Education Beat: Teachers continue protests; no settlement yet with Flint school district

By Harold C. Ford

“We’ve got a heck of a job ahead of us.” – Joyce Ellis-McNeal, president, Flint Board of Education, Sept. 21, 2024

Following a five-hour meeting of the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) on Wednesday, Feb. 21, no settlement was reached on a new agreement with the United Teachers of Flint (UTF).

About half of the meeting was spent in closed session with Timothy Gardner, an attorney with the East Lansing-based Thrun Law Firm that is advising the school district during this period of negotiations with the UTF.

As during the previous week’s FBOE meeting Feb. 14, scores of Flint teachers showed up waving signs that indicated their unhappiness about the school board’s unanimous rejection of a tentative agreement that had been reached in January between UTF bargainers and a team assembled by FCS administration.

And, as at the Feb. 14 meeting, a long line of teachers and others queued up to voice their displeasure about the rejected tentative agreement that originated with two UTF grievances.

“You don’t care about me financially”

More than two dozen speakers mostly excoriated the FBOE during the first 90 minutes of the Feb. 21 meeting.

Shawndra Madafferi, Michigan Education Association (MEA; state-level teacher union) president since July 2023, told board members “Resources matter. The students who need the most resources are the ones that need the most resources … It seems the kids that need the most are in schools where Flint the educators are paid the least.”

Shawndra Madafferi (Photo by Harold C. Ford)

You’re losing great educators,” Madafferi said. “Please reconsider your vote and honor the agreement that was made in good faith by your educators and your administrators.”

“You’ve backed all of these folks [Flint teachers] into a corner,” charged Bruce Jordan, MEA’s representative for the Flint area. “Your attorney signed an agreement with us. It exists whether you saw it or not … I am begging you do what’s right.”

Fighting back tears, Shelbi Redmond, an FCS teacher at Freeman Elementary, told the FBOE that she is going to retire from FCS after 28 years as an FCS educator.

“After last week’s board meeting, I filled out my intent-to-retire paperwork with the district,” she said. “I promised myself ‘I would never have a job where I dreaded getting out of bed to go to work’ … I also promised myself that money would never be the reason. However, the time has come; I have to leave and this time the reason does involve money … You don’t care about me financially.”

Melissa Koronka, an FCS science teacher for 26 years told the Flint panel: “There have been pay freezes and pay cuts, but they were not meant to be forever cuts and freezes … I am seven [pay] steps behind … When this board voted down the tentative agreement, my trust was broken … It seems like a slap in the face.”

Dena Ashworth (Photo by Harold C. Ford)

FCS math teacher Dena Ashworth told the FCS board, “You guys made an agreement with us … It’s a commitment that both parties agreed to … You made a commitment; you led us on for three and a half months … We waited patiently because we trusted you. You didn’t follow through. You can’t be trusted.”

“Teachers do not want to come to work for this district with the current starting salary,” asserted Donna Millikin, a Flint teacher for 28 years. “We, as educators, took a pay cut for this district and are still waiting for it to be restored. I thought this would be the year you corrected this injustice.”

FCS leadership fissures apparent after two-hour closed session

After the 90 minutes of public comments, FBOE members recessed to a closed session for more than two hours. After gaveling the meeting back to order, fissures appeared between and among the district’s leadership team.

FBOE board member Melody Relerford (Photo by Tom Travis)

Melody Relerford, trustee, punctured the presumption of a united front by district leaders in terms of public commentary. “If every teacher left the district, there would be no district,” Relerford said. “Our teachers are not in a good position. It just sends a bad message.”

Laura MacIntyre, FBOE’s secretary/treasurer, supported Relerford’s statement of public support for teachers. “You can’t have a school without teachers,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve gotten to a critical mass where the teachers aren’t being made whole … You’ve gotta have people to do the work, to do the labor.”

FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones cautioned FCS leaders about public comments: “What I’ve just heard, it really just goes against what our liberties [agreements] are to talk about right now. And it sounds as though that there are folks with teachers and those that are not … Everyone at this table is for teachers … We’re trying to make sure we’re standing together.”

Kevelin Jones, FCS Superintendent. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Nonetheless, Relerford introduced a motion for restoration of contractual steps [pay increases] for teachers that had been delayed by the financial challenges of the district.

“You may not like what I say,” Relerford said. “Everybody’s talking about teachers … now is the time to do it … and when it’s time to do something everybody kicking the can.”

“Everybody wanna say they love the teachers,” continued Relerford, voice rising. “If you love the teachers, pay them … I’m sick and tired of this. In a meeting in front of everyone, y’all say one thing, but when we go behind them doors … it’s something completely different … I’m so frustrated with this board.”

Relerford’s motion died for lack of a seconding motion.

In a post-meeting comment to East Village Magazine, Relerford confirmed, “I am in full support of paying FCS teachers competitive wages.”

* * * * *

Future meetings of the FBOE are scheduled for: March 3 and 20; April 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 Ave., Flint. Meetings – live or recorded – can be accessed at YouTube.



Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

Share This Post On