Area Newcomer Appointed as Hartland School Board Trustee
Insurance industry veteran Bill Gatewood of Brighton Township offers mix of previous political and nonprofit experience in replacing Robert Perkins.
Earlier this year, Bill Gatewood and his wife chose the Hartland area to live because they were impressed with the school district.
Now the Board of Education picked Gatewood to fill a trustee vacancy Monday after its members were impressed with him.
"I'm very honored to be doing this," Gatewood said after the meeting. "I take it very seriously and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great community."
Gatewood, 48, replaces Robert Perkins, who resigned in October, citing work commitments. The appointment runs until the next board election, which was suposed to be in May but is expected to change to November under pending legislation that awaits the governor's signature, board members said. The 24-year veteran of the insurance industry with previous political experience as a county elected official in Missouri was the only applicant.
Board President Kevin Kaszyca said Gatewood presented himself well during the interview and already had stood out as a parent in his stort time in the community, having called Superintendent Janet Sifferman to ask challenging questions about school funding after she wrote a letter warning about state cuts earlier this year.
"We're always excited to get involved parents like that," Kaszyca said. "He puts kids first. That was a real strong theme in the answers to the questions he gave. … It made the choice real easy."
That conversation with Sifferman was important for Gatewood, too, because he thought the district was backing a political agenda. But after a 90-minutes on the phone and learning about how the district already has saved millions of dollars by contracting out services in recent years and has a flexible union contract that allows for cuts, he changed his mind.
"I expected not to be on her side and when I got off the phone I sent a letter to the governor just like she asked," he said.
The good impression only reinforced why Gatewood and his wife, Julianne Chapman, moved to Hartland in February. He said they looked at every major school district along the I-96 corridor between his job at Burns & Wilcox in Farmington Hills and her job at Citizens Insurance in Howell, ultimately buying in Brighton Township after visiting Lakes Elementary School, where Gatewood's stepson, Cody Chapman, is now in the second grade. Gatewood also has a son in college and a daughter, 10, who lives in Chicago.
"We were impressed with the school, we were impressed with the programs, but at the end of the day the thing that made the most difference was the people — they were very welcoming, very warm," Gatewood said. "All the rest of (the districts), were like, 'whatever.' … There were some school districts, we never got a call back."
In addition to his career in insurance, Gatewood brings experience of serving on several boards, including of a housing nonprofit and a four-year term as a Republican elected official on the St. Charles County Council in the 1990s. It was a jurisdiction at the time that was growing from 210,000 to 280,000, outside St. Louis, MO.
On the board, Gatewood was seen as an independent thinker and a bit of a maverick, according to an article published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1999 after he left office.
The article note how Gatewood wasn't afraid to speak his mind on issues, for instance how he opposed a law in 1998 that made it illegal for minors to get body-piercing or a tattoo without parental consent.
Gatewood says he was against it because there already was a state law on the books. He said the proposal was pandering to a group that didn't like a local business in town that provided the service and there was no evidence of breaking the law. He is opposed to such politics, he added, because those are "things I think make people cynical about elected officials," noting too many unneeded laws can eventually eat away at personal liberties.
He also gained attention when he was unable to gain any support for a proclamation that honored the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead after his death in 1995 for his contributions to music and worldwide charity. A big fan of Garcia who attended one of his last concerts, Gatewood read the it into the public record, anyway.
"I was stunned no one would support that," Gatewood said, adding the board had recently honored baseball great Mickey Mantle.
At the same time, Gatewood said he worked well with the board on a host of controversial issues of bringing in a 20,000-seat sports arena, approving the licensing of two casinos and cutting taxes. His proudest achievement, he said, was shepherding a requirement that youth programs receiving county money require criminal background checks for those working with kids, a newer idea at the time.
He noted his colleagues honored him with a Jerry Garcia doll after he chose not to run again because he was moving out of state.
Gatewood said in his new role he hasn't changed and he is willing to voice his opinion if necessary, but he also understands the importance of working toward a common goal and being unified on the most important issues.
"I understand what it's like to work on a board … and I know it's important you come with conviction but you also come with a larger purpose of solving the problems," he said. "I realize there a lot of compromise that goes on and a lot of teamwork that has to happen. I will come with that attitude."
And he said his return to elective politics doesn't mean he's wants higher office. While Gatewood said he's interested in running to keep the seat next year, he said he isn't interested in more partisan politics at this stage in his life, adding he didn't apply for it "as a stepping stone."
"My interest is purely one of serving the kids," he said. "The school board is the only group that solely represents the kids and we have to be an advocate."