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Published: 9/1/2004

Community feels sting of principal's sudden exit

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Activists in Monroe's small African-American community said yesterday they were disappointed with the resignation of the city's first black public school administrator.

Monroe High School Prinicipal Layne Hunt, under fire after clashing with parents and some school officials during the last school year, resigned Friday after serving three years.

"Dr. Hunt was our Jackie Robinson," said Selma Rankins, a retired Monroe Public Schools teacher. "He was the first, and when you are first you are going to have some problems. Like Jackie Robinson, some people did not like him. He was a black man. It was an extra burden for him."

No reason was given for Mr. Hunt's sudden departure three days after classes started. Yesterday, Mr. Hunt, who lives in Southfield, Mich., did not return phone calls from a reporter or from his supporters in Monroe's African-American community.

"I just don't know what's going on," said Denise Gray. "I'm waiting for him to say something. He had told the [black] community he would let us know, so to me it's all premature."

Under state law, Mr. Hunt has until Sept. 10 to rescind his resignation, but school officials and his friends don't believe he will. The school board will meet tonight to accept or reject Mr. Hunt's resignation.

Last school year, Mr. Hunt sparred with school officials over a series of leadership issues administrators say they felt needed to be addressed. Additionally, security officials at the school, among them sheriff's Deputy David Buchko, said under Mr. Hunt's tenure the number of fights on campus had increased.

In response to the criticism, Mr. Hunt called for a meeting in March with school officials and school board members, which was attended by scores of his supporters.

Soon after, Mr. Hunt, superintendent David Taylor, and Randy Monday, assistant superintendent for secondary education, agreed that a study should be carried out to determine if the perceived problems with Mr. Hunt's leadership existed.

In June, the district hired Donna Schmitt-Oliver, a retired county school district official, to conduct the study, which included input from teachers and other school employees. The results, which have not been released, confirmed some of the concerns and led Ms. Schmitt-Oliver to outline a plan that was to be implemented this school year, Mr. Taylor said.

He said Mr. Hunt did not see the survey results but was informed about the plan Ms. Schmitt-Oliver had suggested to resolve the issues. Earlier this summer, Mr. Hunt told school officials he might resign and conditions for his resignation were settled, Mr. Taylor said. Further discussion took place about two weeks ago between school officials, Mr. Hunt, and Mr. Hunt's union representative, Jerry Olney, but Mr. Hunt did not inform school officials of his decision until Friday, Mr. Taylor said.

"I think perhaps rather than go through the challenge of trying to resolve all those things [in the plan] that were in everyone's best mutual interest, he decided he'd rather move on and do something else," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Hunt's departure is a blow to the city's African-American community, which numbers about 1,000 out of a population of 31,000, black community leaders said. It follows the June defeat of the public schools board's only African-American member, Charles Watkins, by Deputy Buchko.

"The dynamics have changed with the loss of these two individuals," Renae Hoskins said. "There are issues that still need to be addressed.

"She said Deputy Buchko's continued presence at the high school and as a board member could have had an impact on Mr. Hunt's decision.

"I feel it didn't put Dr. Hunt in a good position," Ms. Hoskins said. "There needs to be a level of neutrality. With Mr. Buchko there, that was taken away."

Mr. Taylor said the sheriff's department is attempting to move Deputy Buchko but has not yet found another position for him. Deputy Buchko could not be reached for comment.

School board President Wendy Barth said Mr. Monday, assistant superintendent of secondary education, will be interim principal. She the board regrets Mr. Hunt's departure.

Mr. Rankins said Mr. Hunt served his purpose well.

"We only had him three years, but he made a difference. We were fortunate to have had him," he said.

Contact George J. Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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