Recall petition against 2 school board members passes

Petition against third board member denied

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published July 23, 2019

WAYNE COUNTY — Two members of the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education have a few more days to appeal recall efforts against them.

If not, an election will be held this November to recall GPPSS Treasurer Judy Gafa and Secretary Kathleen Abke. A recall election is a process in which voters can remove an elected official from office prior to the end of his or her term by a special election.

On June 28, Genevieve Tusa — an attorney based in Grosse Pointe Farms — filed three separate recall petitions, one against Gafa, one against Abke, and one against trustee Christopher Profeta, four days after the school board voted on a controversial reconfiguration process. The petitions were filed with the Wayne County Clerk’s Office.

According to the recall petition language, Tusa filed the recall because “on June 24, 2019,” Abke and Gafa “voted in favor of closing two elementary schools in the Grosse Pointe Public School System School District.”

The recall petition language against Profeta was stated as “On June 24, 2019, Christopher Profeta voted in favor of reconfiguring middle and elementary schools in the Grosse Pointe Public School System School District.”

On July 18 at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the Wayne County Election Commission determined the recall language against Abke and Gafa is “of sufficient clarity to enable the officers whose recall is being sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct which is the basis for the recall (pursuant to Michigan Education Law).”

Gafa and Abke or a sponsor for each, however, have 10 days to appeal the commission’s decision. At the same meeting, the commission decided the recall language against Profeta has “not sufficient clarity to enable the officers whose recall is being sought and the electors to identify the course of conduct which is the basis for the recall (pursuant to Michigan Education Law.)”

On July 18, the Wayne County Election Commission distributed a determination letter to Tusa in care of Scott Hughes, Dykema Gossett PLLC, in Lansing, to inform her of the commission’s decision. Attempts to reach Tusa by telephone and emails were unsuccessful.

Despite the recall efforts, Gafa said she will not let it “distract me from the work I was elected to do.”

“Once again I am deeply appreciative to those who showed up at the hearing to oppose this recall, and to all those who continue to support me,” Gafa said in an email. “I am committed to keeping my focus on the students and district, like I always have.”

Abke also responded to the decision via email.

“I am disappointed with the outcome of the second language clarity hearing, but my focus remains on keeping kids first. Continued divisiveness is not helpful for the community or for kids,” Abke said. “I will continue to do (the) job I was elected to do, and Grosse Pointe Public School System will continue to be an outstanding district.”

At the June 24 GPPSS Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 5-2 to approve a resolution to close Trombly Elementary School and also Poupard Elementary School at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The students will be relocated to other schools within the district.

Closing Trombly, located in Grosse Pointe Park, and Poupard, located in Harper Woods, will save the district approximately $1.1 million. Board members Brian Summerfield, Margaret Weertz, Gafa, Abke and Christopher Lee voted in favor of the school closings. Cindy Pangborn and Profeta voted against it.

Also at the June 24 meeting, the school board voted 6-1 on a resolution to adopt a K-4, five-eight grade configuration effective with the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. The elementary schools will now include grades K-4 and the middle schools will include grades five-eight. Pangborn voted against the measure.

The school closings were part of a district reconfiguration plan as school officials deal with declining enrollment, which caused some schools not to be at their full capacity, costing the district money. School districts also receive less per-pupil funding from the state when enrollment decreases, which has impacted the district negatively.

According to information sent by Lisa Williams-Jackson, director of communications for the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, a recall election must be held at least 95 days after the recall petition filing and held on the next regular May or November election date, whichever occurs first. In the Grosse Pointe recall attempt, the only option would be the general election in November 2019, Williams-Jackson said in an email.

Recall petition language is not allowed during a first or last six months of a person’s term. Gafa was elected to the board in November 2008, and her term expires Dec. 31, 2020. Abke was appointed to the Board in July of 2016 after another school board member stepped down. Her term ends Dec. 31, 2020. Profeta was elected to the board in November 2016, and his term expires Dec. 31, 2020.

The officer whose recall is sought is automatically listed as a candidate in the recall election unless that person withdraws within 10 days of the filing of the recall petition. Since the GPPSS Board of Education is nonpartisan, non-incumbent candidates interested in the position can file a nominating petition containing at least 10% of the required number of signatures for the electoral district or a $100 filing fee.

Until the certification of the election results, the elected official whose recall is being sought will continue to perform his or her duties. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes in the recall election is elected for the remainder of the term.