Students and former students reacted to the news of Principal Michael Greening’s arraignment on felony embezzlement charges Friday with a mixture of disappointment and hope that this “mess” is some sort of misunderstanding.
Greening stood mute in as a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf , each carrying a maximum five-year penalty and/or fines.
“This whole thing is a mess,” said Senior Class President Dan Dobras, who like many students is worried for the embattled principal and his family. Greening, a longtime Royal Oak resident, has two daughters at Royal Oak High School.
It has been more than three months since Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin sent a letter to the school's roughly 1,500 students and their families saying "due to the possibility of financial irregularities in student activities funds." Since that time little information has been released by the school district or Royal Oak Police. Even Greening’s attorney, Paul Stablein, appeared to be in the dark about the allegations against his client.
“In regards to the specifics, I don’t know what it is yet. I am not privy to what the investigation has entailed,” Stablein said outside the 44th District courtroom on Friday.
“Students are all civilized and we have opinions,” Dobras said.
But it’s hard to establish any point of view when so little is known, he said. Students received a letter in December and then there was Friday’s arraignment.
“There is no middle to the story,” Dobras said. "Where is the middle?"
The situation has been handled poorly, said Randy Wade, a senior at the high school. When students came back from the winter holiday break in January, just days after learning Greening was placed on administrative leave, “the first few days were ridiculous,” according to Wade.
“Teachers were huddled in the hallways talking to each other,” he said. “No one knew what was going on.”
Wade expects more of the same today, as students and staff speculate and wait for answers as Greening’s case plays out in the court system. More information about the government’s case may be forthcoming Friday, when Greening is scheduled for a pre-exam conference.
For now, all Wade can say with certainty is that he is disappointed Greening most likely will not be a part of his 2012 graduation ceremony.
Former ROHS student Bill LeAnnais plans to be in court Friday for the pre-exam conference to show his support for his one-time principal, whom he said he misses now that he is a college student. There is not the kind of one-on-one support from the top at the collegiate level that he was accustomed to getting from Greening, he said.
“I am sure this is some sort of misunderstanding – like an accounting mistake,” said LeAnnis, who graduated last year. “He has my 100 percent support.”
School district directs questions to police
Superintendent Lewis-Lakin is directing all questions regarding the police investigation and criminal charges to the and Oakland County Prosecutor's Office.
After the district initiated an investigation in December, the matter was turned over to the Royal Oak Police Department for a forensic audit. The process is in the hands of the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, and Lewis-Lakin said he cannot comment other than to say the district is committed to a process that is "complete, thorough, impartial and fair."
Lt. Tom Goad of the Royal Oak Oak Police issued a news release Friday with the charges against Greening, and had no further comment.