March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Bernero, Hollister, Ferguson appeal to Lansing School Board and administrators to get along, improve public perception

Thursday, May 5 — Two Lansing mayors and the chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees held a press conference at City Hall this morning to collectively tell the Lansing School Board and administration to get its act together.

Mayor Virg Bernero, joined by former mayor David Hollister and MSU Board of Trustees Chairman Joel Ferguson, sent a tough message to the Lansing School Board and administration that it needs to stop its “posturing,” “pandering” and “petty politics” as it tries to remedy an anticipated $25 million budget deficit.

“This is a public appeal to the school board to stop its posturing, pandering and petty politics,” Bernero said from the lobby of City Hall this morning. “It goes beyond the schools. It affects the city’s reputation. They must get their acts together.”

The message comes amidst attempts to remedy an anticipated $25 million budget deficit — about $5 million more than what the city faces for fiscal year 2012 — which has left some members of the board at odds with administrators, including Superintendent T.C. Wallace.

Even though city administration has no direct involvement with the school district’s management, Bernero said poor leadership at the schools reflects badly on the whole city. He said the board and administration’s seemingly lack of cooperation is giving the “public perception of chaos.” And, if they don’t get it together soon, he said, a state-appointed emergency financial manager is “where we’re headed.”

“That (appointment of an EFM) would represent utter failure,” Bernero said.

Ferguson, whose position on the MSU Board of Trustees is similar to that of Lansing School Board President Shirley Rodgers, in regard to the interplay between an educational board and administration, said it’s “important the board never micromanages any educational institution.”

He said the job of a board is to set policy while the administration “manages.” Ferguson echoed Bernero’s sentiment that a bad perception of Lansing schools is bad for the city as a whole.

“On Tuesday we had an election that didn’t go the way it should have went. A reason property values keep going down is because there is no confidence in Lansing schools,” he said. “Schools are the domino. We’re really appealing to schools so everyone understands their role.”

Hollister, a former teacher whose three sons went through the Lansing School District, said even though the governor is proposing cuts to per pupil funding, “it’s important we are all in this together. The city can’t prosper without well-functioning schools.”

The Lansing State Journal criticized the Lansing School Board and administration’s relationship in a recent editorial. Hollister said he wants “to raise $4 million for scholarships” for Lansing students, but the public perception doesn’t help.

“That cannot be achieved when the front page of the paper shows conflict,” he said.