School Superintendent Resigns in Wake of Granholm Criticism
by Judy Putnam, Lansing Bureau, January 30, 2005
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EAST LANSING --
Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins
resigned under pressure Saturday after an awkward and public
three-week spat with Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Watkins said in a statement that he will take a job at Wayne
State University working on issues of school reform and urban
education. His resignation is effective March 9.
"I end my tenure with the same watch words with which I began --
the decision-making yardstick that simply asks, 'show me how
this helps a teacher teach and children learn,"' he said.
State Board Vice President John Austin, D-Ann Arbor, said no
buyout was offered to Watkins, who earns $168,300 a year.
"We have a resignation with an opportunity for Tom to move ahead
in a positive direction," said Austin, who was prepared to vote
for Watkins' firing. It appeared the board may have had enough
votes to do so.
Board members huddled behind closed doors with cell phones for a
half-hour before announcing that a meeting set for 3 p.m. had
State Board President Kathleen Straus, D-Bloomfield Township,
said that Watkins had agreed to resign so no meeting was needed.
"Now we can get back to focusing on moving ahead," Straus said.
Straus, who supported Watkins, was under pressure to fire him
after the eight-member board was evenly divided over his future
and Granholm went public with her displeasure over Watkins'
Watkins has held his position since April 2001.
A few dozen people attended the meeting, including parents who
support Watkins. Some said they were angry over the cancellation
of the meeting and lack of information.
"He's made himself very available to us," said Vicky Opipari, a
Farmington Hills mother and a member of a parent group. (HI
Liz Boyd, the governor's spokeswoman, said Granholm knows a
number of people who might be right for the job. The
eight-member board of education hires the superintendent, but
the governor has influence over the Democratic-majority board.
Boyd said it was a series of issues that caused the governor to
lose faith in Watkins.
"She looks forward to working with the state board to empower a
results-oriented, effective leader as Michigan's new
superintendent of instruction," Boyd said.
The Granholm-Watkins split widened a week ago when Watkins
released a detailed letter criticizing the governor.
Board member and Watkins supporter Liz Bauer, D-Bloomfield, said
she had not been given any specific reasons to fire him.
Eileen Weiser, R-Ann Arbor, said, however, that Watkins has done
a great job on "external relations," but didn't do the hard work
of complying with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
"The real problem has been the increasing amount of federal
scrutiny on Michigan's achievement and success in schools. Those
issues have been escalating," she said.
Jim Agee, a former Democratic state representative, attended the
meeting. His name has been kicked around as a possible
replacement, as well as Michigan Association of School
Administrators Executive Director Mike Flanagan, who worked as
Granholm's education advisor when she first took office in 2003.
Agee, who heads a political leadership group at Michigan State
University, said he wasn't seeking the job.
He said the fight over Watkins' job has been painful.
"Everyone who has an interest in education wants to see this
end," he said.
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