Board Talks Strategic Plan Process

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education study session (October 19, 2016): Mitchell Elementary School, 3550 Pittsfield Dr

Tonight’s study session, beginning at 5:30 PM, focuses on a discussion of the district’s strategic plan.  Study sessions allow the trustees to explore a topic more in depth than is usually allowed for at a regular meeting.

In addition to discussing the strategic plan, the trustees will hear the monthly financial monitoring report. There will also be a first briefing on a teacher and administrator laptop purchase recommendation.

7:40PM The study session is called to order by President Deb Mexicotte. All trustees (Christine Stead, Patricia Manley, Andy Thomas, Donna Lasinski, Susan Baskett, and Simone Lightfoot) are present.

AGENDA APPROVAL: Agenda approved without discussion.


INFORMATION ITEM: Monthly Budget Monitoring Report

Jill Minnick, Chief Financial Officer, presents the Budget Monitoring Report for September. She notes that the numbers and the percentages look different than last year.

The first report she shares compares data from 9/30/15 to 9/30/16. As of now, district has collected about $3.5M less at this time than last year. Why? The Roberto Clemente building sold last year, last year accelerated rate of tax collections – this year, back to a normal revenue collection.

When looking at General Fund expenditures: an additional $9.1M of expenditures. Minnick explains that September was a three-payroll period, two of which happen each year.

Variances are known and expected, assures Minnick.

Lightfoot asks if the City lets the district know about the tax collection. Manley asks about sale of district library interest. Minnick says that those numbers will be included in June of 2017, as the sale of the interest occurred in June of 2016.

Baskett asks about food service collections. Minnick says food service is “a different animal,” since Chartwells doesn’t bill the district for September expenditures until October. Typically, Chartwells has

Child care fund – program expansion, which translates to increased expenses and start up costs. Minnick says she expects that revenue will catch up with costs in the future.

Thomas asks when the district will begin to see the additional funds from the special education millage. Minnick says that will come at various times during the year, with WISD beginning reimbursements in October.

Stead asks when Minnick expects to see the gap between enrollment and the foundation allowance from the state to begin to match. The official Count Day was earlier in the month.

Mexicotte notes that the monthly budgeting reports generally “smooths out” the annual reports. The annual audit will be coming at a future time, once the 2015-16 books are closed.

September expentidtures: $23,919,917. Generally monthly expenditures range between $17-19M. Minnick again explains the variance away by noting September was a three-pay period.

Cash & Investments (9/30/16): $29,226,742 compared with Cash & Investments (9/30/2015): $50,172,013. Minnick says she is comfortable with the amount of cash on hand, since in 2015, the district had several large outstanding bills that needed to be paid. 2015 was an aberrant year, Minnick argues, not 2016.

Lightfoot thanks Minnick for the narrative of her presentation.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Teacher and Administrator Laptop Purchase Recommendation

6:04PM Superintendent Jeanice Swift introduces the topic and Merri Lynn Colligan, Executive Director Technology & Information  Services, saying they are requesting the purchase of 94 laptops to make sure every teacher and administrator has a laptop. These laptops are needed to equip the new hires that were made over the summer. Swift again thanks the community for passing the technology bond, which allows the district to make technology purchases such as these.

REMC (state) bid price, Apple recommendation. 32 MacBook Pros (13 inch, 2.5GHz, Dual core Intel Core i5, 8RAM/500GB), 30 MacBook Airs, 32 MacBook Pros (13 inch, 2.5GHz, Dual core Intel Core i5, 4RAM/500GB) for a total of $112,248, which would come out of the technology bond.

Mexicotte asks if there was anything that would keep the trustees from moving this recommendation from a first briefing item to a special briefing item [this would mean the board would vote on it tonight instead of at the next regular meeting], other than not allowing the community to have a say in it. Stead notes that the Planning Committee already discussed the bid and although they had some questions regarding the bid, she allows that they need to make the purchase to supply the teachers with the computers they need.

As a point of parlimentary procedure, Stead notes that they would need to vote themselves into a regular meeting, in order to vote on something. Amy Osinski, Board Assistant, confirms that they had listed the meeting as a study session/regular meeting.

STUDY SESSION: Strategic Plan 2017-2022

6:12 PM Last strategic plan was for 2007-2012, with updates in 2009 and 2013. The eight objectives identified in the plan “helped guide” the district through, says Stead, but needs to be updated. Looking forward, the district is now ready to tackle the strategic planning process for 2017-2022. “The work is just starting,” says Stead.

Swift says the Planning Committee began the work this past week. Swift says she intensely studied the strategic plan as she prepared herself to take on the job of district superintendent.

At the heart of the plan will be to ensure that “every voice is around this table,” says Swift.

Approach: The planning will being with a Posture and Process approach, designed as a  ‘community conversation.’ There are six different questions listed to help the community reflect on what they want from AAPS, questions such as “what do we value most in our public schools in Ann Arbor? Strengths?”

The initial discussion will include advisory groups, will discuss with 31 school communities. The district will be using a system-wide “Thought Exchange,” which allows for whole community discussion. There will be a board of education and cabinet leadership team, plus town hall meetings and a public school summit. Social media, like Twitter, and targeted focus groups will also be used.

