Letter to the Editor: School Board Member Takes Issue With PAC Accusations

Ferndale Schools Board of Education Trustee Darcey McLaughlin submitted this letter to the editor.

Ferndale Patch welcomes letters to the editor.

The following was submitted by Ferndale Board of Education Trustee Darcey McLaughlin.


As a School Board member, I am offended by the charges from the newly formed group CLEAR that tough questions have not been asked or answered by the current board regarding our district. This is simply not true. Through its committees, the board has always carefully considered and debated the district’s important issues while our meetings have been facilitated effectively, and cooperatively. CLEAR also accuses our district of being non-transparent when in reality all questions posed to the board or administration have been answered promptly and completely. Documents exist to prove the district’s attempts to clarify issues, yet CLEAR continues to make divisive comments.

Our Superintendent has found an innovative approach to offsetting funds taken away for years by the State in a long-standing consulting agreement between our district and Michigan Future, Inc. Because this is a political year, after almost four years of this contracts life and revenue to date of $800,000 for our district, the CLEAR group and its candidates and one current Board member have inferred that for lack of time sheets, our Superintendent and his immediate staff do not put in a full work week or that conflicts of interest may exist. To suggest these things are ridiculous. Our Superintendent and FPS administrative, teaching, and support staffs are some of the hardest working individuals you will ever meet. They put in countless hours on behalf of our district and students.

I have firsthand knowledge that our Superintendent works 60 or more hours per week for our district and that his private consulting work is in addition to those hours. Other administrative staff members are in our buildings well into the evenings week after week. I know this because I am often at the evening meetings with them. CLEAR members, however, have only just begun to attend board-related meetings.

Our Superintendent should be commended for finding alternative sources of revenue to add to our district and allow us to continue to be a full service district. For six of the last ten years, our district received either NO increase or an actual reduction in State Aid yet we are still serving nearly the same number of students in a full service district! Under his guidance and his qualified teams, pupil test scores have risen. Ferndale High School was recently named a Reward School by improving academically at a rate greater than 95% of all Michigan public schools. FPS is on the right track and making great progress.

As a lifelong resident, volunteer and board member - I am offended by CLEAR’s
accusations of our district, our administration and our staff. Unfortunately, the
November election may be divisive for the community. Much work needs to be done, and publicly accusing our administrators and Board during a political season only damages the reputation of the district. I hope voters will wade through the rhetoric. The future of continued improvement of our schools is at stake. Visit www.ferndalecbe.org for more information.


