GLADSTONE - Petitions seeking the recall of three members of the Gladstone School Board were officially withdrawn Thursday, according to Delta County Clerk Nancy Kolich.
Members of the Committee to Improve Gladstone Schools had sought to recall Steve O'Driscoll and Gary Micheau for voting on Dec. 18, 2006, to pay $5,200 plus travel expenses to the Michigan Association of School Boards to conduct the search for a new superintendent.
The committee also sought the recall of Linda Howlett for voting against ratifying the contract between the Gladstone Education Association (GEA) and the school board on Aug. 18.
The recall effort followed an extended period of tough contract talks between the teachers union and school board.
Petitions seeking the recall of Micheau and O'Driscoll began circulating in October, while petitions seeking the recall of Howlett started circulating in November.
As of January approximately one-third, or 330 signatures of the necessary 993 needed for each recall petition, had been collected, Cindy Blahnik, spokesperson for the committee, said this morning.
Kolich said the petitions seeking the recall of Micheau and O'Driscoll needed to be turned in by April 6 in order for a recall election to be scheduled. Petitions seeking the recall of Howlett needed to be turned in by May 7.
The move to cancel the recall effort is reportedly related to the GEA, Gladstone School Board and school administrators taking part in a federally-mediated problem solving/conflict resolution training, according to the committee pushing for the recall. The training is designed to improve labor relations within the school district.
Gladstone School Superintendent Jay Kulbertis said Tom Butch, Gladstone, recommended Don Maki, a federal mediator with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services out of Green Bay, help resolve the differences between the two parties.
"I, along with Sandra Walker of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) have met with Mr. Maki, and we were allowed to be very candid during the meeting," said Kulbertis.
He also said Maki told them that before he or another mediator would being working with the district and GEA, the recall petitions needed to be officially withdrawn.
"At this time it is not official whether Mr. Maki or another mediator will aid us in our endeavour to move forward. We are however looking forward to working together with the GEA to bridge the gap between us and to bring the community together to work toward the best interests of our students," said Kulbertis.
Blahnik said the committee would like the conflict resolution to be productive, and withdraw of the recall effort is a sign of good faith.
"The entire situation leading to the attempted recall was unfortunate, in that the two parties were unable to hammer out their disagreements and come to a common middle ground," she said.
Blahnik said the attempted recall was part of the democratic process and was not intended as a personal affront, although those named in the recall may have felt otherwise.
She also said the committee's ultimate goal is to change direction in the school district and to encourage the community, school personnel, superintendent and the school board to work together in the future.
"We are hopeful the board members and committee members who meet will be able to resolve some difficult issues," said Blahnik.
Blahnik said it was possible the committee would reintroduce the recall effort if the mediation effort fails.
"A second attempt at a recall would depend upon how much common ground is gained in mediation. Success is measured in small steps. If there are signs of success then probably not; if there appears to be no success then a second attempt would be possible," she said.
She also said the committee will continue to meet regularly about its long-range efforts to promote wise decision making and to support school board candidates "who uppermost have the student's best interests in mind," wrote Blahnik in the press release.
She said committee members further hope the mediator will be able to help the two sides reach that middle ground where both sides can express their ideas and learn to settle on compromises that are in the best interests of running the district.
She said timing of the mediation is perfect because the and union and school board are not now involved in contract negotiations.
Blahnik wrote, "the Committee to Improve Gladstone Schools appreciates the community support in recent months and would like to thank all those who signed recall petitions for their interest in putting the issue on the ballot."