Arbor Update

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Salamanders Can't Vote: Really No Issues in School Board Election?

24. April 2005 • Murph
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[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.

  1. First, full disclosure. My wife is Kathleen Conway, who served on the school board for one tumultuous term and was defeated for reelection in 2003.
    She was part of the board majority that voted to accept the resignation of former Superintendent Rossi Ray-Taylor, a decision that prompted a firestorm of racial backlash.
    Karen Cross, on the day in late 2002 that Ray-Taylor’s resignation was approved, said that though she agreed with assistant superintendent George Fornero’s policies (since they were similar to Ray-Taylor’s), she could not support him because he was “the wrong gender and the wrong race.”
    Last week, I submitted a question to the League of Women Voters that cited this comment and asked Cross whether she still felt that way about Fornero (who was since named to the permanent superintendent’s post), and to explain why she felt skin color and gender were important qualifications for district leadership. Of course the question wasn’t asked. It isn’t polite to ask those kind of questions.
    Yet it’s fine for Cross and her fellow candidates to speak and raise money at black churches and run three subsequent campaigns, all heavily endorsed by the Democratic Party’s lockstep regulars, that spread the message in subtle and blatant ways that anyone associated with Ray-Taylor’s removal had to be removed from office for transgressions against “the community.”
    And now that has been accomplished. All seven members who voted to accept the terms of the deal to remove Ray-Taylor have now either quit the board or been defeated in re-election campaigns; or, in the case of Randy Friedman, have switched sides to support the former pro-Rossi faction, which now controls the board.
    So in this election, Cross and fellow incumbent Nelson, a man who claims to have been a “senior staff analyst” for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors during the Nixon administration (when he would have been in his 20s), have recruited Irene Patalan (a nice woman with shifting loyalties and few specific ideas who describes herself as a “team player”) to continue their reign by taking the final anti-Rossi seat (held by incumbent Kathy Griswold, who did not run for reelection because she could not stomach any more of the board).
    Cross not only uses her race card like it was the only one in her deck, she also had no qualms about secretly altering the board’s evaluations of Ray-Taylor after the fact to create a more favorable permanent record for the superintendent when she was under fire. Anything goes if the cause is just.
    Hunscher, who must be one of the few former county administrators anywhere to run for school board, refused the Cross-Nelson team’s overtures (I am told) and is running as an independent. I have not met or talked to Hunscher, but I am told by reliable sources that he is a highly ethical man, very involved in Pioneer High and other school-related activities, and is concerned about the board’s lack of openness.
    Hunscher is a strong and solid Democrat (in fact, one with a longer and stronger history of party activity and achievement than the other three candidates), but he is left out in the cold since the machine has endorsed the Cross-Nelson-Patalan slate, still with the residue of the Ray-Taylor aftermath invoked as a rationale.
    This comes in the form of Cross’s repeated assertions that the board is now harmonious rather than squabbling, and now responsive to “the community” rather than independent of mind.
    Regardless of the issues, having a board that never makes news because it never challenges the administration is not necessarily a good thing.
    The incumbents and their handpicked recruit also crow about getting the new high school going. It’s an interesting boast since both Cross and Patalan at one time opposed a new high school. Clearly, the expensive bond proposal was a winner with voters (who passed it by a comfortable margin last summer), proving once again that Ann Arborites love to spend their tax money on just about anything (even the jail millage, resoundingly defeated countywide, almost passed in the city).
    The new high school will reduce overcrowding at Pioneer and Huron (an overblown problem that didn’t seem to mar achievement at either school) and, instead of meeting the demand for more small, alternative programs (Community High continues to have twice the number of applicants each year than the spaces it has available), will construct a sprawling suburban-style building with all the bells and whistles. The district’s campaign emphasized that we don’t want to be left behind the Cantons and Plymouths of the world where it comes to fancy new digs for our students.
