Board at an Impasse Over Empty Seat

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (December 14, 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Board of Education (BOE) trustees will meet in executive session at 5:00 PM this evening, citing attorney/client privilege. Executive sessions are closed to the public.

The regular meeting, starting at 7:00 PM, will begin with the board vacancy applicant public statements. The six candidates will each have three minutes to address the question posed by the trustees at the interviews this past Friday: “Tell us why we should pick you to fill this vacancy.” Each candidate’s application is viewable on the district website.

Directly after the public statements, the deliberation and voting process will take place. Once a candidate receives four or more votes, that person will immediately be sworn in as a trustee, filling the seat left vacant by the resignation of Donna Lasinski.

The trustees will hear several informational reports: an update on the Court of Appeals – Ulysses Wong and Michigan Gun Owners v AAPS; the monthly financial monitoring report; the 2016/17 staffing report; and a preview of 2017/18 enhancements.

No first briefing items are on the agenda.

Second briefing items include: the Technology Refresh Bid Recommendation, the Allen Elementary Furniture Replacement Purchase Recommendation, and Allen Bid Recommendations: Additional Flooring and Paint.

The consent agenda will include the technology refresh bid, the Allen furniture replacement purchase, and the additional flooring and paint at Allen.

Board action is to be taken on a transportation contract amendment.

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7:12 Vice President Christine Stead calls the meeting to order. President Deb Mexicotte is not currently at the meeting, since she is one of the candidates vying for the vacant seat.

Present: Vice President Christine Stead, Parliamentarian Simone Lightfoot, Secretary Andy Thomas, Trustee Susan Baskett, Patricia Manley. Trustee-elect Harmony Mitchell is also present. Trustee-elect Jeff Gaynor is present at the meeting, but is not seated up at the board table.


Stead calls for an addition of an explanation of the election process before the candidate presentations. She also asks for a board action item of the Superintendent contract to be added to the agenda.


Order of the presentations: all the candidates’ names are in a bag. Lightfoot, as Parliamentarian, will draw names, which determines the order they will go. Each candidate will have a three minute period to give their statement, addressing the question: “Tell us why we should pick you to fill this vacancy.”

Procedure: Each trustees has before then a voting ballot round with their name on it. They will write down the candidate they are voting for, Osinski will collect, and read the results by name. If there are four out of five votes (a majority of seats), that candidate will be successful and will be awarded the seat. At that point, there is a swearing in process. If not four votes, another round. If a candidate hasn’t received any votes, they will be eliminated. Any candidate with a vote will go on to the next round. They are prepared for ten rounds. There will also be a deliberation period prior to the vote. Trustees do not have to deliberate, but a deliberation is allowable before votes are cast for each round.

Lightfoot adds that as they vote for the rounds, the candidate with the least amount of votes falls off, and they continue.

Order of candidate statements:

  1. Hunter Van Valkenburgh
  2. Rebecca Lazarus
  3. Rebecca Jacobsen
  4. Deb Mexicotte
  5. Jessica Kelly
  6. Steve Norton


Hunter Van Valkenburgh: wants to serve because he believes cooperation is important. He has creative talents to serve the district in years ahead. Cooperation is highest service. Experience is shown that completion only makes winner and losers. As a board member, would work collaboratively in a way that facilities cooperation with all stakeholders. The term “students first” is used a lot. Believes that when all those who work for the students are adequately compensated. Need to think outside the box to keep school thriving. Suggest looking outside of the district to the University for ideas. Van Valkenburgh highlights an example of experience as Michigan Student Body president. Well know that wife is a teacher in district. He will take all precautions to ensure he represents all. Only one with full confidence and support of AAEA.

Rebecca Lazarus: Have the experience and fresh perspective. In addition to being a mother, she’s a contract negotiator mediator. She says they can’t be blind that they need to help shape federal, state, and local government policies. Managing how they spend district money is another challenge. Putting good contracts in place and managing that work can be complicated and messy. Her experience can be a boon to the district. One thing that connects is the need to be heard and understood. She’s had experience working with a full gamut of people. Listening to community’s needs is important and her experience will be key to facilitate. She loves the district and the community it serves.

Rebecca Jacobsen (has a PowerPoint to accompany her candidate statement): professor in the College of Education at MSU. Has worked in teacher prep program and admin program. Has worked to make sure teachers and admin are prepared to teach all students. Has conducted research about education. Immersed in those details daily. Deeply familiar with accountability policies that are at the forefront of learning. She knows how to make it work better. Leading researcher on communicating school quality. A good school is so much more than test scores. Should be communicating strengths effectively. Have worked with different stakeholders across the nation. Beyond the policy wonk, public education is deeply personal. Was a classroom teacher for eight years. Connected to AAPS as her role as a foster parent and has recently adopted four children. Expect to work to consistently prove we can provide those skills to all children. Right skills for the job.

