Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education special meeting (March 5, 2011): The Ann Arbor Public Schools search for a new superintendent came to an end last Saturday afternoon, when the board of trustees selected Patricia Green as their preferred choice for the position.
Green is currently the superintendent of schools at North Allegheny School District in Pennsylvania. She’s a career educator, with her own educational background including a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a doctorate in education policy, planning and administration. The AAPS website includes additional biographical material on Green. [See also Chronicle coverage of first round interviews with the candidates: "AAPS: Final Phase of Superintendent Search"]
The decision to enter into negotiations with Green was made after the board held second interviews with Green and Michael Muñoz last Saturday morning, which followed a community forum the night before. At the forum, held at Pioneer High School, both candidates answered questions submitted by many of the roughly 100 members of the public who attended. Several board members also attended the forum.
The board selected Green after lengthy deliberations, which included reports on reference calls, an extensive discussion of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and a number of straw polls displaying support for both candidates.
The fact that straw votes by trustees at one point had five of the seven supporting Muñoz – before the board eventually decided on Green – indicated that the board’s consensus was reached only with a great deal of effort. Board members frequently expressed their satisfaction with both candidates.
“We have two excellent candidates,” board president Deb Mexicotte said. “This is good for the outcome but tough for making the decision.”
Other board members agreed, frequently prefacing their statements of support for one candidate by allowing that, ultimately, they would be fine with either choice.
This report describes how the board’s discussion on Saturday unfolded.
Initial Straw Poll: Green 4, Muñoz 3
Trustees began deliberations by taking a straw poll to see where the board stood, an unofficial process Mexicotte felt would “take the board’s temperature.” The poll was taken by having trustees write their choice on a piece of paper, collecting the votes and tallying the results. For the first straw poll, Green received four votes – from trustees Christine Stead, Irene Patalan and Andy Thomas, as well as Mexicotte. Muñoz received the remaining three – from trustees Glenn Nelson, Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett.
Impressions from Andy Thomas
Thomas was the first to speak, expressing his support for Green. He cited the reference calls he and Baskett had made on behalf of the board when site visits had to be canceled due to inclement weather. He and Baskett had reported on their findings at the beginning of the meeting.
Thomas presented the report explaining that he and Baskett tried to talk to four people from each candidate’s district: a school board member, an administrator in the district, an officer of a local union, and a parent or community member. He said both candidates received generally positive remarks.
Thomas said the responses received about Green praised her work ethic and problem-solving abilities, as well as her leadership. Thomas spoke with Green’s school board, asking if they would renew her contract if possible, to which a board member replied yes, but it would not be unanimous. The dissent, according to Thomas’ report, would likely have come from two fiscally conservative board members.
One endorsement that Thomas said was particularly striking was from a mother he spoke to who had a daughter attend school in Green’s district. The mother said she would like her daughter to emulate Green and view her as a role model.
These responses helped convince Thomas that Green was the candidate Ann Arbor needed.
“I was impressed with what I heard about Green relative to where her [previous] district was [when she arrived] and where she brought it,” Thomas said, emphasizing that Ann Arbor was good, but that it could be better.
Thomas also told his board colleagues about his experiences making calls to address a concern he had about Muñoz. Specifically, because Muñoz is his district’s chief academic officer, not the superintendent, Thomas wondered if Muñoz would be prepared for the position of superintendent.
The reviews Thomas heard about Muñoz were generally positive, although they were less detailed or specific, due to the large size of Muñoz’s district and the lack of visibility that comes with his current position, Thomas felt. In addition, Thomas said that board members he interviewed were not very familiar with him, because he was not superintendent.
“We went on this national search because we wanted someone who has demonstrated that they can do the job,” Thomas said.
Thomas continued his remarks by talking about the impression he had of Muñoz after Friday night’s community forum. Thomas felt that Muñoz had not performed well when answering questions about special education programs, whereas Green has had “direct, very positive experiences with special education programs,” Thomas said.
This poor public impression could be attributed to Muñoz’s style of operating and interacting with the public. During the reference calls, both Thomas and Baskett found that those who worked with Muñoz said he had a laid-back style of working.
“He doesn’t speak a lot, but when he does, it is very focused,” Thomas said. “Because of his quiet style, he is sometimes perceived as not passionate, but that’s not the case.”
Baskett agreed, saying that his quiet nature could be attributed to his counseling background. She added that people didn’t describe him as flashy, but rather as a humble person who served as an example for the saying “still waters run deep.”
Nevertheless, Thomas concluded his remarks by saying that he felt Green would be the best candidate.
Impressions from Glenn Nelson
Nelson was the next to speak, expressing his support for Muñoz and identifying his experience engaging with a diverse community as a significant strength.
