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School board dismisses complaints against Superintendent


By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education passed a resolution 4-2 Monday evening to dismiss several complaints filed against Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn, including one filed by board member Ted Sabinas.

The board went into closed session Monday evening before voting on the resolution. The two board members voting against the resolution included Vice President Brooke Nichols and trustee Michelle Bayink. The resolution was read but there was no discussion.

The Post asked for a copy of the resolution, which was handwritten, from both Board President Matthew Shoffner, and the Superintendent’s office, but received no response from either.

According to Sabinas and others present at the meeting, the resolution dismissed complaints filed by Sabinas, Sue Wolfe, and Tammie Drake, which all asked for an investigation into whether Dr. VanDuyn had violated the school’s bullying and harassment policy (1162) in a statement she made to Sabinas in a previous board meeting on April 24, 2017. It happened during a presentation on privatizing the transportation services. Sabinas had tried to attend what was listed as an informational meeting between the bus drivers and administrative team, but was locked out. Sabinas said he was told that the drivers voted it down during that meeting, but that VanDuyn and Transportation supervisor Jerry Gavin then walked out and met privately, then went back into the meeting and told the drivers that if they voted against it, Gavin would be out of a job, but if they voted for it, he would work for Dean. The vote then passed. The statement under question from VanDuyn was uttered in an effort to explain why she and Gavin went outside.

“You had your truck backed in the parking lot and they felt stalked or intimidated by you sitting in the parking lot. And, so we had to check and see if things were safe for our drivers,” she said.

Sabinas had asked for an independent investigation. It was reportedly handled by Shoffner and treasurer Heidi Reed.

Sabinas reported that under the resolution, there would be no mention of the complaints in the Superintendent’s file.

The passage of the resolution did not stop people from airing their complaints during public comments. Many people addressed the board Monday evening, including current and former employees, and at least one high school student.

Teacher Erin Cairy (wife of former Asst. Superintendent Dave Cairy), who took a leave of absence this year to stay home with her three-year-old son, said the 2015/16 year was demeaning and toxic, and she had feared returning to the vicious things said about her family both verbally and on social media. After she submitted her leave of absence in August, many of her colleagues reached out to her, as did parents of the students she was to have, but the administration did not communicate with her at all. She said she sent emails and texts asking how she could help with the transition but they were not answered. She wrote a personal letter that she hoped to have delivered to the parents of her students, but it was not. She said she sent emails asking if she still had insurance. Those also went unanswered. On Sept. 4 she said she sent one final email begging for communication, but it also was not answered.

Kristina Cassiday also spoke. She worked for 13 years in the teaching and learning office. She said that she had always felt respected and well-liked by the principals, teachers and support staff, and had been thought of as dependable, trustworthy, knowledgeable and hardworking. However, she said that prior to her leaving, she was accused of unprofessional and unethical practices, including deleting appointments from Asst. Superintendent Jo Spry’s calendar; inappropriate charges on a purchase card; releasing confidential budget information to staff members; and cheating the system, in regard to vacation, sick and personal days. “This kind of leadership (false truths, devious, accusatory, strong arming and deceit) has spread fear and distrust throughout our district and community,” she said.

Senior Peyton Elliston spoke about how “our once cohesive, friendly town has turned into a divided battleground that has pitted teacher against teacher and student against student.” She talked about how teachers help students, and not just academically, but also as a mentor, and how several of those teachers she relied on as mentors were now gone. “I’m standing before all of you today to tell you that this—without a doubt—affects the students,” she said. She questioned how the people that are supposed to help students feel safe can do that when they don’t feel safe themselves. “Multiple staff members have stood before you over the last two years, simply asking for your help because they feel bullied and intimidated, yet you haven’t even acknowledged them, because they keep coming back. Imagine having a playground bully you can’t escape, and your repeated cries for help fall on deaf ears.” She noted that they are sending a message to students that their voices are insignificant.

Retired teacher Peggy Hansen asked why the board is turning a blind eye to all the controversy. She said teachers need to be reassured that they can speak out without retaliation. She also asked why the board is not getting back to community members regarding the questions they ask.

Teachers Union representative Brett Burns also spoke while 30-plus teachers stood behind him. “We stand before you this evening as a unified group of educators who you trust with your children every day. We want you to know that we love our kids, we are positive, we are united, we are hopeful. We want to begin the very important process of mending fences in order to build bridges to a bright future. Knowing that you want the same thing for our community and its children, we are extending an invitation for an open dialogue between educators and you, the members of the Cedar Springs Board of Education. We look forward to working as a team on this shared goal. Thank you for listening to this positive, caring majority who deeply desire the best for our staff, our community, and most importantly our kids,” he said.

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Mayor calls special meeting


Cedar Springs Mayor Mark Fankauser has called a special meeting to hear complaints against a public officer.

The decision was made on Friday, November 22, sometime after 5 p.m. to hold the meeting on Monday, November 25. A notice was posted, on the bulletin board inside of City Hall, but there was a question as to whether people could actually see the notice through the doors, and so the meeting for November 25 was cancelled. Under the Michigan open meetings act, a public notice must be given within 18 hours of the special meeting, and it must be accessible.

The meeting has since been rescheduled for Monday, December 2 at 7 p.m.

The Post was unable to contact Mayor Fankhauser or Mayor Pro-Tem Patricia Troost about the reason for the meeting or the scope of the complaints. However, it is believed to be about Councilmember and former mayor Bob Truesdale. Truesdale said that Fankhauser called him Friday, and set up a meeting to discuss some issues with him, but arrived with Mayor Pro-Tem Patty Troost, so Truesdale refused to meet with him. “I only agreed to meet with him one on one,” said Truesdale.

The complaints may be in regard to a personal letter that Truesdale wrote to Troost, in which he expressed his disappointment in some of her recent actions during a city council meeting, which he interpreted as being too friendly with certain members of the city staff. “There is too much friendly banter—too much ‘palsy walsy’ going on. We have serious issues at hand. I felt she would be one of four of us to stand up for change,” he explained.

Troost also voted for Fankhauser to be Mayor, which was disappointing to Truesdale. While he knew he might not be mayor this year and that was ok, he said he was disappointed in the way the vote for Mayor was handled. He took issue with the fact that Fankhauser was nominated with no discussion—as if it had already been discussed and decided on among several of the members. “I felt they kept me in the dark about that,” he said.

Truesdale said that if he had it to do over again, he would have handled things differently. “I would not have written the letter,” he said. “I would’ve contacted her personally. I am sorry I didn’t do that. I overreacted, but have concerns about city business that need to be addressed.”

Truesdale says he has been frustrated over the treatment of elderly members of the community by certain city staff, which is one of the areas he wants changed. He said many of the people who come to him with complaints are afraid to take them to City Hall for fear of retaliation. “I may have been overly aggressive but people need an advocate. My heart goes out to those who have been verbally abused by city employees. I’ll stop pushing when that goes away.”

In the meantime, Truesdale said he will reach out to both Troost and Fankhauser, and try to talk to them one on one before Monday’s meeting.

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Ray Winnie
Intandem Credit Union


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