Melanie’s Minutes: Summary of Aug. 26, 2019 Board of Education Meeting

Monday’s Board of Education meeting, the final meeting of the summer before the school year begins in earnest next Tuesday, began as any routine business meeting.  Only a handful of guests were present and most agenda items were checked off by 8:00 p.m.  An hour-long discussion regarding board norms and social media guidelines preceded the final item on the agenda listed as, “Other.”  This last agenda item is where the long and, until then, typical meeting took a turn.

The meeting kicked off with a draft presentation entitled “Profile of a Learner” by Mollie Sharrar, Executive Director of Instruction and Strategic Initiatives.  Since October 2018, Sharrar and a small group high school staff have been working to create a longer view of a Dexter Community School student by determining key competencies important for students to master before graduation.  Feedback from current and former students, community members, parents and staff have been narrowed down to 6 key competencies, listed in order of importance:

  1. Financial Literacy
  2. Communication Skills
  3. Time Management Skills
  4. Critical Thinking Skills
  5. Exposure to Internships
  6. Diversity Training

Sharrar detailed initiatives already in place at DCS which support students in developing these competencies, such as the IB Learner Profile, Summit Learning/Cognitive Skills/Habits of Success and the K-6 Reading/Writing Workshop model.  Her team has developed, “Three L’s: Learning, Literacy, Life,” which correspond with the current mission of DCS – “Develop, Educate, Inspire.”  These “Three L’s” incorporate a broader range of feedback from the key stakeholders mentioned above, grouped into these three categories.

The purpose of gathering this data and preparing a detailed profile of a DCS learner is to guide administration with curriculum and instruction planning.  This information will be vital in the District’s strategic planning as well, merging with stakeholder feedback still being gathered by KnowledgeWorks.

Following Sharrar’s presentation, Superintendent Chris Timmis updated the board on the final preparations for the start of school on Tuesday, September 3rd.  High school students will not overheat when they return to school, as a replacement rental chiller is now cooling the building following the failure of the current chiller.  The District is looking at bids for a new chiller to be installed next April. Creekside experienced a problem with their chiller at almost the same time, which was fortunately repaired, although it will also soon need replacing.

New staff orientation was held Monday morning; there will be a total of 12 new hires for the District once the hiring process is completed in the next few days.  And the District word for the week is “furniture” – Buildings and Grounds staff are working hard to distribute and rearrange furniture in almost every building, including the new Louis Ceriani Alternative Education building, which was cleared to open this past Saturday.

With no student representatives present and no community comments, business turned to approving new hire, Freida Steiner, for Special Education at Mill Creek, and accepting the resignation of Carley Wooster from Creekside.

President Michael Wendorf presented a letter for board approval addressed to Judge David S. Swartz regarding former DCS IT Director Brian Tungl’s probation and restitution to the District.  In his letter, Wendorf states, “To date, Mr. Tungl has paid just $6,261 of restitution. Initially he paid only $50 per month. After multiple review hearings, this was increased to $150 per month. Mr. Tungl has repeatedly resisted any and all attempts to make any meaningful effort at restitution.”

The Tungl case is scheduled appear in front of Judge Swartz in September.  Wendorf ends his letter saying, “I urge you to extend the Probation of Mr. Tungl and require him to make more meaningful restitution on September 16, 2019.”

The board unanimously agreed to sign and send the letter.  Wendorf ended the discussion saying, “every person in the community has a right to send a letter to Judge Swartz – judges do actually read these letters.”

The Community Chat scheduled for October 14, 2019 will be rescheduled for that same morning at 8:30 a.m. at the Dexter Wellness Center due to other board commitments that day.

Discussion then moved to the proposed change of venue for Dexter’s graduation from the High School gymnasium to Hill Auditorium at U-M.  The board has deliberated the past several weeks on this topic; the sticking point for the 2020 graduation being the unavailability of Hill on Dexter’s usual Sunday date and the necessity of moving it to Friday night instead.  This proposed date change of Sunday to Friday night would be a conflict for many student athletes in track and field, baseball and tennis, to name a few, as many sports’ district and regional finals are scheduled that weekend.