Muñoz comes from a district with nearly 32,000 students speaking 43 different languages. Of these students, 65% live at or near the poverty level and 49% of the students are minorities. He also has extensive experience connecting with members of his district, sharing stories at the community forum that included him going to door to door to inform community members about news in the district.
Nelson added that Muñoz had documented experience working at the middle school level, a critical period, in Nelson’s opinion. He finished by saying that he felt Muñoz would be more likely to stay with the district for a long period of time, and appeal to students not currently enrolled in the Ann Arbor.
Impressions from Irene Patalan
Patalan spoke briefly after Nelson. She had voted for Green in the straw poll, citing her level of experience as the deciding factor. Patalan mentioned hearing these concerns about Muñoz and his relative lack of experience in the feedback from those who attended the community forum.
[Comments from people who attended the Friday community forum were solicited on "impression sheets" and were photocopied and given to each board member to review].
“When I looked at the community feedback, I saw that I was kind of on the same wavelength as the community,” she said.
Impressions from Christine Stead
Stead continued the theme of supporting Green for her experience, highlighting Green’s leadership on the legislative front.
This was consistent with Stead’s question during the board’s final interview with Green. When Stead asked about the importance of legislative advocacy for the district, Green mentioned background that included advising the state senate whip in Pennsylvania on issues regarding education. Green said she balanced her commitment to advocacy in the political realm with a commitment to what she felt education was really about.
“As a superintendent, the district is important,” Green said. “It’s not about Republicans or Democrats – the kids are important.”
Impressions from Simone Lightfoot
Lightfoot offered a different perspective, saying that Muñoz represented the type of non-traditional candidate the board wanted to consider.
“We wanted to include non-traditional candidates, and we’d be remiss to hold them accountable for being non-traditional,” she said.
For Lightfoot, Muñoz had experience with diverse cultures, while Green didn’t. Lightfoot felt Muñoz could cross spectrums to connect with people, and that he was a candidate who is not just more of the same.
In support of Muñoz, she cited the plan Muñoz had discussed for his first 100 days as a superintendent. Muñoz frequently referred to his entry plan during interviews and the community forum – it’s a plan that calls for meeting with staff and administrators, reviewing curriculum and a wide range of other measures. Lightfoot felt this effort meant that Muñoz would be hungry to improve the district, connect with the district and stay for a long time.
Lightfoot concluded her comments by mentioning that Muñoz would be the district’s first Latino superintendent, and having someone in this position would be very positive for Latino students.
Impressions from Deb Mexicotte
Mexicotte, the board president, identified herself as the fourth and final vote for Green, admitting that she had switched her vote in her head countless times and would likely switch again before a decision was made. Mexicotte’s reasoning included a number of arguments already mentioned, with an emphasis on the feedback she’d read from the impression sheets filled out by the audience at Friday’s community forum.
Mexicotte said that while each candidate took hits in certain areas from the community feedback, the criticisms of Muñoz touched on a number of issues relating to lack of experience, including concerns over budgeting experience and how his quiet demeanor would be perceived. In contrast, Green had been criticized for answers that were too general and for possibly lacking a commitment to diversity. But Green was frequently praised for her experience and track record, with one commenter saying that she had “a whole-community view.”
Mexicotte finished by saying the final interview with Green, as well as her district’s documented minority student achievement, helped Mexicotte to decide that Green was the entire package.
Impressions from Susan Baskett
Baskett was the last board member to share her views, expressing support for Muñoz. Baskett felt that she would enjoy working with Muñoz more, and that he would have an easier time connecting with communities, making progress after the transition go much quicker.
About his quiet demeanor, Baskett said that while Muñoz had started out on the quiet side, she felt that he had become more comfortable interacting with the board as the interview process has gone on.
Baskett added that the feedback from the community forum should be taken with a grain of salt – because attendees were not asked to rank the candidates, only to give positives and negatives.
Nelson agreed, saying that the crowd that attended the forum was not a random sample of Ann Arbor. He said he doubted that anyone was there representing students who have chosen not to attend school in AAPS.
Second Straw Poll: Green 2, Muñoz 5
The initial round of views expressed by board members brought them to another straw poll. After taking a few minutes to reflect, trustees voted again. The new poll showed a significant shift in support toward Muñoz, who received five votes to Green’s two – from trustees Patalan and Thomas.
Continued Board Discussion
Mexicotte and Stead, the two board members who changed their votes in favor of Muñoz, explained that they switched because they felt there were adequate structures in place to support Muñoz in the areas he was deficient. Stead pointed to the legislative presence that she and other board members have already created through advocacy and legislative breakfasts to inform local elected representatives. Mexicotte also felt that the administrative team in place was strong.
