Kelly Sworn in as Trustee

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (December 16, 2016): Westerman Preschool, 2775 Boardwalk

The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Board of Education (BOE) trustees will meet in executive session at 6:00 PM this evening, citing attorney/client privilege. Executive sessions are closed to the public.

The regular meeting will begin at 6:15 PM. The trustees are holding the meeting to try once again to fill the vacant seat left after Donna Lasinski resigned on November 16. They reached an impasse at the December 14 meeting. The two candidates who the trustees were deadlocked on, Deb Mexicotte and Steve Norton, have since withdrawn their candidacies.

Since Board President Deb Mexicotte withdrew her candidacy, she will preside over the procedure and will act as a voting member.

The board candidate selection will be the focus of this meeting. The seat needs to be filled by the end of day to keep it from being moved to the purview of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). The trustees will go over the procedure they will use to vote, there is the opportunity for discussion and deliberation, then they will vote to appoint a trustee to fill the vacant seat. Once that vote takes place, the new trustee will take the oath of office and be sworn in immediately.

Public commentary will follow the trustee selection.

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6:17 PM The trustees are gathering around the board table. Present: President Deb Mexicotte, Vice President Christine Stead, Trustees Andy Thomas, Susan Baskett, and Patricia Manley. There is a phone set up for trustee Simone Lightfoot, as she is traveling and is currently flying.

6:21 PM Mexicotte calls the meeting to order.

Thomas clarifies that they have checked with their legal counsel regarding the legality of a trustee being able to deliberate and vote. As long as there is a physical quorum present at a meeting, other trustees coming in via phone or Skype can participate fully in a meeting.

6:24 PM Mexicotte says Lightfoot has just landed and will be available via speakerphone.


They are going to add a board action item to again consider the Superintendent contract that the trustees had voted on at the December 14 meeting. Upon further careful review, there were a couple typos regarding dates and clarification. Nothing of substance has been changed.

Agenda approved unanimously.

BOARD ACTION ITEM: Superintendent Contract Amendment

The board votes to approve the revised superintendent contract and rescind any contract previously voted on.

Contract approved unanimously.



Thomas goes over the procedure and invites Lightfoot to add anything, as necessary.

After ten rounds of voting, the trustees were not able to reach a majority of trustees who were able to agree on a candidate. The next procedure was for the selection committee, comprised of Lightfoot and Thomas, to come up with a process that would allow for the board to end the stalemate. Today is last day the board

Thomas and Lightfoot reached an agreement on the procedure. In that intervening time, Mexicotte and Steve Norton, withdrew their candadicies. Mexicotte had originally recused herself from the process when she was a candidate. Because she withdrew her candidacy, she will be fully able to participate in the voting process tonight. Mexicotte has now reviewed the interviews, the applications, and the recommendation letters of all the candidates.

The best approach would be a complete reboot of the whole process that they followed Wednesday night, minus the candidate presentations, says Thomas. They will be moving directly to deliberations. After deliberations, they will proceed to a vote.

If a candidate has received four or more votes on the first ballot, that is the end of the process. If that does not occur after the first vote, the candidates with the lowest number of votes drops out of contention. If three rounds of voting with no two candidates emerging with a high number of votes, the board president chooses the second candidate to move forward.

In the case of a 3-3 tie, the President casts the deciding vote after so many votes. Because tonight there is an even number of votes, and if there is an tie, there needs to be a tie breaking vote, says Thomas.

Once they have decided on a particular candidate, that candidate will be sworn in and will be able to participate fully in the meeting.

One of the candidates is not able to be present. Consulting with their attorneys, the trustees confirmed that if that candidate were to win the vote, they could contact that candidate and swear the candidate in via phone.

Because Lightfoot is voting over the phone, the trustees present will be writing down their votes on slips of paper, the papers will be collected by Amy Osinski, and then before their votes are read, Lightfoot will articulate her vote over the phone. That is to make sure that her vote is not influenced by the other trustees.

Jessica Kelly, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Hunter Van Valkenburgh have continued in the process. Rebecca Lazarus withdrew her name from consideration. Kelly and Van Valkenburgh are present; Jacobsen is on standby.


Thomas says he believes Jacobsen would make an outstanding trustee. He appreciates her background in educational research and believes she would make decisions based on data, not just her gut feelings. She has personal experience, as a foster parent and a parent who has adopted.

Thomas also believes Kelly possesses many of those same attributes. He was taken with her passion for special need students, as she has done a lot of advocacy work. The board has had a strong advocate for that population with Mexicotte on the board. He says that would provide some continuity.

Thomas gives his reasons for why he won’t support Van Valkenburgh, saying they came from Van Valkenburgh’s answers at the interview. The priorities Van Valkenburgh said he would set as a priority for the school board does not reflect the values they collectively have as a school board, and does not reflect Thomas’s values. The collection of data is essential as a district, he says. Van Valkenburgh suggested using GPA as a possible solution for tracking student performance. Thomas disagrees.

Mexicotte indicates her appreciation for Kelly and Jacobsen as potential candidates for the appointment. After reviewing their materials, watching their videos, and being there for the presentations, Mexicotte found them to be well qualified. She says she would be more than pleased to have either of those candidates sit at the table.

