Flint, MI—President and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Ridgway White pleaded with board members at the June 28 school board meeting to accept financial support from the foundation.
Specifically, he asked board members to consider a $340 million memorandum of understanding that would fund new buildings and other efforts to help the struggling district.
“I’m here today because I want to help Flint kids succeed. My goal at the Mott Foundation, and all of our goals at the Mott Foundation, is to ensure that every child in Flint has an equal opportunity for success,” White said. “Today, I’m asking you to let the Mott Foundation help. I’m asking you to come to us with requests for dollars because that’s what we do.”
The MOU—a nonbinding agreement between entities—titled the Flint Education Continuum, calls for the cooperation of the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, the Mott Foundation, and several other organizations to revitalize Flint Schools.
The document lays out a multi-tiered plan that would involve building five new school buildings, fighting blight in surrounding neighborhoods, and partnering with local organizations to work with Flint students.
News of the MOU, which publicized April 21 hours before a board meeting, came as a surprise to some board members, who said they didn’t know of its existence.
“I am speaking as an individual board member, not as the board, but I’m dismayed with the fact that this is the eighth iteration of an MOU that I’ve only just now seen starting last week,” Treasurer Laura MacIntyre said at the April 21 board meeting.
White said the MOU has been in the works since 2018, when Bilal Tawwab served as Superintendent. It has undergone nine drafts since, and the Mott Foundation has worked with past and present administrations to develop it, he said.
Superintendent Anita Steward and Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones “redlined” the current version of the plan, White said.
The board’s lack of knowledge about the MOU, compounded with mounting frustrations concerning the administration’s transparency, came to a head when the board issued a verbal warning to Steward for running a “hostile” district on June 16. The board also barred her from speaking with community partners and foundations without the presence of the board president.
White said the new communications protocol prompted him to speak to the board.
“We need partners in this effort to help kids. And we need the school board all on the same page with the administration and working together. And there was a recent order to cease communications with the Mott Foundation and the Flint School administration without having board members present and that makes it challenging,” he said.
He called for Flint residents and school stakeholders to make their voices heard to board members.
“Represent the community and listen to them and tell us what we need to do as the Mott Foundation, tell us what we should do and how we should grant dollars and how we should help kids succeed,” White told board members. “These kids have been told for over seven years, ‘It’s not safe to drink the water, it’s not safe to breathe the air, and it’s not safe to go to school.’ And it’s not fair. And we need to get along, as a team, and get together behind these kids and support them.”
Trustee Diana Wright said at the June 28 meeting that she requested a discussion of the MOU at the July board meeting and asked that the partners involved be able to speak to board members.
President Carol McIntosh denied Wright’s request, sparking a heated argument where both board members raised their voices.
“It can get on the agenda but not for July,” McIntosh said. “Your request is denied.”
Wright said the Board President did not have the authority to deny a request for an agenda item made before the fourth Tuesday of the month according to the district’s bylaws.
“The Board President of Flint Community Schools is not following the bylaws of Flint Community Schools,” Wright said. “You are trying to impede the ability of a collaborative in the community to support the schools by bringing support our students, support for our strategic plan, and support for our students in the form of new and renovated school buildings.”
McIntosh said she thought Wright had “hidden agenda” and denied Wright’s request several more times before adjourning the meeting.
In an interview with Flint Beat, White said he hoped the board would consider working with him on the MOU.
“I’m just here to help Flint kids. They deserve the best,” White said through tears. “As a parent, it’s disheartening coming into the school and see it in disrepair. And our key goal is to provide hope. So, my thought process is that, if we can build new schools, we can create a culture change.”