Andrew Trzaska | October 10, 2011
After a several-day span where the district enrollment counts were not reported and a last-minute fundraiser approval sent Muskegon Heights school board members searching for an administrative chain of command, those members expressed their confusion and even frustrations at Monday night’s full board meeting.
Normally, the Superintendent’s office handles district count day, which was held countywide on October 5. The district’s administration, led by the Superintendent, also handles special event requests such as one made by the Muskegon Heights Lady Alumni Tigers late last month to hold a fundraiser for those in Muskegon Heights whose state financial assistance ended on October 1.
District Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant was on vacation last week through this past weekend, including on Wednesday’s count day, which a majority of the school board was unaware of.
The district traditionally turns to its Personnel Director to lead the district in the Superintendent’s absence, followed by the curriculum director. However, the Personnel Director position has currently been eliminated, and Curriculum Director Rosie Holmes was out on sick leave and unavailable.
In a move met with mixed reactions by other board members, Board president Avery Burrell chose to have the event’s planner call each board member directly to see if they approved of the event. Board members appeared to be caught off guard by this because they were unaware Dr. Bryant was on vacation and were unsure if they should be making the decision at hand.
Burrell stated that he did not was not given the authority to make the decision himself, and maintained that the board should not be making decisions for the administration, yet accepted responsibility for making the decision for the Lady Tigers to get a vote from the board.
While the fundraiser ended up happening this past weekend and an outstanding issues with the Lady Tigers were laid to rest Monday night, it drew much attention to deeper concerns from the board concerning a lack of transparency: over four days after school districts in Muskegon County took official counts of their students, Muskegon Heights Public Schools has not reported its numbers to the public or, as Board Vice President Ronald Jenkins noted, to the district’s school board:
“We pretty much shut down. [The board] came in today and we still don’t have the numbers, several days after count day.”
Board members and the superintendent did not directly comment on what is causing the delay in reporting the numbers, but a discussion ensued about the timing of Bryant’s away time.
Burrell called for understanding concerning Bryant’s time off.
“Sometimes you just need a vacation. When you drop dead is not the right time either,” said Burrell. “With the challenges this district faces, “never” is a good time to take one. But you need to to refresh.”
Board Vice President Ronald Jenkins believed Dr. Bryant’s presence was especially needed last week because of the district’s enrollment challenges:
“We all understand the superintendent needed a break,” said Jenkins. “But we know as a district the importance of the count day.”
The board chose to go into closed session after Monday’s meeting to discuss the chain of command issues that rose over the past week. Burrell stated they would not have a resolution at the end of the session.
No official enrollment numbers were available as of Monday night from the Muskegon Heights Board of Education. Dr. Bryant did note Monday night that enrollment numbers were down and it would affect the district’s numbers.
Muskegon Heights is not the only district in the county that saw a decrease in enrollment this year. Reeths-Puffer, Orchard View and Muskegon Public Schools all saw decreases.
These counts are used to determine what school aid districts can receive from the government, and can be adjusted over the next 45 days.