    The new high school site has drawn opposition from neighbors (who are good targets for being termed NIMBYs, and many of them are) and from some environmentalists, who object to the hacking away of significant wetlands (they will of course be “mitigated”) that provide habitats for turtles, frogs, birds, snakes, and those salamanders (a threatened species in Michigan, they are, Fornero told us, used as fish bait in southern states, so why worry too much, an argument that strikes me as akin to saying we shouldn’t worry about the disappearance of tigers in Asia if we still have tigers in Africa).
    Clearly, the administration and trustees approached the new school the savvy way: they padded the ballot proposal with improvements for existing buildings (badly needed in many cases), they got the money OKd before environmental and traffic studies were done (the site, right off M-14, is indeed a nightmare for potential congestion), and most importantly they managed to get the project under way and now to have another board election completed before tackling the divisive issue of redistricting.
    If you think the NIMBYs are railing now concerning the high school, just wait until the board announces the new boundary lines. All hell is going to break loose. My guess is that the hottest part of hell will be my neighborhood, the Eberwhite Elementary area. Little do most residents here dream that though we’re within less than a mile from Pioneer, most of the Eberwhite kids will end up going to the new school.
    Within the next few months the general approval for the concept of the new high school will give way to an uproar from parents who want their prodigies to have nothing but the best, and that means the best orchestra, the best swim team, and all the rest. So maybe losing a board campaign right now is really winning.
    I hope Hunscher starts talking openly about the sorry fiasco of the National Honor Society and ousted former Pioneer principal Henry Caudle. Taking the minimum for NHS membership down to 3.0 or so was an idea Cross hatched with Fornero and others and it had everything to do with getting more minority (black, not Asian) students in the prestigious group. The proposal was based on a memo from an administrator that clearly identified increased minority membership in the NHS as a goal. Fornero and Cross pushed it on the high schools and the teachers and the parents from the top down, and public forums were only held after the proposal elicited a firestorm of protest. In her customary way, Cross later denied the proposal had anything to do with race. To save face, in the end Fornero settled for a minor adjustment of the GPA requirements. Fornero is afraid to do anything that might rile up Cross; after all, being the wrong race and the wrong gender, he’s under permanent probation.
    When Caudle was abruptly dismissed in midweek a few months ago and sent into exile in central administration, it couldn’t have been more obvious that he was being punished for not going along with the program. His open opposition to the NHS proposal was a key to its poor receptionat Pioneer. He’d demonstrated an unusual degree of independence and willingness to consider issues on their merit and not on how they would play politically, so out he went. The full details of what happened and why are still unknown, because no enterprising reporter has sought them out (and Caudle himself isn’t going to burn any more bridges by being candid about it).
    With the new high school in the works, the school district is now looking at budget crunches to come that might challenge Nelson’s assertions of fiscal expertise (he’s a free-spender who originally wanted to gut the district’s financial reserves, and is now taking credit for innovations (like the sinking fund) that the former board majority instituted. He is as shameless as Cross about taking credit for things others did, and dodging blame for mistakes.
    So this is the leadership we’re supposed to endorse? A records-doctoring racist, a blowhard “fiscal expert” who’s loose with money and taking credit, and a hand-picked recruit who switched sides on the high school issue and is apparently willing to do whatever her mentors want? A team that brought us a huge millage for an expensive new high school without sufficient environmental and traffic impact studies? A group that wants to lower standards so that we can pretend to be “inclusive” rather than do the hard work to address the real issues on student achievement?
    I’m voting for Hunscher and looking for two write-in candidates. (My wife isn’t one of them; her life is much more sane now that she’s not being constantly attacked as a racist just for doing her responsible best as a school trustee.)
    By the way, the News today endorsed Nelson, Cross (without much enthusiasm) and Hunscher.
       —Michael Betzold    Apr. 24 '05 - 11:49PM    #
  2. You do have a lot to say about this, don’t you, Mike? ;)
       —Scott    Apr. 25 '05 - 12:29AM    #
  3. Murph- While I enjoy reading the (usually) well thought and varied opinions on AU, this piece is hardly worthy of a “thanks.” I guess I’ve come to expect a higher standard for “official” posts.

