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Application Window Closes for South Band Director

Despite pleas from parents and students at the last school board meeting to rethink their decision about terminating Grosse Pointe South's Jazz Band director, the district's application process for the job has already closed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated story has been written concerning the documents included in this story related to the termination of Stephen Cross after school board members realized the wrong documents had been released to Patch in a Freedom of Information Act request. Please see for more information.

Officials at are likely beginning to review the applications for an instructional music teacher at and to replace Stephen Cross.

--the last day of school a few hours before the graduation ceremony--for a letter he sent to parents informing them of changes to his job that would impact how he operates the student musician's schedules for next school year.

According to a resolution by the Board of Education to terminate Cross recently released to Patch, it was for being an ineffective teacher and "he has not sufficiently demonstrated adequate professional judgement."

His job has been listed on the district's website since June 19. Generally those positions are also posted on other educational forums at the same time. The search went on despite pleas from parents, current students and former students who all complimented Cross' level of dedication and sheer excitement about music.

Most talked about how Cross had improved the band program, gotten many more students involved in music and was tireless in his pursuit to grow it and impassion students about music.

The pleas were shared with the school board during its last meeting June 25.  School board members mostly declined to speak about the situation but commended everyone who spoke on Cross' behalf, especially the students.

Board President Judy Gafa did tell the audience at the end of the meeting that the board's unanimous feelings about Cross and the ultimate 6-1 vote to terminate him speaks volumes about the situation. She noted how rare it is for the board to all agree about any topic.

The closing date for the job posting was this week, meaning distirct officials are likely to begin reviewing applications next week to fill the vacancy.

The termination happened during what district and board members have repeatedly told Patch was an open meeting that did include proper notice according to Michigan's Open Meetings Act.

The act does not specifically require the notifications of the meetings to be posted online--a point emphasized to Patch repeatedly while inquiring about the termination.

The district's standard practice in posting meetings--open and closed--is to post it on the board's online calendar through their website in addition to posting a paper notice in the administration building at 389 St. Clair St. This particular meeting was never posted on the online calendar. It also happened less than 24 hours after school officials told Cross about their unhappiness with the letter.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Patch, the district released a series of documents related to the meeting, the board's resolution, the notice posted for it, the letter Cross sent to parents as well as the district's response to parents who voiced concerns about his termination and questioned the decision. All of these documents are attached to this article as PDFs in the pictures area.

The district has yet to release minutes from the board's meeting in which the decision to terminate Cross was made. Orignially Patch was told the minutes would be available followin the June 25 school board meeting because the board would approve them.

The minutes from that particular meeting were not listed on the agenda however and have not been approved. Following that meeting, Patch was told the board would approve minutes from all the June meetings in July rather than splitting the approvals between months.

Yet the Open Meetings Act states:

"Proposed minutes must be available for public inspection within 8 business days after a meeting. Approved minutes must be available within 5 business days after the meeting at which they were approved. Corrections in the minutes must be made no later than the next meeting after the meeting to which the minutes refer. Corrected minutes must be available no later than the next meeting after the correction and must show both the original entry and the correction."

Meanwhile, Patch is awaiting information about the job search that is on-going to replace Cross.

