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Farmington schools superintendent, 2 board members resign, citing board friction

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Farmington Public Schools superintendent and two board of education members resigned Monday following infighting and an allegation of harassment involving another board member, the district announced.

The moves came during a special board meeting Monday. The board first passed a resolution accepting the resignation of Superintendent Robert Herrera, who has led the district since 2019.

Herrera had recently filed a complaint against board secretary Angie Smith for harassment, district officials said in a statement. He'll stay on as the superintendent through the end of the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. The resignation means the harassment complaint will no longer be pursued, according to the release.

He is slated to act as a consultant before receiving a severance payment of $105,000 on June 30, 2021. 

“While this is not how or the time that I wanted to leave the district, I felt it was necessary to do what was in the best interest of our entire school community,” Herrera said in the statement. “Farmington Public Schools will continue to serve the students and families well in our community; the district has a strong leadership team that will continue to move the district forward.”

Robert Herrera has led the district since the retirement of the previous superintendent, George Heitsch.

After the superintendent's resignation, the board passed a resolution censuring Smith, who has been a school board member since 2016. It cited "conduct unbecoming a board member based upon Ms. Smith’s public comments and posts causing disruption to school district meetings and operations, necessarily and unfairly interfering with the ability of the superintendent to perform his duties and provide leadership for the district, among other things," the district said.

Board president Pamela Green said in a statement that she read to the board that Herrera cited Smith's public statements and social media posts alleging he was against African American staff and students. His decision came after meeting with legal counsel, she told the members.

Through tears, Green, a former elementary teacher, said Herrera's dedication to education inspired her to want to return to the classroom. 

"His skill set was like nothing we have ever seen in this district," she said. "So this is painful. Very painful."

Neither Smith nor Herrera immediately responded to requests for comment after the meeting Monday night.

Smith had dialed into the virtual meeting minutes after Green spoke about Herrera but said she couldn't participate due to a family emergency.

Later, when the censure resolution involving her was read, she returned and indicated having heard it, but did not comment.

At the end of the meeting, Green then announced she also was resigning as of Friday, saying "the dysfunctional behavior of two unnamed board members had interfered with further progress of district initiatives, as well as contributing to her health issues, ultimately requiring that she remove herself" from the board, district representatives said.

In a tearful statement, Green told her colleagues most of her two-year tenure had been spent "managing unprofessional adult behaviors versus focusing on the important work that we have been entrusted to do as a board of education."

Minutes earlier, board vice president Terry Johnson, whose term expires next month, also resigned, effective Saturday.

"Mr. Johnson cited that he was resigning with deep regret and could no longer serve due to the constant dysfunctional behavior of two board members," the district said. The two boards members were not identified.

Describing his reasoning to the board, Johnson said the group "has just completely changed. It’s really unfortunate that we’ve actually gotten to a position where we can’t even disagree without being disagreeable. ... We need some real change in this district and we need to hold people accountable."

He and Green did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.

The board is expected to decide in coming weeks on the next steps to fill the vacancies and select the next superintendent.

"Losing Dr. Herrera will be a great loss for our students," Zach Rich, a board trustee, said during the meeting. "We had steps in place. We were building a foundation to be moving forward and it’ll be on my colleagues and myself to now find a new superintendent to help us keep moving forward."