    Michael-OK, OK we get it already.

    Everyone in charge of the district is a fool and you and your (non-racist) wife know best and the voters of the district are (racist loving) simpletons who don’t know what’s REALLY going on. Thanks for nothing.

    Oh, and great use of the S word on this blog. Geez… a “suburban” high school in Ann Arbor. That might actually raise some hackles if we didn’t already have two of them.
       —Kurt    Apr. 25 '05 - 01:23AM    #
  4. I say thanks, too. Has anyone else brought up school board elections? It’s a damned important issue and thanks to Michael, now we’re thinking about it.
       —Dale    Apr. 25 '05 - 01:34AM    #
  5. As far as I understood it, the move new high school was intended from the start as a good old expansion revenue / notoriety generator. Brings to mind the school building arms races in Oakland County. Perhaps South Lyon holds the title now, but soon, Ann Arbor, you will have the fairest supervised parking lots of all.

    I didn’t notice a highly organized neighbor effort against the school, but I did see some speeches to the city council by neighboring residents in March. The feeling I got was that everyone was arguing for their self-interest, and the traffic/environmental groups hadn’t come together like they should have.

    Good analysis I’d say. Thank god Hunscher took a stand about privatization, what with the recent debacle in Grand Rapids and all.
       —daniel faichney    Apr. 25 '05 - 04:28AM    #
  6. I know Patalan, I went to school with both her kids. She’s a long-time proponent of Open Schools, and I’d like to see someone like that on the board.
    As for the school overcrowding, things were terrible back in my day at Huron, and I can’t imagine that they’ve gotten better. I kinda get a thrill out of PiHi kids being sent to the new school, since PiHi has been the bougie school for generations and the kids have generally been suburban rich pricks. But I voted against the new school millage. (Oh, and the one-on-one instruction does happen a lot in the open schools. That may be why Patalan pushed it: it’s her kids’ experience.)
    But hey, I got no reason to vote for Cross or Nelson.
       —js    Apr. 25 '05 - 07:09AM    #
  7. By all means AU should be discussing the school board elections! But Michael’s post hardly qualifies as a good analysis. A starting point for disccussion maybe, but as an analysis I’d like to see more proposed solutions rather than just complaining. This disctict has had way too much of that over the past decade from citizens, teachers, adminstration, and the school board itself.

    As an eight year HS teacher in this district, there are a few points that I think are wrong. When Caudle was forced out of PiHi there was hardly wailing and gnashing of teeth from the faculty. And I’d like to point out that a vast majority of the faculty was NOT in support of the proposed changes to NHS standards and appreciated that Caudle spoke up about it. Michael is right when he says there is more to the story, but it’s about Caudle’s overall performance as principal.

    The most unbelievable statement was that overcrowding is an “overblown” problem. When was the last time Michael tried to negotiate the halls at PiHi or Huron in between classes? And I don’t mean once or twice while on a building tour. It is criminal what we are forcing our students to deal with day in and day out. Both those buildings are WAY over capacity and the vast majority of staff and students and parents (and voters) understand the need for a new high school. The belief that AAPS just wants to keep up with the Jones might be true for some of the voters, but the new HS is not a vanity statement.

    As for the location of the new high school, where does Michael or anyone else propose that it be built? The disctrict has owned that property since the late 60’s.

    Yes, I am planning to vote for Hunscher b/c of his stand against privatization. As for Cross and Nelson, I think Michael engages in too much hyperbole in an effort to attack his wife’s political opponents. If we are to believe him, it seems anything good from AAPS was due to decisions from previous school boards and this one has just sat around with a finger up its collective butt. Do I wish Cross would keep her mouth shut? Yeah, but the enemy I know is better than the one I don’t know.
       —Kurt    Apr. 25 '05 - 12:33PM    #
  8. The poor Pioneer kids might have to be on second-place sports teams. The horror! Or even play on a different band.

    You know what makes me laugh…I hear the Pioneer parents were furious when it was proposed that the new high school get a nicer swimming pool than they have. How dare Ann Arbor give a nice pool to a school that hasn’t yet won a state championship?

    It will be fun to watch those folks get redistricted. Can’t wait.
       —JennyD    Apr. 25 '05 - 01:23PM    #
  9. (Note that Michael tried to resist writing an “official” post; I talked him into it because (a) somebody needed to start the conversation, (b) I know absolutely nothing about the school board, (c) I don’t have the time to research it, finals and all, and (d) he made the mistake of mentioning it. So, Kurt, you’re on deck for the next time there’s something important that I can’t write about myself . . . )

    Personally, I think the new high school site is a lousy place to put a school, even worse than PiHi or Huron, by merit of being outside the freeway ring, and my largest complaint is with the size of their parking lot. Getting a thousand students & faculty in and out is going to be a transportation nightmare; I’ve spent enough time staring at traffic counts from around Washtenaw to say that high schools are unique traffic generators – they create very super-peak surges in traffic, and the freeway crossings will be a huge bottleneck that will make life miserable for 45 minutes every afternoon.

    Personally, I’d suggest that the district not build any parking lots at the new high school. (Or maybe about 25 or so for janitorial staff to use.) Also prohibit standing vehicles around the school for half an hour around opening and closing. Students can get to school by bus (there are some need-based exceptions, but this isn’t reason to reject the general scheme), and AATA can provide park-and-ride service from Maple Village for teachers/staff who live outside of the general AATA service area. Similarly, the parking lots at Huron and PiHi should be phased out and replaced with more sensible transportation solutions.

    This will provide surplus land that can be used for additional school facilities or sold for housing development; will provide enough non-radial traffic to give AATA justification to provide routes that aren’t totally centered on downtown; will build demand for the outlying communities to contribute to transit funding (Scio, I’m looking at you), both for students and faculty; and will provide an incentive for families to buy homes that have access to transit, rather than buying every kid a car.

    I’ve also got plans for congestion pricing around Chelsea’s Beach Middle School to deincentivize 300 parents idling outside the school for 45 minutes every afternoon (Chelsea is looking to cut bus service because not enough students are using it) which could probably be extended to many of Ann Arbor’s schools, but I don’t have any good examples to work from off-hand.