Roberta Robson-McGlone July 14, 2012 at 07:58 PM
My daughter and I attended the end of June board meeting in support of Mr. Cross. The young people who spoke did so with passion and zeal, it was down right moving. Many of them moved to tears, many of them taking take pause to compose themselves in order to continue speaking. The same can be said of the adults. The sincere statements of respect and admiration for Mr. Cross were impressive. No one spoke against the man or in support of the boards decision. As a Pierce band parent over the last two years I have been nothing but impressed with Mr. Cross. I have always found him to be professional, available, and exceedingly helpful. I am sad to say I do not find this to be true our school board. Mr. Cross always acted with complete transparency; providing clear and timely communications to students and parents. I am sad to discover that our school board does not act with that same transparency. I am sad to discover that our school board is neither timely or clear in their communications. In fact, they seem to choose to be quite ambiguous and frankly a little sneaky. I found the boards statement to the students and parents at the end of that board meeting to be patronizing. Chalking up our statements as the emotional ramblings of the uninformed. Effectively patting us all on the heads pinching our cute little cheeks and telling us to run along so they could go on about their very important business because they are all such very important people.
Brendan Walsh July 14, 2012 at 08:42 PM
This article, that strains to cast dispersions on Board transparency despite our acting in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, is also factually inaccurate. The document posted as not acted upon and the Board simply voted to not renew the contract of the teacher in question, as is our right to do under the Michigan Teacher Tenure Act and which has nothing to do with "teacher effectiveness." The public must remember, the Board does not arbitrarily decide to meet and take such action. We pay administrators to oversee district employees and then make recommendations to the Board, which should not be rubber-stamped and are not. Any one who observes our Board sees no evidence of rubber stamping. Even in this case, we opted not to adopt the resolution posted here. Q.E.D. The administration recommended this teacher contract not be renewed. The Board asked many questions. The Board has subsequently heard the concerns of the public and has still concurred with the administration. The public holds the Board to a double standard, with factions both wanting to know every detail and others calling for discretion in these matters. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 15, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Mr. Walsh and ALL Board Members, I commend you, and greatly appreciate your diligence.
Birgit Huttemann-Holz July 15, 2012 at 03:41 AM
I was very surprised by the termination of Mr. Cross. ....and I am clearly at a loss. On June 6 at the Defer Elementary Talent show I asked Mrs Walsh about a rumor that I heard, that Mr. Cross hours would be reduced for the following school year. Mrs. Walsh was very surprised . She called her husband Mr. Walsh and said that nothing of this rumor seeme to be true and that her husband had no notice of that. One weeks later this fabulous teacher is fired for a letter calling for support, to reinstate his full hours. We do not understand this decision and disapprove it. I have come to know Mr. Cross as a highly dedicated teacher with very high standards. This is just what a parent wishes for in terms of their children's education. I cannot understand the chain of events that led to the firing. I find it very unusual that a letter calling for support can stir such anger and lead to a loss of one of the finest teachers who I have ever met. Isn't it after all a democracy we are living in? While we were on vacation, Philipp, my son who was in Mr. Cross' band program, 7th grade, whistled Peer Gynt. It warmed my heart. I was so proud of my son, his education and very thankful to Mr. Cross , who delivered a band concert this year that was outstanding in choice of the program and performance of his students. My wish: Please, rehire Mr. Steve Cross and make sure that the outstanding music program continues. Sincerely,
Sara Eaton Martin (Editor) July 15, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Brendan, It's unfortunate that the resolution attached is not indeed what the board voted on according to what you've shared here. In my FOIA request, I asked for "a copy of the board’s resolution to terminate Stephen Cross" and the attached document is what I was given in response. Hopefully when the minutes are released, this detail will be clear. Sara
John Chronos July 15, 2012 at 04:28 AM
I would be most interested in your thoughts on which specific parts of the article are factually inaccurate. Please fill in the gaps in the media account. There may be facts that are omitted or misstated in the Patch. You have a unique perspective from which to clear these up by describing how the meeting in question complied with the Open Meetings Act and how, if not on the website, it was announced to the public. You can point out, too, whether the factual inaccuracies of the Patch include the continuing unavailability of the minutes of this meeting to the public, or perhaps the requirement under the Open Meetings Act that "Proposed minutes must be available for public inspection within 8 business days after a meeting." Please help us by providing specificity. After all, I can't say that I have seen anyone claiming "calling for discretion in these matters" to the extent of not wanting to hear enough detail to reach a reasoned judgment.
