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BAS School Board votes to allow BEA office to remain on school grounds

screenshot: BAS Board of Education meting, 2/13/2023

The Brighton Area School District’s Board of Education discussed at their meeting Monday night the agreement between themselves and the Brighton Education Association (BEA), which represents the district’s teachers, in regard to the location of the BEA office.

The purportedly decades-long agreement does not appear to have been explicitly recorded, but rather is hinged upon a verbal agreement or implied understanding between the BEA and the district. For nearly four decades, the BEA office has been located in Brighton High School, something that certain board members and community members have taken to objecting.

Treasurer John Conely attempted to add several items to the evening’s agenda after the board had approved the list of discussion topics. Among these was the proposal to table the discussion of the BEA’s presence in Brighton High School until such time as a third-party investigation could be conducted. When questioned, Conely asserted that he believed a third-party investigation would “confirm illegal activities” on the part of the BEA. The proposal to postpone the discussion was discussed in previous meetings while Conely’s effort to remove the union office was publicly supported by the Livingston County Republican Party.

The Board deliberated as to the procedural legality of reversing the agenda approval in order to add these amendments. While they did eventually agree to vote on the matter, the motion ultimately failed. 

Public comments were focused on the controversy, with the speakers evenly divided in their perspectives.  Jenny Sobolevski– a 3rd-grade teacher, a Union leader, and the mother of five children who have or will be attending Brighton Area Schools– pointed out that this rift between teachers and the school board seems to be a recent and deliberately crafted development. She noted that the current relationship between the board and the BEA was an amicable one, and explained that this division was non-existent during contract negotiations at the beginning of the school year. During the negotiations, the BEA office space was frequently used as a location for regrouping and organization.

Sobolevski added that, while the board confirmed their contract, there now exists “ a faction that’s trying to compromise the progresses we’ve made as a collaborative whole, focusing on menial things… rather than helping us work towards the greatest goal: helping our students become thoughtful lifelong learners in an environment of mutual trust and respect.” 

On the other hand, several parents spoke in opposition to any sort of union presence in the district. Jared Alamat asserted that teachers’ unions were endorsing Critical Race Theory (a notion which has been repeatedly discredited), while Eva Helminen claimed that “teachers shouldn’t be parents.”

Caitlyn Perry Dial, a Brighton resident, parent, and MEA member, later noted that “we give over our children to teachers for eight to ten hours a day to be educated… and we vilify them in the same breath.”

Kelli Uphaus, a previous candidate for school board, used the public comments to reiterate her stance on unions: she along with several other speakers, cited the BEA (as well as the parent branches of MEA and NEA) as a partisan political group. Uphaus in particular accused the teachers’ unions of “political intimidation,” citing the MEA-PAC. 

It should be noted that all candidates for public office– from school board members to members of Congress– are offered the opportunity to go through the MEA’s screening and recommendation process. The MEA explains that the purpose of this process is to identify and investigate candidates’ stances on labor and education. Endorsements are given to candidates who are deemed to be pro-public education. It is also important to note that the MEA-PAC does not use union dues to fund political candidates, nor are union members required to donate to the political action committee.

The mission of the organization– as well as the NEA and localized branches like the BEA– is to support public education, and foster a safe and stable educational environment for students and teachers alike. The Michigan Education Association is a non-partisan institution, much like school boards are intended to be.

And yet, partisanship and divisiveness characterized the meeting, with the hostilities culminating in a minutes-long verbal altercation between Conely and President Roger Myers. Conely engaged in repeated instances of what can only be interpreted as bullying towards his peers on the board, dismissing Jennifer Marks as “naive” and telling Myers he “better watch himself.” He also claimed that the BEA was actively trying to destroy his business (Conely Auto of Brighton), adding that the BEA newsletters were encouraging union members to sabotage him. However, upon further examination, none of the BEA newsletters from January 2021 to the present even mention Conely, other than listing him as a member of the school board. 

The BAS School Board’s legal counsel advised that having the BEA office on school grounds is not illegal, though the ultimate decision is at the discretion of the board. However, Conely, along with newcomer Andy Storm, expressed their dissatisfaction with and distrust of legal counsel, though their exact reasoning was not specified. Storm repeatedly specified that this “was not an attack against teachers.”

The Board eventually approved the resolution 4-3,  voting to allow the BEA to remain on school premises, on the condition that new structures and guidelines would be put in place in order to ensure that the facility was operated in accordance with legal policy. John Conely, Bill Trombley, and Andy Storm voted against the resolution. 

Regardless of viewpoint, board trustee Alicia Reid said that she appreciated those who came “to share their thoughts and views on the BEA office,” adding, “it is very important to have an involved community.”

The Brighton Board of Education will next meet on March 14th.

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