Hello and Welcome Back!
I hope all your summers were fantastic and you and your students are returning to school excited and energized. A lot has happened this summer to get the district ready for the rewards and challenges of Fall 2013, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to bring you up to date on the recent work of the Board.
As you know, upon the retirement of Superintendent Patricia Green in July, the Board embarked on a very ambitious schedule to choose a new Superintendent and have them in place (if possible) for the beginning of school this fall. Starting at the end of June we had received more than 60 applications, publicly interviewed 6 semi-finalists, held all day interviews and public forums with two excellent finalists, visited those finalists’ home districts in Colorado and New Jersey, voted to offer the position to one finalist (who declined) and then voted to offer the position to the other finalist who enthusiastically accepted! We greeted Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift at the All District Staff Kick-off on Tuesday, August 27th and she will be full-time in the district starting on the first day of school! We could not have done this without everyone working seamlessly – and continuously – over the summer.
This summer the Board also approved moving forward to ask the voters on November 5th to continue our Sinking Fund Millage for another 5 years after our current approval expires at the end of 2014. This millage pays for major building and grounds maintenance, ADA compliance updates, and other capital projects related to our physical properties. Unfortunately none of this money can be used for operating expenses – like salaries or educational supplies – but it allows us to shift money from the general fund to these needs while maintaining the valuable public properties under our stewardship. The Sinking Fund gives us about 7.5 million a year – amounting to a 1.1% annual investment to maintain about 518 million dollars of buildings and grounds. The millage, if passed, would simply continue the current tax rate for our community, but we also added language to the proposal that would allow us to expand the use of the funding for things like transportation and technology if the Michigan Legislature expands the allowable uses for these funds. Look for more information about continuing this important foundational millage that comes directly from our community.
Finally, I would like to speak a bit about the information climate we find ourselves in and what I have been thinking about over the last several years as it relates to our outreach to you – our families, constituents and stakeholders. We have always depended on our Communications department, working with our building staff and the local media to bring the best information possible to our students, parents and community about our public schools and the decisions made by your representative Board of Education. And while this has worked in the past, and continues to be our primary effort for getting the word out, we clearly need to do more and do differently. Through my recent interactions with the community, the media, my fellow Board Trustees, and our district staff I have come to realize that we share a widespread frustration with the level of both accuracy and civility that has pervaded our public discourse. This is not unique to Ann Arbor, with 24/7 news cycles and the rise of the anonymous blogosphere, but as a community we recognize the damage that it can do to our progress, morale and reputation. While we expect (and demand) the very best effort and accountability from our public servants and dedicated staff, no one can do their best work when constantly needing to address misinformation, unfounded rumors, endless suspicion and personal attacks – especially by those who typically have no public accountability to those they would influence or denigrate. The important or complicated falls victim to the simple and ancillary. My approach to date has been to mostly try to ignore the most confounding of these distractions from our work – especially when I hear directly from our community how hurtful they see this environment to be and how much they appreciate their teachers, their custodians, their principals and the work that is done to maintain our excellent schools. But I have decided I can do more to support those voices of hope and reason and constructive criticism by adding my voice to articulate regularly and in narrative form that which I previously have thought was reported well enough in media articles and through the broadcast of the Board meetings and our district documentation. It is important to tell our Board story more completely so that – whether you agree or disagree – you will know better what we were thinking and discussing as a Board when we made our decisions. Maybe I can help with the “why” so that the community can better understand and evaluate the “what” that is manifested later in their school communities and reported in the press.
So, I will be writing on a regular basis and I welcome your comments and questions. And, in the end, whether you agree with our thinking or strongly disagree, I hope you will come to see this effort as positively adding to the discourse around the direction and vision of our district and also of the workings of the Board of Education
Have a great year everyone and I will be talking to you soon!