Reason: Board Member Supports Charter School
The presidents of a Flint teachers' union and the Flint Board of Education are calling for the resignation of school board member Lily Tamez Kehoe for her support of a proposed charter school for Hispanic and Native American students.
United Teachers of Flint President George Wingfield and Flint Board of Education President Randall Talifarro demanded that Kehoe resign because of a letter of endorsement she wrote for the proposed Flint Advantage Academy, a charter school designed to serve the more than 1,000 Hispanic and Native American students in Flint.
The Flint Journal reported on December 10, 1998, that Wingfield and his union would call for Kehoe's resignation at the school board's next meeting in January. Talifarro said that Kehoe's support for a charter school conflicted with her interests as a school board member and told the Journal that she "should no longer serve on this board."
Board Vice President Helen Williams began the board's December meeting by reading a seven-page condemnation of Kehoe for her support of the Flint Advantage Academy, claiming that support for a charter school neglects her responsibility to serve all of Flint's children. But Kehoe and her supporters claim that the demands for her resignation are hypocritical because of her accusers' silence on other alternative school-related issues.
"Flint already contracts with the Edison Project to run two city schools, and there was no opposition from the board members or top school administration to the creation of the Northridge Academy," Kehoe told MER.
The Edison Project, a for-profit school management company, operates charter schools throughout the state of Michigan, and the Northridge Academy, a charter school based on an "Afrocentric" curriculum, is set to open in Flint if approved by Central Michigan University.
Because the Flint school board and administration expressed no disapproval of these other schools, Kehoe sees no conflict of interest between her support for the new charter school and her duties as a board member. "I endorsed the Flint Advantage Academy as the executive director of the Spanish Speaking Information Center, not as a member of the Flint Board of Education. And that is the extent of my relationship with this proposed school," she said.
Vernon Craig, a board member of the Flint Advantage Academy, described the efforts of Wingfield and Talifarro to remove Kehoe from the Flint school board as "an attempt to hamstring her First Amendment right to free speech."
"I addressed the board [in December] and asked them to explain their rationale for, as I put it, their 'silent acquiescence' with respect to Northridge Academy for African-American students and their totally contradictory and heated response to Lily's advocacy for a charter school for Hispanic and American Indian children," said Craig. "All I received for an answer was silence and a request to leave the speaker's chair."
John Clothier, president of the Flint school administrators' union, said that it is unfair to attack Kehoe for supporting the kinds of new school options for parents that many district employees already take advantage of. A Hudson Institute study revealed that over half of all teachers in Grand Rapids, and over a third in Detroit, send their own children to nonpublic schools. In both cases, the percentage of teachers with children in nonpublic schools was more than double that of the general population.
Gary Glenn of School Choice YES!, a group that supports greater parental choice among schools, said that "unless United Teachers of Flint President George Wingfield demands the resignation of all public school officials and employees, including his own members, who place their children in charter or nonpublic schools, his threat will appear to be a bigoted and discriminatory attack only against those trying to help Hispanic and Native American children."
Wingfield did not return phone calls from MER and refused to answer the Flint Journal's questions regarding Glenn's remarks. The next Flint school board meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. on January 20th at the Sarvis Conference Center, 1231 E. Kearsley Street in Flint.