    Now, um, back to writing my final for transportation planning. (Maybe I can just hand this in?)
       —Murph    Apr. 25 '05 - 02:52PM    #
  10. I don’t know Michael. When your wife was President of the Board hundreds of thousands of dollars were wasted on unnecessary legal settlements and everyone spent their time fighting with each other instead of worrying about what was best for kids. I would say the last two years have brought an enormous amount of progress.

    I have no idea why Henry Caudle was reassigned- I would tend to believe the word of Dr. Fornero, who your wife enthusiastically voted to hire without looking at any other candidates, that there was simply a position open that suited his needs and those of the district.

    That said, he was vastly unpopular with staff and students at his building, and since his departure staff morale is at a five year high. He drove popular teachers to early retirement and generally made the building an unpleasant place to be. Everyone is much happier now, including, I hope, Mr. Caudle himself.

    I don’t think Karen Cross has compared anyone to Bull Connor, to whom you compared your wife’s political opponents in the wake of her embarassingly poor performance in the 2003 election. The irony of a white male comparing black women to Bull Connor is amazing.

    Karen and Glenn have done a tremendous job, set the district back in the right direction, and deserve another term.

    Although Patalan and Hunscher are both qualified, Patalan will get my vote. She has a much longer record of service to the district, has been involved in many more different aspects of its governance, and simply has a better concept of what being a team player is. I’m concerned that Hunscher, with his administrative background, may be inclined to become more of a ‘Superintendent Board Member,’ who tends to hang around the administrative offices all day and micromanage staff instead of just letting them do their jobs. That said, I certainly would not heap vitriolic and bitter criticism on him the way you have the other three candidates.

    I didn’t watch the LOWV forum, but I hope readers won’t take your summary at face value since you are so biased and bitter. I doubt it went quite as you have described.

    If you’re mad about the bond, well, Hunscher helped lead the campaign to pass it too.

    The district’s headed in the right direction. Staff is happy and things are getting done. Cross, Nelson, and Patalan are the best candidates to continue the momentum.
       —L    Apr. 25 '05 - 03:09PM    #
  11. I shudder to think that anyone would take Michael Betzold’s opinions as facts, and encourage everyone to read more about the school board candidates. I certainly intend to. It’s hard to respond when there are so many accusations thrown out by someone who so obviously has an axe to grind. But I do have a few brief comments:

    (1) Schools in the midwest are always ‘suburban-style high schools’ because parents and students fully expect their kids to drive, especially as upper classmen. Until that attitude can be defeated we will continue to have suburban style schools. High schools take up a LOT of space if you want any amenities like football fields and pools, and consequently they are usually located on the fringe of most growing cities.

    (2) I think that the new location is the best possible site, especially since the school district already owns it. We have to remember that the Ann Arbor School District goes far beyond the boundaries of the freeway ring, and that there is a rapidly increasing population in Scio Township that go to A2 schools. Besides which, the school is just barely beyond the freeway ring, and is still within the City of A2 proper.

    (3) Everything I have read indicates that A2 has needed a new high school for 30 years. About friggin’ time is all I can say to that. How long do we put off building a school when we’ve needed ‘temporary’ classrooms for at least 20 years??

    (4) Redistricting will be hard, no matter WHO is on the school board. People don’t like change and this will be one, certainly. Personally I don’t see it as a reason to vote for or against any particular candidate thus far.

    I need to study the proposed plan for the high school some more; I am particularly interested in how they will get pedestrians there, because I live close enough that my future kids could walk there (and I’d encourage them to do so, of course ;).
       —KGS    Apr. 25 '05 - 04:04PM    #
  12. L, I compared no one to Bull Connor. However, the head of the NAACP chapter compared Ray-Taylor’s voluntary buyout as a “lynching.” How’s that for rhetorical excess?
    Cross was and is the one who constantly brings up race. How is it OK for her to say in a public meeting that someone is the wrong race to be superintendent? If a white person had said something like that about a black official, s/he’d be run out of town—and rightly so. I am so sick of the double standard with regard to this crap.

    It’s ironic how the board now takes credit for “things running smoothly” in the district and the board of the past was attacked for the district’s problems (such as the “expensive legal settlements” you refer to, that are actually attributable to Ray-Taylor’s decisions).
    The Cross argument is “we’re doing a good job now, unlike those people who got rid of Rossi, who were always squabbling.” Does the fact that we now have a competent superintendent enter into the assessment at all? Maybe that’s why things are running so much better now—because the much maligned former board did the right thing, even though it was politically unpopular.
       —Michael Betzold    Apr. 25 '05 - 04:06PM    #
  13. Do you not remember the letter you wrote to the Ann Arbor News shortly after the 2003 election? I sure remember you invoking Bull Connor.

