The Politics of Money: AAPS Superintendent Candidate Signs With Larger Virginia School District For $70K Less Than Ann Arbor Job Pays

The former Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, Dr. Todd Roberts, left in October 2010. Since then, the District has been headed by an interim Superintendent. In November, when the Board of Education trustees were trying to figure out how to hire a new Superintendent (had to have a “consultant,” dontcha know) said consultant, Bill Newman of Ray & Associates, pitched the idea that the AAPS had to pay more to get quality candidates. Newman is a member of the Dave Brandon Society (named for U of M Athletic Director Dave Brandon) whose members only spend other people’s money, and believe that paying more leads to getting more “value.” Society members are never allowed to spend under $10 for a cup of coffee, or $100 for a hamburger. All Dave Brandon Society members are proud owners of $435 hammers, $640 toilet seats, and $7,600 coffee makers—supplied by the same company used by the United States Pentagon in the mid-80s.

Brandon Society member Bill Newman, in support of his hair brained theory about how money is the key to attracting the best candidates to Superintendent jobs, prepared a table which listed the 2010-11 salaries and 2011-12 estimated salaries for nine districts near other large universities – Iowa City, Iowa; Knox County, Tenn.; Lincoln, Neb.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Seattle, Wash.; Cambridge, Mass.; Socorro ISD, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Sacramento, Calif. The average estimated salary of these districts for 2011-12 was $246,001, with a range of $189,520 to $272,950. All of the districts listed had enrollment at least double that of the 16,536 students in Ann Arbor Public Schools, except for Iowa City (12,500 students), and Cambridge (6,500 students).

The President of the AAPS Board of Education bought Newman’s pitch hook, line and $500 sinker. Deb Mexicotte (pictured left), who works, yes, for the University of Michigan spending other people’s money in her day job, couldn’t find anything the matter with spending more of other people’s money as pitched to her by Bill Newman. So, she proposed raising the pay for the next Superintendent of the AAPS District $70,000, from $175,000 to $245,000. Trustee Simone Lightfoot was quoted in the press as suggesting that a $70,000 hike was “in excess.” Lightfoot suggested a modest $50,000 hike would be better. (Her membership in the Dave Brandon Society was pending prior to her comments, but was immediately approved shortly afterwards.)

Trustee Susan Baskett suggested that a $70,000 hike might not be well received by the community and could impact the success of any future request for millage which the BOE might have planned. You think? She told her colleagues on the Board, “I think this is crazy, and this is going to be a hard sell to our community as we go to them to ask for more money. The $70,000 difference between Roberts’ former salary and the proposed new salary could be put toward other services for students instead.”

Board President Deb Mexicotte, who was somehow under the impression that $170,000 was “at the bottom” of the pay scale for school superintendents, and that $7,500 was at the “bottom of the scale” for the cost of a new coffee maker, managed to get her motion passed 4-3. Mexicotte, Nelson, Patalan, and Stead voted for the motion, and Baskett, Lightfoot, and Thomas voted against it.

So, it is with a certain amount of irony that, today, it was revealed Dr. Shelley Redinger (pictured right), one of the three finalists chosen by the AAPS BOE for the Superintendent job, turned up her nose at the chance to earn $75,000 more and took a job in Virginia, with the Spotsylvania School District. That District of 24,000 students is significantly larger than the AAPS District which serves 16,000 students. The Free Lance-Star in Fredricksburg published this piece that reported Redinger had agreed to a four-year contract with a base salary of $170,000.

Yes, that’s $170,000. Less than the AAPS District paid Dr. Todd Roberts.

Read slowly: A candidate applied to the AAPS job, was selected as a finalist, then agreed to work for $170,000 somewhere else. I can only wonder what happened in Dr. Redinger’s interviews with our Board of Education members that drove her to thumb her nose at the AAPS and that $70,000 pay bump that “consultant” Bill Newman assured the BOE would help attract and land top candidates. Dr. Redinger’s withdrawl of her name from consideration, coupled with her acceptance of a job leading a larger District in exchange for $70,000 less in pay can only mean one thing: Dr. Shelley Redinger is certifiably insane. There can be no other explanation. Honestly.

