School Board elects new president and faces year of challenges

By Charles Sercombe

Hamtramck’s School Board has elected to go into a new direction.

The board has changed leaders by deciding not to elect Titus Walters as president of the board. Instead, longtime boardmember Bettie Zwolak will now serve in that position.

Walters was the board’s first African-American to serve as president. He held that position for four years.

It’s not immediately clear why a majority of the board changed direction, but the swing vote appeared to be Dennis Puchalski, who in the past voted for Walters as president.

Puchalski said he has not had a falling out with Walters.

“I want to give somebody else a chance to be president,” Puchalski said. “They are all qualified.”
As for Walters, he said “I’d go to the wall for him.”

Walters said he has no hard feelings.

“I can’t be upset because where I’m at, god wants me to be,” he said.

Walters said he does not know why the board changed direction, but offered that it might have something to do with a past encounter he had with the president of the teachers’ union, Bo Karpinsky.

Details of the incident have not been made public, but according to sources Walters made a non-physical threat to Karpinsky. The matter turned into a unfair labor practice grievance.

Details of the incident and the result of a grievance hearing are expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

Walters described himself and Karpinsky as “two alpha males,” and that they have exchanged fighting words in the past. He said that in the exchange that lead to a grievance hearing, he would take back only one thing he had said.

He declined to say what it was that he said.

Karpinsky said he did not know what Walters was referring to, but also said the grievance is still “ongoing.”

Walters said not serving as president will now free up his time and allow him to concentrate on opening a restaurant in Hamtramck. Walters is planning to open a soul food restaurant on the ground floor of a four-story building on Jos. Campau and Belmont.

He said the restaurant, slated to be called “Flavor,” should be open within three months.

In the meantime, the board will have its hands full this year. The district is facing a $4 million budget deficit, and unless the teachers’ union agrees to contract concessions in the coming months, layoffs will be needed.

The district already plans to end leasing the former St. Ladislaus Parish’s elementary school at the end of this school year to save money. Students at Dickinson West Elementary School will be transferred into other schools within the district.

The district has been steadily losing students over the past several years to area charter schools and other school districts. That has resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in state revenue aid.

The school board will also have to deal with newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for school districts to merge services. Just what exactly Snyder means by that is unclear.

Snyder has also talked about wage and benefit cuts for teachers and public employees.

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