Interim Superintendent: Allen to Lead AAPS

Board to interview five possible firms to help with search

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Sept. 15, 2010): As part of a full agenda during its first meeting since the start of the school year, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education appointed the district’s deputy superintendent of operations, Robert Allen, as its interim superintendent.


Ann Arbor Public Schools outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts, left, with Robert Allen, right, who'll be interim superintendent. (Photos by the writer.)

The transition to Allen from current superintendent Todd Roberts will occur on a date between Sept. 30 and Oct. 11. This will make the next regular board meeting on Sept. 29 Roberts’ last before he leaves to take his new post in North Carolina.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley was named as the next deputy superintendent of instruction, and Ruth Williams, a recently-retired AAPS principal, will be hired to fill Dickinson-Kelley’s current role as administrator of elementary education.

In other business, the board approved offering two alternate paths to a high school diploma: the Early College Alliance or the WAY Washtenaw program. New computers were approved for the district’s food service program. And the board set parameters for the interviews it will hold next Wednesday with five consulting firms it is considering for help with the superintendent search.


The August resignation of Todd Roberts has prompted a replacement search process as well as transitions to interim positions for the superintendent and other key administrative posts.

Transitions: Interim Superintendent Appointment

As directed by the board, Roberts brought to the Sept. 15 meeting his recommendations for an interim superintendent, as well as other administrative appointments to fill out the district’s top positions. Roberts recommended that the board appoint Robert Allen as an interim superintendent, noting that “everyone is familiar with [Allen's] talents and capabilities … He is a great leader, and an outstanding fit … He knows as much about the district as I do.”

Pointing out that having Allen step into an interim superintendent role would allow for a seamless transition, Roberts also touted Allen’s leadership style as very compatible with the district’s needs. Roberts mentioned that he had spoken to Allen, and that Allen would be willing and honored to serve this district in the capacity of interim superintendent, though he would not be interested in the position permanently.

Board treasurer Christine Stead pointed out that Allen has represented the district well, and expressed confidence that he would be a great interim superintendent. She noted that she had worked with him on the strategic planning team, as well as on the past two millage campaigns, and highlighted that Allen did a great job last year, in particular, with working out the budget in such a stressful climate. Stead also stated that Allen’s decision not to be considered for the permanent superintendent position was an advantage to the district, as national candidates might not want to compete with an internal candidate.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot stated that she was “extremely supportive” of the recommendation and believed that Allen’s fiscal discipline and management style were a good fit with the board.

Trustee Andy Thomas voiced his support for Allen as well. “He’s taken a great role in preparing the easy online budget, and increasing transparency,” Thomas said, commending Allen for the way he handled the most recent budget process. Thomas also noted that he had not attended the last board meeting, and took the opportunity to thank Roberts publicly, saying he has a huge respect for Roberts and that Roberts was leaving a huge legacy.

Board secretary Glenn Nelson said he felt “really good” about the suggestion, noting that the district was lucky to have someone of Allen’s abilities. He also commended Allen for being direct, honest and innovative. “From the external environment, we’ve had our share of bad news,” Nelson stated. “[Allen] does not shy from telling us what the facts are, while also saying, ‘and this is how we’re going to handle it.’”

Trustee Susan Baskett thanked Roberts for recommending Allen. She mentioned that she had seen Allen’s resume before he came to the district and thought, “Wow, how long can we keep him?” She credited Allen with cultivating a sense of trust, and noted that his appointment as interim superintendent would make things easier for the district.

Board vice-president Irene Patalan said she was actually comforted by this recommendation. Noting that Allen was one of Roberts’ first hires, she pointed out that they have worked well together. “It is because of Robert being with us through thick or thin … that I am comforted by this recommendation, and absolutely support it.”

Asserting, “there is nothing anyone could say that would sway me from wanting to do this,” Baskett suggested appointing Allen at this meeting rather than waiting until Sept. 29, and asked Roberts if an earlier appointment would ease the transition at all. “Not that I want to push you out,” she clarified.

