A Quicker Departure for Ferndale Superintendent Gary Meier
(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 20, 2014)
After learning about a potential investigation into his side consulting work, Ferndale Schools Superintendent Gary Meier gave notice Monday night that he would be retiring immediately.
Meier had been scheduled to retire June 30, and the board had been in the process of finding his replacement. Meier announced his retirement two months ago, in the wake of changes to the school board, the cancellation of a controversial contract with the school, decreased enrollment, and teacher pay cuts.
When a document came to light at the school district’s policy meeting on May 19 showing potential conflict of interest, Meier moved his end date to May 20. The school board accepted his retirement and declined further investigation.
“I don’t think it is in the interest of the school district to say anything negative about Gary Meier,” said President Jim O’Donnell. “A lot of complicated issues are at play here. My judgment is that it is in the best interest of the district not to belabor this.”
The document that prompted the school board to seek a legal opinion is a copy of the minutes for a Schools of the Future Detroit meeting dated April 10. The board questioned whether there was a conflict of interest and if Meier had broken his contract by not disclosing that he had started a new consulting company and taken on new work.
The minutes of the Schools of the Future meeting list Gary Meier and Stephanie Hall as having attended on behalf of Equity Education Services, and John Carlson as being there as Equity Legal Counsel. Hall had been working for Ferndale Schools in charge of communications and enrollment. Carlson is also the attorney for Ferndale Schools.
Schools of the Future Detroit is a project of Michigan Future that helps to establish charter schools in the Detroit area. Meier is listed on the Michigan Future website as being part of their Operations and Finance Team, along with Hall and former Deputy Superintendent Henry Gold who retired from Ferndale in Aug. 2013.
Ferndale Schools also attracts students from the same area where Michigan Future does. Ferndale currently has teachers who are dependent on increasing enrolment numbers to trigger pay increases after having taken cuts. Each student enrolled brings money to the district. Losing students to other districts or charter schools has hurt the district financially, and the lack of an enrollment specialist has slowed recruitment efforts.
Meier had previously come under scrutiny because of the potential conflict of promoting charter schools while also serving as Superintendent for Ferndale Schools. A contract arrangement between his consulting company ICE (Innovative Consulting Education) and the District allowed him use of Ferndale Schools resources – including staff, office supplies and time – to work on ICE projects. Under public pressure, Meier cancelled the contract with Ferndale Schools that allowed him to use those resources. However he still had permission to do outside consulting work as long as the school board is aware of it, a provision that he had written into his contract in 2011 along with the contracts of other top administrators. Michigan Future stopped contracting with ICE.
The minutes showed that Meier was no longer consulting under the ICE company, but under a new company called Equity Education Services.
Because the school board’s attorney was also serving as attorney for Meier’s company, the school board brought in Miller Canfield to make a determination of how to proceed. The attorney’s report remains confidential. However, based on the report the school board voted Tuesday to accept Meier’s immediate resignation.
Oakland Schools Superintendent, Dr. Vickie L. Markavitch filled in as Superintendent for the day Tuesday and is handing the job off to Dr. Wanda Cook Robinson on Wednesday to serve as Interim Superintendent until June 12. From there the position will be temporarily filled by Kent Barnes, recently retired superintendent of Holly Area Schools.
Robinson had previously served as Superintendent for Southfield Schools. “I’m excited to have her,” O’Donnell said. He said Robinson will “get back to the normal routine and close out the school year.” He also said that Robinson will continue the process of hiring employees for vacant positions. He said that the job openings had been posted and some of the interviews completed already.
O’Donnell made it clear that no further investigation would take place, and that Meier’s earlier-than-expected retirement was mutually-agreed-upon.
Meier served for 14 years as Superintendent of Ferndale Schools, and worked in Ohio prior to that. In a previous statement, Meier said “As I plan my retirement, I want to express my appreciation to the many extraordinary members of our school community who have demonstrated a passion and commitment to the Ferndale Schools that will surely continue to serve students so well. I especially wish to thank those who joined me in ensuring the success of the Restructuring Plan, two Bond projects that have transformed our infrastructure, and the launch of University High School. These projects, in particular, make me most proud of what we have accomplished together in behalf of the students of the Ferndale Schools.”
Former school board Trustee Mary Schusterbauer recalled hiring Meier, and is proud of accomplishments he made. “I was Vice President of the School Board when we needed to conduct a search for a new Superintendent. It was a relief to see that we, as a Board, were in agreement. Gary rose to the top of the candidate pool and it was a unanimous decision to offer him the position. Once he was hired he hit the ground running. We charged him with figuring out how we could spend less on bricks and mortar and also ensure that all students received an equal education. He worked tirelessly from day one. His dedication to Ferndale Public Schools was evident immediately as he and Karla purchased a home in the district and he still proudly talks about what a valuable education his son received in our district,” she said.
The Superintendent search will continue as planned, with key details and information available on the district’s website at http://www.ferndaleschools.org/boardofeducation/superintendent_search.html.
Meier and Michigan Future have been contacted with opportunities for comment, and their remarks will be added as available.
A Quicker Departure for Ferndale Superintendent Gary Meier