Board votes to end high school principal’s contract

By Tom Tigani
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — Members of the Southgate Community School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to end a contract for the services of Southgate Anderson High School Principal Michael Kell.

Kell met with the board just prior to the vote to explain some information he had given them last week about what he believed were the reasons behind his effectively being fired. During the meeting he continued his efforts to elicit an explanation from board members and Supt. David Peden as to why he was being let go.

Since officially retiring from the district in 2007, Kell has been working under the auspices of Temporary School Staff Inc. of Dearborn. Despite the changed working arrangement, however, he has served as principal of Anderson for five straight years.

Peden said he had made the decision “months ago” not to renew the TSS contract for the high school principal’s position. The board vote Tuesday was 5-2, with President Edward Gawlik Jr., Vice President Joel Bergeron, Secretary Paul Sander and Trustees Timothy Kachinski and Kimber Labadie in favor and Treasurer Sue Murray and Trustee Patricia Graziani opposed.

“The news is we are now looking for a new high school principal,” he said. “We are going to go back to providing that service.”

The company continues, however to contract for nine administrative positions in other buildings, he said, including a maintenance supervisor and a grants coordinator. None of the other positions involve principals, Peden said.

Kell on Tuesday said he was dismayed by visits earlier this spring from the supertintendent and Associate Supt. Nancy Nagle to the high school to meet with the staff there, saying neither stopped by the office to let him know they were there.

Peden said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he “didn’t just walk into the building.”

“I was called,” he said. “I went there and I listened to concerns that staff had.”

The visits were nothing unusual, Peden said.

“All staff have concerns,” he said. “It happens in other buildings all the time.”

Peden said he told Kell about his decision not to renew the contract shortly after it was made, but that Kell “didn’t let people see that”

“I don’t know how that helps,” Peden said.

He believes the change in working arrangement for retirees employed by the temporary service may have left Kell with some false impressions.

“When they retire from our district they become at-will employees,” Peden said. “That for our folks is a whole new ballgame. Not all of them quite get what that change involves.”

Kell said he has simply been trying to get an explanation for why his contract was not renewed.

“I want to go in a little different direction at Anderson High School,” Peden said, though Kell said he’s not sure what that means.

“Mike’s been a solid employee for a number of years,” Peden said, adding that it’s felt “like a funeral” around district offices in recent weeks. “It’s not
like we had any terrible incident or anything else.

“I am not going to say one negative word about Mike Kell.”

Kell is still baffled by the decision, however, saying that the school’s test scores are up, and a local newspaper recently did a story about the improved climate at Anderson.

“I just want parents to know that I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

Kell believes the decision to remove him may have something to do with an alleged incident involving two board members that occurred 10 years ago when he was the district’s sexual harassment officer.

Though he said there was “nothing physical” involved, he reported it to state authorities “because that’s what I thought you were supposed to do.” One of the board members resigned. Labadie is the other; she did not comment on the issue Tuesday.

Since then, Kell alleges, his responsibilities and pay have been reduced incrementally.

“I’m not going down that road,” Peden said when asked about the allegations. “I’ve done my part for 14 months. I’m done.”