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Flint, MI—Candidates for the Flint School Board had the chance to make a public appearance and answer questions about their plans as potential board members, but of the 12 people running, only three showed.
Community activist Rich Jones organized the event, held at Joy Tabernacle Church, and said that all candidates had confirmed they were attending.
Jones said some candidates contacted him saying they had last-minute scheduling issues. Others told him they would come but never did, he said.
“This is an important board. People need to know who’s running for the school board,” he said.
Three seats are open for election, which will be held Nov. 31. The terms of board members Casey Lester, Blake Strozier and Betty Ramsdell expire this year. They are not seeking reelection.
The candidates who did attend the forum were Flint’s manager of public health Billie Mitchell, University of Michigan-Flint lecturer Laura MacIntyre, and real estate entrepreneur Roemon Murphy.
Candidates selected will serve a six-year term ending on Dec. 31, 2026.
Jones moderated the forum and gave candidates 45 seconds to answer questions. They spoke to a small crowd of concerned parents and citizens under a pavilion outside the church.
MacIntyre, who describes herself on Facebook as a “union thug, person of interest, demon & queer mom of 3 living in Flint,” said she decided to run because it is time to do something about school funding.
“We need a forensic audit of what has been happening in the school system because we’ve had a revolving door of superintendents that have been imposed on us. I have no idea what’s happening with the budget and we need a public reckoning to find out what’s been going on. It’s not necessarily been illegal, but it’s been systemic disenfranchisement and disinvestment in our school system.”
Supporting Flint families is how Mitchell said she plans to elevate Flint Schools. “When you build up the family structure, when you give the family what they need, the resources they need to be successful…when you meet those people where they are, then you can better bring children back to the Flint Schools.”
Mitchell’s experience in public health and working directly with the Genesee County Intermediate School District sets her apart from other candidates, she said.
“Being someone who has been with the ISD…I can tell you firsthand that they are holding on to a lot of money. They are taking money from the Flint Schools,” said Mitchell. “My mentor, who was an executive director of Educare, left because they blocked her with all the different avenues she was trying to take for [Flint] families.”
If elected, Murphy said he would focus on special education funding while being a relatable role model for Flint students. “We need to bring attention to that, especially with still going through this water crisis.”
When asked by Perkins-Milton what made him qualified to run for school board, Murphy replied, “I will say I’m a Flint native. I’m young, enthusiastic. I have [feet] on the ground. I know a lot of people around here both on the street…and high places.”
Many questions from the public addressed the recent closing of Flint Junior High, formerly Northwestern.
The board voted to close Northwestern to students in July after learning it required $4 million in repairs. On Sept. 16, they passed a project proposal to keep the building operating due to budget constraints and to instead install central air conditioning in eight buildings.
FCS secured funding through a $14 million bond, with an additional $1 million contribution from the district’s sinking fund, Superintendent Anita Steward said.
“Can FCS reopen Northwestern in the near future and if not, why? And if it can be reopened, what’s the plan?” Jones asked.
“We need to look at the assets that we do have,” Murphy said. “But we have to look at the conditions of it, the pros and cons. What would actually benefit the city?”
Mitchell said that she thought there was no plan at present but that she would work to build one.
MacIntyre rebutted Mitchell’s position. “Oh, there’s a plan all right. Make no mistake about it. We’re just not included in that plan. That plan includes the Mott Foundation [who] has had their sticky, troublesome fingers in our educational system since day one, since 1926.”
Vice President of the Flint School Board, Diana Wright, who attended the event as a spectator, said MacIntyre’s statements about Mott were inaccurate.
“When we didn’t have funds, they have provided grants for certain things that have allowed us to make improvements in learning environments so that our kids are in appropriate situations in schools, so I take great offense to that.”
Wright said she believes it is important for future board members to understand how the Flint School Board receives money. “We have a thorough audit every year. How do you think we know we’re in a deficit? Most of the decisions that are made, are made because we don’t have the money.”
Board members are paid $30 for each meeting, Wright said, “For me, this is about serving my community. So, I’m not hiding anything. This is not a money-making venture.”
Despite the lack of participation by other candidates, Jones said he appreciated everyone who came out to speak. “I plan on doing more events like this, but this one right here kind of broke me. But that’s okay because people need to be informed.”
Also running for school board are Jaron Houston, Michael D. Doan, Timothy Abdul-Matin, Mario DeSean Booker, Leondrew Wesley, Joyce Ellis-McNeal, Antonio V. Forte II, Ariana Hawk, and Anita M. Moore.
The live recording can be viewed here.