted to close ALA in the 2026-27 school year.

Historically, FCS closed 45 buildings in 41 years from 1976 to 2017 as the district’s student population shrank from more than 40,000 students to less than 3,000. No FCS buildings have actually been closed since 2017.

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Future meetings of the FBOE are scheduled for: Feb. 21; Mar. 13 and 20; Apr. 10 and 17. May 8 and 15; June 12 and 19. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are held at Accelerated Learning Academy, 1602 S. Averill, Flint. Meetings – live or recorded – can be accessed at YouTube.

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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