As a matter of procedure, once they have four votes, Mexicotte will ask for a consensus vote, to try to get the board to be a 6-0 vote. She wants to do that because she believes “so strongly” in board unity.

Mexicotte speaks to Van Valkenburgh, saying she appreciates the work of the campaign. However, she says, Van Valkenburgh and she ran against each other. They differ on school board governance, on district priorities, and how the district should move forward. She congratulates him on coming this far in the process with the board.

Manley thanks all six candidates for putting their names in the hat. She was impressed with Jacobsen or Kelly. With Van Valkenburgh, there is nothing negative, but he ran and didn’t win. The public didn’t voice that they wanted him on the board. They need to move into a different direction.

Lightfoot puts her support behind either Jacobsen or Kelly, given all the reasons that have already been stated.

Thomas acknowledges the candidates who have withdrawn. For Mexicotte and Norton, this was a “real act of public service” and acknowledging that the good of the board goes above their own personal interests. That should allow them to move forward from the deadlock they were in Wednesday night and select a candidate tonight.


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


Baskett says she indicated on Wednesday that she wanted Jacobsen. She has been a teacher, and now she teaches future teachers. She has been deemed an expert in educational research. She asks why the trustees voted for Kelly. She gets Kelly’s background in special education, but wants to know how they could justify their vote for Kelly.

It’s a close call for Thomas, he says, and could be swayed for Jacobsen. He said that he was taken by Kelly’s commitment to making sure all voices from the community were heard, that it wasn’t the voices that were best organized. He heard “the passion” in her presentation. Jacobsen appealed to his left brain, and Kelly appealed to his right brain.

Lightfoot says she appreciates what Thomas said. Lightfoot is interested in special education policy that Kelly brings. She appreciates that Kelly would bring her law background and would not be swayed by her

Mexicotte says she wants the district to relook at the special education services, not because they’re in crisis but because of concerns about the overlap student mental health and increasing their commitment to counseling across the schools. Mexicotte believes they are going to need some steel in public education, as they are going to get buffeted by legislation. Tough political time where fact takes a back seat to opinion. Kelly’s experience as a lawyer will give her a “steely-eyed” view of what’s coming.

Stead says it’s not a single issue role, and while she appreciates the issues that bring people into the role, it’s not about that. The opportunity to fully explore that issue is not possible. Jacobsen focused on metrics; Kelly focused on special education. Everyone got that you’re a liaison to the community, but neither candidate shown in understanding that the trustee’s role is larger than that. Why she voted for Kelly: Kelly’s approach to due diligence. She liked her energy. On the other hand, Stead is open to supporting Jacobsen, given Jacobsen’s role as a teacher educator at MSU. Stead says she could truly vote for either.

Baskett responds. When Thomas spoke about reaching out to all populations, Baskett says that is something she remembers first about Jacobsen. Jacobsen also said that they need to communicate to all populations. It is a different political environment, and that’s what they have to do, is keep putting out the facts. They need to do research and stick to their guns. Baskett clarifies that Kelly said she has not passed the bar, but has legal training. She is not a lawyer. Baskett sees Kelly’s speciality in a specific issue, but they need a broader view.

Manley appreciates Baskett clarifying some of those issues and says Jacobsen would have been her second choice on Wednesday.


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

Mexicotte confirms that after two rounds of voting, they are to take a 15 minute break. If trustees are ready to come back before then, they will return earlier. The trustees can now discuss in non-quorum groups.

7:30 PM The trustees reconvene.



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

Appointment will be offered to Jessica Kelly. She accepts, saying that while she knows it’s not a mandate, she hopes she can earn their respect.

Thomas speaks directly to Jacobsen, saying he wants her to keep trying, noting that there are future possibilities. Stead says that she looks forward to working with Jacobsen in the future “on something.”

7:36PM Kelly is sworn in. Mexicotte welcomes Kelly to the board table.

Thomas invites trustee Kelly and the trustee-elects Jeff Gaynor and Harmony Mitchell, along with the other trustees out for a celebratory drink. Business will not be discuss, he reminds.



Stead: Appeals Court ruling that came up in favor of district policies that are about protecting students. It allows the district to keep policies in place; it sets precedence for other districts who might want to follow suit. Because it was issued as a published ruling, it can set precedence. She thanks the Court for the timely ruling.

Thomas acknowledges all the work the district has put into defending the policy. Thomas says “it’s a great day for the Ann Arbor Public Schools,” echoing a frequent refrain of Superintendent Swift.

Mexicotte says it is gratifying to be leaving with a little bit of a legacy of safety first for students.

Stead thanks Mexicotte and Thomas for their service and selfless dedication to the district.

7:44 PM  Meeting is adjourned.

AnnArbivore is sustained solely through reader support. For less than the cost of the coffee you’re drinking right now, you can support citizen journalism. Please donate through Patreon to keep this coverage alive. If you value the citizen journalism provided by AnnArbivore, back it and encourage others to do so, as well. Thank you.

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