Swift notes some of the sample stakeholder groups, which would include the Blue Ribbon Advisory, advocacy groups, senior citizens. She wants to make sure the process is “deep and wide enough.”

Strategic Plan Timeline Overview

  • Phase I  Planning  Oct-Nov
  • Phase II  Community Engagement  Dec-Mar
  • Phase III  Input, Feedback, & Refinement  Mar-April
  • Phase IV  Publication of Draft  May
  • Phase V  Action Plans & Measures  June/July
  • Launch Plan 2017-2022  Fall 2017

Swift says they will come to the board “as often as they would like,” but definitely mid-way through the process in March-April. They want a strategic plan that speaks to the community. Swift brought the trustees shining examples of other district strategic plans so they take a look at what other districts are doing. Swift says they want a set of core values.


  • Organizational Core Values
  • Mission Statement
  • Framework
    • Strategies, Goals, & Actions
  • Graphic Modeling/Visual Representation
  • Measures of Goals
  • District Branding

Our Children, Our A2Community, Our Future

  • Important opportunity to envision a brighter future for our children and community
  • Take a ‘long look’ at AAPS schools within context of greater Ann Arbor community
  • Set direction and develop a shared language and understanding

Swift thanks the trustees for “putting [her] on this path.” Looking to make the plan tighter, leaner, better.

6:39 PM Mexicotte says she believes they received a logical and reasonable path forward.

Thomas thanks Swift and the Planning Committee for their work on the planning. He takes issue with the need for rewriting the district strategic plan, however. He recalls the last time they worked on updating the plan in 2012, they worked to develop a strategic plan that would “remain a constant.” Thomas compares it to the US Constitution, something that exists on its own, with some Amendments. Unless there was a very clear consensus that it needed to be significantly changed, he figured they would keep the structure intact. Will they just be making a few tweaks or is this a complete starting over?

Stead answers by explaining that she just went through this exercise at her job. They went into the process uncertain if they were going to overhaul their mission statement and values, but what happened was a “reinvigorating” of their belief in their work. She says that the trustees might do a first pass, then bring it out to the community. Technology, student safety, advocacy are some additional pieces that might need to be addressed.

Currently, the district has a mission statement and eight educational strategies. Thomas wants to know if they are looking at adding “some Amendments” or if they are looking at calling a “Constitutional Convention.”

Mexicotte says she believes they need to go back out again and listen, not that they might change their core values, but that they reengage the community. She is looking for a Constitutional Convention. Manley and Lightfoot agree, saying they need the input from the community today. Lightfoot hopes they can “manage the wording,” to make sure they get the simplicity of the wording.

Lasinski wants to set the mission and the values, then allow for the the talking and the engagement with the community. She asks how the framework would be created.

Swift says Phase I of planning would be with the BOE and the district cabinet, which would work to create the framework. Lightfoot wants students involved in the initial process, as well. Lasinski asks if there is a strategic planning process selected. Stead suggests that they integrate the teams, so the process is not as siloed. But she does want the mission statement and the values to hold true for a long period of time.

Swift says she would like a facilitation in organizing a plan with TregoEd. The ThoughtExchange company would do the data analysis. There’s a third company that Swift is impressed with that will pull together a finished product.

Lasinski presses on, wanting to know who the administrative team would be who is leading this. Swift says she sees the cabinet leading, along with Swift. She would own the project, and says she sees it as the superintendent’s work.

Reflecting on the last time the strategic plan was worked on, Mexicotte says that the board was presented with a plan. The board did not make changes. They accepted the will of the community. Mexicotte says they can set some strategic direction, but she would be hard pressed to set a mission statement in stone prior to receiving some feedback from the community.

Thomas reads the Preamble to the US Constitution and argues that every word in the preamble reflects the values in our country. He wants something similar for the district. Mexicotte says that as he was reading it, she was thinking of all the Amendments. Starting from where they are, Mexicotte says, makes sense. The district is becoming the “next thing we were meant to be.”

Baskett says she remembers feeling frustrated with the process of creating the strategic plan in 2007. The board couldn’t make any changes because it would seem a slight to the hard work put in. The strategic mission should be simple, something that is easily articulated.

Baskett asks about overall cost of creating this. Swift says she wants to bring the board a budget and wants to get the board’s take on using a few partners rather than just one.

Lightfoot says she hears from constituents that there are so many consultants who reside in the district. She looks forward to hearing the prices of each of the companies. She doesn’t want to send false signals, though, that she supports the work at any cost.

Lightfoot says she is surprised how little information people are operating under when thinking about the district. She looks forward to giving as much direction and context to the community. They are on a strict budget, strict diet. She also wants to give the community context of the struggles of the political climate.

Mexicotte says they needed to give the groups a floor, but not a ceiling just yet. That context is the floor that everyone needs in order to do the work.