Joy Turner July 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Mr Walsh perhaps you did not read the resolution that was passed by the board. It indicates that Mr Cross was to be terminated because he was an ineffective teacher. I submit the minutes will reflect that the board did not ask for input from parents or for specifics as to why the resolution indicated he was ineffective but instead rubber stamped the administrations request. That is not your job. You have previously indicated you attended the band orchestra trip to chicago and observed Mr Cross and saw nothing wrong. Why do not the minutes reflect that observation. If Mr Cross had done terrible things or had been incompetent the community would understand the board's actions and would have been supportive. No one wants a bad teacher. Mr Cross was the best of the best. The administration knew that and hired him two weeks before school started to "fix" the band program. He did exactly that and in just two years. I submit again that the administration fired him for telling the parents to contact the administration if we were concerned about cutbacks. Mr Cross only did this after Mr Dean refused to meet with him.
Sally Gumapac July 15, 2012 at 12:43 PM
It was heart breaking when I heard that Mr. Cross was terminated from his position. This instructor who really worked hard for the success of every students in music. He helped my daughter a lot in her oboe class. On her first few months with oboe considering that it was her first time playing this instrument. He became a mentor of my daughter in becoming an Oboist someday. I watched some of their programs and I was so amazed with these students. They are the best and this is because of Mr. Cross hardwork and dedication. I wish that the board and admin let Mr. Cross back, I'm sure all the students will be happy.
Judy Gafa July 15, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Sara, I have asked administration to forward you the correct resolution that the board voted on. I am checking into the minutes
LMJ July 15, 2012 at 04:20 PM
It's been awhile since Critical Thinking 101, but I do recall enough to be able to approach this dialogue in a way that should highlight what the actual question is. The question isn't nor ever was, about Mr. Cross's ability- it was about a personnel matter that the School Board was asked to review, consider deliberately, and vote on. The question of Mr. Cross's continued employment shouldn't rest on the quality of his teaching any more than it should on the kind of car he drives- its irrelevant. Therefore, Mr. Walsh can say that he found him to be a good educator and still found his lack of professionalism and specifically, the act that prompted the review in the first place, to be of a nature that would support the termination of his employment. I find the continued suggestions that the Board & Admin have not acted with transparency deliberately within the realm of libel. The School Board is made up of 7 people who are in a volunteer position- what this means is that they have real jobs, and a typical workday is 8-5 PM. You also have to consider that the end of the school year means that members of the Board & Admin are more likely to be out of town, and when you're talking about coordinating around 10 people for a meeting that is time sensitive and needs to accomodate work schedules it could very reasonably be scheduled for 7 AM. I believe to suggest a Machiavellian conspiracy does a great disservice to 7 people that put in many hours to serve our district.
Brendan Walsh July 15, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Ms. Turner, I repeat, the resolution posted here by the Patch is NOT the one that was passed. The resolution passed was much leaner, a single sentence simply declaring our intent to not renew his contract in accordance with the Michigan Teacher Tenure Act. The Patch got it wrong. So this further disproves your charge that I didn't read it, or that anything was rubber stamped. Had we a rubber stamp response, we would have approved the Resolution posted here. But we did not because it did reference ineffectiveness as the reason for dismissal. There was lengthy discussion of this very issue. As there is so much reference to Open Meetings Act here, you will recall that meeting minutes reflect actions taken by the governing body, not a verbatim of everything that was said in the meeting. Brendan Walsh
Joy Turner July 15, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Judy Gafa seems to imply she did not pass a resolution indicating Mr Cross was an ineffective teacher, but I would note the termination letter sent to Mr Cross sepcifically states he was terminated for being an ineffecitve teacher and for lacking professional judgment The professional judgment the administration did not like was asking the public to contact the administration if there were concerns regarding cutbacks when Mr Dean refused to meet with him.
Bob Carr July 15, 2012 at 04:57 PM
My hat is of to the GPPSS Board -- at least Brendan Walsh and Judy Gafa -- for joining in dialogue over the band director and music program. So much more could have been accomplished had this conversation occurred in middle of June rather than middle of July. Let us turn this energy to preserving and expanding upon our fantastic band and orchestra program!
Judy Gafa July 15, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I would like to clarify one more thing, there were no cuts to the band program. The budget was passed the on June 25th. I am going to reiterate that the district staffs to enrollment, one class of Music Theory had to be cut due to low enrollment. This is standard budgeting process the district has used since I have been on the board. Due to union contracts an employee with more senority was slated to teach the Music Theory class, who that is was left up to administration, I personally can't tell you if it is Mr. Gross, Mrs. Bowen or another senior teacher who has the class. But I repeat at NO TIME did the administration make cuts to the current band/orchestra program throughout the district, nor did the board approve any cuts to the music arts program at South High School.