“Where he has been perceived as deficient, the stuff we have in place will scaffold him,” Mexicotte said.
Patalan and Thomas then defended Green, explaining why they did not change their votes.
Thomas spoke first, allowing that Muñoz’s entrance plan was impressive. However, Thomas felt compelled to comment on the assertions that Green was not committed to equity and diversity. He said that she had a track record of success when she worked at a school district in Prince George’s county in Maryland, a very diverse area, and he was surprised that point was made against her.
Patalan agreed with Thomas, saying she was glad that Green had spoken about her work in Prince George’s county. Patalan added that while Muñoz is a solid option, Green would provide immediate leadership, making for a smooth transition.
Third Straw Poll: Green 3, Muñoz 4
The discussion on the second straw poll led to another straw poll, still showing support for Muñoz, but only by a 4-3 margin. Mexicotte chose to switch her support back to Green, returning to her previous logic that Green represented the whole package of what they were looking for, adding that she wasn’t sure how much more the board could discuss the issue to get more of a consensus.
Baskett then spoke and shared in more detail some of the problems she had with Green. She said she was not comfortable with Green’s handling of issues of diversity, referring to a metaphor Green had used during interviews and at the community forum that included large crayons of different colors she had in her office to remind her to celebrate diversity. Baskett said she was committed to helping Green with these issues but “she is not where Muñoz is in carrying the issues of diversity.”
In response, Patalan said that if Green was lacking in something like dealing with issues of diversity, she would be more than committed to improving herself.
“A commitment and a desire to be well-rounded is there,” Patalan said.
Fourth Straw Poll: Green 3, Muñoz 4
A fourth straw poll was held with the same result, but with a twist: Stead and Mexicotte had both changed their votes.
Stead explained that she had decided to throw her support back to Green, because of the arguments made about the differences in experience. She added that she was starting to question the commitment by the district that would have to be made to support Muñoz if he is lacking in experience.
Thomas accentuated this notion by pointing out that several senior members of the district’s administration could be close to retirement, creating a significant loss in people with “institutional history and knowledge regarding the district” and making for a more difficult learning curve.
Mexicotte said her change was motivated less by a preference for one candidate over the other, and more by a desire for board unity.
Nelson took the opportunity to jokingly identify Ray & Associates, the search firm hired by the district to help with the process, as the reason for the difficult decision.
“In case anyone is misinterpreting this, the people to blame are Ray & Associates,” he said. “They produced two super candidates.”
Fifth Straw Poll: Green 4, Muñoz 3
The continued discussion led to a final straw poll, with Mexicotte saying that she had come full circle and would be supporting Green. The final count was 4-3 in favor of Green, with board member votes distributed along the lines of the original straw poll. Green received votes from trustees Christine Stead, Irene Patalan and Andy Thomas, as well as president Deb Mexicotte. Muñoz received votes from trustees Glenn Nelson, Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett.
The Vote on Green: 6-1
With that, Nelson moved to nominate Green as their choice for the position of superintendent. The board voted 6-1 in favor of Green, with Baskett as the dissenting vote.
Details of the Offer
Discussion then moved to specifics about the contract the district would be offering. Trustees discussed a number of clauses that could be included in the contract, like the length of the contract and the salary of $245,000.
On the issue of the contract’s term, Mexicotte said a four-year contract had been brought up because it would send a message of longevity.
Stead addressed concerns that the salary was too high by saying that the $245,000 figure is about $1,000 less than the average superintendent’s salary in a university town.
In the end, the board agreed to make Green the offer of a four-year contract with an annual salary of $245,000. It will include the same health care package as other top AAPS administrators, a term life insurance policy at three times the salary, and fees and dues to join community organizations and up to four professional organizations. Green will also be offered three personal days per year, 12 sick days that could accrue up to 200 sick days, and 25 vacation days per year that do not accrue.
Finally, the board decided to offer Green the opportunity to present three competitive bids for moving expenses, with the understanding that the board will choose the lowest one.
In closing, Thomas commented on the process that was coming to an end after a long, detailed search.
“From the moment that we started, there has been a lot of criticism about the process. My observation is that we completed the process within the time frame; we were presented with a group of 12 candidates who were all qualified and had been properly vetted and we narrowed down to a group of six with which we had strong consensus. After public interviews, we were down to a group of three, then two. We did offer to the community to suggest questions. We had public forums where a significant number came. We did carefully consider public input. We came down to a choice between two extremely well-qualified candidates,” he said. “As tortuous and convoluted as this procedure was, it worked.”
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Simone Lightfoot, and Christine Stead.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
About the writer: Eric Anderson is an intern for The Ann Arbor Chronicle.