Education Beat: Closing out Flint Community Schools’ 2023-2024 year by the numbers

By Harold C. Ford

The final weeks of Flint Community Schools’ (FCS) 2023-2024 school year might be best understood by parsing the district’s numbers.  

The most important number may be five – the length, in years, of a new contract awarded to Superintendent Kevelin Jones on June 12. The agreement was called “unprecedented” by Flint Board of Education (FBOE) President Joyce Ellis-McNeal and represents a milestone for a district that has seen six superintendents in the last 10 years. 

Other recent and relevant FCS numbers include:

  • Nine veteran teachers with 231 years of experience in FCS left the district, and the contracts of ten guest teachers were not renewed.
  • After 40 years in FCS, and 20 as athletic director, the position of athletic director Jamie Foster was eliminated.  
  • FCS celebrated the high school graduation of 120 students, an uptick of over 40 students from the previous year.  
  • The final budget for 2023-2024 and the projected 2024-2025 budget show combined fund balance deficit of nearly $15 million. 
  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) financial support for FCS – totaling some $150 million since 2021 – ends Sept. 30, 2024. 
  • Four fires at abandoned FCS properties were reported during an eight-hour period on May 11-12.
  • Chronic absenteeism was reduced from 80 percent of FCS’s student population in 2021-2022 to 75 percent in 2023-2024.  
  • FCS achieved five 18-month benchmarks as delineated in its school improvement plan.

Five-year contract for Jones

Kevelin Jones ascended to the FCS superintendency, replacing Anita Steward, from his assistant superintendent position in November 2021. At that time, he became the eighth superintendent in 16 years to head up Flint’s public school system.

FBOE Trustee Terae King was credited by fellow Board members with the move to offer a five-year contract to Jones, ostensibly to provide greater stability to the district’s leadership team. King’s suggestion was initially made at an earlier board committee meeting.  

Kevelin Jones, Flint Community Schools Superintendent. (Photo by Tom Travis)

The vote to approve the five-year contract for Jones passed 6-1. Affirmative votes were cast by Ellis-McNeal; King; Michael Clack, vice president; Claudia Perkins, secretary; Dylan Luna, treasurer; and Laura MacIntyre, assistant secretary/treasurer. Trustee Melody Relerford cast the lone dissenting vote.   

“This is a historic moment for our district,” said King.  

“I’m proud of you, I really am,” Perkins said to Jones. “You have a good leadership style.”

Traditionally, FCS superintendents have inked one-year contract renewals following a favorable annual performance review from members of the Board.  

Twenty educators with 281 years of experience exit the district

At its meeting on May 15, the FBOE accepted the retirements of eight educators with nearly 230 years of experience in the classroom. Seven of the retirees were elementary-level teachers averaging more than 30 years in the classroom.  A paraprofessional (retirement) and central administrator (resignation) also left the district. 

Further, at the June 12 FBOE meeting, 10 “guest teachers” were dismissed due to “program requirements [that were] not met.” Guest teachers are classroom educators with four-year college degrees who lack teaching certification and are expected to achieve certification in order to continue their employment with FCS. 

The guest teacher program was adopted by the district in 2019 during the administration of former superintendent Derrick Lopez to help meet the district’s shortage of classroom teachers.  

The most controversial recent departure from FCS employment was that of Jamie Foster, which was also made official at the June 12 meeting. The reason given in the printed board packet made available to the public was “position eliminated.”

Foster told East Village Magazine (EVM) that the simple declaration in the “personnel recommendations” section of the June 12 board packet was the first printed notice, of any kind, that he was being let go by the district. Foster said he had been employed by the district for 40 years, the past 20 as its athletic director.  

Representatives from the Congress of Flint School Administrators turned out to oppose the manner of Foster’s dismissal. Congress President Eddie Thomas called the termination a “lack of respect for its members.”

FCS central administrator Ernest Steward warned that Foster’s sudden departure may lead to the absence of a fall sports schedule for Flint schools. 

School district attorney Timothy Gardner of Thrun Law Firm defended the move, saying Michigan law does not put an athletic director in the same category as other school administrators such as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, principals, and others.

Rather, Gardner said, an athletic director falls into a less protected employment status, as do food service supervisors, transportation directors, and the like.  

Uptick to 120 graduates

Board members lauded the number of FCS high school graduates in 2024. 