Joy Turner July 15, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Mr Walsh, is the termination letter attached to this article correct or was it a different one as well.
Allyson July 15, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Wow. The statement by Ms. Jacobs that “the question of Mr. Cross’ continued employment shouldn’t rest on the quality of his teaching…its irrelevant” is chilling. I emphatically hope that her point of view is not employed when evaluating future candidates in any GPPSS job search. Apparently the criteria for hiring should be “can you resist the temptation to advocate for the program you have spent countless hours building?” so as not to inspire your administration (who won’t meet with you to discuss your concerns) to consider your advocacy “blackmail” and then, oh yeah “are you an effective teacher?” Somehow, I thought that a school system such as Grosse Pointe used a bit more rationality in hiring and firing, and I also believed that union positions tenured or not employed something called progressive discipline. I believe that this example will seriously hamper the effectiveness of any future band director, who will of course be a probationary employee as well. Even before they are hired they will get the message that they need to keep quiet, since apparently passionate dedication and parent advocacy are only deemed appropriate in one sector of the music program.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 15, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Once again Lynn, nicely put........
Judy Gafa July 15, 2012 at 07:35 PM
The proposed minutes are available for preview at the board office. The minutes are not official nor are they posted until the board approves them. I have talked with Dr. Harwood. We are still looking I to why they weren't released with the other documents.
Taxpayer July 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM
As a taxpayer who is observing the unfolding events it is clear in my opinion, that a good teacher was fired on no real justifiable grounds. This decision did not seem well thought out and quite hasty in action which has had consequences on an effective teacher's reputation and most importantly on students in this district. Did we as taxpayers vote to elect a 'dictatorship' board? One that has seemed to act almost covertly to see a teacher go? What kind of precedent does this set? This kind of rash decision and the way in which it has been handled, in many people's opinion, puts our much loved school system at risk for a possible lawsuit. The whole business is disturbing. It also appears from what has been published that certain dates have been backdated. It is curious that the email document sent to administration and human resources, given to the Patch, has the sender/senders blacked out. Finally, it is highly offensive that a previous post would suggest that people stating their opinion and exercising free speech is misconstrued to suggest libel. We are in North America not North Korea.
Orchestra & Band Parent July 16, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Nicely put, Allyson.
LMJ July 16, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Allyson, It's a giant leap from my point, which is that a decision to terminate is due to a specific incident , to the assertion that this point of view that would used in " evaluating future candidates in a GPPSS job search." I never said or implied anything of the sort. If you recall, two VERY popular and effective district employees were let go due to a personnel matter not that long ago- to the dismay of everyone, INCLUDING board members who, while reiterating the outstanding leadership qualities these men had, they had taken part in behavior that was unprofessional and outside of the bounds and standards of what we expect of ALL of our educators, and how talented or passionate they are IS irrelevant if they cannot, at the same time, conduct themselves in professional matter. Sort of like a teacher having a long history of assaulting a student. Now THAT is what I would call chilling.
Heidi Linn July 16, 2012 at 01:44 AM
I am not a band member or parent but one thing I know for certain is that this board and administration do not care one bit for the students in this district. It is the same thing over and over be it the football scandal, electing a board president, firing a principal.... it is always the same thing. Students and parents fighting a board that couldn’t care less about the kids. I really have a hard time understanding why these people want to be on a school board when they have absolutely no interest in our children. They are merely puppets to those that hold their strings. Once again a scandal perpetuated by our beloved board.
Alan Grams July 16, 2012 at 03:53 AM
My perspective is that the administration needed to justify cutting 1/10 FTE in the music dept. The solution was to show a decline in student participation, so they took Music Theory, which was taught in the first semester of the school year and Music Tech, which was taught in the second semester of the school year and put them both in the same semester. Because many of the same students take both classes, this required them to choose one over the other and created a overall music program student reduction. I just don't understand why you would reduce opportunities to your students.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 16, 2012 at 09:11 AM
Yes, that's why these people, our Board Members, are there, they don't care about our kids, NONSENSE.....read up on gpschools.org.....these volunteering individuals have or had kids in the district. You couldn't be more incorrect.
