Jul 1, 2009

Firing of HPS Superintendent just more controversy surrounding school district

HOWELL – The big news in Howell last week was the firing of Howell Public Schools Superintendent Theodore Gardella after just a year on the job by the school board at a rare Friday afternoon special meeting.

The surprise vote was 4-2 at a meeting called to address extremist rightwing trustee Wendy Day’s baseless allegations on her blog, but hassles with Gardella over the past year led the board to let him go. As a former reporter, anytime a Friday meeting is called my suspicions are raised, but with all the controversy surrounding the board since early June when Vicki Fyke, the co-founder with Day of the defunct anti-gay hate group known as the LOVE PAC - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education), circulated an e-mail saying Gardella would be fired there was no way the meeting would be a secret.

Apparently, Day was feeding info to Fyke gleaned from closed executive sessions called to discuss Gardella’s evaluation at his request, and it must have been clear the writing was on the wall. I have not heard one good word about Gardella from anyone but Day, and that makes him suspect in my book.

There has been lots of controversy surrounding Howell Schools in the last three years, but all of it can be traced back to Day’s arrival and that of the so-called “LOVE” group.

“LOVE” raised its ugly head back in the spring of 2006 in response to a diversity flag they mistakenly claim is a gay pride flag that they claim promotes and endorses homosexuality. Day was then elected to the board shortly after that, and she and LOVE immediately tried to impose their extremist agenda on the district.

In January 2007 Day tried to get a Bible course in the high school, and it would have been supplied by North Carolina-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools - an affiliate of The American Family Association, the most well-known anti-gay hate group in America.

In the fall on 2006, Day, Fyke and her group began a book banning crusade that ended with an embarrassing FBI investigation and national embarrassment. The group then launched a successful smear campaign to oust long-time Superintendent Chuck Breiner, who spent 13 years here, nine as superintendent; he left in March 2008 with a very generous severance package.

Day is admittedly anti-public school, and she has made her dislike for teachers and unions very clear. She also makes some pretty outrageous claims on her blog, claiming, an “underground group of Howell business owners and political officials has been working to control this district all along. They have a vested interest in making sure there is a good contract for the Chamber regarding the Balloonfest and Homeshow.”

Although the chambers of commerce are traditionally extremely pro-Republican, I have to defend them. The Home Show is held at the high school in the spring, and it features local businesses that pay school taxes.

The Balloonfest, also put on by the chamber this past weekend, is held on the grounds of the high school, middle school and 9th grade campus. It normally draws a 100,000 people from all over the state to Howell, and it leaves a good impression and they spend money in local businesses.

So, we have book banning giving us a bad name, and the Balloonfeat giving Howell a positive reputation. Which one do you choose?

Now, apparently, there is a move to recall three of the four board members who voted to fire Day's superintendent. Why three and not all four is a little unclear, but it may have something to do with how the replacements are chosen.

Paperwork was filed with the county clerk to start the recall attempt of board President Edwin Literski, Vice President Jeannine Pratt and Trustee Debi Drick, but not Trustee Ann Routt, who also voted to fire Gardella.

I am not a fan of recalls, and they have been routinely abused to circumvent the normal election process; as is this misguided recall abuse. A recall against people for making a vote you disagree with is simply wrong. They should be reserved for the elected official doing something wrong, illegal or immoral; not for a vote you disagree with. That is what elections are for.

The solution is to not sign a petition if the recall language is approved, and to vote against Day’s opponent – not recall her – next year when her term is up. The board will run smoother, and we will have a board member who supports the district and wants to make it better. Day can go back to organizing her fake “tea parties.”


carraig said...

Guru -

The truth is that this firing was an egregious breach of trust for the kids.

- The academic situation in Howell, after at least 5 years of progressive decline, stabilized
- All of the people who report to the principal were being praised for doing good work even the High School Principal, despite the flack he took for pushing academic achievement in a terrible atmosphere.
- The cost of this firing will be about $250K up front ($200K in termination costs & $50K in new search costs) and probably $3-4 million annually in giveaways to the teacher union who were a prime mover in this. Jeannine Pratt is an MEA supporter who used her position in LESA to get her boss to provide information to support the firing, most of which turned out to be garbage, Routt is a supporter of MEA - 'do you want more teachers', Ed Literski's wife works for district and he has been accused of getting involved with a principal who reprimanded his wife for double dipping (working and claiming comp time)and he also is accused of ensuring through his position that her position was not impacted by the cuts, and Debi Drick will be patted on the head as she votes for the block, counting time to next year when she can run for city of Howell.

So this kind of egregious behavior is what recalls are for.

Not for philosophical issues - like running a blog or not being politically correct - but for making actual harmful decisions to the district for motives that are not in the interests of the district.

I was there last week, and I have to tell you, it was an awful abuse of power, and probably an illegal breach by the Fab 4 of the Open Meetings Act (requiring a quorum to meet in public) before voting on something.

Communications guru said...

If this were really about the kids then Chuck Breiner would still be here.

“The academic situation in Howell, after at least 5 years of progressive decline?” Based on what? AYP? Even if that was the case, there’s no way Gardella can get credit for it after being here just six months before the test was taken.

