One former administrator of the Brighton Area Schools cited “immeasurable toxicity of particular board members” among his reasons for leaving the district, while another referred to a “toxic culture” created by those board members.
That’s according to the resignation letters of Mike Engelter, who had been Brighton’s Asst. Superintendent for Finance, but who departed last month to become Asst. Superintendent for Finance for the Pinckney Community Schools and Chad Scaling, who had been Brighton’s Executive Director of Human Resources, but was appointed last month to be the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools’ new Executive Manager of Human Resources.
The letters were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by GIGO News.
In Engelter’s letter of resignation, dated June 12th, he went into great detail as to his reasons for departing, saying he had “witnessed and been subjected to the immeasurable toxicity of particular board members,” and as such “it should come as no surprise that I now look forward to ending my time with Brighton Area Schools.”
Engelter specifically named both school board Vice President Bill Trombley and Treasurer John Conely as the cause of the toxicity.
“Via texts and calls upwards of 20 per day, Bill Trombley has caused BAS staff as well as outside contractors and vendors to work in a hostile environment laden with vitriol,” said Engelter. “As the chair of the Facilities/Bond committee, Mr. Trombley derides anyone even tangentially connected to district construction and/or operations. Not meeting Mr. Trombley’s expectations/demands, often leads individuals to receiving profanity-laced, rage-filled tirades. Numerous of these occurrences have been reported to, and witnessed by, fellow board members with no action taken.”
Engelter added that Trombley “drives around the district identifying issues he alone deems need to be addressed,” and communicates his opinions to management “through endless phone calls and texts demanding immediate resolution and/or containing patronizing commentary. Attempts to avoid such harassment only lead to increased frequency of the calls/texts or instances of stalking in which Mr. Trombley drives around until locating the subiect of his intended harassment and ridiculing the individual in front of anyone present.”
Engelter noted that despite reports of what he called “abhorrent behavior,” which he says violate the Board’s Code of Ethics, no action has been taken by the Board.
“Mr. Trombley’s conduct has rendered functional management/oversight of the Operations Department impossible,” he said.
As for Conely, Engelter cited his “aggressive and irrational shouting,” including being permitted by the Board to accuse BAS leaders of willfully harming children and breaking the law.
“For example, during the public Board meeting on February 13th, 2023, Mr. Conely stood, pointed his finger, and screamed at Dr. Outlaw for carrying out State mandates during the Covid-19 schooling period,” he said. “He also yelled profanities, branded Dr. Outlaw a liar, insulted and accused other board members. Mr. Conely also displayed other disturbing conduct. The Board did not publicly censure, or in any way condemn, Mr. Conely’s actions during that meeting or in any future meeting. Not only do Mr. Conely’s actions violate the Board’s Code of Ethics Policy 2302, but the inaction of other Board Members, or the body as a whole, further compounds the problem by tacitly providing approval for abusive behavior toward BAS staff.”
Scaling’s letter, dated August 26th, mentions no one by name, but makes similar claims about board members behavior.
“Working with members of the Board of Education has become extremely challenging and undesirable,” said Scaling. “The mistreatment of administrators, both cabinet members and other administrators and directors, has created a toxic culture and impedes the important work of the district.“
Scaling went on to say that the toxicity and lack of professionalism by these “few” board members would continue to impede the work of the district.
“Without any indication that this behavior will cease, and as a person who places a high degree of importance on respect, integrity, and professionalism, the right decision was to resign from my position with Brighton Area Schools,” he concluded.
Both Conely and Trombley were asked to comment on the allegations made in the letters, but have yet to respond.
Meanwhile, Engelter’s letter also brings to light what he called “egregiously unacceptable” actions by board members in relation to a “serious fiduciary investigation” involving a faculty member.
“For context, after complaints from BAS student parents, the district administration conducted a pre-investigation into the conduct of a BAS teacher; this pre-investigation found a series of financial issues associated with the practices of the implicated staff member,” he said. “As the individual in question has many ties to the Brighton community, the Board of Education chose to conduct an investigation through engaging the services of an outside forensic auditor; by hiring this auditor through the board’s legal counsel, the Board of Education was able to shield the investigation with attorney/client privilege.”
Engelter said the board was informed that the administration would be presenting findings during a closed session on March 20, 2023, but that certain board members, who he did not identify, began acting in ways that he said could only be described as attacks upon district administration for investigating.
