Grosse Pointe needs a more Positive Path Forward. The last few months have confirmed what many of us residing in the Grosse Pointe Public School System have known for quite a while – there is widespread distrust throughout our community in both the elected and appointed leaders of our schools.
There is a simple solution to this problem. The board, and the district, needs to start enforcing its own policies and rules, and there is one overwhelmingly clear place to start.
The bylaws of the board state the following:
The Board President or designee functions as the official spokesperson for the Board.
From time-to-time, however, individual Board members make public statements onschool matters:
A. to local media;
B. to local officials and/or State officials.
Sometimes the statements imply, or the readers (listeners) infer, that the opinions expressed or statements made are the official positions of the Board. The misunderstandings that can result from these incidents can embarrass both the member and the Board. Therefore, Board members should, when writing or speaking on school matters to the media, legislators, and other officials, make it clear that their views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board or of their colleagues on the Board.
At the February 10, 2014 school board meeting, a member informed the community that she had written a letter to the Detroit News on behalf of the board in opposition to a bond proposal that had recently been approved by a near unanimous vote. That letter became the basis for the newspaper’s editorial opposing the bond, quoted this individual member, and included what she herself admitted was incorrect information.
Additionally, this same board member attended the January 22, 2014 meeting of the Harper Woods City Council and introduced herself as the board member who voted against the bond, and went on to urge people to vote against the measure.
These actions seem to be clear violations of the above bylaw of the board, as an individual member is expressly prohibited from misrepresenting him or herself as a spokesperson for the board. The bylaws are clear, only the president of the board speaks for the board. In these two instances, it appears as though one board member was able to usurp the power of the president and misrepresent the will of the board to the community.
Late last summer, the board voted 5-2 to conduct an RFQ for various technology upgrades it was looking to propose. It would have been highly inappropriate for the two members who voted against that to go to the media and speak against it on behalf of the board. It would have been equally inappropriate for them to attend a city council meeting in their municipality and denounce that decision. When board members do this, it reinforces the perception many have of our board as a dysfunctional body that doesn’t effectively represent the community.
Healthy skepticism of our elected leaders is essential to keep them honest and truthful, and indeed, Grosse Pointers have always been good at holding their leaders accountable. The current level of distrust in our school board, however, has reached a troubling height that is not indicative of what is best in our community. When the people see the officials they elect continuously violating policy without any repercussions, that is what causes the type of cynicism that currently exists.
It is not until our board members are held to a high ethical standard that the negativity that has pervaded nearly every major board decision for the last five or six years will begin to subside and we can reclaim the true spirit of Grosse Pointe as a community that works together for the greater good. For far too long, this district has aimlessly lurched from one controversy to another, and the specific problem that causes each issue is rarely ever solved. In the last year alone, we have seen arguments about student groups, high school enrollment, building administrators, and many others. In each instance, no solution to those problems has been reached. There are people in our community still upset about each of these issues.
If board members were kept in line more effectively, and if they were held responsible for following proper policies and procedures, it would be much easier for them to solve problems for our community. As it is now, certain members seem more effective and creating them. This is the source of the cynical belief that too many in our community have that our board is not working for them, but rather against them. This was an all too common refrain over the last few months, and it is something the leadership of our board must address quickly if we are to move forward down a positive path as a school district and a community.