Communities, Elsie, Features, Ovid

OE School Board Draws Crowd Again

by Dawn D Levey

ELSIE – The regular meeting of the Ovid-Elsie Area Schools Board of Education was held Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Numerous community residents were present to express their comments and concerns. As in the recent meetings public comment focused on the superintendent and gas usage in personal vehicles. Approximately seventy people were in attendance with approximately fifty percent showing support for Dr. Ryan Cunningham and his leadership and accomplishments in the district.

Eric Jones, Ovid-Elsie Area Schools Board of Education president, informed com-munity members that the microphone request is being addressed and will be in place by the August meeting.

Jones also explained the protocols for public comment and that each speaker could speak once with a three-minute time limit. He also noted that there were two letters printed and available one from Mrs. Julie Keck, recently retired Ovid-Elsie social studies teacher, expressing her concerns about Dr. Cunningham and the administration and a second from Stacie Rulison, former OE board president, expressing her support for the accomplishments facilitated by Dr. Cunningham.

Public comment opened with questions from Kelly Nethaway. She did thank Jones for addressing and updating the community on the microphone request. Nethaway requested an update on the turf installation and the budget for the project. She also expressed concern regarding the lack of transparency regarding the superintendent situation. She was informed that the project was two weeks ahead of schedule and was on budget. The other matter would be addressed later in the meeting.

The following comments addressed support for the superintendent and allegations of misconduct.

Kevin Nash commented that the administrations use of creative and colorful vocabulary is both concerning and entertaining. He addressed the budget report that was presented at the June 2022 meeting. And requested an independent forensic independent audit which should be available to the public.

Steve Sopcy, former OE board member agreed that Cunningham has done for good things for the district, however, regarding the gas issue there are strong concerns. The gas purchased by the district does receive state and federal subsidies and is not for personal use. As a former board member, who was on the board when the travel allowance was raised and should have been enough. He then asked if there are there gas records for the current and passed superintendent?

Bonnie Wood, district resident, also had a number of questions. First, did the schoolboard approve the gas policy or was it someone else? She further, thanked Dr. Cunningham for the answers to the questions regarding the solar energy plan and she provided a whitepaper with the responses. Wood addressed the sex education curriculum commenting the educators should be teaching the true science regarding sexuality.

Erin Sweet, teacher at OE for twenty years. Dr. Cunningham is part of the reason she brings her children from DeWitt to attend at Ovid-Elsie. She respects him as an administrator and principal. He is very active with students and staff, his door is always open for staff and others. The district’s focus should be on student needs and back to education.

Tim Swanson reminded the board members that they are the superintendent’s boss and that they must address the district’s integrity issues. “I vote for the board members to do the job I do not want to do and to do what is right.” In addition, he commented that he has a fear that the community will vote no on future school district financial requests.

Logan Wright a recent graduated, thanked Dr. Cunningham for supporting him as a stu-dent. And also thanked the entire staff at Ovid-Elsie Area Schools.

Wayne Petroelji, former OE superintendent commented that he has worked in a num-ber of school districts off different sizes and locations. In 1992 he was hired by Ovid-Elsie Area Schools. When his tenue started there was a zero fund balance, and is now in the top ten percent regarding the fund balance. With strong leadership the buildings and facilities have improved exponentially. The school board and the leadership work together to make a strong school district and that has and is reflected at Ovid-Elsie Area Schools.

Kevin VanAtta, life-long member of the community, shocked the crowd by starting his comments with a loud, “Go Marauders!” This is an awesome district. He further commented that we are all part of the team, we are all Marauders. We can tear things down or we can build them up, the is a turning point and a decision needs to be made.

Finally, Carla Perrin, a twenty-five-year staffer spoke on behalf of Dr. Cunningham. She also indicated that Dr. Cunningham has an open-door policy and supports staff. Perrin further thanked him continuing to make the school district better. Thank-you for supporting the hiring of the school nurse, the behaviorists, thank you for everyone who works for the district.

A number of the district departments updated officials on the summer projects. Mr. Craig Coleman, Director of Operations, gave an update on the track and football field. Final grading on the track took place on Thursday, July 21, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the field will be installed. Then it will sit for 21 days. Everything is on schedule and the game against Durand has been scheduled which is the first home game of the 2022 season. Summer maintenance is in progress the elementary schools are done and the focus is on the middle school and high school. Building cleaning is almost complete.

