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.

Allison Baker July 07, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Great comment Lynn, let's let the school board do their job, and put the parental lobbying effort to bed. Then let's make sure to mark our calendars and go and support our talented STUDENTS at all the band, orchestra and choir performances next year!!
South Parent July 08, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I really hope the teachers union is successful in having Steve Cross reinstated soon. A vast majority of Pierce and South band students are devastated at the loss of their band director. Our students were really fortunate to learn and perform under one of the top band directors in Michigan. Mr. Cross knocked himself out to improve the band programs at both schools. His efforts paid off with increased numbers in all of his performance groups. I find it amusing that someone commented above that it doesn't matter who is up front leading the band. That individual must never have been in a choir, band, or orchestra. The director makes all the difference in the world. The previous band teacher in this position had no experience teaching high school band. Under his direction, the bands at both schools declined dramatically in number. That is why we were lucky to get an experienced band person when Steve Cross came. I applaud the district for hiring him. Steve Cross did not do anything that justified being fired. Any teacher that worked such an amazing number of hours outside of the classroom would be upset about a cut to part time status. hHis letter to parents was justified, because administrators were refusing to hear his concerns. The best teacher to lead our band students next fall is Steve Cross. Bring him back!
tk July 08, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Seriously. Please STOP speaking for the "vast majority" of us. The previous band director was very good and the band recived the highest rating under him. Why do you need to put other people down just because you want Mr. Cross back? In my opinion this negative talk isn't good for our band program. Mr. Cross is gone-- he told us all (students and parents) in his letter he was leaving anyway since he had one less class Seems like he was ready to move on since he didn't accept the school district's need to make a cut of a class. I really wish everyone else would just move on now and have faith that our school will be appealing to a very good band director. I know our bands will be good next year and we're not destined to fail just because we don't have mr. Cross (like he was trying to tell us)-- why don't you come and see us next year before you judge.
Allyson July 08, 2012 at 02:54 AM
The issue is not about whether Mr. Cross was threatening to leave, was dedicated or not, had student/parent support or not. The fundamental issue is whether the GPPSS public school system is fully supportive of the band program at South and Pierce. Based on their actions, I believe they are not. Does anyone actually believe that a teacher should be conducting 4 bands, 3 jazz bands and a pep band, as well as teaching other music classes, and NOT be a full-time employee? Is the Director of Bands at North High School full time? If and when Mr. Cross is replaced, and that person presumably becomes the low man on the seniority list, why should they knock themselves out knowing they can lose their full-time status (assuming they had it to begin with) at any time? If the district is committed to the quality program they claim, then I believe the job remains full-time, budget cuts and all. If they’re not committed, then accept the fact that the job will constantly be turning over, because truly dedicated staff need to know that their high-level performance is rewarded by some level of loyalty and job security. The parents will support a quality Band Director (and Mr. Cross was and is)—will the district echo that support?
Joy Turner July 08, 2012 at 11:38 AM
As a parent of an 8th grader I can tell you the middle school band greatly improved under the direction of Mr Cross. The Pierce middle school band had not been to district festivals in years until Mr Cross came. The Jazz band program was excellent and for the first time the Pierce Middle school went to festival and received a superior rating. Prior to Mr Cross coming the number of students remaining in band was dramtically declinine. Mr Cross was hired to fix a problem. The administration that hired him recongized the band program was decling. Mr Cross fixed this program and now they have thrown him away. Does anyone think in this economy a teacher who has been fired from a district like ours will be able to compete against the hundreds of applications for a postion. The termination is a severe impairment for Mr Cross to continue in education. He should be brought back and I sincerely hope he previals in his grievance.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 08, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Look, it has to be understood, that in all cases where this is an issue....another teacher under scrutiny as well.......there is one camp of students/parents/peers who think that person is great, and there is another group that doesn't. Obvious one here folks, let's let the proper systems in place judge OBJECTIVELY what has been going on and make that choice OBJECTIVELY. We cannot think that all of our opinions is the whole story, we are not privy to all of this for obvious reasons. If any one of us were fired from our jobs, would it be public knowledge and would our personnel files be spread out all over the world for everyone to know the underlying reasons? Would HR or any Board that played a part in their decision reveal those things to our peers? I would certainly hope not for me or any one of you. I agree with tk, I don't think Mr. Cross nor even Ms. Bowen would like that at all. Out of respect for both, whether careers are over or not, and for the governing bodies that need to make an objective decision, we really all need to stop, our opinions and how we feel about these situations are our own. The ones that matter, that sit in confidential files to be objectively reviewed will matter, and will be, no doubt, carefully weighed.
