The superintendent of Garden City Public Schools in Michigan is facing criticism for comments she made during a staff meeting that some interpreted as racist.
According to Dave VanDeWater, a teacher at the district’s high school, the school has been having financial difficulties and Michelle Cline said at the meeting that she did not want to be “the first white school that failed.” He went on to say she mentioned Inkster and Buena Vista as “black districts” that have closed due to long-standing financial problems, writes Ann Zaniewski for The Detroit Free Press.
“To me, the only reason to make racial comments about the districts at all would be to say that those districts failed because they were black. There’s no other value in determining the district by race,” VanDeWater wrote in an email to The Detroit News.
He is not the only teacher to feel her comments were not called for. Another teacher at the meeting stood up and said she felt the comments were inappropriate, and that there was no reason to include race in the conversation.
Cline responded by saying her comments were taken out of context. While she did admit to making comments similar to what VanDeWater said, she said she was merely trying to make a larger point about the crisis the state was in pertaining to public school funding, reports Shawn D. Lewis for The Detroit News.
“I was telling them we were in jeopardy of losing our state aid payment and that would mean we could make payroll for 4-6 weeks if that happened,” Cline said. “The reaction from the group was one of disbelief that this would happen to us. I said ‘I will not let us be the first predominantly white district to close.’
“A teacher responded from the audience, ‘this is not about race,’ Cline continued. “I said you are right, however the reality is the ones who have been dissolved such as Inkster and Buena Vista are predominantly black, do not think that this cannot happen to a school that is predominantly white.”
Cline went on to say that the district ended the 2013-14 school year with a $606,000 deficit and is expecting a shortfall of $4.5 million by the end of this fiscal year, unless concessions are given from employees. There are no tentative contracts in place with unions, which Cline believes caused the state to reject the district’s plan to eliminate the deficit.
The meeting was held while students had the day off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.