Prosecutor takes me to court for my dual responsibilities: Trustee and Teacher (Part Two)

(Distributed through BlackNews.com)

By Mary Barr

On November 3, 2009, I was elected to the Pontiac School Board. February 17, 2010, Judge Shalina Kumar ruled that I could not work as both a teacher and school board trustee and ordered me to choose between the two positions. Although I elected to serve the people, the ruling is still a constructive discharge. I want to thank all the people who prayed for me across the United States, because this was a step of faith for me. My mother, the late Reverend Patricia Barr, taught me how to step out on faith.

During the closing remarks at Monday’s Board Meeting, November 15, 2010, I decided to share with the public how long I had been trying to find clear answers regarding the Pontiac School District’s scholarship funds. The Pontiac School District received an endowment from my grandfather and my step grandmother, Luther and Gertrude Strickland. The funds from the sale of the Strickland’s house (76Ks) were supposed to go to students’ scholarships. The Pontiac School District turned over the funds to Pontiac Alumni Foundation shortly after cashing the realtor check. Between 2003 and 2006, the public was told that Pontiac Alumni Foundation provided the scholarships. The alumni were told that scholarships were being distributed from the interest while the principal was not being touched. After several inquiries among the Pontiac School District, Michigan Department of Education, and Michigan’s Attorney General, I confirmed several discrepancies. Moving forward, I am still waiting for the adequate financial documentation that will show the financial history of the scholarship funds for the Pontiac School District.

What I have discovered so far is that, although the Stricklands had a will, Michigan law allows educational institutions to transfer funds to non-profit organizations with the suggestion that an administrator should serve on the board of that organization. Educational institutions can also enter into a fiduciary agreement with other organizations, which warrants the power to charge fees. If the attorney handling the case does not register the endowment with the Attorney General, then the funds easily can be lost because the funds are considered as private funds. Often people will not be aware that the funds exist. The Department of Education does not oversee private funds even though school districts are supposed to include the financial information in their annual reports. Hopefully, Michiganders will push legislators to enact legislation that will require all endowments to be registered at the state and local levels before turning over the funds to educational institutions and impose heavy penalties for non-compliance.

A few years ago, I gave this same information to a Detroit newspaper. After the reporter sat on the article for a long time, I retrieved the information because I feared my employer would retaliate against me for going to the newspapers. I even reached out to President Barack Obama about the issue. He corresponded with me and encouraged me to contact Senator Levin. However, I was unsuccessful with getting an appointment with Senator Levin.

Currently, I am waiting for an appeal date from Michigan Court of Appeals (Oakland County Prosecutors Office V Mary Barr, Case 296743). I strongly believe that it is important for the voices of educators to be heard at the school board level. Government officials like Rod Paige, former Secretary of Education and founder of Chartwell Group, can go into business after leaving office and profit from legislations that officials helped to enact, providing the officials waited six months after leaving office before going into business. Pontiac paid Chartwell Group nearly a half a million dollars to tell them what was wrong with the district. Yet, there was a campaign to force me to give up my seat or take a constructive discharge. America’s education system has become a billion dollar industry. We need legislation that will provide more regulation and accountability on the management of finances for all of America’s public schools.

I am coming to the end of my term, and it is almost time for me to pass the torch. It is time for other people to start asking questions about the students’ scholarship money. It is important to do what is in the best interest of the children and serve people by helping to empower others through knowledge. Once again, thank you for your support and prayers.

Mary Barr is a teacher and trustee in the Pontiac, Michigan area. Contact her at fuchsia7@comcast.net or 248-636-6279