Details Emerge on Superintendent Switch

Friday, February 10, 2017, 2:26 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Robyne Thompson, left, and Dori Leyko, right

As the East Lansing Public Schools Board looks to a $94 million bond proposal vote this May, ELi has been looking into recent events surrounding the resignation of the East Lansing Public Schools district’s superintendent and installation of a temporary replacement.

At a special meeting of the East Lansing Public Schools Board meeting on Wednesday, January 25—without any indication to the public that these actions were coming—the Board accepted a resignation submitted from then-Superintendent Robyn Thompson and named Dori Leyko as the Acting Superintendent through the end of June.

From what we have been able to learn, it appears that the decision by the School Board to discuss and accept a resignation from the superintendent and to install a new acting superintendent was done without the public ever knowing a resignation had been submitted and without any notice to the public that this was going to be discussed and voted on at a “public” meeting.

Here are the details.

The Board changed superintendents at a “public meeting” with no advance public notice of the meeting:

Then-Superintendent Robyne Thompson submitted her letter of resignation on Monday, January 23. It consisted of only one sentence: “I hereby submit my letter of resignation from East Lansing Public Schools, effective June 30, 2017.” School Board President Nell Kuhnmuench tells ELi that this letter “was handed to me by Dr. Thompson the early evening of [Monday,] January 23, 2017.”

Kuhnmuench says she “shared the letter with one member of the Board” that night, and that it was then “emailed to all Board members” the next morning, Tuesday, January 24. According to Kuhnmuench, “The recommendation to accept the letter [from Thompson] at the January 25 meeting was [also] communicated to Board members on January 24.”

It consequently appears that the Board or some subset of the Board decided on January 24 that, at a January 25 meeting, the Board would discuss this resignation letter and probably accept it.

There was, however, no public notice that this would occur. Indeed, there was no public notice about a January 25 meeting of the Board at all. It appears no one other than those involved in the meeting knew that a meeting of the ELPS Board of Trustees was going to occur.

According to the later-published agenda for the January 25 meeting, the meeting had originally been intended to be only a disciplinary hearing for a student; the published agenda indicated that the only item of substance would be a disciplinary hearing for a student.

At the meeting, the Board discussed the Open Meetings Act with its lawyer before voting on the superintendent switch:

The draft minutes for the meeting indicate that at the meeting on January 25, the Board began by approving “as submitted” the agenda for that day. In other words, at the beginning of the meeting itself, the Board still did not change the agenda to reflect what it was really about to do after the disciplinary hearing, even though all Board members had been advised they were going to discuss accepting a letter of resignation from the superintendent.

The Board proceeded to carry out the disciplinary hearing for the student. Then, after the disciplinary hearing, Vice President Erin Graham, supported by Trustee Nichole Martin, moved “to amend the agenda to include the following two items: 1) a closed session to discuss confidential attorney/client communication pursuant to section 8(h) of the Michigan Open Meetings Act; and 2) personnel matters.”

Section 8(h) of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act indicates that the Board can meet in closed session if it is dealing with “material exempt from [public] discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.” It therefore appears that the Board consulted with its lawyer at this point, presumably to obtain assurance that what it was doing was not in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

The Board voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Thompson. They then voted unanimously to name Dori Leyko “as its acting superintendent effective immediately.”

As there had been no notice to the public of this plan, there was no public comment on the matter.

The naming of the acting superintendent appears to have caught Thompson off-guard:

The next morning, Thursday, January 26, Thompson sent out a message to district parents telling them she would be resigning as Superintendent “effective June 30, 2017.” Then, about twenty minutes later, parents received another message, this time from Dori Leyko, informing parents that in fact Leyko would be Acting Superintendent starting immediately.

It would appear, therefore, that Thompson did not know that, the night before, the Board had not only accepted her resignation but had also named Leyko to replace her in the role effective immediately.

ELi has learned that Leyko had been at the meeting, and Thompson had not.

Leyko tells ELi, “I was there as a District representative for the closed session (student discipline hearing), and I was also present when the Board went back into open session. I was asked to attend the closed session as Dr. Thompson was out of town, and the Board requested my presence for the open session.”

Leyko says that she was aware in advance that she was likely to be asked at that meeting to become the acting superintendent.

Thompson remains employed with no assigned duties:

The contract into which the Board entered with Thompson as Superintendent appears to allow the District the option of terminating her at any point. According to Board President Kuhnmuench, “Dr. Thompson has a contract with the District through June 30, 2017. That contract is being honored.”

Thompson is paid $138,000 per year plus benefits. According to Kuhnmuench, “Dr. Thompson is available for consulting on an ‘as needed’ basis.” Kuhnmuench adds, “There has been no specific consulting assignment made to date.” Thompson is therefore being paid by the District but has been given no assigned duties to carry out while she remains employed through June 30.

 

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