Joy Turner July 08, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Our Board and administration is to be responsive to us. I have seen no specifics from anyone complaining about Mr Cross. I have seen numerous messages is support of him. Unlike Ellen Bowen we do not know what Mr Cross did to deserve his termination. We know about Ellen Bowen's conviction for assault and that she phsyically hit a student with a cell phone during class. What did Mr Cross do? All the administration wants to say is it is a personnel matter. No one has come forward with any acusations to support the termination of a fine teacher like Mr Cross. I beleve the administration shows favoritism to the vocal program over the band. If they accept Ellen Bowen's offer to continue one year to transiton the vocal program for the new director they are again showing favortism. If Mr Cross had assaulted a student I would want him out. He has not done that. Good teachers should not be terminated without the public having some understanding of what went wrong. Mr Cross had excellent teaching reviews. He stepped on someone's toes by suggesting parents contact the administration when Mr Dean would not meet with him regarding cuts. This is not a reason to terminate someone.
Concerned Parent July 09, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Well said. And for clarification, Mr. Cross himself said that Ellen took the music theory class from him, reducing his status to 0.9 fte. That's all, one class. At some places of employment, 0.9 is still considered full-time. There is more to this that we will never be privy to.
Kaitlyn LaMagno July 09, 2012 at 12:06 AM
When I first heard the shocking news that Mr. Cross had been fired, it was very hard to believe, especially since Mr. Cross was the sole reason I chose not to attend ULS. When he came to Grosse Pointe South my sophomore year, the improvements to the band program were incredible. Though I had been ready to quit the program, I changed my mind when I heard that we would have a new director. Mr. Cross is extremely encouraging, giving compliments instead of constant criticisms and challenging students with more difficult pieces of music instead of gliding by attempting the bare minimum. I remember talking about how nice he was with my friends. We were so surprised that he actually told us we were good! He brought in excellent sectional teachers throughout the year, whose expertise contributed to our quick improvement as an ensemble. With the help of our sectional leader, my section won "most improved" at the banquet! Mr. Cross also helped me to improve personally, offering private lessons over the summer for students who wanted to get better. He was the first and only teacher to notice the mistakes in my technique and to show me how to fix them. Students can tell the difference between good and bad teachers. Despite what some have been trying to argue, Mr. Cross does have the support of most of the band, and we have the signatures to prove it. The decision to fire Mr. Cross was wrong, and I hope they bring him back! He deserves it.
Allyson July 09, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Did Mr. Cross tell "concerned parent" personally that Ellen Bowen took his class? His letter does not mention any names, so it seems it could have been Mr. Gross or even someone else. It gives the impression that he was blaming her in the letter and that was simply not the case.
GPS booster July 09, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Mr. Cross was a teacher with the district for just 2 years (and it was his 3rd job in the past 5 school years). No one besides Mr. Cross, the administration and the school board know what is in his personnel fie, which is exactly how it should be. And these people privy to all the FACTS apparently voted UNANIMOUSLY in support of the decision to separate. As for the cut to his schedule--should the district promise every teacher full time pay and schedule regardless of seniority or enrollment? If so how will the district do this and ever have a workable budget? Every year teachers in this and every school district weather pink slips, cuts, reinstatements etc.-- particularly when low on the totem pole. Yet we never hear a word about how they tried to set up meetings with administration etc., nor are we asked to lobby on their behalf to make the district pay them more. I'd guess that no new English teacher has ever suggested that the district doesn't fully support reading and writing because they went from 1.0 to .9 in their schedule for a year due to enrollment/seniority. Unfortunately, it obviously became an unworkable relationship with Mr. Cross. All this sniping and whining in the public by a few people is not productive for anyone-- including Mr. Cross or our district and administration as they undergo a search for a new band leader. Let’s try to move on, respect the sound process in place and take a positive step forward to support the GPS band program.
Jill Carroll Campbell July 09, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Dear GPS booster, "sniping and whining" wow, I guess that is why you anonymously posted. I too wouldn't want to be credited for that. "few people" I disagree. "respect the sound process" now we are talking. Part of respecting the process would include acknowledging that sometimes mistakes are made even among the best groups. Reflection and open dialogue are part of the system. Yes, the board voted to fire him. However, I believe that in the heat of the moment (a rushed 7am meeting to prevent him from getting district tenure) they voted based on the limited information available from an administration already irritated for questioning them and a select, minority group of South parents. I can't imagine how a thorough investigative process could have occurred overnight graduation weekend. No, the meeting was called specifically to fire him while they had the chance and before support could be rallied. Certainly, no Pierce parents that I am aware of and where Mr. Cross spent HALF HIS TIME time were contacted. Reflection, sure. Let's start with observations made during Mr. Cross's two years in the district. HUGE IMPROVEMENTS and MEASURABLE RESULTS. Examples, increased student enrollment in the programs, better MSBOA scores, Pierce's jazz band competing against area high schools and outscoring them. Yes, there are parents/students who may not like him. It's true of all teachers, especially the good ones. Respectfully, I do question this decision and the process.