The figures you are quoting are the first I have seen, and they are not what the paper is reporting. Regardless, they are not close to what it cost to get rid of Chuck Breiner. I didn’t see you calling for a recall of Day when that happened. I don’t know what to make of your anti-union rant; other than that it’s just your opinion based on nothing. Ed Literski's wife has nothing to do with this.

What does Debi Drick running for city council have to do with anything?

No, recalls are not for recalling someone for making a vote you disagree with; that’s what elections are for. It makes even less sense when one person who made the same vote is left off the recall list.

First, no one is calling for Day to be recalled, and there is no way you can call what she does as just “not being politically correct.” Since she and “LOVE” popped up, the district has been surrounded by embarrassing controversy. There is no way you can deny that.

Making a motion and then voting for it is not an “abuse of power.” Nor is there a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Elected officials are allowed to talk about an issue in executive session all they want as long as it meets one of the requirements for closing a meeting, like Gardella’s evaluation allowed them to do. All votes must be made in public; like this one.

bluzie said...

I am thankful that Howell Schools are taking the glare of Hamburg Township!

Communications guru said...

Based on the latest from Hamburg, I’m not sure that is the case. Perhaps sharing it is a better word.

kevins said...

I have refrained from commenting for awhile out of respect for guru's need to mourn the loss of Michael Jackson. Two peas in pod, those two.

But it is time for more corrections of guru's deceptions.

First, a prediction: I will point our clear errors and guru will respond by saying I'm supporting Wendy Day and he will call her a rightwing extremist. Name-calling and guilt by association are guru's strengths, if you can call those strengths.

I'm not backing Wendy here. I'm merely correcting guru's mistakes.

Guru says that all of the Howell school controversies trace back to Wendy. That's so untrue that to say that guru has to be either ignorant or a liar...or both.

The $70 million empty school in Marion Township has nothing to do with Wendy. That was Chuck's baby, supported the the school board members who made their dislike of Wendy known.

That bond was put on the ballot before Wendy was on the board. The construction started before Wendy was on the board. It was Breiner and Terres who said the district didn't have the money to open it as planned. This was likely the biggest controversy during Breiner's reign. How again is this Wendy's doing?

Another huge controversy was when a young child was sexually assaulted by 2 other young children on a Howell school bus. Even though a police investigation went to 2 elementary schools and to at least 2 central office administrators, Breiner was never told about it by his staff. He learned about it several months later from the father of one of the accused boys. This was a huge controversy. Wendy had nothing to do with it.

How many mistakes can you make, guru?

Was she part of the book controversy? Absolutely. And I totally disagree with her position on it. But what must also be noted is that the administration totally mishandled this issue. Policy wasn't followed, explanations were unclear and inconsistent. The result was that a wacko like Fyke kept getting center stage because the administration was so inept that the school board was made to look like idiots.

Finally, you distort again when you say Day was feeding Fyke information from a closed meeting. Prove it. From what I've read, Day was blogging about information that came from a meeting between 2 board members and Gardella...and not from a closed meeting.

However, at Friday's special meeting, Routt clearly and by her own admission shared information from the closed evaluation meeting requested by Gardella. How come she isn't criticized for that?

It's probably a good thing that being wrong all the time doesn't seem to bother you.

Communications guru said...

This is your idea if debate? No wonder you’re an anonymous coward.

Yes, “all of the Howell school controversies trace back to Wendy.”

The district did its due diligence on Parker. No one could have predicted the Bush recession.

As for the sexual assault case, if I remember correctly, it was handed correctly. Regardless, how much national attention and reinforcement of Howell’s image as a closed mined, racist community did those two incidents earn Howell?

How many mistakes can I make? I don’t know, but I haven’t made many, brett.

“The administration totally mishandled” book issue?” Please. I got news for you; a wacko like Fyke and a wacko like Day continue to get “center stage.”

You should read Fyke’s email. Day was feeding Fyke information from a closed meeting.

kevins said...

You were clearly wrong when you said all school controversies could be traced to Wendy Day. The unused Parker school and the uncommunicated sex assault of a 7-year-old on a school bus are clearly controversies and neither could be traced to Day. Rather than admit it, you try to spin your way out of it. And, of course, you only make more errors.

1. Parker School. What "due diligence" did administrators do? Had they done due diligence they wouldn't have built a school they couldn't afford to operated. The national recession had nothing to do with this as it didn't occur until after the building was constructed and sat empty. Michigan, if you remember, was in a one-state recession. The rest of the country was doing relatively well, albeit unaware of what was coming.

Here's the dirty little secret. Howell school enrollment and revenue grew steadily and sometimes substantially from the time the bond was passed until after Parker was built. Revenue is still growing at Howell schools; enrollment grew until the school year just ended. With that revenue growth, Howell should have been able to open Parker as planned. That they didn't means a) they had another agenda or b) that they really didn't do "due diligence." Either way, it was a controversy that had nothing to do with Day.

