Top 5: Answers I'd like to hear at Wednesday's school board meeting
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meets Wednesday night, for the first time since Superintendent Patricia Green handed her letter of resignation to President Deb Mexicotte at the end of the last meeting.
It's been a long week for the schools and the community, as we're left to consider so many steps in the future: Decisions need to be made on how to replace Green, and whether anything in the district or the process should change at the same time. Coinciding with that: The district is pursuing "business as usual," educating 16,000 students and confronting a moving target of budget cuts.
In light of all that, here are the top five answers I'd like to have from tonight's meeting:
1. Why is Patricia Green making this decision now?
There's plenty of discussion over what's next, and Mexicotte told the community in a letter that she thinks Green did a good job in many key areas. The timing of the letter was good: We heard from district leadership at the exact same time that we learned Green was leaving.
But here's what's missing: A reason. Yes, we get that it's her choice and that the step is retirement. And we have to trust that the school board will get in front of the endless critical issues it faces over the coming months.
But it feels wrong that one of the highest-paid superintendents in Michigan gets to walk away without providing enough information to let us know why. Is it personal? At her level, she should be able to convey that without giving away details that invade privacy.
Is it the district? The board? The public, including criticism? She should be able to convey that in a constructive way, too.
And on a related note:
2. Is resigning two years into a five-year contract really not worth a comment to this community besides a prepared statement?
Let's face it: Our expectations for communication from Green already are low. She set the tone for public silence from the superintendent's office early, and she stuck to it. I was incredulous that we didn't get more leadership from her during the Pioneer-Huron brawl, when it became obvious over months that leadership was sorely needed due to the range of emotions that festered across this community. We got a written statement, then silence.
So while we may not expect more from Green, we should expect more from a superintendent — especially one who's leaving. She trained us to know she'll be silent, but that doesn't mean that's OK.
3. Why has so little changed in the last two years that the same reports that accompanied Todd Roberts' hiring in 2006 could be written today?
Consider this from an AnnArbor.com story about his resignation in 2010:
Employee morale was low. Board members were trying to figure out how a construction project had gotten a year behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. Budget cuts were looming. Key administrative posts were open. A redistricting process had caused hurt feelings among some parents.
Roberts was credited with solving much of that. Yet today, description of all of it — except the Skyline construction and redistricting — fits what the next superintendent will face.
That means we only lost ground since Roberts left, and that's not good enough, either.
4. Why was zero-based budgeting the focus of Green's resignation letter?
Is it really a success? What kinds of concerns do teachers and building administrators have about it? Are they even getting the information they need to make it work? And why is it important?
It's the second paragraph of a two-paragraph resignation letter, yet we're left to just accept Green's assertion that "this is absolutely essential to the future of the District."
5. What were Green's shortcomings?
This is not finger-pointing, and shouldn't be presented as such. We've seen what the board's president views as significant accomplishments — that was a gracious act.
But for this district to move forward, to regain lost leadership ground, to give us all a chance to coalesce around what we're all warned are the tough budget decisions that are looming, we need to also acknowledge what didn't work. Beyond gracious, that's good management.
That kind of assessment is coming from the public, fueled in part by Green's silence.
We also need to see our district leaders publicly conduct that kind of gut-level, analytical assessment.
The school board meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Huron High School Media Center.