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Flint, MI— More than 100 Flint residents attended the July 21 school board meeting to weigh in on the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s decision to pause funding to Flint Schools due to communication issues.
Without grants from Mott, the district will no longer be able to offer critical services to students starting in the fall, Superintendent Anita Steward said. This includes afterschool programs provided by YouthQuest and community education support through The Crim Fitness Foundation.
The funding freeze came after the Board of Education voted to bar Steward from speaking with community partners and foundations without the presence of the board president or their designee, citing a lack of transparency by administration.
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 and reverse the decision.
Community members expressed outrage to board members during the July 21 meeting. Some urged the board to cooperate with the Mott Foundation, while others said it was time for the district to stand on its own.
An attendance clerk at Brownell STEM Academy told board members that students are the ones who will suffer.
“Every student at Brownell belongs to me, they’re my babies. We have students, we don’t know if they’re eating at night. That last meal from YouthQuest could be their only meal to keep them from being abused and hurt, because they go home and they go to bed and they say ‘I got tomorrow morning’” she said. “It is not fair to the parents, nor to the students to rip YouthQuest and Crim from them because we can’t come together and agree on something.”
The board did not take any action to resolve the issue at Wednesday’s meeting. Board President Carol McIntosh and Treasurer Laura MacIntyre defended the board’s decision.
“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 want 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.”
MacIntyre said White was attempting to manipulate the board.
“Ridgway White and the Mott Foundation is unilaterally making a coercive move to strongarm this board and this district to relinquish their autonomy and bypass the board’s bylaws and the democratic process,” she said. “I implore the Mott Foundation to act like a community partner, not a colonial overseer.”
Community activist Arthur Woodson echoed MacIntyre’s concerns.
“If Ridgway White cared about the students, he wouldn’t have used this funding as a puppet, as a tool, for our kids. And the sad part is that this board right here, our district, is a middleman. The school don’t touch this money,” Woodson said.
Other community members warned the board that without YouthQuest and Crim, the district stands to lose students.
“I’m coming to you first and foremost as a parent, because that’s my number one and most important job in my life,” Flint resident and teacher at Flint Schools Skylar Kelly said. “Our kids are going to leave. Our kids are not going to stay in a school that doesn’t even provide the basic, essential services and a good education.”
White released a formal statement on the matter July 21.
“We didn’t pause our grant funding to FCS because we don’t care about kids. We paused our grant funding because we must be able to have timely and direct communication with the superintendent to responsibly administer and implement grants,” White wrote.
Between 2013-2020, the Mott Foundation has granted Flint Schools an average of $8.8 million each year, according to Mott Foundation officials.
Additionally, the foundation had proposed a $340 million plan to build five new school buildings, address blight in surrounding neighborhoods, and partner with local organizations to work with Flint students.
That plan (formally drafted in a memorandum of understanding—a non-binding agreement between different entities) was met with backlash from board members who said they were not aware of its existence, though it had been in the works for nearly four years.
“There have been no secret meetings about the draft memorandum of understanding,” White wrote. “It has always been the intention that the draft MOU would serve as a springboard for discussion with the Board of Education and the broader community.”
McIntosh said the district is sitting on nearly half a billion dollars between federal aid and property assets.
“I acknowledge that (the Mott Foundation) has given to us. But at this point, we are not under the table waiting for the crumbs to fall like we have been in the past. We are the hosts of this supper,” McIntosh said.
Students will return to school Aug. 4. Board members did not say if they will meet with White to find a solution, but White said the door is open.
“We hope to resume dialogue with the district soon. Flint kids deserve the best, and we need to come together as a community to support them,” White wrote.