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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 '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 and part at . 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 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.

Joy Turner July 29, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Dear band and orchestra parent. This is not a question of who can do better. It is a question of what the law is and if it was complied with. You cannot better comply with the law you either comply with it or you do not. What is your postion regarding the law. I was resonding to your assertion that this meeting complied with the open meetings act. I respectfully believe it did not.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 30, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Joy, if you feel the law was not abided by and you are very knowledgable of the law, then that, as my original point eluded to, would make you a perfect candidate for the open Board Trustee positions, you've already studied up very well on what Board Members and Administration should/should have done. I have no issue nor have I persecuted the Board and Administration, I think they did follow the law, and did the right thing.....Please Joy, take your complaints of what was done v. what should have been done, and put your energy where it would really count, run for the vacant Trustee seats, there, your interpretations of the law and how it should be done in lieu of your interpretations will really count, leaving your comments here? Well, that isn't going to get you too far, is it really? I'm just trying to help you, you seem very passionate about the issue and how terrible our Board and Adminstration is doing, I don't agree with you, enough said. I don't owe you any explanation of what I feel, any interpretation quite frankly of any law, I simply agree with what our Board voted on and Administration recommended the Board to vote on in the case of Cross, bottom line. If you want your interpretation to be heard, make it really count Joy, posting here is not going to get you the attention you really desire.
Joy Turner July 31, 2012 at 12:06 AM
You misconstrue my motives if you prefer I post anonymously I can do that I am. Not fearful to have my identity known as you must be
Joy Turner July 31, 2012 at 01:17 AM
ear band orchestra parent by your logic I do not understand why you have not disclosed your identifity what could be your motive? We dont know becuase we don't know who you are. I have asked three questions that the administration has refused to answer. I should not have to run for the school board to have my questions answered? In case you forgot my questions since you are highly focused on getting me to run for the board my questions are 1 why did the human resource director Jon Dean refuse to meet with Mr Cross in May to discuss the proposed reduction of his hours? 2 Why did the administration choose to terminate rather than reprimand given the favorable teaching evaluations and the failure of the human resource director to meet with Mr Cross and 3 Why did the administration hold a 7:00 am meeting on the the last day of school without posting the notice on line as usual or in a place where the public would be able to view it 18 hours before the meeting. I am in the phone book. If you would like to personally talk to me about running for the board i would be happy to discuss that with you provided you identify yourself.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 31, 2012 at 03:15 PM
I am a Band parent with absolutely no motives whatsoever, all my concerns have been conveyed to the Board and Administration as appropriate they should, and that is it, simply it....don't overcomplicate Joy. I am merely giving you a suggestion. Conversation finished.

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