Thursday, January 13, 2022

Romulus school superintendent terminated by board

Following months of contentious meetings and public outcry, four members of the Romulus Board of Education voted to fire Superintendent of Schools Dr. Benjamin Edmondson on Dec. 29, 2021.

The vote came following a raucous meeting which began on Dec. 27 and continued Dec. 29. The four votes to terminate Edmondson's contract were cast by the same four board members named in a lawsuit filed on his behalf in U.S. District Court last month. That suit names board President Debi Pyles; Vice President Judy Kennard;, Secretary Susan Evitts and Trustee Nichole German along with the school district. Those four board members also voted to suspend Edmondson in September prompting weeks of public criticism of their actions during board meetings.

In the lawsuit, Edmondson cites a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, claims racial discrimination in violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and denial of due process. In defense of the board action in firing Edmondson, Pyles has posted a detailed list of complaints on the district website, citing Edmondson's failure to deal with the financial crisis in the district, including a timeline, since his hiring in August of 2020.

Pyles stated that Edmondson's termination was based on his failure to make sweeping financial changes in the district and that he had not presented a plan to correct the current financial disarray facing the district.

During the December meeting Edmondson was represented by attorney Nicholas Roumel who presented the board with 19 letters of support for Edmondson, including one from Romulus Mayor Robert McCraight and from the Romulus Education Association along with others from teachers and administrators. The most significant, however, appeared to be a letter from Donald Sovey principal of School & Municipal Advisory Services, PC. A report from that company was cited by Pyles as grounds to terminate Edmondson while Sovey's letter clarified the 100-page report as offering only “areas of consideration” and praised Edmondson's work and efforts in the district.. 

Board Treasurer Ursula Wester and Trustee Denisa Terrell argued against the motion to terminate Edmondson, written by Pyles, and reminded the board members that Edmondson had been working on the financial situation and had informed the board he was preparing a plan.

Roumel told the board that Edmondson could not be held responsible for the conditions, practices and financial problems in the district before he was hired. 

A recall effort against Pyles, Kennard and Evitts led by resident Rita Hampton is ongoing based on the failure of the board members to provide timely minutes of meetings, a charge reiterated in Edmondson's lawsuit. Hampton, and many other residents, have been openly critical of what they describe as a private meeting of some board members in which an interim superintendent was hired at a higher rate of pay than Edmondson. Edmondson, in his lawsuit, claims that he was replaced by a “lesser qualified, non-minority employee.”

In the statement on the district website, Pyles claims the board hired both Dixon Public Consulting and attorneys from Clark Hill to investigate the district finances. She claims Edmondson refused to cooperate with the personnel, hampering the investigations.

Edmondson in his lawsuit claims the four board members interfered with his ability to perform his job and that interference caused several district administrators and employees to resign.

Edmondson has asked for damages and claims in his suit that he has suffered “significant reputational harm that has negatively impacted his ability to find another job.” He has also requested a jury trial.