Teachers to board: ‘You are forcing us to litigate you’

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

A union representative warned members of the Onaway Area Community Schools board of education of the potential for litigation if employees are “publicly attacked.”

Gary Wellnitz is a retired teacher/school administrator with the American Federation of Teachers, representing 25 school districts from Clare to Paradise. Included on his list of public school employees he represents are the Onaway Federation of Teachers and support staff.

Wellnitz scolded the board during the public comment period of the Oct. 4 special meeting in the media center.

“I will tell you what, most of the districts are doing everything they possibly can to work with us to recruit and retain people, and this seems to be exactly the opposite,” Wellnitz said. “There is a teacher shortage folks, and I don’t know where you think you are going to find others to take on this extremely tough task, when you make it so difficult on everyone.”

UNION REP Gary Wellnitz from Brimley spoke during the Oct. 4 special school board meeting in Onaway with a warning to board members of the potential for litigation.
(Photo by Peter Jakey)

Wellnitz said he has politely corresponded with the board to refrain from making negative comments in the public arena.

“I was not challenging you, I was not pushing you in any direction,” he continued. “You continue to disregard that. So, moving forward, you are forcing us, not to work with our staff to develop new programs and good ways of helping your students, you are forcing us to litigate you — we will do that.”

Wellnitz said he will go after specific board members that violate and not the entire board or district.

“Because it will cost the district,” said Wellnitz. “Which obviously, you guys don’t seem to care about legal expense, I’ve seen what you guys have spent since you have taken over.” Wellnitz was referring to the four board members who were elected in the November 2022 election. 

“We will, from now on, target whoever is targeting us, and we will name you individually in any suit that we bring forward from this point,” said Wellnitz. 

He asked the board to utilize its own policy and encourage constructive dialogue among board members, staff, parents/guardians and the school community. He also encouraged the following of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

“You guys have flagrantly just disregarded all of that,” said Wellnitz. “The last thing I want to do is litigate and have our whole legal team come after you folks.”

Earlier in the Oct. 4 m

eeting, board member Lorrie Kowalski was cleared of multiple ethic violations made by board member Annette Porter in a letter dated, Sept. 21. 

Porter said she had video proof that Kowalski violated the rights of a teacher and the Open Meetings Act in a policy committee meeting conducted, Sept. 20.

Board president Jim Rieger said he talked with Kowalski and did not find that a violation existed. A motion was made to have the board president investigate further, but failed in a tie vote. Porter is upset that Rieger cleared her without viewing the video.

“How can you determine someone’s guilt or innocence without looking at the evidence provided,” said Porter after the meeting.