BOE President Deb Mexicotte, when asked by AnnArbor.com for her reaction to Redinger’s withdrawl of her candidacy said simply, “That crazy bit…Shelley did what?!? Doesn’t she realize that we’re offering more money? Doesn’t she realize that more money is more? We’re offering $70,000 more than the Spotsylvania District for pity’s sake. (Deep sigh.) Oh, we didn’t want her anyway. Who spells Shelley with an “E” these days?”

In fact, the three other BOE members who voted in support of Mexicotte’s motion to raise the Superintendent’s starting pay by $70,000 because Ann Arbor’s compensation was “at the bottom” of the scale, immediately contacted the Dave Brandon Society to make sure that Shelley Redinger’s temporary membership card had been shredded.

Trustee Susan Baskett actually did say, “She was very sweet, [but] she was not in my top two when we all had to do our little rankings. She was well credentialed, but I didn’t think she would be the best fit for it.” Translation: “We didn’t want you and your four old graduate degrees, and many years of relevant experience any way. Harumph.”

One thing is certain: Dr. Redinger’s actions confirmed what most of us who don’t spend other people’s money for a living (and/or as a member of the AAPS Board of Education) already knew: The AAPS BOE members who supported the Board President’s crazy idea that more money would attract a better quality of Superintendent candidate to the job were absolutely wrong, and completely misguided. The one candidate who was not in the show for the money, is gone, Baby, gone. Gone to a job that pays a $70K less than what Ann Arbor is offering.

Here’s one certainty: Consultant Bill Newman will get his fee, and Ann Arbor taxpayers will needlessly spend $70,000 too much for our next Superintendent of schools. Here’s another, when that millage “enhancement” next comes up, Mexicotte’s Folly could potentially be used to sink it.

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=6144

20 Comments for “The Politics of Money: AAPS Superintendent Candidate Signs With Larger Virginia School District For $70K Less Than Ann Arbor Job Pays”

  1. @12 Bob Elton

    Good for you! It mattered that you ran, even if you didn’t get the results you sought. Just showing up and running changes the political climate.

    My take is that not enough wheels have yet fallen off the bus to get people’s attention. Keep the discussion going. If things continue on their present course, their will be a reckoning.

  2. I did read about college ready kids. Not every kid is destined to go to college, and AAPS doesn’t have do a good job with those kids. School is an important component,and ultimately, what goes on in the school is due to administration’s quality. Sending kids to private school and not public is a red flag, it’s possible to make changes to the overall quality of schools, but that can be difficult. Parents are taking care of their children in the moment, so if they choose a private school over public, I assume they are taking care of their children first.

  3. @A2Politico I did read that entry about the MDE poll concerning college readiness. Ann Arbor’s results were, not surprisingly, well above average in the state. Wasn’t the state average somewhere near 10 percent? On the other hand in a school district such as this one it’s not out of line to expect excellent results. The question, then, becomes whether college readiness results that mean only one out of every two students who graduates in prepared to go on to higher education is acceptable to parents and educators? Certainly, leaving half of the district’s graduates behind when they go to college presents some uncomfortable questions. This is exactly why the next Superintendent will have a particularly challenging job. Will the millage scheduled to be put on the ballot this spring be renewed? I would hope so, but given the current economy and antipathy toward the cost of public education, I can’t say everyone I know shares my optimism.

  4. @rose did you see the entry I did about the “college ready” percentages? I was fascinated (in a horrified kinda way) when I saw that the graduation rate at Roberto Clemente was 92 percent, but that ZERO percent of those kids were deemed college ready. Yikes! Talk about a red flag. As for your observation that unmotivated kids can become disenfranchised, you are 1000 percent right. However, school is not a panacea. I really think parents are ultimately responsible for the quality of the education delivered to kids. At our local elementary school, lots of white parents have pulled their kids at the middle school level to sent them to Greenhills. It’s a problem, not because they want their kids to get a great education, but because they opt out of making the public system better so that it meets their expectations.

