Fit to serve: Ann Arbor school board to weigh options for interim superintendent
From Ann Arbor Public Schools
Less than two years after completing a yearlong search to hire Superintendent Patricia Green, the Ann Arbor Board of Education will embark on its fourth quest since 2002 to hire a leader for the district.
Green submitted a letter of resignation to the board early Thursday morning. She plans to retire this summer, with her resignation effective 90 days from Wednesday, or July 9.
One of the first steps the board will need to consider prior to replacing Green is appointing an interim superintendent. It's a task that begs the question: where will the district look for a temporary leader?
At least one trustee has some concerns about the collective "newness" and lack of experience among the district's remaining central administrators.
"We do not have a clearly identifiable candidate internally I think that is an area of concern," said board Secretary Andy Thomas. "But for me, the stability of positions in the central administration is always a concern."
He said Ann Arbor seemingly burns through administrators and the current makeup of its central office likely will warrant a different approach than in 2010, when Superintendent Todd Roberts left to accept a position in North Carolina. The board named then-Deputy Superintendent for Operations Robert Allen to the interim position for the 2010-11 school year during the superintendent search process.
Allen also recently left the district to take a job in North Carolina, working under Roberts at the School of Science and Mathematics.
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The remaining five top administrators in the district have an average of 2.6 years experience with AAPS. Only Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Legal Services David Comsa has been with the district for more than three years. He has worked at AAPS for six.
Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye and Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Dawn Linden both were hired by Green in the first few months of her tenure. Flye has 21 months under her belt with AAPS, while Linden has 18.
Elaine Brown, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services, has been employed at AAPS for three years. Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Robyne Thompson started last July.
The institutional memory for the district rests largely with the five other members of the superintendent's cabinet, with the exception of Jenna Bacolor, director of community education and recreation, who also started in July.
Executive Director of Physical Properties Randy Trent and Director of Student Accounting and Support Services Jane Landefeld have 28 years and 26 years, respectively, with AAPS; Director of Communications Liz Margolis has 10 years; and Director of Finance and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Hoover has 6.5 years.
These positions do not require the master's degree in education administration that is needed to become a school superintendent.
Each of the seven school board members also has served the district for at least three years. Trustee Simone Lightfoot, who was elected in 2010 and is one of the newest members, said when the board has more seniority than the administration, it can cause tension and frustration for both parties.
Thomas believes the board should look at whether there are any local retired administrators who might be willing to take on the superintendent's role temporarily. He also suggested asking if the Michigan Association of School Boards had any people that it makes available to serve as interim superintendents.
"I certainly don't have any candidates in mind who might be good," he said, but stressed the importance of an interim. Thomas said he or she can help keep key initiatives going during the transition period, help make decisions as needed and provide some overall supervision to the district that allows the board to focus on engaging in another search.
Board President Deb Mexicotte said how experience is weighed and valued can vary greatly from person to person.
"I think the idea of who would make a good interim superintendent is going to be different with each trustee," she said. "And that's why the board has to meet. For example, Alesia Flye may be new to us but she's had years of experience before coming here. And she may or may not be interested in being an interim. But you have to look at the scope of somebody's experience to determine whether they would be appropriate or inappropriate."
Mexicotte said what was appealing to the board about Allen when he was appointed to the position during the search that hired Green was that Allen had no interest in filling the position permanently.
"If he had been interested, we probably would have appointed someone else and allowed him to apply because sometimes that can be seen as an unfair advantage," she said.
But the board has done a number of different things over the years to find new superintendents. George Fornero, who led the district prior to Roberts, was an AAPS administrator who was appointed to the interim position and then later offered the position permanently.
When the board hired Roberts, there was no interim superintendent appointed. Instead, Roberts was casually recruited by the board to fill the position quickly upon Fornero's resignation.
Roberts had lived in Ann Arbor for quite some time and was commuting to Birmingham schools, where he was an assistant superintendent, Mexicotte said. Roberts had children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and his wife worked at the University of Michigan.
" Ann Arbor is a top-of-your-game kind of district. Our superintendents are head hunted all the time. The idea that we can somehow bullet-proof this process is a fantasy idea," she said of superintendent searches.
School officials said to their knowledge in the past 25 years, the Board of Education has never brought in an interim superintendent from outside the district, such as a retired school administrator as Thomas suggested.
The district has brought in retired administrators to fill other positions though, including finance director and director of special education, officials said.
The practice of hiring a retired superintendent or school administrator to serve as an interim superintendent is not uncommon. Dexter Community Schools currently has a retired superintendent from Riverview, Dennis Desmarias, leading its operations as the board seeks to replace Mary Marshall, who left in December to become the superintendent of Pentwater Public Schools.
The first decision the Ann Arbor board will need to make is whether to look for an immediate replacement or "to sit for a while because we think the timing is bad (for a search) and we think we might have an interim candidate," Mexicotte said.
She said if the board launched the process this week, it could have a superintendent selected and in place by July. But it would be difficult, she added.
"We certainly could hit that timeline with more local or internal prospects, but the second part is deciding right away what geographic talent pool we want to tap — whether it be national, Midwest or just Michigan," Mexicotte said.
There also is the possibility that Green's resignation, because it is occurring within a two-year timeframe of her employment date, would fall under a "satisfaction guarantee" with the search firm the board used in 2010. Under the guarantee, the board would be offered a do-over superintendent search at little or no cost to the district.
Mexicotte added while Green is cutting her five-year contract short, the average length of a superintendent is 3.6 years — "so she's not that far off."
Green is not penalized for ending her contract early, school officials said. She will not receive a retirement package from AAPS, nor is she eligible for a pension through the state Public School Employees Retirement System due to the length of her employment in Michigan.
A report from "District Administration" magazine shows the average tenure of an urban district superintendent in the U.S. was 3.6 years in 2010, the most recent information available. That's up from 2.3 years in 1999.
According to the American Association of School Administrators, one of the key elements in running a successful district is stability. The AASA says a "revolving door" is counterproductive and that even a three-year time period is inadequate.
Margolis said there have been no discussions at the cabinet level about how Green's retirement will impact the work loads or responsibilities of the remaining central office staff. She said Green will be at AAPS for the next 90 days and everyone's focus right now is on presenting and passing a budget for the 2013-14 academic year.
Margolis said that focus will not change. She expects it to be "business as usual" at the Balas Administration Building while the board sorts out how to replace Green.
"That's all in the purview of the board. ... We're not involved in the (replacement process) unless they ask us," she said. "The board is legally responsible for hiring and overseeing the superintendent, so we would only weigh in or offer suggestions at the request or initiative of the board."
The board has not set a date yet for when it will meet to discuss the superintendent hiring process. It's next scheduled meeting is a study session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Huron High School.