Deb Mexicotte: When we first experienced the open carry issue in 2014, first thoughts went to student safety. Quickly acted to challenge the seemingly insurmountable issue. Retrained staff, rescheduled board meetings in a place to better accommodate the public, and when challenged in court, put forth case in a solid way. This kind of attention to all facets of a problem is indicative of the many considerations of every action that is taken by a board trustee. Just an example of decisions Mexicotte has been part of. Much of board service was reflected in our efforts in the courtroom yesterday. Balance and thoughtfulness to the board.

Jessica Kelly (has a PowerPoint presentation to accompany her candidate): Because I have the specific skills and experiences needed to be a trustee. Federal challenges: trained in “legalese”. Ready to protect students right to education. AAPS faces challenges from the state of Michigan. Will work with other districts. AAPS must continue to close the achievement gaps between all groups. Help new board to seize opportunity to rebuild trust between stakeholders. She has experience leading diverse boards. She’s an objectively-qualified neutral party. Important because this isn’t the next step in her career, but because her family and home is here.

Steve Norton: Outlines what he might bring to the board if he is chosen: all the experiences I have had doing advocacy work and his experience with district schools, has helped him learn about the needs in schools. Whether it’s issues of equity or raising up kids, to be inclusive in a fractured world or how to keep kids safe. Having seen things from multiple perspectives, most of what he does is build coalitions. The community must agree on what we want our schools to do, then act, even in the face of legal obstacles. His work has centered around bringing together groups of people to work. Hopes that his work on the board would continue that.

Stead acknowledges how lucky the community is “to have the caliber of candidates,” saying they are all “highly qualified” candidates.


This is Thomas’s last board meeting. He warns the audience that he is going to talk a fair amount about each of the candidates. His mantra: trust the process. Applying for an open seat is different that election. “Very pleased” to see Norton’s name on the list of candidates. Can’t think of anyone who has worked harder as an advocate for public schools on a local and on a state level. Thomas enumerates some of the work Norton has done. Norton has the experience and the dedication to be an excellent trustee, says Thomas.

Thomas appreciates that Jacobsen is a researcher. He also likes the emphasis she made on celebrating the success of AAPS schools. She has done work on analyzing school report cards.

Kelly showed a “real passion for the schools” and for students who don’t have a strong advocate. He says they could use a trustee who cares that much.

Must acknowledge his support for the leadership of Mexicotte. As is the case for anyone who has been a leader for so long, she has had to make difficult decisions and has paid a price. He endorsed Deb and was disappointed that she did not win her reelection bid. He has heard the voices of people who have asked for change. He would be satisfied with any of the four candidates he has mentioned.

He gives a nod to Van Valkenburgh and Lazarus. While he doesn’t expect to be voting for either, he appreciates their dedication and thanks them for applying.

Lightfoot says she’s pleased at the amount of talent in the community. She echoes the sentiments of Thomas when he says that his job is to listen to all in the community. She says the job is to “take the hits” and “hold the line.” The job is to know what the district need to continue on the trajectory the district is on. She tells the public to come to the committee meetings since that’s where the conversation happens. If they continue the “in-fighting,” AAPS won’t be the destination district it currently is, she says.

Stead speaks to the process. All parts of the process has “advanced their thinking.” She says the public will see start to see changes since they are hearing that changes are needed “loud and clear” from the community. They are always learning. Public education is in trouble. They thought public education was in trouble before, and they’ve worked to protect Ann Arbor. And now there looms an attack on public education from a federal level that hasn’t been seen before, Stead asserts.


  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Baskett: Jacobsen
  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Manley: Norton
  • Thomas: Norton

Kelly, Van Valkenburgh, and Lazarus do not move forward. Stead thanks them, saying “a job very well done.”



  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Manley: Norton
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Baskett: Jacobsen



  • Manley: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Thomas: Norton

Lightfoot says they need four votes, and since neither candidate received it, Mexicotte and Norton will continue on.

Thomas says that in the description of the voting process that there was the opportunity to take a recess to engage in non-quorum (fewer than four) numbers to discuss. Might be appropriate to do that. Lightfoot clarifies that it needs to be three rounds of voting between these candidates (Mexicotte and Norton) to take that recess.


Stead reminds the trustees that this would be the time to share with other trustees and the community. No one says anything.


  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Manley: Norton



  • Manley: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Baskett: Norton

8:10 Baskett asks the Stead clarifies the rules of the break, wanting to be transparent. Under Robert’s Rules, allows for the trustees to talk in a non-quorum manner. Baskett says it allows for them to deliberate outside the public eye. She says they should converse at the table.

Thomas notes that he is the only trustee who did what he considers an act of deliberation. They need to respect the process. The process was developed with things in mind, such as the possibility they would reach an impasse. They do follow Robert’s Rules of Order, so he feels it would be appropriate for them to engage in non-quorum groups.

