Editor’s note: The Oxford Leader goes to press at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays. At 3:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Kallie Roesner, the subject of this article, received at correction letter from Michigan Department of Education official Ken Micklash saying that Roesner did not directly or specifically say that Oxford Schools operates a boarding school during her conversations with state officials. Her emails were merely interpreted by state officials as making an allegation of boarding. The correction letter was also mailed to Oxford Superintendent Tim Throne.
Roesner forwarded this letter from Micklash to the reporter of this article at 9:08 p.m. on Tuesday night. Because the letter was sent after the Oxford Leader goes to press, it was not included in the original article.
Tensions began to run high when Oxford Superintendent Tim Throne pulled out a letter from the state of Michigan and read it aloud at the Sept. 25 board of education meeting.
“The Michigan Department of Education received notification from Kallie Roesner of Oakland County, MI, that Oxford Community Schools may be operating a Boarding School,” the first lines of the letter read.
Throne appeared surprised by the allegation, saying that Oxford does not operate a boarding school and that he would notify the proper state officials.
According to the state of Michigan, a boarding school is defined as a place of education that also provides board and care to five or more students under the age of 16.
“Obviously, I will draft a letter of response this week to send back… stating that, unequivocally, we do not operate any boarding school,” Throne told the board.
Following Throne’s comments regarding the allegation, board members were invited to share their thoughts on the subject. All but one of the trustees took the opportunity to voice their opinions.
“I don’t want to overstep my bounds or take (up) too much time, but this definitely needs to be addressed,” said Trustee Dan D’Alessandro. “You know, this letter is really disheartening. It’s my personal opinion that when somebody has an opinion (that) maybe we’re running an illegal boarding school, that comment should (be directed) to the superintendent (first), especially when that individual is running for the school board.”
“I agree with you wholeheartedly, Dan … I mean, this is a great school district,” added Trustee Korey Bailey.
“Don’t run for school board,” said Trustee Mark Stepek. “Move to another district, and terrorize them, not us.”
“If there is something that is on someone’s mind, and I say that… for our constituency that is hopefully listening, I think that our board has been very welcoming, kind of inviting the community to come and visit board meetings, and I think our superintendent has (done the same thing),” said Trustee Jenny Guthrie. “There is so much opportunity to work together in this district to do positive things, and I agree that it’s extremely disheartening when that is not the approach that a member of our constituency chooses to take.”
“What I fear most, is that we forget that it’s about the kids,” said Tom Donnelly, president of the school board. “If somebody’s got an ulterior motive, if somebody’s got an agenda, it’s always going to get in the way of what we need to do, which is to keep moving forward and doing progressive things.”
The comments appeared to release the pent-up frustrations some board members had been harboring for years.
Roesner, who’s running for a school board seat in the Nov. 6 election and serves on the Oxford Township Planning Commission, has questioned the board numerous times in the past. She and the organization she is member of, TEAM 20, see it as their civic duty to hold the board accountable for the students’ sake. The group has questioned the board mostly through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and email correspondence.
Though the organization has questioned the district on numerous things in the past, this latest line of questioning has to do with concerns regarding the district’s international program.
Having not been present at the Sept. 25 meeting, Roesner later told this reporter that she feels her concerns were misinterpreted by the state and that her conversation with Department of Education officials was about the Anchor Bay school district.
“I never said that Oxford was running a boarding school,” Roesner said. “I said Oxford attempted to build one, and they didn’t. But they were fostering the kids through . . . payments (from) the public.”
Roesner later sent this reporter a copy of an Aug. 21 email TEAM 20 sent to Michigan 44th District Representative Jim Runestad and other state officials. She believes the contents of this email were misunderstood.
It partially reads as follows:
“The public school administrators are creating self-serving businesses out of (foreign exchange programs) and are building dorms for these students on public property, housing these children in hotels where they are crammed in rooms together, and putting them in peoples’ homes, including homes of school personnel who are paid to house them by the school. We do not believe adequate measures have been taken to ensure their welfare and safety.
“This is happening across the State of Michigan including (in) Oxford, Anchor Bay Public Schools (MacDonald Dormitory), Traverse City Area Public schools, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools and Lake Shore Pubic Schools (Taylor Dormitory), just to name a few.
“In Oxford, the children have been shuttled from facility to facility including being housed at a run-down (now closed) hotel called the Met where it is verified that students were bitten by bed bugs and had belongings stolen. They were housed at a court referred juvenile correction school property (Crossroads for Youth), and housed in homes including those of the administrators and employees of the district. As we stated previously, we do not believe adequate measures have been taken to ensure their welfare and safety.”
Having felt distrust toward the board of education and district administrators for years, Roesner is hoping to make the district more honest than she feels it currently is.
For instance, Roesner feels even meeting agendas, which can be accessed the day of board meetings via the district’s website, are not easily accessible.
“You’ve got to really try and find (the agendas) . . . It’s really not user-friendly. To simply get a copy of the meeting packet, the same thing that board members are supposed to see, (the district) wants to charge (TEAM 20) $35 a meeting,” she said.
Donnelly later cited FOIA law and said the district is allowed to charge anyone for a FOIA request, especially a larger one.
Several board members and administrative officials feel TEAM 20 has lost sight of what the school board is actually meant for.
Donnelly later told this reporter, “What was the end goal of calling the state and accusing us of boarding (international students)? What’s the end goal of running for office? What’s (Roesner’s) end goal? Because I’m not sure it’s (to benefit) the hundreds of kids going to these schools right now.”
Donnelly believes he and his fellow board members work hard and have consistently made efforts to be honest with students, parents and staff. He is frustrated with TEAM 20’s questioning.
While Roesner said she and other TEAM 20 members believe the district doesn’t make an effort to truly listen to the community, Donnelly had celebrated the recent hiring of a teacher at Leonard Elementary School at the Sept. 25 board meeting, which was done after parents expressed concern at a meeting in August.
Throne sent a reply to state officials informing them that Oxford does not operate a boarding school, but he does not know what their next step will be in response.
“We’ve . . . looked at our current operating procedures in the last few years, and we haven’t been able to find anything that fits that definition (of a boarding school) and therefore, my letter back to the state . . . says ‘No, we are not operating a boarding school upon the definition of state law,’” Throne said. “From this point, I really don’t know how the state will handle it.”
The state’s investigation into this matter could begin and end with its initial letter and Throne’s response.