Darcey McLaughlin

Robert Bokram September 26, 2012 at 10:51 PM
I also have been hearing a lot of comments from the CLEAR members/supporters about student retention and trying to find ways to improve it. Most people would agree that it starts with positive conversations about the district, the curriculum, the teachers, admin, etc....Yet, what do I hear coming from the CLEAR supporters? Criticism of the admin., district, school board, and policies !! If CLEAR feels the need to improve the school district's policies, they should consider a more constructive approach to their concerns. They might start by offering substantive solutions for their "tough questions". I have yet to hear a single, detailed analysis and/or proposal from CLEAR candidates for improving student retention, administrative transparency, curriculum initiatives, despite a wealth of information available from the district. I suspect there is a good reason for that.......because there is already a robust educational and administrative structure in place and the candidates are not familiar enough with the operations of the district and committee-driven school board activities to formulate superior procedures/policies to what is now in place. I trust the voters to distinguish rhetoric from reality.
Laura Berger September 27, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I'm a little bewildered by the defensiveness of Board Member McLaughlin and her accusation that CLEAR is fostering "divisiveness" by requesting information of the Board regarding its contract with ICE. I think district taxpayers have every right to understand the financial agreements our district enters into, and to ask questions about--and expect answers to--the business value of said agreements. I carefully read the documented statements and questions that CLEAR has put forth at recent Board meetings regarding the contract, and I saw no attacks or accusations--just requests for specific information that would illustrate the value of the contract with ICE to the district. It's a pretty standard business management concept: what are we spending, and what are we getting in return--specifically, in dollars and cents and results. If the answer is, "we don't know" then that's a business problem that needs to be corrected--not defended. Being "offended" when a problem is brought to light is a pretty useless reaction in the business world. A better reaction is to acknowledge the problem and work together to solve it. We have a lot of smart, engaged folks in our community who share the same goal as the Board: making our district the best it can be. That goal requires continually reevaluating past decisions and current practices, and making adjustments when necessary. That's just good business. I would like to see the Board collaborate with the community toward that common goal.
Thomas Gagne September 27, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Darcey, the district's response to the MEAP data was two-fold, a) get the data from somewhere else (I did) and b) the test was last changed in 2005 and though "data exists from prior years to those noted here, they cannot be used from a comparative perspective because they are different." Because I believe the district is competently administered I am also confident that somewhere in the district is a chart measuring FSD students over a greater period than five years (the original requests were made in 2010). Even if the tests changed I suspect a chart exists, or should exist, measuring FSD performance against another baseline, even if relative to statewide performance for the same tests. http://mischooldata.org only provides data back to 2007. At the time it seemed reasonable to ask my own school district for the data than to ask the state. My original request to the district was for more data, which the district confirmed it had, but was more disposed to tell me why I shouldn't look at it, or draw conclusions from it, than provide the data and perhaps discuss it. The district's unwillingness to provide the data, after several polite requests, suggests a less-than-transparent and forthcoming administration--or patronizing, but the latter seems an unnecessary pejorative so I use the wordier "less-than-transparent."
Shirley Parker September 27, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Mr. Bokram, I am trying to educate myself about this campaign. Can you tell me what CBE is? Who are the members of CBE? Who are your board members? I have talked to a few community members and my understanding is it is a closed door committee. Why are the meetings not posted on the calendar and open like I can see CLEAR meetings are? Seems like another episode where there is not transparency? Can you explain more?
Thomas Gagne September 27, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Regarding per-building revenue and expenses, I'm surprised school board members aren't curious to know if any of their buildings are a drag on the district's finances or a positive. The district may follow the state's guidelines for financial reporting, but the superintendent impresses me as having a savvier business mind than that. The arrangement he's worked-out for the district, his consulting company, and himself isn't something he found accidentally in a three-drawer cabinet filed under, "Good Ideas." Again, I think there are smart people in the Harding building that know exactly how every building and program affects Ferndale Schools' finances, but would rather not share it. I may be wrong, but I would think such data would be valuable to school board members for making important financial decisions about which buildings and programs to keep, which to get rid of, and which should be expanded. As both the superintendent and board have made important financial decisions, and so far have kept a balance sheet in the black, I would be surprised if those decisions were made without knowing that information. The district certainly seemed to have the information when they considered purchasing the Hayes-Lemmerz property, and talked about the potential savings and revenue that may have provided. But the rest of us are told state standards don't require it, so FSD doesn't look at it.
Thomas Gagne September 27, 2012 at 02:21 AM
" I know you sought this information prior for background information while campaigning again[st] the most recent bond (which thankfully passed), but I will look into it." You remember incorrectly. My inquiries preceded the bond debate by almost a year. In fact, the data I was collecting was an attempt to follow up on some things I discovered while defending the district against BAMN's allegations in early 2009. My position against the bond was the result of two-years' effort collecting and playing with district data.
