Our editorial: Choose Menzel as state's schools chief

The Detroit News

The State Board of Education is poised to select Michigan's next superintendent of public education as soon as today. It's a vital decision for the future of the state's children. So the board should avoid making this a political fight and instead choose the candidate best suited to making schools better.

Superintendent Mike Flanagan has led the Michigan Department of Education for a decade and is retiring in June. The State Board, responsible for hiring his replacement, is interviewing the three finalists for the position today. The board is expected to make its choice shortly after that.

The board has conducted its search over the last few months, and narrowed the pool of candidates to three from six semifinalists a week ago. More than 50 applied for the job.

The three finalists share experience serving as superintendents of local or intermediate school districts in Michigan.

Candidates Brian Whiston, Dearborn Public Schools superintendent, and Vickie Markavitch, Oakland Schools superintendent, reflect the Democratic control of the school board, favoring traditional public schools over charters.

The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, is backing Whiston even though Markavitch would also fall in line with the MEA's agenda of fighting charter schools and other non-union options for reforming schools.

Sources close to the search say the six Democrats on the board are leaning toward Whiston as well. Markavitch has lobbied hard for the job, but some board members reportedly think she would be too divisive a leader.

Whiston comes with a questionable record. A former lobbyist, Whiston's outlandish expense reports from more than 10 years ago have resurfaced recently. When Whiston was the lobbyist for Oakland Schools, the intermediate district for Oakland County, he was caught up in a scandal involving excessive expenditures on gifts and meals.

The candidate best suited to bring a fresh vision and perspective to the position is Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. He has GOP support on the State Board, and was one of the preferred choices of Karen McPhee, Gov. Rick Snyder's new education adviser.

Menzel shouldn't be discounted just because Snyder wants him.

He oversaw the recent merger of Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools and also served as executive director of South Central Michigan Works. His appointment would improve relations between the education board and the governor.

This is a pivotal time for education in Michigan, especially in Detroit as the governor and a coalition of city leaders seek to overhaul how schools are run. The next superintendent should be someone who can work in concert with these plans, not fight them.

Menzel is the best fit for the challenges ahead.