Alan Grams July 09, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I echo Jill's comments as it relates to the South band program too. The administration shouldn't forget the the Pierce band programs feed into South High School and have a direct impact on its future success.
GPS booster July 09, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I was too harsh with the "sniping and whining" comment and I apologize. Bottom line IN MY OPINION: 1)personnel decisions are best made by the administration and the school board in an objective process; 2)Teachers in any field cannot be guaranteed no cuts year to year, regardless of enrollment and seniority; and, 3) students and parents can and should give feedback when they deem it appropriate throughout the school year and not feel bullied even if it isn’t positive or if they are not in the majority. Finally, the suggestion that a "select, minority group of south parents" was somehow responsible or involved in the final decision is outrageous and completely unsupported. Bottom line a decision was made by those with the power and authority to make it. I’m simply suggesting its time to move on.
Mike July 09, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Alan, no one outside of Grosse Pointe considers South one of "the nation's top high schools". Up until the late 90's, MAYBE, but those days are LONG gone...
John Hetzler (Editor) July 09, 2012 at 04:50 PM
A comment was deleted because it violated the Grosse Pointe Patch Terms of Use: http://grossepointe.patch.com/terms
Jill Carroll Campbell July 09, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Dear GPS booster, Apology accepted. Thank you. Also, you made a good point. I too oversimplified the problem with the "select, minority group of south parents" comment. I apologize. It sounds like we both support the program and the fine students that work so hard.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 10, 2012 at 09:46 AM
GPS booster, totally agree with your 3 points.....
Joy Turner July 12, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Anyone received a response from the administration as to why Mr Cross was terminated as oppsed to disciplined if the administration felt he acted inappropriate. Anyone received a response from the board as to why they felt a 7:00 am meeting without approriate notification to interested parties was held with less than 24 hours notice? What is the administration trying to hide. Does every teacher who expresses concerns to parents about the administration now have to fear for a rush to judgment termination. The administration's action have far reaching implications. They owe all parents in the district an explanation.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 14, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Amen Lynn! Any one person who things differently, please, there are 2 open positions in the next upcoming election, please feel free to run, and do the duty that these individuals do, take on these issues as these individuals to with valid facts presented in front of them, instead of coming on this site and posting your opinions. The Board is doing an excellent job. Not only did I send letters stating how I felt about both situations, but also commended them for the difficulties they are enduring. Looks like there are several people that should get their name on a ballot, then they might re-consider how difficult the Board's role really is.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Judy and the whole Board have done and continues to do an excellent job, so much agreed. These are individuals who have been elected for their integrity, and to date, I am not disappointed.
Joy Turner July 22, 2012 at 11:23 PM
It amazes me that people who are not disappointed by the boards actions are the same people who do not leave there name. Perhaps they were the few people the administratie con supposedly spoke to regarding Mr Cross. The board did not seek input from any of the parents at Pierce nor did they openly seek information from the community. The administartion was upset with Mr Cross because he asked parents to contact them directly when the HR person Mr Dean would not discuss cuts with him personally. Shame on the administration. Their violation of the open meetings act will come back to haunt them.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 24, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Joy, my anonymous vote looks forward to seeing your name on the ballot in the fall, if you feel everyone is doing such a bad job, please either apply for an open administration position in our district, or put your name on the ballot for the 2 opening positions on the Board. I would be happy to see how much better you can do.
Joy Turner July 25, 2012 at 05:19 PM
The open meetings act requires more than a notice being placed in a building that is open from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. That notice must be acessable to the public for 18 horus prior to the meeting. A building that closes at 5:00 is not open to the public.
Band & Orchestra Parent July 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM
http://www.grossepointenews.com/Articles-i-2012-07-26-247508.114135-Two-openings-in-trustee-election.html Above Joy, instruction on how to file your commitment to run for one of the available Board Trustee positions, just thought I would help you out....again, please run, I really need to see if you can do much better than the already existing, dedicated and committed Board Members.
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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