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Alexandria Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee members resign after criticizing ACPS superintendent

ACPS Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt speaks at the ribbon cutting for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, Aug. 18, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Two longtime members of the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee (BFAAC) resigned earlier this month after severely criticizing the leadership of Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt during a meeting.

BFAAC Vice Chair Kathy Stenzel resigned on Dec. 14 and Board Member Karen Graf resigned on Dec. 16 without providing a reason, according to the city. Graf was chair of the Alexandria School Board in 2013 and 2014, and was a School Board member for six years.

The resignations followed an adhoc Dec. 11 subcommittee meeting, where members were planning an upcoming joint session between city and ACPS staff. In that meeting, Stenzel, Graf and member Laurie McNamara said that Kay-Wyatt is “closed off,” and questioned her leadership style and how effectively ACPS staff work with city staff.

“I was very disappointed when they put her up as superintendent,” said Stenzel, who was on the committee since 2019. ” I think she runs a pretty closed book over at schools. I think it trickles down onto staff, on their comfort with being open on what they’re working on.”

Kay-Wyatt was hired as superintendent in May, after spending nearly a year as interim-superintendent. She was initially hired as the ACPS human resources director in 2021. She took over a post-pandemic school system that was heavily criticized for its poor collaboration with the city, increased safety concerns, teacher and staff retention, as well as learning loss and underperforming standardized test scores.

Kay-Wyatt declined to comment on the subcommittee meeting to ALXnow.

Graf accused Kay-Wyatt of micromanaging communications staff, and said that she was “stunned” last month when she and ACPS Chief Financial Officer Dominic Turner joined City Council’s annual budget retreat on Zoom instead of in person. In that meeting, Kay-Wyatt unveiled the school system’s priorities over the next fiscal year, with one of them being improved collaboration between ACPS and the city.

“I was stunned,” Graf said. “I guess I would be pissed if I was Council, too, because our (School) Board’s used to show up en masse. Definitely all of us were there because we want to show force; that we’re here. We believe in what we’re telling you about the school system.”

In that Nov. 4 meeting, Kay-Wyatt said that her priorities include building partnerships and collaborations with the city.

“We are truly working on building a collaborative energy and a collaborative spirit and relationship with the city moving forward,” Kay-Wyatt said.

McNamara said that criticism levied against Kay-Wyatt is unfair “in a way,” but that ACPS has been tone-deaf by rebranding itself with a new logo while struggling under an avalanche of criticism due to teacher vacancies and collective bargaining issues. She said that the social media comments on the logo change exemplify the issues many see with Kay-Wyatt.

“It is just the essence of tone deafness in this environment,” McNamara said.

Stenzel, Graf and McNamara did not respond to requests for comment.

The next BFAAC meeting is Jan. 16.

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