Former Farmington Schools trustee: Colleagues attempted ‘palace coup’

Former Farmington Public Schools trustee Jim Stark says his surprise resignation on Tuesday came after two of his colleagues attempted a “palace coup” to force him out of the board presidency.

Trustee Angie Smith read a brief letter addressed to Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch during the board’s 7 p.m. meeting. Late Wednesday afternoon, Stark issued a statement explaining the reason for his departure:

“I began my term in public service to the Farmington Hills Schools in 2016 because I believe deeply in the mission of educating our children. It has been my position that there is no more important job a community can perform than assuring the safety and quality education for all its young residents. I also believe that as stewards of this vital responsibility, school board members should hold themselves to the highest standard of ethics and morals – both to serve the electorate who voted for them and as an example to the students we serve.

“The Michigan Association of School Boards sets clear standards for behavior by board members and, having completed their intensive certification curriculum, I have strived to maintain or exceed these standards in all my board work. I love this school district, and both of my daughters have enjoyed wonderful educational experiences. I made a commitment to the position of board trustee to support the inspiring leadership of Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch as well as give back to the district and its students on behalf of me and my family.

“The recent behavior of some of the Farmington Hills School board members not only failed to live up to these standards, but I believe, borders on the actionable. These actions have resulted in considerable damage to the reputation of the district, and ultimately harms those who we have pledged to protect – the students. The current negative political climate in the district made it impossible for me to execute my duties and vision for the district as well as diminished my ability to help support Dr. Heitsch in his leadership role.

“These actions have also adversely affected the sterling reputations of Dr. Heitsch and Harrison High School Principal Dr. James Anderson – both of whom strictly adhered to district policy in investigating and acting on the homecoming situation. In good conscience, I decided could no longer be associated with this type of behavior and made the difficult decision to resign my position as a member of the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education.

“In addition, these board members also led what amounted to a “palace coup” by threatening to remove me as president unless I agreed to resign my position – ostensibly for my support of Dr. Heitsch. In order not to make the issue about my role as president, but to focus on the actual harm being done to our school system by these board members, I removed myself from the situation. They have also publicly led a campaign to force the resignation of Dr. Heitsch – even though as recently as last June he was given extremely high marks in his annual board evaluation, which was publicly supported by these board members.

“I will greatly miss my role of serving the community and serving the students as I cherished my seat on the school board. It has always been my intention to work in collaborative and constructive ways that result in solutions that benefit the Farmington Public Schools, our student and our communities. That continues to be my focus and mission.”

The “homecoming situation” involved a comment made by Harrison High assistant principal Angela Leach in response to a cheerleading routine that involved tossing money in the air. Leach has reportedly apologized for commenting that the girls looked like strippers and has been suspended. The incident remains under investigation.

Stark has not responded to a Wednesday evening email asking him to name the board members and provide more information. However, in a note accompanying the statement, Stark wrote, “As journalists ourselves, we anticipate the question you might ask regarding the school board members referenced. You might considering contacting Terry Johnson and Angie Smith.”

Farmington Voice did just that, and Smith sent the following statement:

“We are very sorry that Jim stepped down as a board member and it was of a surprise to all that he resigned. His letter was to the superintendent and short. I wish him much success in his endeavors, but we as a district now cannot continue to dwell on this. We have a lot of work to do and focus on our students and community.”

Johnson commented, “I wish Mr. Stark all the best in whatever endeavors he chooses to go into.”

This post will be updated in the event Stark responds to our email request.