Here’s why Farmington Schools trustees deadlocked on appointee

Four Farmington Public Schools trustees had a frank discussion Tuesday before a tie vote to appoint a new trustee, revealing the reason for their split decision.

David Turner
David Turner (Farmington Public Schools)

Officials had 30 days to fill the seat vacated by Jim Stark, who unexpectedly resigned on October 16. They interviewed 10 candidates for the two-year post, including current trustees David Turner, who declined to run for re-election on November 6, and Mark Przeslawski, who lost his bid for re-election.

Board president Terri Weems explained that the four board members voting had to agree in order to appoint. After two rounds of voting, that clearly was not going to happen.

Turner and long-time district volunteer Jenn Garland each received two votes. During deliberations, trustees laid out the reasons for their support of – and opposition to – the candidates.

Trustee Jessica Cummings said she favored Turner because two new trustees – Pam Green and Zach Rich – will join the board at the first of the year.

“I’m just looking to optimize our situation,” she said. “I’m looking at consistency. I think Mr. Turner will offer us some stability, because of the experience that he has on the board, but also the (human resources) experience that he brings to the table.”

Jenn Garland
Jenn Garland (Farmington/Farmington Hills Education Foundation)

Trustees Angie Smith and Terry Johnson supported Garland, but for slightly different reasons. Smith cited Garland’s years of work with the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and advocacy at the state and national level on behalf of students.

“She’s out there, she hears what the people in the community want. She hears what people in the community need,” Smith said.

Johnson, on the other hand, focused more on Turner’s decision to not run for office.

“I have some concerns, and my concerns get back to people that keep their word,” he said. “I asked Mr. Turner a very pointed question, which I did not get an answer to… what has changed that you can now have all this time? Two years from now, are we going to be in the same position?”

Johnson was also concerned at how appointing an incumbent would look to the public and whether people would trust Turner. “I’ve seen Ms. Garland committed, I’ve seen her out there. She has my vote,” he said.

Board president Terri Weems said she was “very torn. Had Mrs. Garland run, Mrs. Garland would have gotten my vote. In fact, I encouraged her to run.”

However, she said, the “relatively young board” has not made improvements in the areas that concern her; namely, curriculum and instruction, the achievement gap, and equity issues. Appointing Turner would keep someone with experience on the board.

“We’ve been focused on educating ourselves and getting up to speed,” she said. “The reason why we haven’t closed the gap or addressed curriculum and instruction is, we’re new… I sort of feel like consistency now is important.”

Oakland Schools Board of Education
Oakland Schools officials will appoint a new Farmington Public Schools trustee. They are, from left, George Ehlert, Barb DeMarco, Connie Williams, Theresa Rich, and Marc Katz. (oakland.k12.mi.us)

As it became clear trustees had reached an impasse, Weems said, “I think that it would be good for someone objective to come in and help us make this decision. I’m not uncomfortable with that.”

Johnson introduced the motion to pass the decision on to Oakland Schools. Weems said the Intermediate School District, designated by state law to take over if the local board was unable to agree, does not have a documented appointment process.

“I have every indication that they would give consideration to the process we’ve gone through, whether that means considering the entire applicant pool or the ones we’ve had the most discussion around,” she said.

The Oakland Schools board meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month; their next meeting is scheduled November 20, 6:30 p.m., in conference room A of the Oakland Schools Administration Building located at 2111 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford. The meeting is open to the public.