“Particular Board members condemned district staff for investigating at all; disregarded all findings and recommendations, including those from the auditor they hired; and refused to take any actions that would allow the investigation to properly conclude,” he said. “It was very clear to district administration that we were being told to “back off.” Officially, with the board refusing to waive attorney/client privilege on the auditor’s findings, the district staff was forced to suspend the investigation.”
While the details of that investigation are not known, minutes from an April 13th special meeting of the board show that the board unanimously passed a resolution that stated;
“Following an independent audit of district fundraising and student activity accounts for certain BAS programs, the board directs the administration to effectuate the following:
- Employees, volunteers and contractors performing fundraising for BAS student activity or fiduciary accounts shall not be involved in the operation or fundraising of competing non-profit organizations.
- Administration shall work with employees, volunteers and contractors to ensure they understand and implement appropriate accounting practices for managing BAS student activities and fiduciary accounts, and for appropriately managing monies collected.
- District administration shall memorialize reasonable goals, as approved by the board president, for the implicated staff member moving forward.
- Administration shall review with employees, volunteers and contractors board policies addressing the appropriate management of BAS student activity and fiduciary accounts.”
Engelter further said retaliatory behavior against district administration continued, citing a May 4th, 2023, meeting between the district Cabinet and Trombley and Conely.
“During this meeting, these two board members demanded the termination of several BAS staff members,” he said. “These Board members expressed that they wanted particular staff members terminated regardless of professional evaluations or administrative processes. Statements by these Board members included threats that the BAS Board of Education would terminate employment for the targeted persons because the Board Members “had the votes” to end employment of individuals.”
Engelter further alleged that Trombley and Conely indicated they were willing to endure lawsuits in order to eliminate individuals they did not want working for the district.
“The May 4th meeting culminated with the pair of board members requesting a response from Dr. Outlaw in regards to their prior demand for his resignation; a resignation for which the only cause given was the opinion that “the district was not moving forward fast enough,” said Engelter, who added that at a subsequent meeting on May 8th, 2023 with Trombley, he was informed that there were three votes to terminate Dr. Outlaw and Trombley said he would soon have a fourth as Board President Roger Myers “would be coming around if he knew what was good for his political aspirations.”
Engelter said Trombley made it clear to him that he also had four votes to terminate Engelter’s contract as well as four votes to eliminate Scaling’s employment.
“Mr. Conely and Mr. Storm were specifically named as Board members seeking to immediately terminate most of the current BAS administrative cabinet,” he wrote. “I did not inquire as to the fourth Board member alleged to be seeking to terminate existing cabinet member contracts. When asked the reasoning for my intended termination, I was told I was not prepared for meetings, didn’t bring a computer to Board meetings, and my answers were too nuanced. Also mentioned was the fiduciary investigation BAS administration had pursued. When I commented that the contracts Mr. Trombley wished to terminate included Just Cause Provisions, Mr. Trombley indicated there were ways to deal with that. Mr. Trombley was unaware at the time that I had multiple offers from other employers as I had begun to seek another work environment when it was clear that the BAS Board of Education was not going to act according to its own bylaws or in the best interests of the district. Despite knowing that I had other employment opportunities lined up, I was still uncomfortable with Mr. Trombley’s threats as they left me with no option other than leaving BAS.”
Engelter concluded that integrity was important to him both “personally and professionally,” but the lack of it from the BAS Board of Education “has shown and continues to show,” and that as “a person who values respect, honesty, and integrity, and has a desire to maintain my strong reputation amongst my colleagues, peers, and co-workers, I resign from Brighton Area Schools effective August 4, 2023.”
A request for comment by the district was handled by Board President Rogers Myers, who sent the following response:
“The BAS Board of Education recognizes that every employee in the district should be treated in a professional, respectful manner. The conduct to which Mr. Engelter and Mr. Scaling refer in their resignation letters is obviously unacceptable in any organization, and it is unfortunate that Mr. Engelter and Mr. Scaling resigned under these circumstances. They were respected, valuable employees, and we wish them success in their new roles,” said Myers.
“Brighton Area Schools remains a very attractive district for central office leadership positions, and we received applications from several highly qualified professionals for both positions. One of the positions has already been filled with the recent hiring of David Jones as the Assistant Superintendant for Finance, and it is our expectation to approve the hiring of our new Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources at the Board’s September 11 meeting. In addition, our classroom and support positions are well-staffed for the 2023-2024 school year and our entire group of professionals is focused on providing the best possible education for our students this year.”