I attended a Detroit Public School Board meeting this week to see a friend who had been nominated to fill the seat vacated by Otis Mathis, the former president who resigned recently after being charged with inappropriate conduct during a meeting with the then-superintendent of schools.
Four candidates were up for the empty post, and each of them had an opportunity to plead their case before a spirited round of voting took place. After several more rounds of voting, and much politicking, Elena Herrada beat the other finalist, former board member Jonathan Kinloch, who was looking to reclaim a seat he once held. Once the final voting results were announced, the room erupted in applause, thanks to the large contingent of residents from southwest Detroit on hand. Elena is from that part of the city, and like many southwest residents, she is a Latina. I was proud of her, and happy to be on hand to witness the event. Board president Anthony Adams said she was only the second Latino to ever serve in that capacity.
After she was sworn in, and before she took her seat for the board meeting, I had an opportunity to talk to her and expressed my desire to see her encourage the group to fight for its right to be. The prevailing sentiment seems to favor disbanding the board and giving the mayor control of schools. City Council President Charles Pugh has said as much, and many people I know are leaning that way as well.
In the way of disclosure, I have no problem telling anyone who wants to know that I have been incredibly disappointed by the quality and the conduct of candidates elected to the board over the years. I have little confidence in most of those currently seated on the board, particularly David Murray, who lost custody of his own children because of the conditions of his home. This man was legally deemed unfit to care for his own children, yet Detroiters elected him to oversee the education of their own, which is a sad commentary on the commitment of the electorate. And, by the way, Mathis was accused of fondling himself in a meeting with Theresa Guyser, who lost her job two weeks ago when it was, essentially, defunded. He's facing charges as a result.
I am conflicted because, despite my lack of faith in the board, I believe firmly in the right of residents to govern themselves. We should be able to elect a board to oversee education in the city. One can argue that residents elect the mayor, so giving him control of schools is the same thing. However, board members represent districts, and that provides a greater degree of community involvement. Detroiters have a right to decide how their children are educated, but really need to take more responsibility for elected qualified residents to lead the effort.
Knowing Elena, I have full confidence that she will fight for that control to remain in residents' hands, as well as to push for improvements relative to the board itself. I hope that it's not a case of too little too late. Because momentum to disband the board is growing. I am certainly glad that she is in the fight.