LISD invalidates appointment to Tecumseh School Board
In special session Monday night, Aug. 19, the Tecumseh Public Schools Board of Education convened to address two pressing issues, the first unforeseen, the second expected.
The first issue was to take action on a misstep in the appointment of trustee Debbie Johnson-Berges to fill the unexpired term of Matt Oren, who moved from the district in late May. The second issue was negotiation of contract language for the teachers in the coming school year.
Regarding the first issue, the board publicized the open position on the board and requested applications from the district electorate to fill the seat. There were two applicants for the board’s consideration — Kathy Koch and Johnson-Berges. At the June 24th meeting, the board voted 3-2 in favor of Johnson-Berges, with two members, including Oren, absent, and she was appointed as the new trustee. She was sworn in at the July 22 board meeting and took her seat, as it was believed she was a duly appointed member of the board at that meeting.
However, after Supt. Dr. Kelly Coffin, who was present, but not superintendent at the time, questioned the original voting and appointment of Johnson-Berges by the Tecumseh Board, the Lenawee Intermediate School District determined that the procedure was invalid.
According to the LISD bylaws, an appointment to a school board must be approved by a full quorum of the board in question, meaning that the approval could have succeeded without violation had it been 4-1 in favor of Johnson-Berges, but such was not the case. A full quorum for the seven-member board is four trustees.
At Monday night’s special meeting, Tecumseh Board President Ed Tritt described the oversight as a “technicality,” but since the 30-day time period allotted for a local school district to appoint a board member had expired; it was necessary for the LISD to step in and fill the vacancy.
In a letter in response to Coffin’s query to the LISD on the issue LISD Supt. Jim Philp responded, in part: “Former TPS Trustee Matt Oren resigned his position in late May, 2013. Because Ms. Johnson-Berges’ appointment appears invalid. It has clearly been more than 30 days since the vacancy in the Board arose. As a result, it appears that the LISD Board is obligated to appoint a person to fill the TPS Board seat until the next regular school election, at which time that seat would be up for election.”
The next election in which school board seats will be contested will be in November 2014.
Tritt asked for a non-binding vote in recommendation of Johnson-Berges for approval by the LISD Board, and the trustees supported the measure unanimously 5-0. “I would like to see Mrs. Johnson-Berges reinstated,” said Tritt, “but it can only be a recommendation at this point. We will relay our support to the LISD and hope that they will follow our lead.” Johnson-Berges recused herself from the August 12 board meeting, after the breach of bylaw protocol was discovered, to avoid any hint of impropriety, said Tritt.
Supt. Dr. Kelly Coffin said that the LISD board would not be meeting until Monday, Sept. 9, so the Tecumseh School Board will await its decision at that meeting. The next Tecumseh School Board meeting is also Monday, Sept. 9, so it is unlikely that Johnson-Berges could be re-sworn in at that meeting regardless of the LISD Board’s decision on the matter.
The Tecumseh board went into closed session, after dispensing with the vacant seat issue, which was the only other business on the agenda, to discuss the teachers’ contract. Tritt and Coffin said that no action would be taken in open session after emerging from deliberations in closed session as negotiations are still ongoing.