    To the cost of legal settlements before the current, better Board leadership took over:

    Rossi Ray-Taylor wanted to terminate former HR Director Gary Doolittle’s contact in late 2002. The Board said no, and extended it.

    In June 2003 when Fornero took over, he too wanted to terminate Doolittle. This time the Board said fine. So over $100,000 was thrown away because the old Board allowed Fornero to make his own personnel decisions but granted that right to itself while Ray-Tayor was Sup.

    Also, your wife voted to extend Rossi’s contract in May 2002, then voted to fire her seven months later. Again, money spent on courtrooms instead of classrooms.

    And I don’t think the Deb Small situation can be adequately addressed without writing a book, but your wife’s running mate Bob Rorke’s efforts to inspire gross disloyalty from one of Ray-Taylor’s top cabinet officials resulted in yet another costly settlement.
    And I completely agree that we now have an outstanding superintendent, and that has a lot to do with the district running better. But Rossi was outstanding too. The only way the district runs smoothly is if the Board and Superintendent work together constructively. That’s what this Board has done under Karen’s leadership. George has been able to shine because his bosses have given him the room to do it- a privilege Rossi never had.

    And I’m glad to hear you call George competent because it seems like most everything you write about him is very negative and critical.
       —L    Apr. 25 '05 - 04:27PM    #
  14. KGS, yep, high schools here in the midwest (like everything else here in the midwest) are always suburban style. If there’s a place to start working on changing that, seems like Ann Arbor would be a good place to start.

    Let’s see if we can get the Friends of the Greenway to rally around a call to tear up PiHi’s parking lots; it is, after all, at the very head of the Allen Creek watershed, and so this would be a very relevant action for them to take, in the name of floodwater mitigation.

    Steve, I see your name on a 2001 Allen Creek Watershed Group document; can you confirm or correct the story I heard that the turf in Michigan Stadium is three feet below the water table, and so they’re constantly running pumps from the stadium into the Allen Creek drain to keep the field from flooding?
       —Murph    Apr. 25 '05 - 04:47PM    #
  15. Murph, that’s my understanding, though I never saw any documentation. I think former deputy drain commissioner Tom Bletcher was the anecdotal source.

    Lest we forget, Community High School is a high school that’s not suburban style. And as Mike pointed out, “Community High continues to have twice the number of applicants each year than the spaces it has available”.

    That’s one alternative, KGS, though I don’t know where to put another one. Maybe Doug Cowherd does. (Seriously.) (Any votes for Tally Hall?)

    Another factor is that in another 10 years or so, we may not need another (large) high school.

    My preference was always for making use of existing buildings, either by shifting grades down or converting a middle school to a high school. The arguments against those alternatives always seemed lacking.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 25 '05 - 05:34PM    #
  16. The voters of Ann Arbor will decide on Tuesday May 3 who is best qualified to serve and I support Karen Cross, Glenn Nelson and Irene Patalan. Campaigning together is an economical use of campaign funds and our kids will benefit as these 3 strong individuals do the work the community has charged the board to carry out.
    Michael… you need professional help. It seems you are stuck and unable to move on from your own wife’s negative board experience. You put alot of violent anger into attacking the candidates personal and professional lives. By your own admission much of it is based on heresay and what you don’t know. In fact, your own endorsement of David Hunscher was lukewarm citing an inability for him to get his point across or to clearly understand the questions posed. You underestimate the Ann Arbor voter, the new date does not pass under our radar. We will be voting on Tuesday, May 3.For more information go to
       —beverly willis    Apr. 25 '05 - 05:39PM    #
  17. My favorite proposal was to turn the Y site into a downtown magnet school a la Community High. The City owns that property too, it’d take some pressure off the existing schools and combined with some other reorganizing like Steve B. proposes, I think we could get things under control until the student population starts to taper off, as expected. And if that prediction turns out wrong, we could build a mega-school later instead of sooner. [shrug]
       —Scott    Apr. 25 '05 - 05:40PM    #
  18. Sure, Community High is not suburban-style, but it is an historic building and an ALTERNATIVE high school. Many of the amenities that parents would consider important at a typical high school aren’t there. I think we’d have to decide as a community to provide another school like Community High, and then you get into the issues that already are a problem there. For example, students have to drive in, be dropped off, or (if they are lucky) use AATA to get there; that the student population is not geographically centered, so there is no way to use school buses efficiently; that the demand can far outstrip the supplied spaces, at which point how do you decide what is fair for everyone considering it’s a public school? and so on. Unfortunately it is a discussion we ought to have had 5 years ago when they were planning for this new high school, not now when it is already under construction. A missed opportunity, sadly.