Brendan Walsh July 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Ms. Linn (and others), I've been on the Board for 6 years now. I see this sentiment and I should be accustomed to remind everyone, Board service is a volunteer position, albeit an increasingly miserable one. Why do I do it? Not only am I a taxpayer and a graduate of the district, but 3 of my children and countless nieces and nephews are students as well. Believe me, I know full well I will make decisions with which people will disgree. That goes with the territory. I've become accustomed to threats against me at election time. In this string here, people charge my behavior as tyrannical, call me undemocratic and even perpetrating an illegal act. I respect their right to do so. I don't ask for agreement on everything or even anything I decide as a Board member. But I would suggest, even ask, why do we not recognize that not all decisions are unanimous and acknoweldge that reasonable people can disagree? Why does the basis of another's opinion need to be characterized as uncaring, illegal, sneaky or whatever? I'm a volunteer parent like so many people I know. My motive is far from perpetuating scandal. I can think of a million things to do that would not only be devoid of the misery of Board service, but that would be infinitely more productive than that. The district administrators, the people who are in closest contact with employees, made this suggestion. I asked questions and concured. That's it. If we disagree on that, so be it. Brendan
Maureen Krasner July 16, 2012 at 03:20 PM
I am a band parent who was present at the June school board meeting. (By way of full disclosure, I was NOT there to show my support of Mr. Cross.) I completely disagree with your characterization of the Board members at that meeting. I think the mischaracterization of that meeting does both the School Board and the 9 or 10 students and parents that spoke up a great disservice. The Board went out of their way to accommodate the comments from the supporting Pierce and South students and parents-- reorganizing their documented agenda to insure there was time and almost unanimously complimenting the students for speaking with such passion and thanking them for their advocacy. They acknowledged that this represented an unpleasant but necessary part of their job, said nothing to disparage Mr. Cross (or anyone else) and voiced their continued support for the instrumental programs. There was nothing patronizing or sneaky in their approach to this. As a South (and Brownell) parent and taxpayer in this community-- I applaud and thank the Board for their dedication to our school system and students.
LMJ July 16, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Have you ever been to a School Board meeting? I don't know how this comment passed the approval of Patch but it's incredibly offensive. All of our Board trustees, whether you agree with them or not put in a formidable amount of time, energy, and thought into their philanthropic service to our community. How sad when comments such as this serve to criminalize and demoralize people who do what they do in the service of our kids.
Kaitlyn LaMagno July 17, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Yes, the fact that he's fighting so hard for his job really seems to match up with your point about him threatening to quit. And who are you to comment on a pay cut that only impacts him? Do you have any idea how much he did for the band program? Do you have any idea how much time he put into his work? I'm sick of hearing criticism from people hiding behind the internet's precious anonymous shield. And as Ms. Jacobs so kindly reminded everyone, it's been awhile since Critical Thinking 101. Take a step back. Look at the economy in Michigan. It's terrible. The arts and physical education programs are the first things to get cut.
Joy Turner July 17, 2012 at 09:52 AM
My understanding is that Mr Cross attempted to meet with the HR person Jon Dean on numerous occasions during the month of May to discuss his employment situation. Mr Dean ignored the requests. It was then that Mr Cross sent the letter to the parents. These are some of the issues that would have come up had the meeting to terminate Mr Cross complied with the open meetings ACt and had the public known. I have emailed the administration about the requested meetings with Mr Dean and no one has denied that Mr Dean ignored Mr Cross' request to discuss his employment situation. The administration has not responded to my question as to why if they deemed Mr Cross' actions offensive in light of their unwillingness to meet with him why they did not choose some other form of discipline short of termination.
Bob Carr July 17, 2012 at 12:07 PM
I compliment all individuals who are willing to stand up and be counted for their opinions and their views. My praise includes many on the other side of this discussion from myself, whether or not I agree with their thought process or analysis: Brendan and Lynn and Judy and Maureen and the others of integrity who join this discussion as concerned members of the community are as worthy of praise in this regard as Roberta and Birgit and Joy and Alan. These individuals are willing to be identified by name with the views that they express and by this willingness the integrity of their views and motives may be seen for what they are. I am disappointed, on the other hand, that some instead choose to hide their identities. Our discussion on the internet will be honest and worthwhile to the extent that we, of all views, do not let pseudonyms take the place masks or a hoods. Those nameless individuals are not willing to be identified by name with the views that they express and by this willingness the integrity of their views and motives may also be seen for what they are.

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