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An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Mott Foundation had paused a total of $12 million to Flint Schools. It was updated July 21, 2021 to include correct figures provided by the Mott Foundation.
Flint, MI— The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation said they are pausing grants to Flint Schools until the Board of Education allows Superintendent Anita Steward to communicate with the foundation without board oversight.
President and CEO of the Mott Foundation Ridgway White wrote a formal letter to Board President Carol McIntosh July 16 urging Flint Schools to “communicate and partner” with them.
“Despite our mutual interest in supporting the children who live in the City of Flint with strong educational options and new buildings, we are all now challenged with how to move forward,” White wrote.
After mounting frustrations concerning the administration’s transparency, board members barred Steward from speaking with community partners and foundations without the presence of the board president or their designee June 16.
The Mott Foundation cannot work without collaboration and communication of district leadership, the letter said.
“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 wrote. “We must reluctantly pause all grants.”
Between 2013-2020, the Mott Foundation has granted Flint Schools an average of $8.8 million each year, according to Mott Foundation officials.
While some dollars go directly to Flint Schools, many grants are written to other organizations that provide essential services to the district. This includes YouthQuest, a Flint-based nonprofit that organizes afterschool programs; The Crim Fitness Foundation, which places community education directors in all schools; and Michigan State University K-12 Outreach, which provides district and technology support.
The letter stated the exception to the pause is YouthQuest and The Crim, which will be extended for three months as they are “crucial” to Flint parents during the summer. Combined, these grants total approximately $1.5 million.
However, the district will not be able to offer those services to students starting in fall, Steward said in a statement.
“As we approach the 2021-22 school year, Flint Community Schools and its community education partners face an unforeseen funding hurdle. Grants that supported four of the district’s programs and services have been paused. As a result, the following services will not be available for the 2021-22 school year, at this time: MSU K-12 Outreach for technical assistance support, Cranbrook Education Community for science support, Crim Fitness Foundation programming and YouthQuest afterschool programming,” she said. “We understand the importance of these services to our scholars and their families, and we regret that we will be unable to provide them for the 2021-22 school year. We hope that we can work with our community partners to secure the resources needed to bring these programs back. In the meantime, our teachers will continue to deliver a high-quality education to all of our scholars.”
Mott Foundation officials said approximately $4.7 million in pending grant renewals have been “put on hold.” A total of $425,000 in open grants have also been frozen.
Ensuring effective and open communication is part Mott Foundation’s “fiduciary responsibility,” Thomas Parker, the foundation’s executive in residence and program officer, said.
“The reality is, that there’s a fiduciary responsibility that that we have when making grants to organizations. And this isn’t specific to FCS, it would be similar for any organization. If the leader of that organization is not allowed to communicate to the grantor, then we have we have a fiduciary responsibility that can’t necessarily be met with the resources that have been provided from the foundation,” Parker said, adding that the letter is not punitive malicious.
White said the grants can be unfrozen quickly if the board reverses their decision and allows the superintendent to speak with the Mott Foundation, but since sending the letter he has not received communication from the board or the superintendent.
When asked how the pause will affect the district and programs, Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Ellis-McNeal said, “It’s [Ridgway White’s] money to do as he pleases.” She also said she had “no opinion” on whether she thought the pause will negatively affect students.
Trustee Adrian Walker said he will be making his remarks during Wednesday’s board meeting.
In addition to Mott’s grant-funded programs, the district also stands to lose out on a protentional $340 million plan to build five new school buildings, address blight in surrounding neighborhoods, and partner with local organizations to work with Flint students.
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.
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.
The board’s lack of knowledge about the MOU, compounded with mounting frustrations concerning the administration’s transparency led to the decision to prevent the superintendent from speaking alone with community partners.
On June 28, White pleaded with board members to consider the MOU—and the $340 million that came with it.
“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,” he 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.”
Both Parker and White said they hope Flint Schools chooses to continue a partnership with the Mott Foundation, but the decision rests with the board.
“Please know that we would truly like to work with FCS again. If the district chooses to communicate and partner, we will continue to engage in a meaningful and collaborative way, focused on creating great outcomes for children. We look forward to the district’s direction in that regard,” White concluded his letter.