Nathan Schoenfeld September 27, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Tom, CLEAR is Promising to bring all families back to the district. Will this include yours as well? The Public has every right to critique the work of any elected official and the voters certainly can and do speak at the voting booth as they did with an overwhelming approval of the school bond earlier this year. Public comments in any venue, or media should be in a manner that is not offensive or misleading.
Thomas Gagne September 27, 2012 at 02:11 PM
"CLEAR is Promising to bring all families back to the district." I hadn't heard that CLEAR-endorsed candidates had made that promise. That would be a stretch. What I have heard is some of the candidates want to make student retention a measure of the superintendent's (and board's) performance. "Will this include yours as well?" Why would you ask that? Why wouldn't you instead wonder, "Why do students leave the district? Do more students leave Ferndale than other districts? Where do our students come from? Why do out-of-district families choose Ferndale? If our district doesn't primarily serve its in-district students, what is the purpose of the district?" I think those are way more interesting questions, but they're difficult to discuss frankly because the questions themselves are considered offensive by some.
Nathan Schoenfeld September 28, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Tom, Why would I ask if your children will be back? Its was asked since they do not currently attend Ferndale Schools people might want to know this important fact and wonder if that if they will perhaps return to the district? As a parent of a child that has been in the district now for 6 yrs, I'm active with the schools since I want to be informed for not only the best interests my child but also for all other children. Those questions that you pose are not offensive to me, the current Board, Candidates and the Parents have been working on those issues and many other questions you ask. Your are welcome as are other residents and parents to join the various committees and groups to work towards solutions to make the district the best, but as far as I know your are not currently involved in any solutions to the concerns that you have.
Thomas Gagne September 28, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Nathan, don't confuse being involved with being informed, or being part of a thing with being part of a solution. Such attitudes have been holding Detroit back for years--believing a person must live in Detroit to help Detroit, or attend DPS to fix DPS. People lose objectivity when they're too close to a problem, and perhaps lose opportunities when they devalue opinions from outside their membership. Everyone likes to say "..for not only the best interests [of] my child but also for all other children," but what they mean is, "what I think is good for my child is good for yours." And if they don't intend the latter, then the former is a platitude.
Matt Nowaczok September 28, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Just a few things: 1.) @ Robert Bokram - The superintendent’s high performance evaluation is not evidence that nothing is wrong but that nobody is bothering to look and see whether something is wrong. If my house is filled with smoke and my fire alarm fails to go off, one option is to say, “Go back to bed. There must not be anything to worry about because the detector hasn’t gone off.” The other is to say “let’s put out the fire and then replace the broken detector” I prefer option B. 2.) @ Robert Bokram - in response to your critiques about “no plan” I remind you of the Ferndale 115 piece (http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/08/15/kevin-deegan-krause-school-board-candidate-2012/) in which Mr. Deegan-Krause provided a rather detailed plan. It is worth a read as it provides a clear vision for a better path forward. Have a great day!
Ardy September 28, 2012 at 01:56 PM
No, Tom, it's about having a skin in the game. You don't have two skins in this game so your voice is reduced to that of just a whiny taxpayer; and one who really bitches about a lot of stuff that they have been wrong about many times over. If your kids were in the district then your words would hold more weight. BTW -- You're far from Socrates so ditch the Socratic Method, k?
Thomas Gagne September 28, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Ardy, every business and homeowner in the Ferndale School District has skin in the game. Furthermore, children are not chips to be gambled with, used as credentials, or considered a poll tax before a citizen may participate equitably in any politics--school or otherwise. Suggesting anyone's opinions be disqualified for not betting their children on the same table you do (hiding behind a pseudonym) is elitist and arrogant. If any opinions are dismissed, they should be those posted anonymously.
Ferndale_1986 September 28, 2012 at 03:58 PM
@Ardy Gagne obviously has skin in the game. He's a taxpayer. Don't try to silence him or drive him off. Let the man speak.
Steven Schoenknecht September 29, 2012 at 02:10 AM
I am also highly offended with the insertion that anyone in the District cannot question the policies and practices of any elected officials. The fact that Mr. Gagne's children are not in the District has no connection as to whether he is allowed to comment even if it is a criticism. What about citizens who have no children? or ones who's children have graduated are they not allowed to comment or criticize, it is part of the democratic process. Also, Ardy how about showing your full name like everyone else? Pretty easy to comment when you have no skin in the game.
Shirley Parker September 29, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Nathan - do you serve on committees for the district? I am taking from your posts that you are endorsing the CBE candidates? Can you answer my questions since Mr. Bokram is not? I searched CBE on the patch and when anyone asks why meetings are not open to the public and who the board members are and who the members are, no one answers. Is there a reason? Also you say that the CLEAR candidates promise to bring all families back to the district, I have searched their website and their candidates website and can't find that at all. Have you attended a CLEAR meeting? Have you listened to their message or what they are trying to do? Why are you so hostile towards them?