Stead says they have a process as dictated by Roberts Rules, but if there are statements they would like to make, they should make them at the table in front of the public. She suggests that there is some discussion at the table prior to casting the next vote, that they hear from each trustee.

Manley had hoped they wouldn’t get this far because she didn’t want to speak. One of the things she said to her constituents, whenever she was at the table and have to make the tough decisions, she would weigh all sides and then look at what he felt was best for the community. She has learned a lot from Mexicotte, and she says there is a lot to learn about what is happening at the state level and nationally. In order to have exceptional schools, they need to “have the backs” of the community and can’t ask the community for more money or to support programs without having their trust. She feels that they need to build that trust. That’s why her vote is for Norton. She doesn’t know him personally, but she knows his work. She trusts that he will be for all students, all parents, and in her heart, she feels that’s the best way to go. Mexicotte has given 13 years of her life, which is a lot. Obama could only be President for eight years. Mexicotte has a lot to offer, but sometimes there has to be some change.

Lightfoot says there is no reason why they can’t talk at the table after they meet in non-quorum. She is upset they are not following the process.

Baskett says she didn’t realize the break would be time to talk about the vote. In the past, when they have taken a break, they were cautioned very clearly not to discuss the candidates with each other. There already is a community that is distrustful now, and they shouldn’t exacerbate that by having those discussion. If that’s in the process that they all voted on, she says, that’s fine.

Stead says they will proceed with the break. She says the trustees don’t have to leave the table. She suggests that the trustees share their thoughts publicly before casting the next vote. She’s allowing for a five minute break, reconvening at 8:25PM.

Manley and Baskett stay at the table. Thomas is talking to Irene Patalan, former board trustee. Patalan also talks to Manley.  Lightfoot has talked to Manley and Thomas.

8:29 PM Lightfoot says they will continue through all ten rounds. If they continue with voting they have had, that will be postponed. And then they would go into committee at a later time. Stead says obligation by law is to replace her seat in 30 days, resigned November 16. They could form a committee and decide. The committee would be the same committee that put together questions: Lightfoot and Thomas.

Stead says she would like each trustee to share some thoughts for the collective conversation about how they are voting and why to help them to potentially get to a majority vote so they won’t have to go to the committee process.

Stead says when she was preparing for the voting selection process, she says she went into the interview process with an open mind. She was pleased with the candidates, saying it was her pleasure to listen to what they have to bring. It was a good opportunity to hear everyone. She recalls Mexicotte’s interview, saying it was not dissimilar to listening to some of the recent presidential election campaigns. When Mexicotte said that part of this role was a stewardship role, that their collective work of the governing body of carrying the mantle from the people in the past who governed the district to the people who will steward it 100 years in the future. A lot of what Mexicotte did and led had unanimous support from the board, says Stead. They used a “students first” perspective. She says that if they had to cut 100s of teacher jobs instead of outsourcing, they voted to save the jobs. Norton was upset with the board during the times of the unpopular decisions they made. Stead says she still has things to learn from Mexicotte, saying her interview was a level above everyone else’s.

Thomas says he feels torn because they have two outstanding candidates. He respects the work Mexicotte has done, he admires her leadership, he appreciates that she frequently takes positions that are unpopular with certain members of the community for the betterment of the students. Norton has worked hard and long on behalf of public schools, who may be able to bring a new perspective. He’s someone who doesn’t have the political baggage Mexicotte has. He hates having to choose between these two fine candidates. He feels Norton provides the district best opportunity to move forward. Norton listens, he sees both sides of the coin, has the qualities that are needed on the board. Part of Thomas’s decision to not seek reelection was that he felt it was time to step aside and let someone else have a turn at it. He thinks it is time for a change. He dislikes the terminology of a “compromise” candidate that he has been hearing from the public. Thomas feels Norton has the support and the respect of the community. When he’s in the position of making a tough choice, he will make that tough choice based on his perception of what the community and the schools need. The community will respect him based on his work. Thomas says he would like to see both of them on the board, but in this instance Norton gets his vote.

Baskett says she would have loved to have both Mexicotte and Norton on the board. Baskett says it was easier to get elected than to be appointed. None of the candidates were perfect, not even Mexicotte, says Baskett. Unfair that Mexicotte has been victimized for decisions the board has made. Lots of noise around her appointment. Yes, the board could continue with her on the board, but it wouldn’t be as smooth. They are fractured. If Mexicotte is reappointed, Baskett says, they will feel as a board a little smug and continue on as normal, but they can’t do it. They have the responsibility of feeling the fracture. Not voting for Mexicotte is not a vote against for her experience. Lightfoot says “the mission is bigger than the individual.” Baskett’s first choice was Jacobsen, especially her point of communicating to the community. Norton will need to tone down his “highfalutin'” talk, says Baskett. She offers her support to Jacobsen if she decides to run for trustee again. Norton is not her number one choice, but he’s a good choice.