    I’m all for fewer parking spaces, though I know a small lot needs to be at each school. Can we convince the board to build the school with less spaces now, adding parking lots if it is direly needed? Is the school being designed using sustainable technologies? these and other areas are where we can have an effect now, even if the school is still suburban in character.

    And Steve, people have been using the ‘in 10 years we may not need another high school’ argument for years. We needed it 30 years ago, we needed it 20 years ago, we needed it 10 years ago, we still need it now. If we really want to worry about the future of the school, it should be designed so it can be rehabbed easily into low income housing, senior housing, or a community center, or some combination of the above.
       —KGS    Apr. 25 '05 - 06:10PM    #
  19. World’s least popular idea: I hear Detroit has a bunch of schools they’re not using anymore; maybe we could annex some of them and bus our students there? Or maybe the AAPS could buy back Frieze (with the help of City historic preservation bucks)?

    More seriously, I think more Commie Highs would be a much better idea than another giant school. Too late, I suppose.

    KGS, I consider “Many of the amenities that parents would consider important at a typical high school aren’t there,” to be a very weak argument. Currently, there are waiting lists at Commie, but no waiting lists of students trying to get out of Commie and into PiHi, which indicates to me that one of these school types is much more in-demand (and under-supplied) that the other. Sure, Commie doesn’t have a football field, but it has different amenities than PiHi or Huron, not fewer. Many of the amenities that I would consider important in a high school are found at Commie and not at the others.
       —Murph    Apr. 25 '05 - 07:00PM    #
  20. KGS,

    “We needed it 30 years ago, we needed it 20 years ago, we needed it 10 years ago, we still need it now.”

    You need only look at the demographic data to see that the high school population is peaking and is projected to decline (unless that projection has changed in the last few years since I last saw it.) That’s why I didn’t say that we don’t need it now, but that we won’t need it in 10 years or so. Especially if we did what makes sense and built or designated an existing building to serve as an alternative high school.

    I appreciate your thoughts about rehabbing the proposed building in the future. However, the site is even worse for those uses than it is for a school.

    So now, instead of acting on the continued demand for an alternative high school (does anyone expect that to change with the new building? I don’t), we’re building a too-large school for future needs rather than meeting that demand. In that case, the missed opportunity lives on.

    To site an alternative school successfully, the population doesn’t have to be “geographically centered” (when is it ever?), but the building should be centrally located downtown where AATA can provide service from all over town, including park and ride lots. (How about over the library lot, as I’m sure someone has suggested in the past?)

    And let’s not forget the $100,000 for the constructed frog pond, the still-unresolved endangered salamander situation, and the even worse transportation situation for the proposed building. (I don’t care much about the traffic. That will either be worked out or not. But busing will be costly if at all feasible.) Does it still make sense (assuming it ever did)?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 25 '05 - 07:06PM    #
  21. I bet the therapy that would make me PC wouldn’t be cheap. But I’m sure it will be worth it. I must be extremely disturbed to question the C-N-P ticket. Thanks for setting me straight, Beverly; I’m sure all correct-thinking people will appreciate your leading me to my rehabilitation.

    I must be really disturbed, though, because I swear I heard Cross say that thing about Fornero’s wrong race and gender. I remember being at that meeting. Was it just a delusion? Hearsay? And I remember people applauding her too. I guess I, too, should have been thinking: wow, the kind of person who believes there is a right skin color and a wrong skin color for the superintendent job is the kind of person who deserves to be re-elected—TWICE! I’m sorry. It was obviously my violent anger that blinded me to the truth.
       —Michael Betzold    Apr. 25 '05 - 07:29PM    #
  22. Murph, while I personally agree that another Commie High would be great, I suspect that a lot (most?) parents and kids wouldn’t think so. Else why the fuss about the new school having such a nice pool? Commie High doesn’t have a pool, does it? As to the waiting list idea, no, I suppose you wouldn’t have a waiting list to get into one of the public high schools – but that’s because they have to take all the students that want to get in, cram them in by the hundreds, and just deal with it. Is that the right answer?

    Steve, we’re both going from anecdotal evidence I suspect. If only I didn’t have a job, so I could research all this to my heart’s content! Anyway, I remember reading that population projections kept saying that the student population would go down, but it never has to the extent that they expected – and so they have crumbling ‘temporary’ classrooms that are outside of PiHi that have been in use for 20-odd years. They weren’t built for that, and yet they still need them. So where’s that decline? if the new school is too big, what numbers are the school board members looking at that would justify the additional cost?

    And why is that site worse for any other use? not everything in Ann Arbor should be downtown. AATA can – and has – changed bus routes to accomodate new developments and destinations. It could certainly be the case here.

