HOUGHTON - The BHK Child Development Board has dismissed director Mike Poma and laid off seven teachers. The announcement was made Friday at a faculty meeting by board vice chair Scott Ala.
Rumors of Poma's dismissal were circulating as early as Tuesday, but board chair Gale Eilola denied Tuesday that Poma had been let go.
No official reason was given for Poma's removal Friday and an interim director has not yet been announced. Ala said the layoffs were in response to a recently discovered deficit.
Scott Viau/Daily Mining Gazette
BHK Child Development Rod Liimatainen Center in Houghton is seen Thursday. Faculty were advised Friday the center’s director has been dismissed and seven teachers have been laid off due to a deficit.
"Some weeks back, not that long ago, it was brought to our attention, unfortunately, that we are somewhat running in the deficit," Ala said at Friday's meeting. "Once we found the scope, to contain this, we went out and started going through and finding out what we could do and places we could cut. Unfortunately, part of that was some of our employees."
In the packed conference room, Ala stated to the teachers and faculty members in attendance that there was a "rocky road ahead" of them in the coming months. He also stated that although certain people were let go, he hoped there would come a time when they could be reinstated.
"Those who were laid off were saviors for everyone else in here," Ala said. "We do really hope that everyone in here can understand what we did and why we did it."
Despite the change in administration, Ala praised the BHK program, saying he continues to hear compliments about the employees. His main focus at the moment is to keep the program moving forward.
Some of the people in the room were not completely swayed that the BHK board had their best interests at heart and wanted reassurance.
One attendee who said she had been involved with education for 12 years said she felt she needed proof she could trust the board again. Her comment received a round of applause from the room.
Ala responded by saying he's not going to ask for trust; he's going to earn it.
Another concern brought up in the meeting was the issue of substitute teachers. Jonnie Dupuis is a substitute teacher who has been with BHK for four and a half years and wanted to know why sick teachers need to call others before they call for a substitute, which had been a complaint among other BHK teachers.
"When a person is sick, they have to call that person and that person and that person before they can get back to me to see if I can sub," Dupuis said. "Why is that?"
Ala admitted he does not know the full picture of the substitute teacher issue.
Despite the concerns addressed by the participants in the meeting, some said they were also appreciative of being brought together to address the changes instead of being left in the dark.
Ala attempted to diffuse the tension by cracking a few jokes, which were not appreciated by all.
"These are people's lives," said Buck Foltz, an employee in BHK's Fathers 2 Dads program. "There are people who are worried, in a terrible economy, about being able to get by and I would appreciate a little more seriousness because I am a bit offended."
Foltz went on to state the board should have known sooner of the deficit issues.
"I'm sorry, but this has been the roughest year of most of our lives," he said. "The fact that you guys didn't know makes me wonder how they can keep you as a board."
The meeting ended with Ala's acknowledgement that there are many issues that need to be addressed beyond the one the board was there to discuss.
"But I will say that those kinds of issues are addressed through strong leadership," Ala said.