2015-05-07 / Front Page

G-L head to step down

School Board reviews attorney letters
By Amy Hubbell Of The Enterprise staff

Glen Lake superintendent Joan Groening is leaving the district at the end of the 2015-16, according to action taken by the Board of Education last week.

Board president Fran Seymour said the board voted 7-0 last Thursday, after meeting behind closed doors for less than an hour, to approve the resignation/retirement of Groening effective June 30, 2016.

“We wish Joan the best in retirement. She’s done some great work during her time at Glen Lake,” Seymour said. “We thank her for her dedication and look forward to her assistance as we work toward a smooth transition.”

Groening was not present at the meeting as she had been called to Washington, D.C. for an emergency meeting of the National Association of Federally Impact School’s governing board.

Seymour said the board went into closed session to discuss communications from the board’s legal counsel and that of Groening’s lawyer.

The Open Meetings Act allows public bodies to go into executive session for a number of reasons, which include meeting with their attorney or reviewing “privileged” communication from their legal counsel.

No one other than the board and its recording secretary were present for the meeting.

Although action was taken in open session, Seymour refused to provide either letter to the Enterprise upon request. A Freedom of Information Act request has been filed.

“I need to check with our attorney to see if it can be released,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

A second resolution adopted by the board in open session was to hire a third-party to audit financial issues that were unrelated to Groening’s announced departure, according to Seymour.

Neither the “privilege” letters, nor the resolution were made available to the Enterprise by presstime yesterday.

When contacted by the Enterprise, Groening said her retirement will provide her more time to tend to family matters.

“I have a 92-year-old mother living independently (in Iowa) with a number of health issues,” she said. “I have been assisting with her care and I’m working to address her continuing needs.”

A clause in her contract provides for a $5,000 lump sum payment to the superintendent if she provides notice of her employment intentions one year in advance.

Last week’s action was the most recent in a number of conflicts between the School Board and Groening.

In April, board members and Groening sparred over the details of the “instrument” used to evaluate her.

Going back to December, board members met with their attorney in a closed-door session at the Homestead to discuss access to the evaluations of other administrators.

Groening had refused access to the documents, saying the board had no policy to deal with such requests.

The evaluations, eventually turned over by Groening, are public records and were accessible through the Freedom of Information Act.

Groening was also at the epicenter of a 2010 controversy in which an unknown staff member accessed the district’s student database and wrote anonymous letters alleging that she had improperly identified herself as a certifi ed public accountant.

A $50,000 investigation by the district’s law firm resulted in the resignation of the district’s secondary principal.

Groening began with the district in 2000. With the departure of Superintendent John Scholten in 2005, Groening was tapped as interim superintendent. For a brief period, Glen Lake and Suttons Bay shared a chief administrator. Tom Harwood returned downstate leaving both schools to look for superintendents.

She was hired as superintendent in 2006, but it was during her time as business manager that Groening gathered documents needed to make Glen Lake eligible for federal Impact Aid.

Since the 2007-2008 the school district has received $26 million in federal Impact Aid dollars.

Groening’s salary for the 2014-15 school year was $115,316, according to the Michigan Public School Superintendent Compensation Database.

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