With Board Opposition Mounting, Snead Resigns As Detroit Superintendent

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Detroit Superintendent David L. Snead resigned last week as the school board maneuvered to oust him in an apparent quest for speedier reform of the Motor City's schools.

But even some of those who welcomed the appointment of one of Mr. Snead's deputies, Eddie Green, as the interim superintendent warned that changes in the hard-pressed and sometimes chaotic district cannot rest on his shoulders. Rather, they say, reform depends on leaders pulling in the same direction and citizens insisting on progress.

"We needed someone different at the helm, but if we don't make other changes necessary, we haven't made that much of a change," said Xylia Hall, a parent activist.

"There's the assumption that a change of superintendent will eliminate the problem, but [the situation] is much bigger than the superintendent," said William Beckham, the executive director of New Detroit Inc., a business and civic group that has spearheaded a management-reform plan for the district and a program for a $20 million Annenberg Foundation grant.

The board's decision to oust Mr. Snead was, as usual, a divided one. The Oct. 28 vote to accept his resignation was 8-3. The move came four days after two board members urged him in private to resign from the job he had held since 1994. Mr. Snead initially declined and hired a lawyer.

By the same vote, the board then appointed Mr. Green, a 31-year veteran of the system, to lead the district until a permanent replacement is found. He remains the deputy superintendent for educational academic services, the 184,000-student-system's top academic job.

Although the board has not yet voted on a separation agreement with the 54-year-old Mr. Snead, it will pay him no more than $350,000 in installments over the 21 months remaining in his contact, board President Irma Clark told local reporters. Mr. Snead made $148,000 last year.

He could not be reached for comment last week.

Difficult Search

Acknowledging that the district badly needs to put its house in order, Ms. Clark told reporters last week that a new superintendent would not be brought on until, at the earliest, the next school year. Some said it would be nearly impossible to find someone to take the job right now, with board members still fighting publicly and their stinging criticism of Mr. Snead still fresh.

Critics said that Mr. Snead, a longtime Detroit administrator, was a poor financial manager and that he could or would not get behind the reforms advocated by New Detroit.

But his four-year tenure was not without success. His supporters pointed to a recent rise in scores on state tests that outpaced the average gains for students throughout the state, and an operating budget brought into balance in less time than the board had demanded.

Also, Detroit voters in 1994 passed a $1.5 billion bond measure to rebuild the city's aging schools--an unprecedented amount at that time for a single district. But repeated delays have stalled the program. ("Building Plan In Detroit Still Only a Dream," June 11, 1997.)

Political Rivalries

Kwame Kenyatta, one of the three members who voted against toppling Mr. Snead, said he objected to the closed-door engineering of the superintendent's departure. He also argued that in removing Mr. Snead, the board had virtually handed over management of the school system to Mr. Beckham, who heads the panel charged with implementing the New Detroit recommendations.

New Detroit "has not only replaced the role of the board, it has superceded the superintendent," Mr. Kenyatta said.

Some of Mr. Snead's supporters have also charged that he suffered from the political rivalry between his wife, Sharon McPhail, and both Mayor Dennis Archer and Wayne County Executive Edward H. McNamara. Mr. Archer defeated Ms. McPhail in her bid for mayor four years ago. And Ms. McPhail says she will challenge Mr. McNamara, for whom Ms. Clark works as director of human relations, in next year's election.

Ms. Clark, the board president, denied that politics played a role in letting Mr. Snead go. In a phone interview, she said his performance was the only criterion for the board's decision.

Reaction to Mr. Snead's departure was mixed. Janna Garrison, the executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said she did not expect much change, just a smoother relationship between the chief and the board. "I expect the district will continue to move forward, as it has under Dr. Snead," she said.

Alexander Bailey, the superintendent of the 3,600-student Oak Park district in the city's northern suburbs, disagreed. He said the Detroit district would have trouble moving forward without more stability and more harmony.

"Let's look at what happens to a large school system when you change superintendents ... five times in 10 years," Mr. Bailey said, referring to the last decade. ''When this happens more than once over a short period of time, you have to ask ... what does the school board want?"

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Web Resources
  • The Detroit Public Schools' Web site contains a biography of David Snead.
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