Lightfoot says it is about the mission, saying they’ll have another seat to fill once Baskett’s seat is open. She wants stability on the board. For any $200M operation, all new is not good. All old is not necessarily good. For the work they are going to continue doing, they need the stability and leadership Mexicotte brings to the board.

Stead says that one of the things they struggle with legislators in Lansing is term limits. She says “we and our children” suffer accordingly, as term-limited legislators try to get legislation passed. It took her about two years, she says, to learn what is needed from a trustee. There are two new trustees joining the board in January. they’re committed to getting those trustees up to speed. The experience is an important consideration. They’ve advocated to get rid of the term-limits in Lansing because they’ve seen the damage done.

Thomas says they don’t have term limits on the BOE for good reason. The fact that they don’t have term limits doesn’t mean that they need to value experience and time served above any other factors. True that they do have two new members, but also true that they have four veteran members. Manley has had two years under her belt and is fully functioning as a board member. There will be experience on the board in January regardless of which candidate is selected. A unique thing Norton brings: he has been very much involved with matters relating to the district over a long time. He has been involved in discussions around the budget, in millage proposals, the kinds of things needed to be done around the district. His learning curve is going to be short. He’d be a fully productive board member in a short amount of time. Not as concerned about the experience element.


  • Manley: Norton
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte

Stead says they could continue to do this for ten rounds. She will call the question to see if they feel they need to do that or if they want to proceed with committee process. She makes a motion, which is seconded by Lightfoot.

Discussion on Motion

Lightfoot appreciates what Stead is attempting to do, but would like to go all ten rounds so there is record.

Looking forward to the process of the committee, Thomas says, first they need to acknowledge that while they don’t a majority of the board voting for a particular candidate, do have a majority of the trustees present favoring a particular candidate. Appeal to the trustees who are in the minority to take into consideration what their fellow trustees who are in the majority feel about this. If they do go to committee, which would be Thomas and Lightfoot, he says he thinks it is unlikely either of them change each other’s mind. He will respect the process, but he imagines the committee would end up deadlocked as well. Deadline for seating a trustee is this Friday. Looks to Parliamentarian and legal counsel: if the board is unable to select a candidate to fill an open seat, then the decision is taken out of the hands of the board and passed on to the Intermediate School District. Do we want WISD to fill this position or do we want to do it themselves? he asks. Greater chance of one person to change mind than two of the three people. Would like the process to go through.

Thomas has raised some legal questions. Baskett asks if the WISD has 30 additional days. William Blaha, member of the legal counsel, says there is nothing in the statute that talks about the timelines. Nothing on the WISD website. He brings up that on the district website, there is the issue of being delegated to a committee. If no candidate is selected, then the committee needs to develop a process. Baskett clarifies that the committee would meet between now and Friday, develop that process, then go through that process to determine a candidate by December 16.

Lightfoot says the committee would come together to select a process, not a candidate, nullifying Thomas’s point.

Manley asks if it goes to the WISD, would it be the two candidates the board has locked on or would it be open to anyone? Lightfoot says they’ve only went to multiple processes here and haven’t explored that with the legal team.

Thomas says that his understanding is that once it’s turned over to the ISD, they could appoint anyone they want. It might be one of their two finalists, but it might be someone different. They could select a former trustee to fill the position. Nothing that says they have to fill the position within a specified amount of time. The board could go like the Supreme Court with one fewer trustee, which would make board business that much more difficult to conduct. He thinks there’s a lot of pressure on the trustees tonight to come up with a decision. He enjoys working with Lightfoot, but in the end, they’ll not be any closer to selecting a trustee than they are now unless one who support Mexicotte or two who support Norton change their mind.

Lightfoot clarifies that it would be to select the process, not the candidate. She cautions against interpreting WISD’s actions without getting legal understanding.

Stead says they don’t know what process the committee might develop. Motion: to not continue with rounds seven – 10

Baskett: no; Lightfoot: no; Manley: no; Stead: yes; Thomas: no

Motion fails



  • Manley: Norton
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Stead: Mexicotte
  • Thomas: Norton



  • Baskett: Norton
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Manley: Norton
  • Stead: Mexicotte



  • Manley: Norton
  • Thomas: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Stead: Mexicotte


Last round of voting before it moves to the committee. No deliberation


  • Thomas: Norton
  • Baskett: Norton
  • Manley: Norton
  • Lightfoot: Mexicotte
  • Stead: Mexicotte

Officially at an impasse. Lightfoot and Thomas will develop a process. Ideally if there could be a recommendation with the process, says Stead.

Thomas suggests that someone on the admin team contacts WISD to get an indication from them on how they see their role is. Counsel says that it would need to be announced at a duly noted public regular meeting. No case law, no established published processes. Scott Menzel, WISD Superintendent, reiterated that there are no time constraints. Wouldn’t be constrained by any finalists the district has. WISD has authority to make decision, and that decision would hold.

