New school board clashes at first meeting

Two new board members decline to sign code of cooperation, citing concerns it stifles criticism, could be used against dissenters

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 24, 2023

ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The new Rochester Community Schools Board of Education has had a busy start to 2023.

The Board of Education held its annual organizational meeting Jan. 14 and appointed Michelle Bueltel as board president, Barb Anness as vice president, Kristin Bull as treasurer and Jessica Gupta as secretary. Scott Muska, along with new members Andrew Weaver and Carol Beth Litkouhi, serve as trustees.

During the organizational meeting, Weaver and Litkouhi opted not to sign the Board of Education’s “code of cooperation.”

Weaver said he gave the board advance notice that he would not be signing the code of cooperation as written because he feels it’s “vague, subjective and lack(s) tangible actions.”

“I’m afraid of how this could be used. It could be used against somebody, and it’s completely subjective,” Weaver said.

Even before his first official meeting as a new trustee, Weaver said Superintendent Robert Shaner attempted to intimidate him — referring to a letter the superintendent sent to board officials Dec. 21 that, in part, states, “It is imperative that the Board take immediate action to ensure Mr. Weaver’s compliance with protocol. Otherwise, I will be compelled to seek legal redress in another venue.”

“(It was) basically threatening legal action if I don’t follow protocols. Which, again, to me, is to say, (legal action will be taken) if I don’t act in a way that says I focus more on keeping things quiet and making sure people don’t know that we made mistakes, instead of addressing the mistakes,” Weaver said. “That’s not what I was elected to do.”

Grein confirmed Shaner provided a letter to the Board of Education on Dec. 21, 2022.

“The correspondence reinforced the need for a new board member to comply with board bylaws and the code of cooperation so that the district’s focus can remain on the education of all RCS students,” Grein said in a statement. “The letter did not include any threats.”

The Code of Cooperation, Grein explained, is publicly available on the district website under Board Bylaws, reference 139.5.

“The Bylaws were last adopted on June 9, 2014; although current members of the district do not recall the Code of Cooperation changing within the past decade,” Grein said.

Grein noted that the letter was not related to a student field trip to Detroit in November that ended with lunch at a pizza place with an attached lounge with what seemed to be nightclub poles, which Weaver recently shared information about on his personal Facebook blog, Finding the Right Answer.

Litkouhi said Shaner’s letter regarding Weaver’s conduct was one reason she, too, decided not to sign the code of cooperation, which she said was also explained to her as being “largely ceremonial.”

“I read the letter that Dr. Shaner sent to the board regarding Andrew’s conduct, and Dr. Shaner used that code of cooperation as a weapon against him. I found that really disconcerting, so I didn’t want to sign anything extra that I didn’t have to,” she said. “I just didn’t want to open myself up to any extra liability or anything, given how the superintendent used that against him.”

Following the organizational meeting, the board held a second open meeting for a professional development workshop, facilitated by the Michigan Association of School Boards.

After the workshop was complete, the majority of the board approved a “disclaiming motion,” which Bueltel said was “related to Trustee Andrew Weaver’s conduct since his term began Jan. 1.”

Bueltel, Anness, Bull and Gupta voted in favor of the motion, while trustees Muska, Litkouhi and Weaver voted against the motion.

In a statement explaining the disclaiming motion, Bueltel said the action is “a message to the community that we feel a trust has been broken and reiterates that individual Board members do not speak for the Board as a whole.”

Anness’ statement said “Trustee Weaver shared privileged information, a correspondence from the board’s employee Superintendent Dr. Shaner that had been shared with him in confidence, with the media. This is a violation of our Board Bylaw 0136.”

Another portion of the disclaiming motion reads, “Trustee Andrew Weaver violated our Board norms and trust amongst his board colleagues by sharing confidential information from a Board Trustee to the Board’s employee, Dr. Robert Shaner, with news media and on his social media pages.”

The Board of Education, Grein said, also affirmed in its disclaiming motion that “at no time do the majority of the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education feel threatened by this communication sent from Superintendent, Dr. Shaner.”

Litkouhi said she voted against the disclaiming motion for a number of reasons.

“I don’t think it really accomplishes anything. I think it’s redundant and unnecessary,” she said. “It also accuses Trustee Weaver of sharing confidential information, and, personally, I believe that’s inaccurate.”

Weaver says the disclaiming motion, in his opinion, basically outlines that “four board members are going to stifle free speech” and “are going to expect board members to fall in line and acquiesce to Superintendent Shaner’s legal threat.”

“That doesn’t pass muster for me. That’s not what I was elected to do,” he said.

Weaver argued that he “fully understands his role as a board trustee” and said he has not shared any confidential information.

“My role on the team is that I help build trust and reestablish trust between the community and the district, and that means we are going to have some conversations that are uncomfortable, but we are going to address the problems that we have,” he said.

For more information about Rochester Community Schools, visit www.rochester.k12.mi.us or call (248) 726-3000.