2. Do you really think the sex assault was handled correctly in the schools? A 7-year-old was forced to commit oral sex with a slightly older boy on a school bus. Police visited 2 elementary school prinicipals and at least one central office administrator about the incident; another CO ad was told of it. Yet the superintendent was NEVER told by his staff. NEVER. He learned about it 4 months later from the parent of one of the accused boys. That, in your world, is handling it correctly?

Caring parents would want to know about such a thing happening on the bus their children ride and school their children attend. Yet the school told no one about it. This is important because the crime was only discovered when the victim began acting out at home after the assault. Does it not seem reasonable that the school would want to know if anyone else had been similarly violated? Should not parents have been notified that they might want to have careful talks with their children? Not in Howell schools. Bury your head. Maybe it will just pass on by.

To this day, the school can't get its story straight. Police say they came to the elementary school because the principal called them to report a suspected sexual assault. But the principal told school attorneys that police just happened to show up at her office.

This was horribly handled. And it was a controversy that filled a school auditorium with angry parents. It had nothing to do with Day. So you were wrong. and you won't admit it...again.

3. What information did Day release from a closed session? You made the accusation. Be a man for a change and back it up with facts. The "resignation" information did not come from a board meeting, closed or otherwise. If you are suggesting that she spread stories about how board members were going to vote on the Gardella firing, then that better not have come from a closed meeting. Such information cannot be discussed at a closed meeting.

No, the only school board member I know who violated the closed meeting discussions was Ann Routt. In a public meeting, she said Gardella lied to her in his closed evaluation meeting. If he lied, that's serious. But, by law, he is allowed to have his evaluation in a closed session. Routt violated that right. You accuse Day of doing something without offering any proof. But you ignore Routt when she publicly admits she shares information from a closed evaluation session. Why is that? Perhaps you believe the stories that Routt is a stooge for the teachers union. If so, you don't care what rules/laws she breaks.

Communications guru said...

I stand by what I wrote. Any incident you don’t agree with could be labeled a controversy, but none of the ones you mentioned earned the community nationwide embarrassment.

1. Yes, due diligence. Like I said, no one had any idea the housing bubble would burst and the Bush recession would set in. Investors who make a living by knowing those trends, so how can a Super of a school district know? We have never been a “one-state” recession, and if you will recall you were denying the country was in a recession for months before giving up the ghost, brett.

I don’t know about this alleged “dirty little secret,” but according to Standard and Poores enrollment at HPS was 8,757 in 2007 and 8,560 in 2008. That’s a loss of almost 200 students that accounts for more than a million dollars. The first year the school was used was in September 2007. Plus, sales tax fell collection fell off, foreclosures were at record highs and property values fell. Either way, it wasn’t a controversy that embarrassed the community nationwide.

2. Yes. Either way, it wasn’t a controversy that embarrassed the community nationwide.

3. “Be a man for a change?” Are you joking? This from a coward who makes anonymous smears? The information was passed to Fyke that they board was unhappy with Gardella. You obviously don’t understand the Open Meetings Act. As long as the reason for closing a meeting is legal, and no one has disputed that, they can talk about anything they want. They just have to make all votes in public.

armywife1 said...

For all the terrible, ugly and untrue things you have written about me, I give you this:

God loves you and I know there is some good in you. I pray that God would bless you and call you to Him and then keep you all days of your life. I will be praying for you often.

Have a great day Kevin!

Communications guru said...

Thank you, but I have never written any “terrible, ugly and untrue things” about you.

kevins said...

So are you truly saying it's not a controversy when a 7-year-old is forced to have oral sex on a school bus?

Are you truly saying it's not a controversy when such an outrage is not reported to the superintendent?

Are you truly saying it's not a controversy when parents -- even those who children ride the same bus -- aren't told about the sexual assault...even though the only reason the assault was discovered was because the victim started acting out at home?

Are you truly saying it's not a controversy when the district spends $70 million for a school and then can't use it?

You re-state my facts and then think you've won the argument. I already stated that enrollment dropped in the 2008 school year. But it increased every year from 2003 until then. And it was still increasing when Breiner announced the district wouldn't be able to run the high school that was under construction.

You also haven't responded to the fact that you failed to point out a single item that Wendy revealed from a closed meeting. However, Ann Routt clearly revealed information from a closed meeting.

Meanwhile, you are totally wrong about the Open Meetings Act. You can't discuss anything you want. In fact, even your Democratic attorneys generals have issued opinions that make it clear that you can only discuss the topic that very narrowly fits into the motion that the board had to pass in order to go into a closed session in the first place.

In the school board case, the board's lattitude is even more narrowly defined. By law, the board is not allowed to decide if it wants to go into a closed session for a personnel evaluation.
Rather, the individual..in this case Gardella...can request the evaluation be in closed session. Once that request is made, the board has no choice. It is required to go into closed session. At that point, the discussion can only be his evaluation. And since the evaluation by law is private, board members who discuss it in public are at the very least crossing ethical lines, and could be doing more.

But you criticize Day, without naming a single item she revealed from a closed meeting..and you ignore Routt who clearly revealed information from a closed session.

Third time I've brought it up...and you ignore it. I assume it's because you want to bash Day, whether it's fair or not, and you think Routt is union friendly so she is beyond criticism.

Communications guru said...