Stead asks that if the ISD has a selection, would it be something they would handle in an additional meeting session for the purposes of swearing in a new trustee? Blaha says yes, the meeting would have to be publicly announced.

Lightfoot clarifies that they can create a process as a committee. Committee has purview up until Friday. Advance meeting notice would have to come tomorrow to meet 18 hour meeting notice.

Thomas suggests they might want to take a quick poll of the board to see what times on Friday they might be available. They might not be able to get five people together on Friday. If they don’t reach a majority vote by Friday, it will go to the WISD.

Lightfoot says the later on Friday, the better. Baskett agrees. Potentially, they will reconvene at 6 PM on Friday, December 16 to see what the committee proposes.


After the recess, the rest of the regular board meeting will continue. Superintendent Jeanice Swift and President Deb Mexicotte are now at the table. Trustee-elect Jeff Gaynor is now seated at the board, as well.


9:44 PM

Ian Robinson, president of Huron Valley Labor Federation: in his judgement, the reason we supported a slate that challenged Mexicotte was that in the crisis created by the economic meltdown in 2008, the board led by Mexicotte made judgements that were ill-advised and painted them into corners they didn’t need. Created divisions in the community that didn’t need to happen. Overly narrow idea of how to respond to those challenges. Now face assault from Lansing, compounded by assault from Washington. Respects all the members on the board. Need to support the candidate that represents that change. Hope they find a process, either by this board or by the WISD.

Jahlani MacGavney, on behalf of Michigan House of Representative Jeff Irwin: has plaques for State representative Donna Lasinski, trustees Andy Thomas and Deb Mexicotte.



9:50PM Swift points out several highlights around the district, from students, schools, and programs. She highlights programs from music to robotics to the Magic of Christmas Foundation.

She says it’s already time to think about next year. They will be providing information about the in-district transfer process for the 2017-18 school year. The “early bird in-district transfer” window will be open from January 17 to February 17.

Last meeting before winter break. She wishes the district happy holidays.

Transportation Update: high school routes were running on time 97%-100% on time. Structures in place on middle school routes. One structure in place, other after winter break. Elementary routes are running 91-100% on time. Linden and Woodworth and Durham team and Parks had a meeting at Ann Arbor Open. Developed an action plan around two or three issues at  Open. Time adjustments will be made this week on afternoon routes.

Update on the bus part of the 2015 Bond. $10M designated for buses in that bond. She thanks the voters for their support. In 2015-16, AAPS purchased 23 71-passenger buses (2 preschool buses, 6 special ed buses, 15 regular buses). They purchased a 25 passenger bus. In 2016-17, AAPS purchased 23 more buses (6 special ed, 17 regular buses). They plan for another purchase of 23 buses in Summer 2018, 23 buses in Summer 2019, and 23 buses in Summer 2020, for a total of 117 new buses purchased with Bond funds.

Allen: not going to bring up A/C in Allen tonight. Will be brought forward to the Planning Committee at the start of the year.  When they went in to do the audit, it was found that some of the electrical upgrades had already recently been done at Allen. So the projected cost will be less than they had originally proposed.

The play a video to honor Trustees Andy Thomas, Donna Lasinski, and President Deb Mexicotte.


Planning: Will be meeting in February

Performance: Will be meeting on 12/21 at 2PM at the Courtyard Marriott on Boardwalk. They’re holding it there because the’ll be discussing school start time issue for high schools and they wanted to hold the meeting in a space that could accommodate what they thought would be a number of interested members of the committee.

Governance: Wants to present something that articulates the board’s values when it comes to contracting. It’s an issue that they have looked to a number of time. Want to balance fairness in contracting process. Last Friday, they came to a value statement that will direct how they look to contracting. Question has always been what you put into policy that allows for flexibility in good times and in bad. Balance the needs of students and be fair to those who are interested in performing work and those who contract. The committee is suggesting a statement be added to the the district’s bid documents as a statement as to what the district is about re: contracting.

The district currently uses a grid to easily identify companies that are If a contractor declines to provide to the district their wage scale, how will the board better understand what that wage structure actually looks like. Propose adding an asterisk to those bids that the board has the admin inquire into their wage structure, for information for the board to balance their practices with the needs of the companies to keep their practices private. That information wouldn’t be made public, but would indicate that information has been asked for. The issue of contracting has been a concern of the board as long as Mexicotte has served.

Mexicotte reads the statement. Manley clarifies that they want to make the statement that the board wants to emphasize that they prefer to give business to companies who pay prevailing wage. But they don’t want to put it in policy.

Stead says she supports prevailing wage to be part of policy, if they could afford that. The grid provides some transparency, but she wonders if there were discussion regarding circumstances in which there might be triggers under which the prevailing wage criteria might be waived.