The district’s website listed 120 Flint grads in the class of 2024, which Clack said was an improvement over the district’s 79 graduates in 2023 at a May 8 FBOE meeting.

Data found at the MI School Data website, operated by the Michigan Department of Education, provides the following data about the “graduation/dropout rate” at Flint schools for the graduating class of 2023: the “graduation rate” was 35 percent (62 of 177 students); the “dropout rate” was 34.5 percent (61 of 177 students); the “off-track continuing” rate was 30.5 percent (54 of 177 students). 

Data for the 2024 graduating class at FCS has not yet been posted at the state’s website.  

Budget challenged by two-year deficit totaling nearly $15 million 

FCS Finance Director Chandra Cleaves reviewed the district’s final budget numbers for 2023-2024 and presented the FBOE with a proposed 2024-2025 budget at its June 18 session. 

The final budget for 2023-2024, included revenue totaling $164,072,275, expenditures of $168,780,350, and a fund balance deficit of $4,708,075. 

The 2024-2025 budget beginning July 1 – based, in part, on a projected FCS student enrollment of 2,700 students – projects a revenue amount of $77,100,548, expenditures totaling $87,103,226, and a fund balance deficit of $10,002,678. 

The projected two-year deficit amounts – together exceeding $14.7 million – add to the long-term indebtedness of the district. In a Nov. 8, 2023 appearance before the FBOE, Michael Rice, Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the Board: “You need to accelerate your progress both financially and academically.”

In December  2023, the district was passed over by the state in legislation that provided debt relief to six other Michigan school districts including two that were closed. A public statement released by Jones in January said the district was saddled with “approximately $56,093,404 in debt, with an operational deficit of $14,420,492.”

ESSER financial support for the district – totaling some $150 million since 2021 – ends on Sept. 30 of this year. After that date, ESSER dollars that have been used in recent years for ongoing repairs and upgrades at FCS buildings that average over 70 years old – among the oldest in the nation – will no longer be available.  

Adding to future financial concerns are upcoming contract negotiations with two employee unions whose members service the district – the Congress of Flint School Administrators and paraprofessionals represented by Service Employees International Union Local 517.

Four fires in eight hours

There were four fires reported at abandoned FCS buildings in an eight-hour span between May 11 to May 12. 

  • At about 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 11 a fire was reported at a building on the abandoned Central-Whittier campus on Crapo St.  
  • At the same campus, a half-hour later, there was another fire in Central High School’s former wood shop building.
  • On May 12, at about 2:00 a.m. Flint firefighters responded to a fire in the cafeteria of the abandoned Flint Northern High School on Mackin Rd. on Flint’s west side.
  • Five hours later, at about 7:00 a.m., firefighters responded to a first-floor classroom fire at the vacant and condemned McKinley Middle School, situated along Hemphill Rd. on Flint’s south side.  

For years, dozens of individuals have appeared before at FBOE meetings to express their concerns about the approximate two-dozen abandoned school buildings in Flint, including Flint City Councilman Quincy Murphy in December 2022, and Flint Fire Chief Theron Wiggins in February 2023

The former Apprentice Building on the abandoned Central-Whittier campus in Flint, Mich. (Photo by Edwin D. Custer)

Absenteeism improves five percent, five benchmarks reached

Chronic absenteeism among the district’s student population declined by five percent, from 80 percent in the 2021-2022 school year to 75 percent in the 2023-2024 school year, according to Kelly Fields, FCS Director of Academics. 

At the June 18 meeting of the FBOE, Fields described chronic absenteeism as when a student is absent 10 percent or more of the days they are enrolled in school.  

Fields also cited five 18-month benchmarks that were achieved by the district intended “to develop and increase operational efficiency [and] to improve the academic and social-emotional learning of FCS scholars.” 

The benchmarks reached by FCS included:  “governance,” “improve scholar attendance,” “install a technology-based platform for human resources,” “professional learning for district and building leaders,” and “a plan to provide certified teachers in all K-12 classrooms.”

* * * * *

FBOE meetings in July and August are to be determined, but meetings scheduled in fall 2024 are: Sept. 11 and 18; Oct. 9 and 16; Nov. 13 and 20; Dec. 18. Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Accelerated Learning Academy located at the northeast corner of Averill Avenue and Lapeer Road.  Locations and times are subject to change, check the FCS website for changes. 

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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