KALAMAZOO, MI — Community members used Thursday’s school board meeting to criticize the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education for administrative upheavals in the past month.
In response, board members pleaded for trust from the community, saying there were “good reasons” for the Dec. 12 resignation of superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri and the termination two weeks later of Jim English, assistant superintendent of operations.
“The only way this is going to work is if you trust us,” said TiAnna Harrison, the board’s newly elected president.
As part of the Thursday, Jan. 12 Kalamazoo Public Schools board meeting, Harrison was elected to be president of the seven-member board. Patti Scholler-Barber, the long-time president until now, stepped down but will continue as a board member.
Raichoudhuri’s unexpected and abrupt departure was deemed “a mutual decision” in a KPS statement. English was fired for violating KPS policies, following an investigation by Interim Superintendent Cindy Green.
Several parents who spoke at the Thursday, Jan. 12, meeting called for a third-party investigation and increased transparency from board members and the interim superintendent.
“Good leaders innovate. From where I sit we lost an innovative, forward looking, strong leader and I want to know how this happened,” said Christina Getachew, mother to two Loy Norrix High School students and member of the KPS Equity Task Force.
Harrison said there are legal obligations preventing the board from sharing more information about Raichoudhuri’s resignation.
“It’s not that we’re not trying to be open and honest. There are just certain things that we have to follow” based on advice from legal counsel, Harrison said.
In her June 2021 and 2022 job evaluations, the board rated Raichoudhuri as “highly effective.” But it appears that in the weeks leading to her departure, board members were upset about what they perceived as Raichoudhuri’s failure to communicate with the board, including the decision to convert the finance director job into a contract position without the board’s knowledge. For her part, Raichoudhuri accused the board members of “bullying” and creating a “hostile work environment,” according to emails obtained by the Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive through the Freedom of Information Act.
Related: Former Kalamazoo schools superintendent accused board of creating ‘hostile’ environment, emails show
After Thursday’s meeting, Harrison said conducting a third-party investigation to inform the public would be “almost impossible per (Raichoudhuri’s) separation agreement.”
She referred people to Green’s investigative report on English, which details the issues around the hiring of a contactor as the KPS finance director as well as questions about paying $10,000 a month to a contracted fundraiser for the newly formed Kalamazoo Public Schools Foundation without board knowledge or approval.
Related: Kalamazoo schools operations chief accused of ‘gross negligence,’ bad judgment in investigative report
“Everything that I know is on the (KPS) website and they’re all welcome to take some time and really read what’s on the website and figure out what’s going on,” Harrison said.
KPS parent Sonya Datta-Sandhu said the information made public so far still left many questions unanswered.
“We have received very limited information from you about this resignation and no plans to ensure the district’s success in replacing Dr. Raichoudhuri,” Datta-Sandhu said. “How do we as a KPS community make sense of your actions? When do we get to hear the plan for ensuring we have effective leadership?”
While five speakers from the audience criticized the board’s actions, Kalamazoo NAACP President Wendy Fields voiced support for the acceptance of Raichoudhuri’s resignation and English’s termination.
In her opinion, the board did what needed to be done in terminating English and accepting Raichoudhuri’s resignation, she said.
“We will support you in any way that we can so we can help turn this ship around and get it headed back in the right direction,” Fields said.
Green said board members used a Jan. 9 workshop meeting to discuss the events of the past month.
“It gave people a chance to express their feelings from it,” Green said. “No one wants to do what this board had to do and they needed to share what they felt about that.
“There were a variety of expressions,” she said, “from being disappointed, to being overwhelmed, to never expecting to have to be in this situation.”
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