Roberts noted that if the board approved Allen’s appointment at that meeting, that “it would likely be around Sept. 29 or so that he would assume the role, but I would want to talk to him.”

“It’s not that I don’t love you guys,” Roberts continued, “but this school district can only employ one superintendent.” He noted that one great benefit of appointing Allen to this role is that fairly little transition time would be needed for him to assume the superintendent’s duties. “The transition would take no more than two weeks … If you choose to approve him, [Allen] and I would get together to firmly identify an actual date and let you know.”

Board president Deb Mexicotte expressed that she was in full support of this recommendation for all the reasons that had been stated. She questioned, “Having heard no concerns about this recommendation, I’m wondering if the board would like to move forward this evening.”

Stead noted that her one concern is that the transition not take place too soon. “My initial reaction to moving it up further [than October 11] isn’t that positive,” she said.

Nelson said he’d prefer to leave the date out of the motion. “I’d very much like to accept the appointment, but I’m in favor of Roberts and Allen discussing the date … I want it to be when they think it works.” In general, Nelson expressed that it’s good for organizations to move on. “There comes a time, and I’m at it now,” he said.

Thomas agreed that a long, drawn-out transition is not something that works very well, and suggested that the board should not “get hung up” with a specific date but instead trust Roberts and Allen to decide how much lead time is necessary.

Baskett officially asked Roberts to come to the next board meeting to be recognized, even if he’s not seated at the board table. “I’m not expediting this to get you out,” she said. “This may be selfish on my part, but people are very appreciative of your service, and I’d hate for this to be your last board meeting.”

Patalan suggested the board frame the question by asking what is good for the district. “For the good of the district,” she said, “I would trust Allen and Roberts’ decision about the date.”

Mexicotte concluded the discussion by saying, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing here … I am not happy with just getting an e-mail … I’m interested in having that statutory transition that we know we must have – one day Roberts, and the next day Allen. I want something a little more specific.” She said she would like to see the motion state a range of dates from within which Roberts and Allen could choose, and that if the original motion did not contain dates, board members could offer amendments.

The consensus on the board was that a motion be brought on the issue that evening. The actual vote on the selection of Allen as interim superintendent happened later in the meeting.

At that time, Baskett made a motion, with a second from Stead, that Allen take over the duties of superintendent on an interim basis no later than Oct. 11. Mexicotte put forward a friendly amendment that the transition between Roberts and Allen happen no sooner than Sept. 29, which was accepted by Baskett and Stead. [Friendly amendments need only to be supported by the maker of the motion and the seconder, rather than being voted on by the whole board.]

Roberts questioned the timing set out in the motion, and Mexicotte clarified that she wants him to be at the next board meeting. Roberts can step down any time between Sept. 30 and Oct. 11.

Outcome: The motion passed unanimously on a roll call vote to appoint Robert Allen as interim superintendent.

Transitions: Other Administrative Staff Appointments

Roberts pointed out that the board’s approval of Allen as interim superintendent would save the district money, as Allen’s current position as the deputy superintendent of operations would not need to be filled. AAPS director of finance, Nancy Hoover, he said, could fill in for more of the finance duties. This financial savings could be used in part to fund the superintendent search, he said, which was not in the budget when it was set in June. In addition, he suggested that the savings would also be able to fund a replacement for the district’s recently retired math/science coordinator. Noting the district’s goal to have all students ready to take Algebra I in 8th grade, Roberts suggested that the math/science coordinator position was an important position to keep filled.

In addition, Roberts said he wanted to share other appointments he is planning to make before his departure. Next week, he said, he will be appointing Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley to the position of deputy superintendent of instruction, a position that has been unfilled for two years, but that was included in the 2010-11 budget. Dickinson-Kelley, he said, would serve in that role until the selection of a permanent superintendent, at which time the new superintendent could decide how to fill that role on a permanent basis. The deputy superintendent of instruction is a position in the superintendent’s cabinet, and oversees elementary, secondary, and special education instructional services.  For the past two years, Roberts has assumed the duties of this position as part of his work as superintendent.

