School Board meeting reveals continuing community rift
Photos by Lil De Laat
Story by Ken De Laat
One thing that became clear after last night’s Grant School Board meeting? The board has lost the trust of a good share of their community.
The Board’s regular monthly meeting was held at the school’s Fine Arts Center and most of the roughly 300 of those in attendance were decidedly part of that share.
Superintendent Brett Zuver gave his report on various items adding he had been contacted by Fremont Area Community Foundation President & CEO Shelly Kasprzycki to say a grant could be available to cover the money the clinic costs the school, estimated at $5000. The expense of the CAHC was one of the primary reasons given by the board members who voted to cut ties with the clinic. The Board then discussed a couple of issues including a discussion on assessing the value of school property and a discussion ensued regarding the formation of ad hoc committees to interview school board applicants for the board's current vacant position.
As the meeting progressed there were occasional calls of “Resign” aimed at the Board as well as a few more pointed remarks and two people were removed for their outbursts, but the clearest message to the Board came via public comment. When the Board moved “to consider entering into negotiations with Family Health Care Center or another provider” it was more than apparent the citizens who made their way to the podium after this motion was passed were not assuaged by this action.
Nearly 50 members of the community along with staff, students, former students, parents, providers and others expressed frustration that their questions about the reasons for the initial move to discontinue the CAHC continued to go unanswered. Rachal Gort, Ken Thorne, Sabrina Veldkamp-Blok and Richard Vance, the 4 members of the Board who took the initial action of severing ties with FHC, were the primary recipients of such commentary. Many of the public spoke of having voted for those members and feeling betrayed by their performance after being elected.
Board Member Rob Schuitema, the lone member of the board who has supported the efforts to retain the Child and Adolescent Health Center, challenged his fellow board members about the motion, questioning the availability of other providers and asking why this wasn’t part of the initial action taken at the June 19th meeting to cut ties with the CAHC.
“I’m just stating that we are all fully aware of the fact that we provide medical care to our students," said Richard Vance. "That is a known. So, in the process of making decisions we also know…I know… that without discussion, without knowing other providers, of which I know there are 3 dozen health care providers throughout the state of Michigan that provide school based clinics.”
The vocal response from the crowd was immediate and punctuated once again by calls of “Resign”.
“You say there are all these other providers,” replied Schuitema. “ Why haven’t we heard about them the last 12 years? What is their capacity? What are their boundaries? This is a state funded program essentially for rural areas, especially those with a large migrant population. There are stipulations and guidelines for all of this and if you want to make a decision based off of that evidence, that’s fine. But that’s not what happened on June 19th.”
The crowd responded with applause as they did following the words of most who contributed during public comment.
Many speakers called the board dysfunctional and one speaker mentioned available training specifically for school board members and recommended they pursue this. Several spoke to what the loss of the clinic would mean to their ability to access health care and many pointed to the ongoing need for mental health services. One woman speaking through a translator stated, "There are no Hispanics here because they are busy working to put food on their table. That gives you no right to make decisions for them and take their rights away."
Clearly the board members who oppose the CAHC have their supporters. The actions they have taken are obviously congruent with the opinions of some members of the Grant community and perhaps even a significant number. It is easy to explore local social media and read the reasons being given for their skepticism when it comes to the Health Center, and although the CAHC has repeatedly attempted to clarify what they can and cannot do, the distrust remains.
But the contentious relationship that now exists between the board and a large percentage of the people they serve is troubling at best.
And no one is likely to get out of this one without some pretty significant damage being done.
On both sides.
“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. -Abraham Lincoln
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