Melanie’s Minutes: Dexter Board of Education Summary – Oct. 14, 2019

The Dexter Board of Education had a busy day this past Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m. with a Community Chat, a Finance Committee meeting and the DAA Grievance Hearing against Trustee Barbara Read in the afternoon, culminating with the regularly scheduled board meeting at 7:00 p.m.  While all board members do not attend each of these meetings, it is still a long day of work by those serving our District.

DCS 2018-2019 Financial Audit Presentation

The BOE meeting began with a presentation by Kim Lindsay of Rehmann Robson regarding the 2018-2019 fiscal audit of Dexter Community Schools.  Lindsay offered his thanks and appreciation for the finance office team and shared that this was a very good audit, with no adjustments required by the firm.

The District received an unmodified or clean audit opinion with no findings or matters of internal control to bring before the board.  This means that financial statements are accurate and useful for decision making, which is a “stamp of approval” for the monthly budget reports presented to the BOE.  Due to the amount of federal dollars received by the District, they are required to have an audit of federal grants; this year’s audit was on the IDEA programs (federal special education funding) and there were no findings there either.

After the audit is approved by the Board, it is required that part of the data is reported on the District’s website.  The audit report can be found on the District website here.  All in all, Mr. Lindsay reported that Dexter remains in a strong financial position and maintains a tight system of checks and balances.  The District’s outward reporting is very accurate both to the Board and the public, and is probably more detail-oriented than he sees in other districts.

Superintendent & Student Rep Updates

Dr. Timmis updated the Board on District personnel issues, including the search for an additional school nurse to support a specific group of students, as well as a high school Spanish teacher following the resignation of Kristi Shaffer.  Timmis shared that exchange students from Germany and France will arrive to visit Dexter within the next two weeks.

Student representatives, Chad Robards and Annalisa Shehab, updated the Board about happenings at DHS, including last week’s College Week where students had the opportunity to work with counselors during class time on college plans.  In addition, many of Dexter’s sports teams have had great success recently, with the football team and men’s soccer securing spots in the playoffs.  President Michael Wendorf added that senior Owen Huard just broke a long-standing school cross-country record at the Portage Invitational.

Shehab shared that while the field hockey team lost their game tonight, they are still slated to win the SEC Red Division Championship.  And in non-sports news, the high school IB World Religions class took a field trip to a conservative synagogue in Ann Arbor, with an opportunity for students to see the congregation celebrating a Jewish holiday [Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles].

Public Participation – “Dreadnaughts Unite” proposal

During the first public participation timeslot, Dexter parent, Jodi Kinnard, proposed an “athletes supporting athletes” program similar to one at Eastern Michigan University.  After EMU cut their men’s swim program a few years ago, the athletic department saw a decrease in athlete morale and created a support program called, “Eagles Unite.”  Athletes are given “Eagles Unite” t-shirts, and coaches designate one game per season as an “Eagles Unite” game.  All athletes attend those games wearing their shirts, in support of all teams and athletes at EMU.

Kinnard proposed creating a “Dreadnaughts Unite” program at DCS to support the smaller athletic programs, have a greater audience presence at less-attended games and to promote unity among all Dexter athletes.

Final Discussion on Social Media Guidelines

The proposed BOE social media guidelines, which have been under discussion since the MASB Board Workshop held on August 20th, was the first item addressed during this portion of the meeting.  Secretary Mara Greatorex read a prepared statement in which she expressed her surprise that social media norms aren’t already in place for board members, as social media is hardly new, and her stance on the matter:

“At this table, we represent the people who voted us in. By ignoring the guidelines and posting our opinions we are actually being a disservice to the community and our fellow board members, who are not on social media or choose to follow best practices by not posting their opinions.  Silence on social media should not be seen as indifference, but rather as respect for duty.

From what I have observed, this board is made up of strong, opinionated people who share a passion for our school district – I don’t think we would be here if we didn’t want what is best for the students and staff. As strong, opinionated people we will not always agree on the best process for that, but our time and place to discuss that is at board meetings.

Speaking for myself, I care about recent issues, and I have opinions but I have not posted about them, because I care about integrity and I care about making sure that information that I share is accurate and truthful.

“I don’t believe that these guidelines take away from our rights as citizens. We still have the right like everyone to have opinion. When we chose to run for election, we didn’t choose to give up these rights, but we need to be aware that once elected, we are not just citizens, we are also elected officials and the community sees us as such…The guidelines make us better board members by being mindful of the information and content we are choosing to share.”

Trustee Read, who has long opposed certain wording in the guidelines, reiterated her objections following Greatorex’s statement.  Read stated that while the main headings are well written and good advice, the words underneath are a bit murky.  She doesn’t agree that participating in an online discussion group constitutes speaking as a board member, but rather that she does so as a parent and community member.  “On every point that the norms and guidelines are in the best interest of the community and promote transparency, good decision making and trust, I will follow them.  On the points where suggested protocols put board interest first, I still choose the community.”

President Wendorf responded that he is disconcerted to hear Read’s remarks, particularly after what was articulated by building administrators about her online conduct less than two hours ago at her grievance hearing.  In his words, “I’m saddened, frankly, not just disappointed, but deeply saddened to hear these comments in an effort to circumvent what are clearly best practices, widely acknowledged as such by virtually everyone and anyone except you.”

Trustee Daryl Kipke remarked that Read is presenting a “false choice” when saying board members have to choose between the good of the community and the school board. “We are the community – there’s no one here who’s not…This position you’re taking is either intentionally, or unintentionally, divisive in laying down this false choice.”

Wendorf concluded the comments saying, “I’ve heard you [Read] in various contexts suggest that the Board and the District is somehow less than transparent, and it’s only through your communications, whether they be by email or social media, that the District is truly transparent and that members of the community have an opportunity to understand what’s “really” going on in the District.  It’s false.  It’s not based on anything in fact…This district is a model of transparency.”  With that, he called for a vote on the guidelines, which passed 6-1.

Additional Action Items

Other actions items included adopting proposed fund balance designations and accepting the audit report presented earlier, both of which passed unanimously.  There were also two construction topics to be determined involving Bates renovations, and the chiller/cooling towers at DHS and Creekside.

The BOE approved an amendment of the Series I bond budget to include renovation of Bates in lieu of originally proposed Copeland renovations, which will no longer take place due to the pending sale of Copeland.  This renovation of Bates will also include relocation of the Board office and central administration offices from Copeland to Bates.  The contract for these renovations was awarded to Allied Building Services Co., with management by Granger.

A second amendment to the Series I bond budget was also approved to replace the chiller and cooling towers at DHS, and the cooling towers at Creekside, due to unforeseen failures.  The amount requested (up to $1,000,000) will cover all expenses at both schools, including the rental of the temporary chiller at the high school.  The purchase order for these projects was approved and assigned to Granger for management.

The final action item of the evening was to defer the construction of a flexible learning space at DHS, per a recommendation by the Facilities Committee, as there has not yet been agreement on a suitable design.  This project will be deferred to Series II of the bond, which frees up funds for the chiller/cooling tower projects.

Proposed Course Offerings at DHS

The Board received proposals for seven new courses at the high school for the 2020-2021 school year: AP Physics II, Forensics, IB Environmental Systems & Societies, Multimedia Journalism, AP Computer Science Principles, IB Math Application & Interpretation and IB Global Politics.  Course specifics can be found in the October 14, 2019 Board Meeting Packet.  Executive Director of Instruction, Mollie Sharrar, stated that these proposed courses will be presented to a community parent group on October 24th, and feedback from that meeting will be shared at the November 11th BOE meeting.

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