Roberts also announced that Ruth Williams, a recently retired principal of Lawton Elementary (and before that Burns Park Elementary) would step into Dickinson-Kelley’s current position as administrator of elementary education. Williams, Roberts said, had served the district for 17 years and will be a great fit.

Finally, Roberts said he is changing the titles of the heads of elementary, secondary and special education services. Currently, the heads of those divisions are called “administrators,” but Roberts said he believes the title of “assistant superintendent” better describes the role they each play. As an additional argument for the change in titles, Roberts pointed out that one of the things that candidates for the superintendent position will look at is the level of support they would have from instructional services and operations.

While expressing full support for the recommendations, a few board members requested that Roberts present them with a document summarizing the appointments and title changes in written form.

Stead complimented Roberts for having a good transition plan. “Those he’s recommended will be successful in these roles,” she said.

Lightfoot noted that she’s not sure the public knows all the work that goes on behind the scenes, and expressed support for all of Roberts’ recommendations. “I love bringing us in line with the titles,” she said. She also requested an outline of what the role of the deputy superintendent of instruction position would be, stating that Dickinson-Kelley was a great fit: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her straightforward approach.”

Nelson noted that while he is pleased with these appointments, they are all within Roberts’ prerogative, and do not require board approval. He pointed out that Williams was the principal of Burns Park Elementary when his son started there 18 years ago as a kindergartner, and that she made such an impression on Nelson that he attended her retirement celebration last year.

Baskett thanked Roberts for demonstrating good leadership by putting such a capable team in place before leaving. “You’ve set us up to move right along,” she said.

Patalan noted that Roberts’ recommendations put the district in good shape. “I’m proud of us and comforted by these people who are surrounding us,” she said.

Superintendent Search Firm Selection

Mexicotte summarized this item, which had been discussed in a study session before the regular meeting.

In that session, it became evident that the trustees had evaluated the merits of each firm using quite different criteria from one another. Some factors that trustees considered were: specificity of responses; accuracy of cost estimates, particularly travel expenses; cost/benefit ratios; similarity of representative clients to AAPS; ability to understand local community; ability to successfully perform a national search; experience with superintendent (as opposed to other executive) searches; experience with producing a diverse candidate pool; overall quality of the proposals, including use of graphics, layout, clarity of descriptions, etc.; dedication to local community; and the community perception of hiring a local vs. an out-of-town firm.

Without reaching any consensus about which criteria the firms should be evaluated on, Mexicotte led the board in a straw poll in which each trustee listed his or her top four candidates. There was a brief discussion regarding how much time should be set aside for each interview, and what time of day the interviews would begin, as some trustees preferred to interview five instead of four firms. Mexicotte explained that she would summarize their discussion during the regular meeting, and would propose interviewing four firms, at which time trustees could offer amendments should they so desire.

In the regular meeting, Mexicotte simply said that the trustees had discussed whether it would be possible to interview all seven firms, and had decided to rather arbitrarily choose four firms to interview. She recommended that the board interview the four firms that were supported by the majority of trustees: Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, of Rosemont, Illinois; Michigan Association of School Boards, of Lansing, Michigan; McPherson & Jacobson, LLC, of Omaha, Nebraska; and Ray & Associates, Inc., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Stead publicly thanked every firm that took time to give a response, and motioned to interview the four firms named by Mexicotte. Thomas seconded.

Patalan offered a friendly amendment to add David J. Kinsella & Associates of Ann Arbor to the list of firms to interview. She cited that though Kinsella might not have all the experience of the larger firms, she was impressed with a local person, a member of the community, coming forward to offer the district support.

Nelson and Lightfoot expressed support for the amendment. Mexicotte noted a friendly amendment must be accepted by both the trustee who made the motion, and the one who seconded it. Otherwise, it can be put forth as a formal amendment and voted upon.

Baskett noted that Kinsella has a stake in this community – his children attended AAPS, and his wife was a teacher in the district. Still, she said she wanted to stress the competitiveness of the process, noting that Kinsella has no experience with superintendent searches, and is expensive.