Lightfoot says that if they were to put a policy in place that were subject to conditions, they could be accused of not being transparent enough. With such a fluctuation of how their revenue flows, she’s uncertain of the wisdom of putting it into policy.

Manley says they wouldn’t want to put in a policy that would close doors on companies the district has already worked with, who have done good work. That’s why they were thinking it be “more of a regulation [sic] than a policy.”

The statement speaks to where their values are as they’re balancing everything they need to, advocates Mexicotte. They’ve been inching towards information and clarity, but the committee recommends flexibility.

Stead says they ask the questions of companies, and it’s information for the board to consider. They support prevailing wages when they can. There would be a way to build it into policy, but she’s okay with it just as a statement.

Lightfoot worries that the language would have to be so meticulous to be included as policy. Baskett says prevailing wage is a dealbreaker for her. She believes there are other ways for companies to turn a profit other than on the backs of their workers.

Mexicotte says they are not recommending a change in policy. The statement’s intention is articulating the board’s values to pay fair wages and to be stewards of the district’s finances. If this statement doesn’t have meaning, then they won’t move forward with it. Baskett says this statement only really makes them feel good, and there’s no real impact on the behavior of the companies.

Swift says there are power surges going on because of the approaching bad weather. There have been audio thumps, so the sound in the microphones from the trustees has been going in and out.

Swift says the admin was supportive of the statement because they felt it would send a clear message right at the start of the bid to vendors.

Mexicotte clarifies that it is not something they are voting on. Is it something they want to have on bid documents or do they just adjust the grid they use? Stead says she likes the statement and the grid. She’s inclined to support it. Thomas says it’s fine.

INFORMATION ITEM: Update on Court of Appeals on Ullysses Wong and Michigan Gun Owners v Ann Arbor Public Schools

10:47 PM Mexicotte gives an update on the Court of Appeals. The district’s case was heard together with a case that occurred in Clio, MI. Cases of open carry on school grounds. The district was represented by Comsa and Blaha. Expected to make a decision in one to six months. She thanks those who came in support of the court case.

David Comsa, Deputy Superintendent, says after the Court of Appeals issues an opinion, the losing party has the right to go to the Michigan Supreme Court for an appeal. There is an application process to appeal. If the case went to the Supreme Court, they probably would ask for the opinion to be published, which would allow for citing it as precedence.

Since no decision, Judge Kuhnke’s decision stands. Any weapon in a school building is considered a threat to student safety.

Baskett says it was an educational experience, at times entertaining.

INFORMATION ITEM: Monthly Financial Monitoring Report

Jill Minnick, Chief Financial Officer, presents the monthly financial monitoring report. Variation is 1.5% in November. She expects to see variance increase as the district collects increased dollars from state from increased enrollment.

Monthly expenditures: $18.1M within expected range. Comparison of Cash and Investments Report between 11/15 and 11/16. She says they’re within expected range.  Overall, about 31% of district revenues have been collected. About 32% of expenditures have been spent. All within reasonable range.

Thomas asks if the district has seen any increase in payment from the special education millage reimbursement. Minnick says they’ve received one payment. Thomas recalls they were going to have a budget amendment that includes the monies received from the special ed millage. Minnick confirms that will come in January.

INFORMATION ITEM: 2016-17 Staffing Report

Swift presents the annual staffing report. Priorities when looking at staffing: diversity is a strength. How well does AAPS staff mirror the diversity of student and community population?

To address that question, the district has worked to step up recruitment effort. Wants to steal teachers from neighboring districts. Swift says she lets other superintendents know this.

In 16-17, hired 194 teachers. Resignation Replacement Hires: 42; retirement replacement hires: 65; leave replacement hires: 21; additional hires: 66.

Professional Staff: 

  • 81% Caucasian
  • 3% Asian
  • 11% African American
  • 2.5% Hispanic
  • 0.7% Native American
  • 1.4% Other

Comparison between:

African American students and teachers

  • 14.2% Student
  • 10.9% Teacher and Other Professional Staff

Asian students and teachers

  • 14.3% student
  • 3.2% Teacher

Caucasian students and teachers

  • 49.2% student
  • 81.3% teacher

Hispanic students and teachers

  • 4.2% student
  • 2.5% teachers

Swift talks about some of the next steps to better increase diversity in teaching staff. “Grow your own” types of teacher preparation programs are part of the plan.

Baskett suggests that for the action plan for minority teacher recruitment: go outside of the state. California and Texas are good areas to recruit Asians and Latinos. Baskett encourages poaching, as she knows they have been poached. She’s encouraging Swift to use the board and the trustees’ networks. Baskett recalls that they have had a minority teacher retention program. She asks if Swift would consider adding that.

Baskett asks for clarification regarding numbers. Where is the district in terms of Asian principals – there are none, says Swift. One Latino principal. There is still work to do regarding increasing diversity of Asians and Latinos.