    As for the construction costs of a new pond, I’m sorry but $100K is a drop in the bucket as far as construction costs go. It is not uncommon to spend that much in areas where we try to be sensitive to wetlands – about the same was spent on wetland preparation for each of the new library branches, IIRC.
       —KGS    Apr. 25 '05 - 07:44PM    #
  23. “And why is that site worse for any other use? not everything in Ann Arbor should be downtown.”

    I didn’t suggest either of those things. I said that the site would be worse for “those uses” that you suggested (low-income housing/senior housing/community center), not “for any other use”, because those uses are better sited near services. Such services are available in many places other than downtown: Plymouth Rd., Stadium, Washtenaw, Huron, Packard, S. State, Eisenhower, etc.

    By itself the $100K may indeed be a drop in the bucket. Drops add up, though. I’m wondering if we’re putting them in the wrong bucket when looking at them in combination. Will the bucket of choice overflow? We can only get a good sense of that if we don’t try to look at each drop inside the bucket after dumping the others out. To extend the metaphor, choose another bucket and some of those drops will evaporate, others will form. I don’t know the answer, but I think I’m asking the question the right way.

    “So where’s that decline?”

    Here’s the best I could find online:

    “In 2007 the projected enrollment for high school students by the year 2007 is around 5500 students. This will be the peak growth anticipated with assuming no new students from marketing efforts or facility upgrades. Enrollment does dip to around 5300 students in the year 2010/11 which will still have high school enrollment higher then the 2001/02 levels. After that data from SEMCOG shows another increase in students in the high school age group.”

    (The site address is Sorry if I didn’t successfully set up the link for the word “online” above.)

    I guess we’ll have to check SEMCOG’s numbers for what “another increase” really means.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 25 '05 - 08:29PM    #
  24. Here are some interesting tidbits about the high schools:
    Community is the whitest of all the city’s high schools. About 89 percent of students who attend are white.
    Pioneer is about 75 percent white.
    Huron is 61 percent white.

    Community also has the smallest percentage of poor kids of the three high schools, with just 4 percent eligible for free or reduced lunch, compared with 12 percent at the other high schools.

    Maybe that explains why it’s so popular; Community is basically like a private school for rich, white liberals.
       —JennyD    Apr. 26 '05 - 02:02PM    #
  25. Jenny, any thoughts on possible causalities involved there?

    KGS, my point regarding waiting lists is that the supply of “schools like Commie” is quite obviously too low relative to what Ann Arbor wants. The supply of “high schools”, also, is quite obviously too low, so something needs to be done about it. Given a choice between “build more schools like Commie” and “build more schools like Pioneer,” well, one of those two options will expand the Community High style experience to more students, while the other with make Community even more elite and exclusive. My own preference is to expand the range of choices available in order to maximize the chance that students can get into the high school setting that’s right for them, rather than providing more of the same giant school that most of the population already goes to.
       —Murph    Apr. 26 '05 - 02:24PM    #
  26. Those stats were interesting. I wonder if transportation is a factor for those who attend Community, as KGS suggested.

    Or is there something about the lottery system (they still use that, right?) that favors wealthier families (with more flexible time)?

    In any case, I think it’s a great school and we’d be wise to set up a couple more comparable ones, maybe one in the NE (Plymouth) area and one in the SE (Packard and Platt.)

    By the way, my niece goes there and her family is far from “rich”. I’ve known other kids from similarly struggling (white) families who’ve attended there in the past.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 26 '05 - 02:51PM    #
  27. Murph,

    I think that you’d be amazed at how many rich-o parents think that their kid is going to be a Division I scholarship athlete. I attended Columbine HS, in case you didn’t know, and my sister now works on the admin. side of things in that district.

    She told me that the first question that a potential new resident to her district asks is “can you show me the athletic facilities?” when shopping for homes. The second question is “what’s security like here”....alluding to events at Columbine HS I suppose. Then then move on to discussions of academics, class size, etc…...

    So, you’d be amazed at how important that silly football field is…..

    Put in this new high school, and I’ll take even odds that Pioneer parents will start chirping about their “outdated” athletic facilities within 2 years.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 26 '05 - 03:00PM    #
  28. I’m not sure why Community is overwhelmingly white and less poor than the other high schools. But it is. My neighbors look down on the big high schools as crowded, overly large, rough and tumble places where you have to rub shoulders with minorities and poor kids. My neighbors all apply to Community lottery, and then make themselves available to drive their children to sports practices at the big high schools so their kids can have both a private school experience and varsity sports.
       —JennyD    Apr. 26 '05 - 03:15PM    #
  29. Well, sure, I understand that, to a lot of families, the athletic facilities are a big part of what’s important. (If we’re talking Pioneer’s pool, I should brag about / congratulate my cousin Gloria, who just helped that school’s synchronized swimming team take their eleventh consecutive state title ) Hell, even _I_, your stereotypical math/theatre/orchestra nerd, played tennis and soccer. (Well, and Ultimate, but that wasn’t a school-sanctioned team.)