Thomas stated that he would support this friendly amendment, saying, “An extra hour of consideration is a small price to pay to give consideration to a local business.”

Stead also accepted the friendly amendment, with the caveat that she is concerned about the experience level, and wants to be clear about setting expectations. “This is a very important search,” she said, “We have big shoes to fill.” Still, she also noted that the incremental cost to interview Kinsella was negligible.

Patalan responded, “Certainly, this small, local business knows what we’re doing. Certainly, they have looked at these other [search firms]. Small businesses can do things differently and creatively.”

Mexicotte quipped, “I appreciate a trustee who beats it home, even after winning an amendment.”

Outcome: The motion, as amended, to interview the five firms noted above passed unanimously in a roll call vote.

Search Firm Interview Process

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board engaged in a discussion about their expectations of the structure and content of the superintendent search firm interviews. In the end, they decided to hold a meeting just before the interviews to set criteria for the selection, as well as a post-interview meeting to decide which references to check.

Mexicotte announced that in study session, board members had determined that they would prefer to hold the search firm interviews earlier in the afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m. She asked Amy Osinski, executive secretary to the board, to contact the firms to set up a meeting schedule.

Baskett asked whether these presentations would be off-camera, and Mexicotte confirmed they would be off-camera, but open to the public.

The board then began a discussion about the parameters they wanted to set for the interviews. There was discussion about the length of interviews; whether or not they should include presentations or simply answer questions; what questions they wanted to be sure were asked; whether or not the same questions should be asked of each firm; and how the board would choose among the final two candidate firms.

Mexicotte asked, “What are those things, the rubric, by which individual trustees might want to evaluate firms?” She then added that she was comfortable with each trustee having his or her own agenda, because the board “would consense in the end.”

Thomas expressed his desire that the board adopt a more formal process than it had in selecting which firms to interview. “During the study session,” he pointed out, “it became clear that different trustees had totally different priorities…It would be nice if we could get our act together a little more.”

Mexicotte suggested that the executive committee could put together a list of standard questions, but Nelson said he thought the questions asked would need to be tailored to each firm.

Baskett countered that she would like to have a discussion in order to discover “what we are all shooting for.”

Mexicotte suggested adding a working session just before the interviews for trustees to share what they think is important to ask, and Thomas agreed. He added that he would like to have each trustee write a list beforehand of the top five things he or she is looking for and send it to Osinski to consolidate them before the board met. Thomas continued, “My concern is that these firms come in and we listen to their presentations without having a common understanding about what’s important to the board. It would be nice if we could have some consensus about what the most important five or six points are that we are really looking for before we start evaluating them.” The board agreed by general assent to Thomas’ suggestion, and Osinski asked that the trustees get their five points to her by Monday at noon.

Stead and Nelson each mentioned the importance of calling references on the top firms the board is considering. Nelson suggested a post-interview meeting for the board to select which firms’ references to check.

Osinski suggested having all five interviews before dinner and then having a working dinner at 7:30 p.m. to discuss references.

The board informally agreed to the following schedule on Sept. 22: 2-2:30 p.m., pre-meeting to set criteria; 2:30-5:30 7:30 p.m., five interviews of 45 minutes each, with a 15-minute break in between; 7:30-8:30 p.m., working dinner to discuss references.

Recognition for Roberts

Nelson suggested to the executive committee of the board to set a time and place for the community to be able to recognize the work of outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts. Mexicotte noted that she will set up a meeting with the executive committee to do that and a few other things before the next meeting.

Paths to Graduation

At its Aug. 18 meeting, the board heard first briefings on two optional paths to receiving a high school diploma – the Early College Alliance and the Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw program.

Paths to Graduation: Early College Alliance

Superintendent Todd Roberts stated that the Early College Alliance (ECA) is great for students and great for the district, and asked if the board had any further questions about the program. A detailed description of the ECA can be found in The Chronicle’s coverage of the Aug. 18 board meeting.

