South Band Director Fired by GP School Board
The Grosse Pointe Public School Board voted to terminate South High School's band director early June 15—less than 24 hours after district officials notified him about their unhappiness with a letter he sent to parents.
On Grosse Pointe South High School's last day—June 15—band director Stephen Cross received news shortly before conducting a performance at graduation that the district intended to terminate him.
The following morning at 7 a.m., in what district and board officials have repeatedly told Grosse Pointe Patch was an open board meeting at the district offices, the board voted 6-1 to fire Cross based on the administrators' unanimous recommendation.
The recommendation stems from a letter Cross sent to parents of his students informing them that during the 2012-13 school year, some of the extracurricular activities would be scaled back as his position had been scaled back from full-time to less than full time.
Attempts to reach Cross have been unsuccessful but Patch is still attempting to contact him. Meanwhile, Grosse Pointe Education Association President Ranae Beyerlein said Cross intends to fight the termination. The union's legal recources are being used to implement three forms of appeal:
- A grievance will be filed.
- An injunction will be filed to stay the board's decision.
- An appeal will be filed through the state related to tenure.
School Board President Judy Gafa told Patch she was the one dissenting vote but she only did so because the board wanted to amend the resolution to terminate in a manner with which she did not agree. She said she agreed that Cross should be terminated.
Gafa explained that the decision to terminate stemmed from the fact that the letter sent to parents by Cross would have been changing the band program without the consent of administrators. She said there were other factors that contributed to the decision but declined to specify what those were.
Cross has been with the district for two years—spending part of his days at Grosse Pointe South and part at Pierce Middle School. He has no disciplinary record with the district, according to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jon Dean.
Gafa said the decision and situation arose quickly, explaining if the board did not take action when they did, Cross would have earned his tenure with the district. The termination process is more complicated and lengthier with tenured teachers, she said.
Tenure, however, is at issue in the appeals process by Cross. Beyerlein said Cross had earned tenure previously with another district and had fulfilled his obligations to gain tenure from Grosse Pointe Public Schools already by receiving two reviews in which he was determined to be an effective educator.
Beyerlein said the district did not follow appropriate steps to terminate Cross, noting administrators told him of their intentions at 4:30 p.m. June 14 and then the board met the next morning at 7 a.m. to discuss the matter.
In the first meeting, Beyerlein said, the administrators, Superintendent Tom Harwood, South Principal Matt Outlaw and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jon Dean, said they were giving Cross 15 days of notice as required by tenure law. But Beyerlein contends Cross should have been given 60 days notice per tenure law.
She also questions the 15-day notice considering the last contractual day for teachers was June 15—one day after administrators informed him of their plans and the same day the board voted to terminate.
At the heart of the issue is the letter sent to parents. Gafa said the reduction in Cross' status from full-time to less than full-time was the result of reduced enrollment in South's music technology class.
The district has long determined staffing needs based on enrollment, making the end of the year and budget planning wavering in the sense that final enrollment is never known until the school year actually begins despite a budget having to be passed by July 1.
Gafa said despite Cross being reduced in employment status, he receives and would have continued receiving extra pay for extra duty, commonly referred to by teachers as EPED, for the events performed outside of the classroom. The district heard from some parents after receiving Cross' letter who were upset about the changes and questioning why they were happening, Gafa said.
While Gafa said Cross is paid for external events through EPED, Beyerlein said it is not that clear cut because of what is technically part of the teacher's assignment. For example, students could participate in chemistry competitions outside the classroom but the department has historically not participated in these, so it is not expected of those teachers, she said.
By contract, generally teachers are required to take students for one event or activity outside of the classroom per year. In the music program, the music teachers and the school administration reach that decision to some degree, Beyerlein said, noting that some outside events would be considered co-curricular and therefore part of normal teacher salary.
"He can bow out of all but one as far as I'm concerned," Beyerlein said, referring to the contract language.
Cross held the position as the band director for Grosse Pointe South because the previous teacher did not want to commit to all of the extra events and competitions, Beyerlein said. That person moved to an elementary school where performances are fewer and are all local requiring no travel, she said.
In her years as union president, Beyerlein said she's never seen such a termination handled as the way the district and the board acted with Cross. Normally when a teacher who is not yet tenured with the district is a problem, district officials let the teacher know within the first year or early in the second year rather than at the time of tenure acquisition, she said.
"It's very alarming. It was very uncomfortable," Beyerlein said, noting it happened less than two hours before Cross was to conduct the band for graduation. "And then to expect that he's going to conduct, it's uncalled for really."
The district offered Cross the opportunity to resign; however, given the time frame it was unlikely he would have had sufficient time to draft such a letter, Beyerlein said.
Cross did not get to attend the board meeting in which members voted to terminate him, Beyerlein said, because they were only told that it would happen but were not provided a date, time or place and there was no notice posted that was publicly accessible.
Patch has requested copies of the letter Cross sent to parents, the minutes of the board meeting held June 15 in which they voted to terminate Cross, the response the district has been sending to concerned parents inquiring about why Cross has been terminated, the notice of the board meeting and the board's resolution to terminate.