Board members expressed concern with making student athletes choose between sports and graduation and after some discussion, it was ultimately decided to keep graduation at DHS for 2020 on the original Sunday date and move to U-M in 2021.  The board unanimously approved this decision, but with reluctance, knowing many 2020 graduating senior families would be disappointed.  Board member Ron Darr said, “it’s a great move to make, but not an easy decision for this year.”  Formal approval was given for the District to move forward with scheduling Hill Auditorium for the 2021 graduation exercises.

Next opened two additional discussion items added at the beginning of the meeting – board norms and social media guidelines.  Board members attended a workshop on August 20th facilitated by MASB consultant, Mary Kerwin, on the topics of meeting procedures, social media expectations and board member responsibilities.  Conversation at Monday night’s meeting focused on intra-board email processes and appropriate communication between board members (email, text, etc.) outside of open meeting in order to not violate the Open Meetings Act.

Board member Daryl Kipke shared that the workshop helped to clarify some of the aspects and risks of not adhering to board norms and social media guidelines.  Specific to social media, there was a lengthy exchange of opinions regarding the appropriateness of board members posting on social media.  Some board members stated they are not on social media at all, while others post frequently.  Mara Greatorex shared that at a board training after her election, participants were informed by the MASB facilitator that posting on social media isn’t a good idea and that they should probably just avoid doing so.  Barbara Read said she posts on social media in order to make the community aware of board topics currently under discussion and to gauge public opinion, and as such, does not support certain line items in the guidelines.

Julie Schumaker reminded the board that they were all present at the workshop and the guidelines were jointly developed by all board members.  Michael Wendorf commented that posts on social media can have a negative effect on the board’s ability to govern as a single entity, as well as potential legal liability, and stated that he has had staff, administration and community members express concern of using social media to discuss board issues.  Read countered that she has had people tell her they are grateful for her posts in order to learn board information.  As the topic was only for discussion at this meeting, no action was taken.

Dr. Timmis then updated the board on bond construction, saying signage is scheduled to be delivered and installed this week all over the District.  The Mill Creek band and orchestra rooms are scheduled to be ready for school next Tuesday, as well as the Wylie office.  The choir/flex space at Mill Creek is slated for completion in late September.  The band tower is to be installed later this week, and work is underway on the high school and middle school locker rooms.  The Ceriani building was approved to open, and once the program is fully moved in and signage complete, a ribbon cutting ceremony will be scheduled.

Final agenda item: “Other”

After a brief recess, the board reconvened to address the final agenda item listed as, “Other.”  The next hour consisted of comments by each board member directed to Barbara Reed.  Beginning with President Wendorf, each board member in turn elaborated on how Read’s conduct on social media, via email and in board meetings has undermined the group’s effectiveness, negatively impacting the board’s ability to work together as a single governing body.  He also shared that Read’s actions have negatively impacted the superintendent, staff and the district’s ability to do their job serving our students.

Long-time board member Dick Lundy read a three-page document, in his own words, which described in detail the effects of Reed’s conduct on the District.  Lundy stated Read’s actions have caused the district to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in response to her conduct on social media, as well as having a demoralizing effect on the board, staff and the District. Lundy’s final words asked Read to seriously consider her effectiveness on the board and whether she wished to continue in that role.

Read rebutted saying Lundy’s words mischaracterized her actions and intent; she stated she takes her board member position very seriously and her first priority is serving the community and putting students first. Wendorf took exception to her words, stating that it was an insult to other board members to imply that they do not do the same. It’s this undermining language Read uses, he continued, which suggests a lack of integrity and transparency on the board, to which he and other board members take exception.

Wendorf concluded his remarks saying in light of her actions, Read would not be placed on any board committees.  As the meeting’s final action, board committee assignments were made for the upcoming year.

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