At the Jan. 7 meeting of the Madison Board of Education, five new members were sworn in: Beth Scott, Gloria Thompson, Debra Ott, Amanda Locklear and Barbara Kastle.

At the Jan. 7 meeting of the Madison Board of Education, five new members were sworn in: Beth Scott, Gloria Thompson, Debra Ott, Amanda Locklear and Barbara Kastle.

Photo by Deb Jacques


New board signals change in Madison Schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 11, 2019

 Mark Kimble was elected president of the new board. Kimble was the trustee who originally brought his concerns to the state about the business policies of the old board.

Mark Kimble was elected president of the new board. Kimble was the trustee who originally brought his concerns to the state about the business policies of the old board.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Board of Education began 2019 transformed by last fall’s election. Five of the seven members are new, and all five newcomers are women. And of those five women, four ran for office on a campaign to clean up what they saw as corruption in the district.

Here’s a look at the first actions taken by the new board.


Focus on transparency
The new board began its term Jan. 7, introducing a raft of changes that started with the setup at the venue where the meetings take place. A temporary PA system was installed in the library at Wilkinson Middle School so that the audience could hear what was said. Future meetings are planned to be held in the cafeteria, which also has a PA system, as well as improved acoustics and visibility.

A motion was approved to hold future meetings on the first Wednesday of every month in order to avoid possible conflicts with City Council meetings.

To improve transparency, the new board voted to videotape and record minutes of all meetings and make them available to the public. This includes study sessions. The old board did not videotape any meetings in recent years, and minutes were often inconsistent or incomplete. These records will be available under the “Board of Education” tab on the district’s website, madisondistrict.org.

And to improve civility at meetings, at least two police officers are now present at each one. Anyone resorting to personal attacks will be warned once, and will then be escorted out the second time. Being escorted out multiple times can result in criminal charges.  


Controls on spending
The new board also voted to restrict the district from issuing checks or signing contracts without board approval, and to create two separate subcommittees of the board that will review all funds moving in and out of the district and all contracts being signed. The subcommittees will have signatory responsibilities on checks and contracts. The superintendent and the business manager will no longer have the authority to issue checks or sign contracts on their own.

“The old administration was doing things backwards,” Mark Kimble, the newly elected board president, said following the meeting. “The bylaws clearly state that all checks are supposed to be cleared by the board before they’re issued. The old administration would issue them and then go to the board for approval. With regards to contracts, the superintendent has repeatedly overstepped his authority by approving contracts without board approval — for example, when he leased out the space at the high school and Edison Elementary to KEYS Grace Academy.”  

The board also voted to suspend all cell service to staff and board members, past and present, within 30 days, pending review on a case-by-case basis, with former phone users being allowed to port the number to a private carrier, should they choose.

In other motions, the board voted to suspend all advertising for the district including TV, radio, print and billboards, pending review, and to retain attorney Paul Rogers — a former superintendent for the district — as general counsel for the board.


Assessing the situation
The board also voted to start searching for an independent forensic auditor to assess the district’s finances, and to retain attorney Tom Rombach, past president of the State Bar of Michigan, to evaluate the district’s sale of the property at the site of the former Monroe Elementary.

The original deal in 2016 was controversial, since then-board president Al Morrison oversaw the sale of 3.54 acres of land for just $60,000 to John David — owner of Emergency Restoration in Troy and a personal friend of Morrison’s — without disclosing a conflict of interest, without any bids and without consulting taxpayers.

As a point of comparison, the city purchased just 1 acre of land at Monroe for more than twice that price — $121,000 — back in 2009, using money from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. City officials had expressed an interest in acquiring the remaining land and turning it into a park, but the old board never told them that it was available for sale.

It was the deal at Monroe that enraged residents and led to Kimble raising questions about board practices, which in turn led to a protest at Monroe in July and the audit report in September.

The state’s audit revealed that the old board didn’t have a single contract or purchase order in place for any of its vendors over the last three years, and that all repairs in the district were being classified as “emergencies” and invoices were being split up so that the old board could sidestep bid requirements and hand all work to Emergency Restoration, with nearly $130,000 more in November and December alone, including backdated or overlooked invoices. The district still didn’t have contracts or purchase orders for Emergency Restoration by the time that the new board took power.

“We want to make it very clear to the public that the state’s audit investigation is still ongoing, and so we’re looking to hire an independent forensic auditor to take a deeper look into the district’s past dealings and the overall financial fitness of the district,” Kimble said. “We’re just getting started.”


What happens next     
The new board members include Amanda Locklear, vice-president; Gloria Thompson, treasurer; Debra Ott, secretary; and trustees Barbara Kastle and Beth Scott. Of those, the first four ran a campaign endorsed by Kimble and former board Trustee Cindy Holder, which was about ending what they saw as corruption in the district.

Moving forward, Kimble has some ideas in mind about options they would like to explore, including ending any and all relationships with Emergency Restoration; suspending the Jim Myers K2C Fund until it’s in full compliance with state and federal requirements; utilizing the services of Oakland Intermediate Schools for business matters; considering a buildings manager to assess all properties to avoid future emergencies; reviewing and updating the bylaws with a code of ethics for board members, including their behavior online; and reviewing past meetings to assess the legitimacy of agreements that were approved in the final days of the old board.  

“I’m disgusted at the level of money that wasn’t making it to the classrooms,” Kimble said. “We have kids who have had to share books and who have had to ask their parents to pay for basic classroom supplies. Any one of the district’s unnecessary building projects could’ve paid for those needs for years. So we want to eliminate any and all unreasonable spending. We want to make sure that the district focuses on giving these kids the best opportunities possible.”   

Locklear said that her own kids have run into the issue with classroom supplies. She said that neither parents nor teachers should have to cover such costs.

“That’s one of the biggest issues I’ve been facing as a parent with three kids in the district now, and another kid soon to be: The supply list has been endless. And it makes me sick,” Locklear said. “The district kept having all these fundraisers, yet we’re still forking out as parents to pay for supplies that shouldn’t be funded out of pocket anyways. This stuff should be provided to all students by the district itself. Those fundraiser monies should be going to supplies for the kids, to their school events and field trips. As taxpayers, we shouldn’t have to pay more to cover those costs — and the teachers shouldn’t have to pay for them, either. Again, this is about the kids.”

Thompson has been going through the district’s check registry. She said that it has been an eye-opening experience.

“Mostly, I’ve been curious when I go through the checkbook why we’re making payments to people who live out of state, and why we’re paying out so much money for things outside the district like horseback riding, archery, gyms, swim clubs, and five or six dance studios,” she said. “We have one gentleman from outside the district who was being paid $2,000 a month for professional development and creative writing. I wonder, is that necessary? And there’s the matter of cellphones. The district was paying an exorbitant amount in cellphone bills, and we’re not sure who possesses these phones.

“We’re not saying anything was done wrong at this point, but we do want better explanations,” Thompson added. “We’re looking for clarification of the check register.”  

Kimble said that there is more to come.

“Make no mistake: We’re here to do the business of the people who elected us,” Kimble said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to make the taxpayer whole again.”

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