    What I’m saying is that not every high schooler wants to go to a school that has state-champion football and baseball and soccer and hockey and tennis and basketball teams, and nor does every high schooler’s parents want them to. There’s also the fact that you don’t need to have all of your athletic facilities on the grounds in order to have the program: my high school’s soccer fields were miles away from the school, shared with the community rec sports program. Chelsea’s hockey team plays at a private rink (as, I think, does every high school hockey team). Cross-country requires no facilities besides maybe a locker room.

    Personally, I think that an alternative high school in Ann Arbor could put up several sports teams without on-site facilities. Sure, they might not ever get to the level of PiHi’s or Huron’s or Chelsea’s (or Columbine’s?), due to a smaller pool of interested students, but they could still exist. You’ve got baseball fields at Vets Park and West Park; soccer fields at Fuller Park (and University fields along Fuller as well); hockey at Vet’s or at the Ice Cube; the basketball courts at the NCRB tend to be empty in the 3-5pm high school practice slot; &c. I’m sure the City Parks department would be ecstatic to rent out facilities to an Ann Arbor high school, since the City’s already talking about that as the only possible way to save some facilities.

    Plus, if you’re playing off-site anyways, you could combine the Alt-highs into one team to give them the talent pool to pick from . . .
       —Murph    Apr. 26 '05 - 03:27PM    #
  30. I’m not arguing with any of your ideas, but I think that you’d be hard pressed to find parents who agree with you. If you’ve got a young family, these “trophy” schools with turfields and fancy locker rooms are pretty much S.O.P. these days.

    I played lacrosse and soccer at Columbine, and soccer was on campus, while lacrosse was played and practiced at a city park. Both programs have won State championships, so I know where you are coming from, and I agree totally with moving stuff off campus.

    Some of the drive for better facilities, and I think that this is kind of neat, is due to Title IX. They need more/better facilities because more girls are playing sports than in years past. Bully for them.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 26 '05 - 03:39PM    #
  31. Heh. Commie’s more white than when I went there, but probably less rich. Most of the black kids in the classes around mine were kids of people like then-Superintendent Simpson and then-Board Member Tony Barker. It sucked being poor there.
    A couple reasons why it skews white: Athletics really are less important there. And, though I hate to generalize, if you look at the big ticket athletic teams (football, basketball, baseball) at Huron (where I dual-enrolled for classes like German), they’re almost entirely African American. Living in a poor, mostly black neighborhood, I can say that many, many kids look at athletics as a way to make it out of here.
    Another reason is that the Open Schools is a system that’s hard to get into. You have to be willing to do a lot of legwork to get your kid in as a kindergardner at, well, Mack now, but Bach when I went. So that means that it’s a bunch of liberals who can afford to be super involved with the kid’s schooling. And while they do have an affirmative action program, where they actively encourage minorities to apply, there wasn’t any bus service for elementary or middle school when I went. Which means that the parents had to add dropping off the kids to their commute.
    But I will say that Commie High has changed a lot since I went there. The year I was a freshman was the first year that there was a line (we slept out overnight in order to get in) and in previous years, flyers had been sent out to remind people to enroll because there might not be enough kids to keep it open. When it was first started, it was an extention of a program called Earthworks, which had started at PiHi in the late ‘70s, and the theory was that every single credit you got was essentially through an independent study. You’d design whatever project you wanted to work on, get approval, then do it. By the time I got there, that was already being deemphisized, and when Bob Gilardi left, Dean Judy essentially gutted the program. She’s been instrumental in recruiting teachers who haven’t been trained in the Open School philosophy and cutting back on the freedom that the students are allowed. (One example- She suspended a kid for wearing a giant vagina costume to Halloween. We had a kid wear a giant strap-on one year, though I forget what his costume was supposed to be, and all that happened was the teachers made fun of him for being so “excited” about math class).
    With the introduction of the lottery, the character shifted too. On the one hand, it meant that you didn’t have to have people who had the time to be insanely dedicated to their kids education in order to get in (when my brother got in, it meant camping out for three weeks before registration in order to be enrolled). On the other hand, it meant that a lot of people could enter the lottery on a whim without really having any interest in going to an Open School, and instead getting in because they thought it was cool.
    For a while the New School, at Stone School, was supposed to be a return to the open schooling. But because it wasn’t downtown, and because they got third-rate teachers to staff it, and because it was in the same building with adult ed. it failed.
    Ah well. I may try to teach a class at Commie come the fall, and get the kids back into causing trouble…
       —js    Apr. 26 '05 - 04:38PM    #