Nathan Schoenfeld October 01, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Steve, People are always welcome and should be encouraged to comment even though Tom's children, many others are without children or graduated children are not in district. To imply that it's suggested people should be stopped from commenting when a view point is not there's is incorrect. Public comment and criticism are part of the democratic process that is a fundamental part of the foundation of this country. As I know we are both active in the district and many consider that to be part of the solution and not just to be standing on the side lines shouting.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 01, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Tom, You mention that I might be possibly confused and too close to the problem and that I have no objectivity? There is no confusion here sir about involvement and being properly informed. So if people with graduates and those with no children are still involved in the district. Are those people also confused and not objective as well since they are working to be part of the solution? Again have you ever been anywhere near the issues other than suggesting solutions from behind your computer? Have you been to meetings, have you been on committees. You want questions answered from the district as well as transparence from people that you want and should hold accountable, but yet you have been not forth coming with the answer to the question that has been asked several times and the reason why your children are not in the district. Your answer, if you ever give it is not going to change people's opinions one way or the other, but merely shows that you don't practice what you preach. I don't think the solution needed here is a one size fits all and what is good for mine is good for yours as you suggest I want. What you suggest that I believe in is that you have to live in a city or attend a district to fix it which is incorrect. There are many opportunities for people and I have a strong of a conviction that people get involved in a hands on way and not shouting out suggestions from the back of the room.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 01, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Shirley, As far as questions not getting answered on the Patch from Mr. Bokram I will not answer questions on his behalf but will answer the questions you have posed here for me. I do suggest that you review that CBE website http://ferndalecbe.org/ and that much of the information you were seeking earlier will be there and should address many of your concerns. I do serve on several committees in the district. Currently I am the Vice President for the Roosevelt Coolidge PTA and also a FEF board member. I have also been involved with committees for the June Fair at Roosevelt as well as the Roosevelt/Coolidge Halloween party for the last 3 years and a variety of other activities since my child started attending Grant 6 years ago. Yes I am endorsing the CBE candidates as you have correctly picked up on. I have not seen or heard of anyone asking about attending a CBE meeting or event which there have been several of and that are open for people to attend. Most recently there was a meet and greet that was held Saturday evening and it was on the CBE website http://ferndalecbe.org/ Anyone was welcome to attend and I suggest that you keep an eye on that site for future events and information.
Nathan Schoenfeld October 01, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Shirley, The CBE candidates have shown that they have experience and are prepared for meetings as they should be and I have not seen that demonstrated from certain CLEAR backed board members. I have seen the message that the CLEAR people have and it's not been defined exactly what the goals are that they are trying to accomplish. Lastly I do not understand what I have said that gives you the idea that I am "so hostile" towards CLEAR. If you can point out a particular instance/s that you deem that I was "hostile" ? As it's been pointed out previously people can and do express their opinions and I feel that mine have been done in a respectful and appropriate manner even if there is a disagreement.
Laura Berger October 01, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I'd like to note that I requested information re: CBE public meeting schedule and events in response to an article by Bradford Parks featured in the Patch earlier this year. I was directed to the same site you reference above, and there were no public meetings or events posted. I emailed the address posted on said site and asked for this information. I received no response. I then commented again to Mr. Parks's article and noted the absence of this information on CBE site, and asked if he could provide details. No response. I reviewed the CBE site again and saw a note about volunteering to host a coffee to get some folks together in my home to hear more about CBE--so I emailed CBE with an offer to host a coffee.No response. So any suggestion that CBE welcomes or encourages involvement in their organization or is forthcoming with information about their organization is not correct. I checked the CBE site frequently during the course of the summer, and I saw no new information re: public meetings or events.
CBE October 02, 2012 at 05:33 PM
CBE would like to educate the public on a few subjects since CLEAR supporters have now redirected some their accusations from the School Board to our organization. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth without looking “mean”, but we’ll give it a try! CBE is not a new organization, but a 35+ year organization that has worked to find qualified, well-rounded candidates for our school board for years. Unlike the newly formed CLEAR, CBE has never sought to be a watchdog or antagonist of our school district, but rather to find those great candidates – get them elected, and then let them do their hard work. Both CBE and CLEAR are membership driven organizations, but neither of them are required to have public meetings. CBE does not, but CLEAR chooses to. CLEAR appears to have both public and private meetings to set their agendas, etc. Again, neither organization is required to meet in public. CLEAR, simply by stating that CBE doesn’t meet in public infers that there is a great big conspiracy going on out there. Like their other accusations, because they say it loudly does not mean it’s true. (And how come no one ever thinks they are mean? But we digress...)
CBE October 02, 2012 at 05:34 PM
As for its members, CBE has always kept things simple with several key members who know and represent our community well. Their small group works diligently on getting qualified candidates elected, period. Current opposing candidates Butters, Leaks-May, Krause & O’Donnell all sought support from CBE and were interviewed along with the highly qualified four candidates that CBE did chose to support: COLLINS, PARKS, PFLEGER & WARNICK. Does CLEAR and their candidates really get to bash our organization while they first wanted its money and support? The public may be interested to know that one of CBE’s interview questions was “why would you like CBE’s support?” and across the board, each candidate gave glowing responses on how well respected our organization and members were. But apparently their opinions have shifted. There are many fantastic, dedicated CBE members who are parents from all of our various schools in the district, representing the entire voice of the district, not just one magnet school. Some of CBE’s current members are well known prominent community members like former school board president(s) Ed Sharples and Frank O’Donnell, and former City Councilwoman Helen Weber.
