Ann Arbor Area Community News
[Thanks to Michael Betzold for providing the following piece on the upcoming Ann Arbor school board election, May 3.]
The Ann Arbor Observer has weighed in on the school board elections by writing that there are virtually no issues in the four-person race for three open seats on the board. That would be true only if you fail to scratch beneath the surface.
Two incumbents (board president Karen Cross and board treasurer Glenn Nelson) are running for re-election with a hand-picked newcomer, Irene Patalan (owner of the clothing boutique Collected Works) on their slate. Former Washtenaw County Administrator David Hunscher (who is said to have rejected the incumbents’ overtures to run with them before they settled on Patalan) is running as an independent, and young school board groupie Eric Sturgis has dropped out of the race, though his name remains on the ballot.
All the seats are for four years, the minimum now mandated under state law (trustees used to have three-year terms in Ann Arbor), so the decision is an important one with long-lasting ramifications. The election is May 3, a date also dictated by new state rules on school elections, but one that also insures it will pass under the radar of most voters.
In essence, the election is a referendum on the incumbents and their record, which primarily revolves around getting the new high school on the ballot and under way. You wouldn’t know it from watching the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters—a real feel-good snooze-fest whose moderator allowed only the most softball questions posed in the most non-threatening way – but there are some important issues lurking below the surface.
From watching the forum, all you could reasonably conclude was: Everyone’s priority was “the children” (surprise!), Patalan was nervous and insubstantial, and Hunscher (though he misunderstood a question about gifted children to be a question about special needs students) was the only one willing to take a stand on anything (he came out strongly against privatization, while the others just said they’d look at all options to save money). Cross took a small step toward an actual position by saying she’d perhape look again at the possibility of reinstituting gifted programs, while Nelson and Patalan took refuge in the PC rhetoric that every child is gifted in some way, and we only need to match teaching to achievement styles (as if one-to-one instruction was the norm) – probably not the answer the questioner wanted to hear (the question pointed out that the lack of gifted program is a main reason people take their kids out of AA public schools and place them elsewhere).
Hunscher kept calling for more openness and inclusiveness in decision-making, but he unfortunately failed to link this rhetoric to specific issues that illustrate how Cross and the board leadership, while giving lip service to “the community” and crowing about how the board is “united” and no longer squabbling (this is Cross’s main theme), has actually been hatching behind-the-scene schemes such as the ill-advised proposal to dumb down the National Honor Society standards. The resulting tempest was one of the reasons popular, effective, and independent-minded Pioneer High School principal Henry Caudle was unceremoniously shuffled out of his job in midyear for unnamed transgressions that had to do with his refusal to stomach the NHS policy change and his freethinking on other issues – a scandalous personnel decision that someone ought to be held accountable for.
On the new high school, district leadership cannily got the money passed for the massive bond for a suburban-style high school before neighbors got organized to raises concerns related to traffic congestion and the environment (it was fascinating to learn recently that Superintendent George Fornero doesn’t think endangered salamanders on the site are worth getting too upset about, since they’re plentiful in other states). The big uproar is yet to come, later this year, when the district finally announces a redistricting plan and people will be shocked to find out that their kids, including some within walking district of Pioneer, won’t be going to one of the state’s best sports, music, drama, and academic schools, but to the new unnamed, untested, wetland-destroying, freeway-neighboring suburban-like high school.
Being on the school board will feel like a booby prize when that uproar occurs. But the superintendent and board incumbents wanted it that way: they didn’t want to face the storms of protest until the new high school was too late to stop.
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