Mr. Randy Barton, assistant superintendent, reported that federal and state grants are arriving and curriculum improvements are underway. The buildings are in the process of getting everything set and ready to start the 2022-23 school year.

Jason Tokar spoke in support of Ryan Cunningham, district superintendent, stressing the accomplishments he has made in the district and support he has given to students and staff. Under his supervision and leadership, he has expanded curriculum and saved tax dollars while expanding the opportunities for students with unwavering support.

Under new business officials took action to waive the client/attorney privilege regarding the investigation into the superintendent and gas usage policy. Due to this action officials did not retire in closed session. Mr. Eric Jones, board president read the following statement: “In an effort to promote transparency, the Board has voted to waive the privilege attached to the Superintendent Vehicle/Gas usage Investigation report dated June 27, 2022 and allow the public access to that report upon request. As you will see if you review the report, the impartial third-party investigator found that no person in the District, including Dr. Cunningham, knowingly violated any law, or policy or intended to violate any law or policy. Now that the District has discovered that this longstanding practice is not permitted, Dr. Cunningham has worked with the State of Michigan’s Treasury Department to pay all required fees, including monthly penalty and interest fees on taxes owed. The Board considers this matter resolved and looks forward to returning the focus to students.“

The following individuals were interviewed during the course of the investigation: Dwayne Petroelji, former superintendent; Craig Coleman, Director of Operations; Randy Barton. Assistant Superintendent; Mary Weiderer, Business manager; Dr. Ryan Cunningham, School Superintendent; Mike Schiffer, Board Vice President; Dr. David Huff, Board Trustee; and Eric Jones, Board President.
Report Summary:

”During the course of the investigation, there were no findings of violation of policy or laws regarding the use of a district vehicle or receiving an expense stipend for travel. Furthermore, although violation of tax laws may have occurred, there is no findings of anyone knowingly violating laws or policies, or doing so with the intent to violate laws. Although Dr. Cunningham received stipends and fuel, due to the amount of the stipend received for use of his personal vehicle, compared to the average received, receiving both would still befall within the range of the average stipend for the last couple of years. Do to lack of policy and documentation, no violations of board policies were found. This includes the lack of having a process in place or logging of fuel obtained from pumps. By having a log in place, this would not only create an impression of control and alerts to possible theft, but it may also prove a person’s intensions based on whether they logged their activity or not. We trust this information satisfies your need and expectations in this matter. Over the course of the last 29 years, Recon Management Group LLC has a proven record of providing high quality and accurate research and investigative work product to our corporate clients and legal community. We can provide national as well as global service to our clients in an expedient and discrete manner tailored to meet your specific needs. Please call us if you have any questions. We will consider this matter closed unless we hear otherwise from your office. We appreciate your confidence in our firm, and look forward to working with you in the future. End of report.”

cc. Timothy T. Gardner, Attorney

Mr. Cory Gavenda, high school assistant principal, presented the Sex Ed Advisory Committee’s proposed updates. He noted that two open hearings were held regarding the adjustments of the curriculum. Definitions were updated and clarified. The committee’s biggest concern was to either implement an opt out or opt in policy for students. It was also suggested that a change be made for course notification of two-weeks prior or notification at the beginning of the school year. Officials were asked to approve the lessons as amended followed by opt-in or opt-out at a later date. Discussion followed. It was determined to postpone a decision until the August meeting, allowing officials time to review the options more in depth.

Finally, officials took action to offer employee contracts to Cierra House, 5th grade teacher Knight, and three paraprofessionals: Courtney Miller, Hannah Phillips, and Ashley Rundle. Monthly action was taken to approve the consent agenda which included the following items. Approval of the meeting agenda, the minutes of the June 27, 2022 regular and the June27 special Board of Education meetings, approval of the expenditures, monthly financial statements and the School Board qualification and loan program information.

The meeting ended with comments from Board members. Dr. David Huff and Mike Schiffer voiced support Dr. Cunningham, he has done a great job. The independent investigation report is available to the public verifying that there was no intent to violate the law or policy.

Integrity runs both ways; social media has been unkind. It’s time to give him a fair shake. Mrs. Erin Bancroft further commented that there are checks and balances, a third party was hired independent of this board. She thanked Eric Jones for taking on this task and Ryan Cunningham for the work he has done to improve the district.

Finally, Brooke Wooley thanked Eric Jones for taking on the issue with transparency.