Manley thanks Swift for the report, saying it helps her answer some of the questions she gets from the Black Parents Support Group. She asks why there are so many African American para-pros compared to teachers. She worries that the para-pros are seen as disciplinarians, not educators. Swift says that group would be prime candidates to develop into teachers.

A recruiting video is shown.

INFORMATION ITEM: 2017-18 Enhancements

Tradition to preview next years programs. As the board directed and the community has asked, the district will be staying the course, introducing no new initiatives.

  • Early childhood: preschool and Young Fives
    • looking at where to open next Young Fives program
  • STEAM: Project Lead the Way
    • coding focused on
  • World Language Enhancements
    • Arabic and Chinese programs growing
    • World language programs growing in elementary schools
  • Middle School Enhancements
    • 17-18 will be a year of planning
    • math interventions in place in all middle schools
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
    • full authorization from IB World in June or July 2017
    • working on IB-Career Programme
  • Mitchell Expansion, Phase II
    • second wing will be added to accommodate the increased enrollment.

Lightfoot is thankful they are shoring up programs they already have. She is grateful Swift and her team don’t feel the need to be flashy and start new programs.

Manley is pleased the math intervention is being included in the middle school programs.

Stead brings up the third grade reading legislation. She wonders when Swift will be able to share an update on that. They will need to address in a more focused way the reading comprehension so all children in third grade are achieving.

Baskett asks about the IB Career Programme. Swift says students would need to take at least two IB diploma courses, along with the career courses. If they did that, they would receive the IB-CP.

Lightfoot is interested in increasing and expanding summer school programs. There are methods and means of having students participate in summer school, even if families can’t afford it.

Swift says it is wrong that that money doesn’t follow kids who are at risk because poor children should receive help, no matter the zip code they live in. She says to talk to district representatives about changing he way at-risk funding is allocated to districts. AAPS doesn’t receive at-risk funding, despite having a population of at-risk students that is greater than the entirety of some districts. 31A is their mantra.

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Technology Refresh Bid Recommendation

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Allen Furniture Replacement Recommendation

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Allen Additional Flooring and Paint

No changes made to any second briefing item. No discussion is held on any of the items.


Passes unanimously.


11:48 PM Approaching time limit of a five hour limit. Mexicotte recommends they vote themselves an hour, knowing they won’t need it.

BOARD ACTION ITEM: Transportation Contract Amendment

Brad Tate, Durham Regional Vice President, is present. Swift addresses the three most commonly asked questions regarding transportation:

  • Is the district saving money through the partnership?
    • The difference between the total expenditure of the contract of Durham and in-house contract = $740,000/year. Audited amount in 2015-16. The savings is in place even though the district is transporting more students.
  • Looking at increasing hourly wages for bus drivers. How much will the increase cost the district?
    • Change will be about half that savings – about $300,000/year. Swift says they are offering more transportation to support. When the district was providing transportation in house, drivers received an annual increase. With Durham salaries, drivers will be at a higher rate.
  • What about benefits?
    • The district provides hourly compensation. Durham gives them eight paid holidays and fully matches 3% of 401(k) contributions. Employees are fully invested in their 401(k) immediately upon hiring. Drivers receive an annual stipend for health insurance costs. Reimbursed for the cost of the CDL if they stay on a certain amount of time.

The district will not pay for any routes that do not run. Swift feels that the $4/hour increase will get better quality driver and retain drivers they have.

Durham currently has 108 drivers with the goal of getting to 120.

Thomas thinks the amounts significantly understates the savings the district is realizing. What they’re using is the cost of in house transportation provide ten-five years ago. If they had continued this as in-house transportation, the district costs would have increased, based on inflation. Insurance costs and MPSERS contributions paid by the district have significantly increased.

Lightfoot asks Tate how they didn’t know that what the district was proposing to pay wouldn’t be sufficient, given Durham’s expertise. Tate says that when they looked at the information they had, they felt strongly that was going to compensate appropriately.

Swift notes that Durham’s team in YCS was at 100% filled and AAPS wasn’t filled. When she inquired about the difference, she found that since so many of the drivers come from the east side, they were more willing to drive with YCS since it was closer to where they lived.

Lightfoot is concerned about any changes they make now if there will be any revelations coming out of the transportation audit coming in January or February. Swift says the recommendation to increase the hourly wage is enough right now to get more drivers.

Baskett clarifies that the $740K savings doesn’t include the wage increase. With the wage increase, they are anticipating savings of about $300K. She asks how drivers move from step levels. So all the drivers hired since Durham were at the first step. Drivers who had driven for AAPS before are at steps two and three.

Tate says they’ve hired ~85 drivers. They’ve lost about 20 drivers over the

Minnick adds a point of clarity. The contract with Durham calls for a 2.5% increase each year for the drivers. Minnick agrees with Thomas that the savings are “woefully” understated. They have added a note to the spreadsheet that says it isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

Lightfoot clarifies that by contract, it automatically gets increased. If that were already happening, how does the increasing of $4 impact the built-in yearly increase. Minnick says they are increasing the rate based on the already increased rate of 2016-17.