  5. It’s all relative I suppose. Breaking the achievement gap requires cultural change in schools, and I often think the Title 1 schools needed that most. In general ed, education is presented, but not followed up, so if a kid wasn’t/isn’t very motivated, they can easily become disengaged and disenfranchised. Starting that PBS was one of the best things the school has done, but the culture of AAPS staff is difficult. In AAPS, if a kid isn’t college bound, they become near neglected, perhaps even indulgently so, but it really boils down to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

  6. @rose Upping the Supertintendent salary by $70K before hiring the next Sup., and for no reason other than the Board president listened to a consultant is absolutely reason enough to question the decision. No one is kicking them.

    I’m not sure I agree that Todd Roberts was a great Superintendent. The District negotiated a contract with teachers that purported to “freeze” pay, but gave pay bumps nonetheless. The achievement gap persisted under his leadership, and though the vast majority of students are graduated from high school, at Pioneer and Huron, less than half of them were just deemed “college” ready by the state Department of Education.

  7. At the end of the day, AAPS is trying, and kicking the board members before they have even hired the superintendent is not helpful or warranted.

    It’s a big, unruly school district filled with talented unruly staff. Todd Roberts was an exceptionally good superintendent, and he’s a tough act to follow. I only wish Robert Allen took the job…

  8. @a2politico: Fredericksburg is at the outer realm of the DC commute. Spotsylvania is between Fredericksburg and Charlottesville. I looked for data to back my claim but the data only exists for cities. Spotsylvania is the sticks (nothing wrong with sticks). Orange County to the south is home to lots of genteel horse ranches and UVA. Taxes in Virginia are a bit less than Michigan (having lived in Virginia)(not to mention car insurance and what not).

  9. John,

    I’ve voted in every school board election since the early 70s.

    I’ve read all about every candidate since then.

    Almost none of the people I voted for have ever won.

    I’ve run for office 4 times, and lost worse every time. So, no I am not considering running for school board.

    The systemic problem is that we continue to elect people to leadership positions without a shred of leadership ability. School board is, in my opinion, worse than city council, just not as visible.

    I don’t have any solution for this conundrum.

  10. For everyone who thinks the BOE made a poor judgement about the superintendent’s salary increase, how many of you voted in the last school board election?

    For those who voted in the last school board election or two, how many of you did any research on the candidates?

    How much electoral choice has there been in recent school board elections? If there is little-to-no choice in recent school board elections, have you considered running for school board yourself?

    Local elected officials are neither more nor less eager to Do The Right Thing than the rest of us – it’s just that it’s been years since there was wide-spread electoral accountability around Ann Arbor. When any of us is not held accountable, we tend to become intellectually and morally lazy. We follow whatever seems the path of least resistance, whether that means substituting received “expert” opinion, or the opinion of “leaders”, for the work of forming our own judgements, refusing to consider seriously the points of dissenters, or simply not bringing our best, our most responsible, our most thoughtful selves to the table.

    One of the signs of a healthy political culture is vigorous but civil, public debate on the issues around elections, coupled with actual electoral choice. Ann Arbor has a lot of carping between elections, but little action at election time. Democracy is not a spectator sport. If people don’t run, if people don’t vote, the system cannot work.

    By running for mayor, by putting her money where her mouth is, A2P has earned the right to comment on public officials. Not everyone can run for office, but we all can show up and vote, and support candidates who question the status quo. That lends legitimacy to our criticisms.

    If you don’t like what the school board does, what are you going to do about it?

  11. @Bob Elton is right on the money as it were with his comment. Amen. But that we could have pursued a head of the AAPS based on such high-minded criteria and with such a level-headed plan in mind. I’m sure we’ll end up with a Superintendent who’s well-prepared but it does make me wonder what the three finalists might have looked like had the whole process been handled without the consultant who pushed the idea that pay was the key to getting quality candidates to apply for the job.

