Farmington Public Schools’ superintendent, Robert Herrera, and Board of Education President Pamela Green welcome residents to the meet-and-greet for Herrera when he was hired at the Maxfield Education Center June 5, 2019.

Farmington Public Schools’ superintendent, Robert Herrera, and Board of Education President Pamela Green welcome residents to the meet-and-greet for Herrera when he was hired at the Maxfield Education Center June 5, 2019.

File photo by Jonathan Shead

FPS superintendent, 2 board members resign

Board of Education approves censure of board member

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 18, 2020

FARMINGTON/HILLS — Talks of division, accountability and adult behavior shared the spotlight at the special Board of Education meeting Nov. 16, where not only did board trustees approve the resignation of Superintendent Robert Herrera, but trustees approved the censure of Trustee Angie Smith, while Board President Pam Green and Board Vice President Terry Johnson also resigned.

The board unanimously approved Herrera’s resignation. A 5-1 vote was cast in support of censuring Smith, with Board member Terri Weems casting the dissenting vote. Smith was present at the meeting, but due to a family emergency, she had her microphone muted and video turned off.


Board approves superintendent resignation
President Green began the open session portion of the meeting by explaining “some extraordinary developments that have occurred since our last board meeting.”

She detailed allegations Herrera had brought to her alleging harassment from Smith for making public comments in board meetings, other public meetings and on social media — which have not been substantiated — that Herrera had a practice and/or policy of treating Black employees within the district less favorably than white employees, as well as accusations that he acted in a manner that disfavored Black employees and students.

While the district’s legal counsel investigated the complaint against Smith, Herrera indicated his desire to resign.

Details of the complaint submitted by Herrera and allegations made by Smith were not discussed publicly during the open session at the Nov. 16 special meeting.

Board Trustee Richard Mukamal acknowledged during the meeting through a resolution to censure Smith that the accusations were not authorized or endorsed by the Board of Education, nor did they reflect the view of the board as a whole. The resolution also stated Smith’s statements and posts directly led to Herrera’s decision to resign.

“While this is not how or the time that I wanted to leave the district, I felt it was necessary to do what was in the best interest of our entire school community,” Herrera said in a statement. “Farmington Public Schools will continue to serve the students and families well in our community. The district has a strong leadership team that will continue to move the district forward.”

Herrera did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Herrera will continue to serve as the district superintendent until the end of the first semester, Jan. 22, 2021, at which time he will be placed on work leave and act as a consultant to the district until the end of the school year, June 30, 2021. He will receive a severance payment of $105,000 upon his termination from the district, and any legal claims, including claims against Smith, will not continue to be pursued in line with the stipulations of his resignation agreement.

Board members present at the meeting expressed their sadness toward the situation and deep appreciation for the work Herrera has done in his time with the district. Board members unanimously approved Herrera’s hiring June 4, 2019.

“His skill set was like nothing we’ve ever seen in this district. This is painful,” Green said.


Board approves censure
“I think the board needs to take some action,” Johnson began by saying Nov. 16 in a discussion that would ultimately lead to the censure of Smith. “I think this is not just a statement, it appears to be a pattern here, and I think this board needs to take some action to send a message not only to a community, but any other board member who engages in any other egregious type behavior. It should not be tolerated.”

The resolution for Smith’s censure stated that the nature of her comments and posts against Herrera have caused disruption to the district, as well as to Board of Education meetings and operations; they impaired the reputation of the district and tainted Herrera’s reputation; they eroded community trust; and they unnecessarily and unfairly interfered with Herrera’s ability to perform his duties and provide leadership to the district.

The resolution further stated Smith ignored her responsibility as a board member to reflect on the consequences her statements could have on the district.

Immediately in effect upon the board’s approval Nov. 16, as part of the censure, Smith was removed as board secretary, as well as from being a mentor to any new board members; she was removed from any previous appointments to district committees or work groups; and the Oakland County Schools Board Association Board of Directors, which she serves on, would be notified that her views no longer represent the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education.

Smith chimed in momentarily to the meeting to inform her colleagues that she had heard most of the resolution and was OK with the board moving forward with a discussion and vote in light of her absence. She did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Weems, who cast the opposing vote, agreed with the censure, but didn’t approve of the fact that not all board members were provided a copy of the drafted resolution to review prior to the meeting. She said she would have liked the opportunity to weigh in and help draft the resolution.

The board has had previous issues related to unchecked statements made by board members, Weems added. “While they haven’t resulted in a superintendent loss, they have resulted in board members resigning and numerous other issues,” she said. “I find that we’re not entirely being consistent here, but that doesn’t mean what’s right is right, and what’s wrong isn’t wrong.”

Without the legal authority to remove Smith from the board entirely — only the governor has the power to do so — Mukumal said the censure is the only remedy that exists in such a case. According to legislation passed in 2012 in the state, residents can petition to recall an elected school board member under certain circumstances.

Smith was elected to the Board of Education in 2016 to a six-year term. Her term expires in 2022.


Board president, vice president resign
The resignation of Superintendent Herrera wasn’t the only one that came out of the meeting Nov. 16. In the final minutes of the meeting before adjournment, Johnson, followed by Green, both announced their resignations from the board.

Johnson’s resignation went into effect Nov. 21, after press time. Green’s resignation went into effect Nov. 20, after press time.

Johnson said he entered into the position excitedly, ready to embrace the opportunities that were there. He believes the board has changed a great deal since then.

“It’s with great regret that I’m going to step down with 45 days left in this term, because of the adult behavior that has led us to where we are today,” he said.

“There’s too much division in the community. … We need some real change in this district, and we need to hold people accountable. Unfortunately, this board has a bad history over the last few years of holding people accountable for what they do. These false allegations that come about, they just need to stop.”

Green, who has spent the last 35 years serving in education as a teacher, principal and board trustee, resigned, citing rising concerns with her personal health. During her time as a board member, Green said she approached the role with dedication and integrity, often sacrificing time with family or to take care of herself.

Green cited a number of initiatives she and Herrera had been working on that she believed would better the district, but she said the behavior of two unnamed board members got in the way of accomplishing many of those goals.

“The behaviors of two board members have interfered with coming together as a united board. Their behavior has been destructive, instead of constructive, and has created a climate of toxicity,” she said.

“These constant negative behaviors have taken a toll on my health, and I regretfully find that my health requires that I too must resign. My body will not allow me to continue to tackle these issues. It’s not a decision I made lightly,” she added. “I am hopeful the new board members will come together and put kids first.”


Moving forward from here
With no choice but to look ahead, the remaining board members clung to the optimism that the personnel is in place to take these resignations in stride.

“I have great expectations for this district, and I have no doubt that we’ve got the people here who will ensure this district is successful, and that is what I have every confidence in,” Weems said. “While today is a pretty sad day for Farmington Public Schools, I believe there is a bright future, and I really look forward to those who are going to be joining us very shortly.”

“We need to spend the next few weeks preparing for what we are going to do next. We need to make sure we are on solid ground for our students, staff and everyone here in the community, to make sure that we are doing what is best for them,” Rich added. “We have a lot of work to do.”

According to a district press release, the Board of Education will be deciding in the weeks to come what the next steps will be to fill the vacant Board positions and the process of selecting a new superintendent.

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