Tate thanks the board and Swift by demonstrating what a good partner they are.

The transportation contract amendment passes unanimously.

BOARD ACTION ITEM: Superintendent Contract Amendment

Stead says there is a certain rhythm to the Superintendent evaluation. An informal evaluation before winter break, a formal one in the spring, and a contract amendment later. They also look for a 360 degree eval from the community. They hold the Superintendent to student achievement and enrollment.

Swift’s has been found to be “highly effective.” The district was in the position to give all employees a 1% raise two years ago, a 2% raise last year. Everyone received that except for Swift, deliberately so. They decided it was time to make changes to her compensation. She was hired at a $200,000 base salary. There is a longevity clause that kicks in at the five year mark. There will be a $50,000 longevity bonus at the end of the five years.

Stead says Swift has done a “phenomenal” job and they want to let her know. Blaha goes over the details. The increases are provided to provide incentive for Swift to stay.

Three changes to Swift’s contract:

Longevity clause: that kicks in at the end of five years would be extended for another two years. Same amount would apply: $10,000 each year, with a payout of $20,000 at the end of the two years. So initial payout of $50,000 after five years, then additional $20,000 after another two years.

Annuity: $10,000 yearly

Salary adjustment: base salary set at $200,000 for 2 1/2 years. In July 2019, there would be an increase to $210,000. Would remain in  effect until July 1, 2021, where it would increase an additional $10,000 to $220,000.

Stead says they did a bit of benchmarking in the state of Michigan. AAPS comes in at #17.

Thomas says the district is “extremely fortunate” to have Swift as the superintendent. Average tenure of AAPS superintendent: three to four years. Can’t expect a district to make progress if they are constantly looking for new leadership. Continuity matters. The “long haul” was originally defined as five years.

Thomas says there AAPS is a demanding community that expects the best. Swift has “risen to those expectations.” He feels the contract is fair and it recognizes her contributions. It recognizes the board’s anticipation that she will remain with the district. He’d be proud if this is the last thing he voted on.

Lightfoot highlights what some other Michigan districts are paying their superintendents.

The contract passes unanimously. 


Stead says they’ll need to consider a board retreat in early spring.


12:39 PM Thomas reconsiders his reflection of his time on the board, given the late hour. He says he’ll share those reflections in a letter to Swift and the board. He doesn’t want his service on the board to end the way it is ending. Thomas feels that tonight is the absolute nadir of his board service. He “is not in a very good place right now.”

Manley expresses how much she appreciated working with Thomas, saying he has done a phenomenal job as a trustee.

Mexicotte echoes Manley, saying Thomas’s service has been unparalleled. She thanks him for every moment of his service, “to this moment and beyond.” Mexicotte says they’ve hit a rough patch in 2016, mainly surrounding the conversations they’ve been having with one another. The district, however, is doing really well.

She thanks the community, for their support of “this enterprise.” She thanks everyone she’s ever had the pleasure of working with. They’ve been through a bruising election cycle, one they haven’t recovered from. Personal invective has replaced the discourse around ideas. Much of what has happened in our distress, she says, is that they have turned against each other in ways she would have never expected.

It’s part of the strategy against public education to turn us against ourselves. She exhorts the board to “take heart! The community is behind us.” The board will continue to lead with thoughtfulness, with students at the center of their work. They should each other accountable because “facts have to matter.” They should continue to lead from a position of good will and should realize people of good will can disagree and disagree vehemently. “Buck up,” Mexicotte says to her fellow trustees. “This work is hard. That’s what makes it great.”


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10 thoughts on “Board at an Impasse Over Empty Seat”

  1. Do the meetings usually start on time? I’m trying to live stream on CTN, but nothing is happening. Also do you know if deliberations and voting will be public? Thanks for your work reporting on the school board. Such a valuable resource!

  2. “Experience is shown that completion only makes winner and losers” – was that supposed to be “competition” instead of “completion”?

    Thanks for the live updates!

  3. They save $740k/year by privatizing the buses? Are they magicians, or are the drivers getting way less in total compensation? How do they make a profit without sticking it to somebody?

  4. Hunter: I asked a local researcher on privatization of public services: Did A2 Schools outsourcing of transportation bring about increased wages for the workers? Their response was that the wages have gone up slightly but that is because the economy has been recovering since 2009 or so. Workers have more options for jobs; wages have risen in response to that.
    But, even though these workers wages are increasing, let’s not lose sight of the fact that by privatizing these services, workers who once had a voice over working conditions and benefits/bounty of that work no longer had a say once their jobs were outsourced. This is a problematic trend sweeping across many areas of public service employment in Ann Arbor, Michigan and beyond.

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