  12. @8 I totally agree, and was very sad to see the candidate who, obviously, was not fishing for the super-sized salary, leave the room. Susan Baskett may not have liked her, but I have to say Redinger’s estimation in my eyes went up significantly when she walked away and took a job, rather than be “lured” into one by the promise of high pay. Not that the other candidates are motivated by the outlandish pay, but we’ll never know.

  13. If the school board had any leadership qualities at all, they would offer a lower, not a higher, salary, but also offer the chance to create a world class school district. They would ofer the full support of the board for the changes the superintendant wanted to make to amke things better for the kids, they would offfer to keep the political heat off the superintendant and take it themselves, and the financial and budgeting backup to make the changes the new superintandant deems important.

    Someone whose priorities are kids would jump at a job liek that.

    People who choose their next job solely, or largely, on the basis of money, are probably not the kind of people we want as educational leaders.

  14. I am no fan of Snyder. The removal of the EITC to help businesses, and only some businesses, at that, is reprehensible. But I predict if this round of school cuts don’t break the unions, Snyder will cut funding again, and try to do break the unions again, ostensibly in two years…
    Still, you could make the argument that they haven’t offered enough to the new super…(I kid)..

  15. @Rose, I actually watched Gov. Snyder deliver his magnum opus. I heard him say that everyone will be treated the same, except for the people who are earning incomes below the poverty line. His biz tax change is a crock of kraut. Let me tell you that small business owners whom I know manipulate their books and income so as to NEVER show a large profit, and thus are not doubly taxed in the way that Snyder intimates. I can’t complain too loudly, though, he wants to exempt our company from paying taxes under his new business tax structure. Now, if we could just get a little bit of those extra millions he gave his pal Mike Finney at the MEDC to waste on companies that create more job announcements than actual jobs.

    Be sure to thank all of those Ann Arbor Democrats who supported Snyder financially and voted for him. I’m not stepping foot into Arbor Brewing Company for the next four years if Snyder’s budget passes with the removal of EITC for Michigan’s working poor families.

  16. @Joe Hood you big optimist! The cost of living in Fredericksburg, VA is indexed (http://www.city-data.com/city/Fredericksburg-Virginia.html) at 135 (average is 100). Ann Arbor is indexed at 92. So the Spotsylvania District BOE believed $170K was a good salary given the high cost of living in their neck of the woods.

  17. Spotsylvania has a lower cost of living.

  18. Boy, you must have missed Rick Snyder’s idea of shared sacrifice for the schools of Michigan, and the upcoming renewal millage. What is AAPS potentially short for the next year? 28 million dollars?Good times, good times, coming their way.

    I bet Spotsylvania is just not in the same boat, plus a BOE member let it slip somebody isn’t that strong a contender. Maybe the money just wasn’t going to be worth the pain coming to AAPS, and Shelley Redinger was looking for a much easier job, even at less pay in warmer weather.
    The salary was set too high, but given the @#$%storm the super is walking into, maybe not so much after all….

  19. Robert C. Smith

    It’s a difficult decision to set a salary for a new hire significantly higher than the salary paid to the employee who’s left. I would have to say though that this is so clear that it should not have been a split decision at all. The loss of the candidate to a larger school district that is offering a salary that is considerably less than what is offered by the AAPS is a an indicator that there was never any need in the first place to rachet up the pay. I’m not sure how the BOE president decided Ann Arbor’s salary was “low,” but it sure looks like she just pulled the idea out of thin air and rammed it through.

  20. This is like something out of a bad movie. Paying more money because a candidate is excellent and has proven to be a wonderful addition to the district is one thing. Throwing money around because you have it is quite another thing, and I was glad to read there are at least a few BOE members with the common sense to know this. I was looking forward to the parent gathering to hear how the Sup. candidates answer our questions, but I am not so silly as to believe that trustees like Ms. Mexicotte will actually rely on anything except what she thinks when making the hiring decision. It’s a shame we’ll only have two people to choose from. I can only hope we end up with someone who will be a good fit and want to stay around for longer than a couple of years.

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