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Lobbyist expenses by superintendent finalist questioned

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

One of three finalists for state school superintendent is in the spotlight again for expenses he put on the taxpayers’ tab while lobbying more than a decade ago for the Oakland County Intermediate School District.

The West Michigan Politics blog Saturday played up a 2003 Detroit Free Press report about the expenses incurred by Brian Whiston, now the Dearborn Public Schools superintendent, when he did lobbying for the intermediate school district — which provides educational services to public schools in the county. The issue arose on the eve of scheduled Wednesday interviews by the State Board of Education with the finalists.

In one instance, the Free Press noted Whiston spent $166.50 for two rounds of golf at a February 2002 legislative conference in Palm Springs, Calif., and reported them as a meal expense. He has reportedly said it was a mistake, but he couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment.

The head of Oakland Schools at the time, James Redmond, was fired by the intermediate school district’s board in 2003 amid claims he paid more than $680,000 in secret buyouts and used staff development money for personal flying lessons.

Whitson weathered his own controversy, became the superintendent in Dearborn in 2008 and last year was named superintendent of the year by the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

State Board of Education President John Austin said the eight-member board is aware of the issue.

“All this information, including Mr. Whiston’s responses, has been in the public domain for some time; is familiar and was discussed by State Board members,” Austin said in a Tuesday statement. “Any additional issues of concern regarding Mr. Whiston and our other finalists will be asked and discussed as part of final interviews.”

The other two finalists to replace retiring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan are Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch and Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, was among those who delivered the news to Whiston that he had been selected superintendent of the year. At the time, Wigent was superintendent of Wayne RESA.

He said he wasn’t around when the 2003 issue of expenses occurred.

“He was a quality superintendent in Dearborn ... ,” Wigent said. “If the State Board has questions, they have the right to ask and get it out in the open. Brian Whiston also has the right to provide answers.”

slewis@detroitnews.com

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