Less than two years into the job, Lansing Schools Superintendent T.C. Wallace is one of five finalists for the Pontiac superintendent’s job, a situation that spurred the Lansing School Board to call a closeddoor meeting to talk about Wallace’s interest in “pursuing other professional opportunities.”

Wallace, 64, is only 20 months into a four-year contract that paid him $175,000 in his first year with an automatic $5,000 raise for year two. The Pontiac School Board was slated to narrow its list to two finalists today. A final decision will come after the search committee visits the school districts of the two finalists the week of March 4, according to The Oakland Press.

Regardless of the outcome, we all need to be asking, “What’s going on?” Wallace was universally heralded for bringing the Mt. Clemens School System back from the financial brink. He was thought to be the one to do the same here.

Why is he content to give up before finishing even half of his contact? Can the skies be that much better in Pontiac?

Ah, no.

Next to Flint and Detroit, there isn’t an urban Michigan city with a school district in rougher shape. On the cusp of a state takeover for carrying a whopping $10 million debt and with student body that once numbered 20,000 down to 7,200, Pontiac plans to close eight of its 20 schools.

Compensation cant be an issue for Wallace. The interim Pontiac superintendent is making a reported $140,000. Here in mid-Michigan, Wallace’s salary is the highest around. In the months before Wallace officially took over on July 1, 2007, he received some transition pay to go along with a contract that includes 30 days of vacation and a $750per-month car allowance.

Wallace did not return my call, but a source who talked to him Friday said Wallace said he didnt actively seek the post. Pontiac had contacted him.

But he didnt have to pick up the phone, and the fact that he did speaks volumes.

From my read, Wallace would be leaving a district that’s slowly deteriorating. Its student population is dropping. Its high schools are failing. The budget next year will struggle.

Its a district that, rhetorically, has embraced the idea of the change, but not the avenues hes sought to pursue. He wanted to link student achievement to teacher pay. It got universally rejected as being too divisive.

As a way to improve Lansings three high schools, none of which have made the federally required Annual Yearly Progress for five years, Wallace proposed making Sexton a ninth-grade facility. That got shot down. He wanted to lay off nearly 250 teachers and staff at Everett and Eastern high schools so their jobs could be reassessed. That got shot down.

Meanwhile, Everett, Eastern and Sexton all continue to receive "D-Alert" grades from the state, despite having elementary schools that seem to perform well.

The board and the teachers union agreed to a watered-down improvement plan for the high schools. But under the federal No Child Left Behind program, if this failing continues much longer, Lansing will be forced to bus its high schoolers to neighboring districts of the parents choice.

He came up with a 71-page strategic plan, but the school board told him that it was too big and not possible to pull off. Wallace came back with a revised 27-page plan.

His latest effort to improve the schools is the right-sizing study led by former Mayor David Hollister, MSU Professor Ruben Martinez and longtime state official Don Weatherspoon. But up to this point, the school boards interest in this groups activities has ranged from mild interest to shocking indifference.

Against this backdrop, why wouldnt Wallace pick up the phone and talk to Pontiac, a district thats about to hit rock bottom? Theyve made the tough decisions and need an experienced hand to lead the rebuild.

Maybe Lansing needs to hit the floor before it, too, takes bold action. Wallace apparently sees a place where bold action is accepted and feels he could make a bigger difference there, and thats a shame.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Write melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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