Flint, MI—After months of conflict, the Flint Board of Education is ready to discuss a multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize the struggling school district.
In June, CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Ridgway White pleaded with the Flint Community Schools Board of Education to accept more than $200 million to revitalize the district. Due to mounting transparency concerns, the board shot down the request, leaving the plan in limbo.
But now, board members have opened the door for conversation.
In a 6-0 vote, with Vice President Danielle Green absent, board members agreed to schedule a meeting with White, though the date has not yet been determined.
The potential project, laid out in a memorandum of understanding between several organizations, is a multi-tiered plan that would involve building five new school buildings and fighting blight in surrounding neighborhoods.
White said the plan has been in the works since 2018 and has undergone at least eight drafts. But when news of the MOU was publicized in April, some board members said it came as a surprise.
“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 in an April meeting.
News of the MOU exacerbated tensions over a “lack of transparency” between the board and Superintendent Anita Steward. In June, the board issued a verbal warning to the Steward for running a “hostile” administration and barred her from speaking to community partners without the presence of another board member.
White responded to communication ban by pausing grants to the district.
“We absolutely respect the authority of the elected board to make any critical decisions deemed necessary to effectively lead the district. However, we also always have a responsibility to manage resources granted by the Mott Foundation in order to ensure that activities and outcomes meet both the purpose of the grant agreement and the requirements of the IRS.” White in a letter to Board President Carol McIntosh July 16. “We must reluctantly pause all grants.”
More than 100 community members gathered to express their outrage at a July 21 board meeting as students stood to lose critical services. Some urged the board to cooperate with the Mott Foundation, while others said it was time for the district to stand on its own.
“For me, this is not political. For me, this is not personal. This is a public service,” McIntosh said, adding that the board never said they would turn down funding, but wanted transparent information. “I have no quarrel with Mott or anybody else who wants to give us a fair and equitable deal. But I will not vote blindly on anything for anybody.”
A day later, White reversed the funding freeze.
“While I always strive to do my best, I am human. I regret pausing the grants that support these programs,” White said in a formal statement.
The board is now ready to put the past behind them, Secretary Joyce Ellis-McNeal said.
“I think it’s the time now to resolve these issues and let’s move forward. He’s welcome to come here with an open dialogue,” McNeal said.
Trustee Chris Del Morone echoed her sentiments, saying that it was an opportunity to improve the district.
“I know when I was interviewed, I had said ‘if you build it, they will come.’ My contention is that if we build it, they will stay and we’ll be able to bring others back who have left,” Del Morone said.
White has maintained that he is open to further conversation with the district.
“We also remain committed to working with Flint Community Schools and the Board of Education, and we would welcome the chance to resume a dialogue around creating a future that is bright for all Flint kids,” he said.