2017-07-06 / Views

Residents in charge of local governments

There are bound to be policy differences between a board of education and a superintendent of schools:

When they filter into the hallways, though, things have gone too far.

We welcome the decision by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist in tossing a civil lawsuit brought against Glen Lake Community Schools by its former superintendent, Joan Groening.

His opinion cut through the rhetoric. Ms. Groening was a gifted and confident business manager for the school system. But she never held a firm grasp on her role as superintendent, a more subjective position that implements district policy rather than creates it.

Her final months and years on the job were not pretty. The lowlight came when Ms. Groening refused to provide members of the Board of Education her evaluation of a school principal — even though the evaluation was a public document.

All pretext of mutual trust was lost.

Judge Quist understood the magnitude of that moment.

“After receiving this information ... several board members concluded that Groening had misled them about their right to review administrator evaluations,” he wrote.

School Board members, now with a taste that Ms. Groening was being less than open, wondered if deeper problems existed, in following the school district attorney’s recommendation for a forensic examination of the management of the district. The report turned up what it called “signifi- cant misuse of public funds.”

Here’s where it would be easy to assume Ms. Groening was a crook. She is not. There’s been no evidence presented that she took money for her personal gain.

But at some time during her tenure, Ms. Groening came to believe that she was in charge of a public school system — in total command. So she fought the Board of Education and ran things as she saw fit, holding enough power to demand allegiance from those under her.

Glen Lake Community Schools should be — and is — larger than one person.

The judge saw through her ruse that School Board members had failed to abide by the Family Medical Leave Act, which was the basis for her civil lawsuit filed against the district seeking “damages.” Thank goodness. The bigger question was why she clung to her position of power while taking so much time off rather than stepping aside for the good of the district.

Why do we rehash? Because there is a lesson to be learned in all this about public schools and local governments.

Boards of education hire paid professionals to operate our schools, but the system was written to put residents — not administrators — in charge. Good superintendents — and Leelanau is blessed with them — understand this principle.

It’s the job of school boards, township boards, village councils and county commissioners to question, to probe, to guide their governments.

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