Garden City schools superintendent under fire for remarks

"We do not want to be the first predominately white community that loses it's school district," said Dr. Michelle Cline, superintendent of Garden City schools.

It was an important school district meeting, a conversation about dollars, cents and concessions with Cline.

But no one expected her comments, which caused some teachers to get up and leave early.

Another teacher asked Cline if she wanted to rephrase her comments, but she stood her ground and said they are part of a larger point she was trying to make.

Others wonder if her comments were appropriate.

"It would be unfortunate if we are the first white school district - and they're going to take one - I hope it's not going to be us," Cline said during the meeting. "We do not want to be the first predominately white community that loses it's school district and we have to work together."

"I know you don't like it, but it's unfortunately a fact."

Cline was not mincing words and knew exactly what she was saying.

"I turned to the person next to me and just kind of did one of those (facial expression)," said teacher Dave Vandewater.

"And then it was repeated," said teacher Julie Naughton.

Naughton, a teacher at Garden City High School, says the fact Cline made those comments on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day  was not lost on them. 

"It was so ironic we had the image of Martin Luther King on the screen in front of us," Naughton said. "And for that statement to come out was just unbelievable."

But first, the back story

Garden City schools is in the red and the state just rejected its plan to cut costs.

So to avoid an emergency manager or worse, being dissolved, more concessions need to be made and that is not sitting well with school employees.

"The primary concessions were on the teachers' backs as a form of salary concessions," said Dennis Kubas, from the Michigan Education Association.

"So the sacrifices that are being made but again typical, not coming from the top," Vandewater said. "This team has been working really hard to identify the root causes of the problem and it's not the teachers' salaries."

So about those remarks.

"Right now all the school districts that they have taken down have been predominately black communities," Cline said.

FOX 2: "What do you think she meant,"

Vandewater: "I don't know, you would have to ask her."

FOX 2 stopped by her house but there was no answer at the door.

The district did send a statement from Cline saying:

"It doesn't seem anybody is aware of what's happening. There is apathy and I wonder if that's because the districts that have gone down are predominantly black. I wondered if the staff thought that wouldn't happen because Garden City is predominantly white.

"Nobody seems to care about predominantly black schools. The people in the audience didn't seem to believe we could go under. That is why I said what I said."

Vandewater said that race should not have been included in the dialogue.

"I don't want to see another public school fail," Vandewater said. "Every child in this state - race, gender aside - deserves a quality education and I don't see why you had to bring race into it at all."

So did Cline cross the line?

Jen Vandewater is on the Garden City school board was asked what should the district's response be to Cline's comments.

"I don't know if I as an individual can answer that," Jen Vandewater said. "The school board as a whole needs to come together. That's a topic for our next school board meeting or a meeting earlier than that, but that is a discussion we will certainly be taking up." 

The big issue at Garden City public schools is if it can cut costs to avoid being dissolved.

Many teachers are concerned how the district will be viewed by other communities.

They told FOX 2 they want to let others know that the district - which although is predominately white -  is also diverse and that Cline's comments are not reflective of the people who work in the district.
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