CBE October 02, 2012 at 05:34 PM
There are current school board members as well (Collins, Pfleger, McLaughlin, Moeser, Warnick), past school board members (Frederick, CBE’s current President), a few school district employees (Stroker, Lisiscki and others), who before the comment section lights up – are also CITIZENS with every right to vote and work for political organizations that they personally support - just not on school grounds or time. CBE enlists its members by finding like-minded community members on board district committees, PTAs, etc. Current members nominate other members and they are voted on. It’s all very democratic. And before our opponents cry foul – think about it. Think hard about it. Are any rules being broken here? Not one. And it’s awfully hypocritical for CLEAR members to say so now. To suggest that IF ELECTED, the CLEAR candidates would no longer be members or friends of CLEAR would be silly of us. And silly of them!
CBE October 02, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Perhaps Ms. Berger could reach out to us again, - we have checked our e:Mail thoroughly and show no record of an inquiry (although admittedly she has commented on the Patch). As you might guess however, since she is a current officer of the opposing candidates PAC, it is highly unlikely that CBE would take her up on her offer to “host a coffee” for our candidates. CBE does appreciate the opportunity to clear up a few facts and we are happy to respond to the public’s requests. It’s campaign season folks, and unfortunately there is a lot to clear up in the muddy picture our opponents are painting. So stay tuned, get informed on the facts, and vote Tuesday, November 6! VOTE CBE!
Laura Berger October 02, 2012 at 08:34 PM
CBE, thank you so much for commenting. You must be confusing me with someone else, as I am not affiliated with CLEAR as an officer or in any other capacity. My interest in both CLEAR and CBE and the candidates they endorse is the interest of a district parent and taxpayer who has a decision to make this November. I really appreciate you clearing up the confusion re: CBE's public meetings and events: there aren't any. And you're right, that's perfectly okay--except when you claim otherwise, either explicitly or implicitly, as you have in the past. It's unfortunate that you can't find my emails; my offer to host a coffee was real and sincere. I have no doubt that CBE, like CLEAR, wants the best for our district, and there is much I admire in some current and past CBE-supported board members/candidates. The difference is that CLEAR has reached out to the community to participate in defining what that is and how we can get there. That may not be important to everyone, but it appeals to me, and to many others. Finally, it is disingenuous for you to state: "since CLEAR supporters have now redirected some of their accusations from the School Board to our organization...." When a current school board member endorsed by CBE chooses to editorialize in the media and blast the "opposing" PAC, well, then, you shouldn't really be surprised that "CBE" joined "CLEAR" in this discussion.
CBE October 02, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Laura, our sincere apologies. We mixed you up with Jodi Berger, who is listed as a member of the CLEAR executive Board on the CLEAR website. You are only listed on the CLEAR website as a supporter. Our apologies for the error.
Jodi Berger October 03, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I appreciate Laura Berger's comments as well as her reaching out to CBE. This Berger (me) has never made negative or anti-CBE statements (and don't ever plan on it). We are a great community--a group of people working together for the common good! I just choose to put my time and energy into helping CLEAR work toward a new strategic plan for our great Ferndale schools; the people who introduced me to CLEAR were also the ones putting together the Ferndale District Ambassadors! We love our schools (and teachers) and are putting our positivity into action by constantly sharing the greatness of our district. Such positive action and ideas make me excited about BOLD's ideas and commitment to improve parent/community relations (respect people, even when asking difficult questions), make student retention a higher priority (make our schools so great no one thinks of going elsewhere!), continue the work in academic expectations and innovations, helping all types of learners succeed. There's too much work to be done to waste time on negativity and divisiveness. I hope anyone interested in making changes and improvements will join us at our general meetings--October 8th 7 PM at the Ferndale Library is next week.
Barb Landry October 03, 2012 at 09:51 PM
I personally take offense to misinformation that keeps getting said about CLEAR. I would like to comment on the following statement by CBE - "There are many fantastic, dedicated CBE members who are parents from all of our various schools in the district, representing the entire voice of the district, not just one magnet school." CLEAR has members and active volunteers with infants/toddlers, children in preschool programs not in the district (such as Drayton and Ferndale Montessori), children in Grant, Roosevelt, Coolidge, Kennedy, Ferndale Middle School, Ferndale High School, children who attend other school districts and community members who have no children at all. This group with many different opinions, all here for the same thing, our children and to make our schools better. I feel a very GOOD representation of our district as a whole. The other very big important factor for me is that CLEAR is very TRANSPARENT and chooses to allow ALL people of the community/schools to attend meetings. People are encouraged to share their experiences and to talk about how to make our schools that we love so much, even better. I feel the same as so many of my neighbors and leaders of my community - please check out the endorsement list http://makeitclearferndale.org/endorsers.. With this all being said, this is why my husband and I have chosen to support and vote BOLD on November 6th.
Greg Pawlica October 04, 2012 at 03:09 AM
So because the finances improved after the current super Superintendent came to this district, tax-paying residents shouldn't question the activies taken to get there? The person who turns a blind-eye ends up being robbed blind.


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