Lightfoot also asks about finding the balance between honoring the work of what has been done in the past and recognizing the reality of the time we are in. Stead agrees, saying there is a stewardship role the board needs to serve in. There is sometimes a lack of understanding of what the layers of policy of law the board needs to operate under, and Stead says she wouldn’t be able to accept carte blanche the recommendations of a  group operating under those misconceptions.

Stead voices her approval of the Thought Exchange, in order to hear the voices of people who might not attend community town halls. She appreciates the addition of more voices.

Lightfoot says there may be a space and place for the district funders, such as the PTO Thrift Shop.

Manley agrees with the sentiment of keeping it simple.

Baskett asks if Swift has enough from the board in order to take the next steps. Swift says she appreciates the discussion of how much is a reformatting or how much is a clean state. A focus time on the board, a focus time of the cabinet, take a “weather report” through ThoughtExchange, and then look at the congruence between those pieces of work and the current plan will give them a basis to decide if it’s a Constitutional Convention or if it’s just Amendments.

Swift does not see the months and months commitment from people, given the tools that are available. She does see advisory groups down the road.

Lasinski says she would like more broad direction from the community, then charge the district with figuring it out. She asserts that the board and the cabinet should have an idea of how “deep they are going to go” by May 1.

Lightfoot asks if the school climate report gets overlaid with the information gleaned during the strategic planning, to which Swift says yes.

Baskett says she is impressed with how many of the board members “have played this game,” in creating the strategic plan on 2007. Lasinski says that is what defines good board members, as being people who are engaged across the district.

In defense of what was a comprehensive and complicated process, Mexicotte says the previous process developed knowledgeable district leaders. When they think about planning for that next generation, they need to plan for that generation on all levels. Engaging with the community at this level helps create future leaders.

Swift uses the School District of Palm Beach County as an example of how that district is involving their community in a transparent manner.

Mexicotte says that as they think of the timeline, they will be looking to schedule a board retreat to kick this off. Swift says that would ideally happen between Election Day and the first of the year. Thomas cautions on the timing, given the election and the possibility of four new board members. He says they should hold off on doing any real substantive work before the end of the year.

Mexicotte says they can certainly wait to see the “lay of the land” after elections. In the past, they have included trustee-elects and have also waited until after the Organizational Meeting (the first meeting in January). Stead says the topic came up in Planning. Their thought was that they would work to set up the process at the retreat. “This is not a single issue exercise,” says Stead.

Thomas again urges caution. He says it’s not as if they were going to fall off a cliff if they hold off on the planning. If it appears the process was initiated by a lame-duck board, then they have “shot themselves in the foot.”

Speaking from a pragmatic point of view, Mexicotte says, it is unlikely they will pull this together in the near future. There will be an opportunity to determine the best way to engage the community. Logistically, they won’t be able to move all that quickly before November.

8:02 PM Mexicotte says it turns out that the meeting actually was not posted as a regular meeting. That means the first briefing item of the laptop purchases will need to proceed as usual to the next meeting as a second briefing item. It will then be voted on at the next regular meeting.


Stead, along with some colleagues, drafted a resolution regarding 11th graders and assessments. This needs to happen soon, she says, as there is conversation in Lansing regarding changes to assessment. As that’s always happening around us, she says, and they miss an opportunity to comment, and to weigh in on a topic. She would like to place it on the next meeting’s agenda.

Gist of it is 11th graders take the SAT, a nationally developed and relevant test. They also take the M-STEP. The resolution is to eliminate redundancy of testing. The SAT can be used by the student, and may actually change a student’s opinion of if he or she is college-ready.

Thomas and Lightfoot wholeheartedly support the resolution and placing it on the agenda. Baskett encourages the trustees to reach out to the district students, as well. She thinks it would be “added weight” if students added their voices to the resolution. Mexicotte asks if it is amenable to the board to get it in the hands of students. Lightfoot wants to bring in students for advocacy work.

Swift thanks the board for their work tonight.

8:12PM Meeting is adjourned.

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3 thoughts on “Board Talks Strategic Plan Process”

  1. A few thoughts:
    The average cost of the proposed computers is $1249. The Macbook Air models proposed are on sale at Best Buy for $849, and the Macbook Pros are regular price for $1099. When buying a large number of computers, shouldn’t we be getting a price under retail? Thankfully Mexicotte was not able to rush this through the way she does other things.
    This dancing around the Strategic Plan is a little nauseating. They are talking about hiring outside consultants and vendors again to create a colorful new presentation that is going to be two or three steps removed from teaching and learning. Do Board members and Balas staff really have that much time on their hands? Is the old Strategic Plan defective that it needs staff and volunteer time to craft a new one, or is central admin just underworked and need to create a new mission to preserve their jobs? According to Dr. Swift’s latest PowerPoint presentation, the district is doing really well in all areas. Why re-invent the wheel?
    I thank you also, Monet for monitoring this stuff for all of us.

    1. Quick thing about the cost of the computers – it does include AppleCare, which adds an additional $249 to the cost of each computer. So when figuring the per computer cost, it’s important to add that extra cost in, as well.
      Now, I would think it would behoove the district to wait before purchasing, given that Apple is rumored to announce later this week that they’ve updated the MacBook Pros and the MacBook Airs.

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