Trustee Andy Thomas said it is unclear to him who the intended beneficiaries of the ECA would be, asking, “Which students will be helped by this?” He noted that it looks in part like it’s intended for students who are performing well academically, and just want to avoid the expense of college credits. The other thing that confused him a bit, he said, was the point that ECA director David Dugger made that students who have difficulty acting independently would not be good candidates.

Roberts answered that one of the great things about the ECA is that there’s not one specific intended target group. He noted that a broad goal of ECA is to increase the completion rate of students attending college, and that it really serves a wide variety of students. He lauded the fact that 30% of the spaces in ECA are reserved for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, since that population is often one that cannot afford to pay for four years of college. Roberts reiterated that students who graduate via the ECA will have two years of college completed by the time they receive their high school diploma. Roberts projected that if the board approved AAPS participation in the ECA, a wide range of students would apply for the program.

Trustee Susan Baskett stated that she thought ECA was a great program that would “add to [the district's] smorgasbord of educational options.” She asked how much thought had been given to communicating this program, and whether AAPS would develop a brochure to let folks know of this option.

Roberts noted that school counselors can target students, and that there will also be parent meetings in different locations. “It will be a multifaceted approach,” he said. Roberts also noted that AAPS could learn from ECA districts that are already in the consortium to learn from them which marketing techniques have been successful in their districts.

Outcome: AAPS participation in the ECA was approved as part of the consent agenda later in the meeting.

Paths to Graduation: Widening Advancement for Youth

Roberts introduced this second briefing of Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw by recommending the board’s approval of the program. More information on this program can be found in The Chronicle’s coverage of the Aug. 18 board meeting, where this item came for a first briefing.

Monique Uzelac, the district’s director of instructional technology, attended the meeting to give a brief update. She noted that since the last meeting, WAY staff had outlined the process they would use to evaluate the first year of the program, and that the process was included in the board packet. Uzelac said that roughly 125 students were waiting to be enrolled countywide, including 23 students from Ann Arbor. Of the 23 Ann Arbor students, she continued, 21 of them were formerly AAPS students and the other two were Ann Arbor residents who were not enrolled in school. Twelve of the 21 former AAPS students had already dropped out, and nine were significantly behind in credits and would not have been able to graduate. In addition, Uzelac said, there were another 100 students who have dropped out of school countywide whom program coordinators are still contacting.

Trustee Glenn Nelson stated that he was enthusiastic about the program and impressed that WAY was able to find people who might benefit. He asked, “How did you find the students to contact?”

Uzelac answered that Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) had requested from each district lists of students who had dropped out, and that WAY coordinators have been tracking down those former students. She described how interest in the program has been “snowballing,” and how multiple home visits have revealed not only the student initially being targeted by WAY staff, but also a brother, sister, or cousin living there who is not enrolled in school. Uzelac desrcribed how project leaders are getting calls from friends of students they’ve just enrolled asking to join the program too.

Though she said she did not believe any students have come from counselors, she noted that there is a countywide counselor meeting soon, and that counselors are a new part of the outreach being done by WAY staff.

Thomas appealed to comments made by youth senators at Wednesday’s meeting, who spoke of the obligation to reach out and prevent students from dropping out. In that vein, he said, it is appropriate to be considering the WAY program.

Outcome: AAPS participation in the WAY Washtenaw program was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda later in the meeting.

Food Service Computers

Robert Allen presented a summary of a proposal that was included in the board packet, requesting that $149,260 of the food service budget be allocated for the replacement of the food service point-of-sale computers. If approved, the 80 units would be purchased from Horizon Software International.

Allen summarized how the new machines would result in cost savings: the all-in-one nature of the new units would save on replacing individual parts that cannot be put under warranty; less staff time would be needed to repair broken machines and install software (the new machines’ software will come pre-loaded); and a more efficient system would cut down on unrecorded reimbursable meals.

Trustee Andy Thomas asked how old the equipment was that is being replaced, and what the expected life of these new machines would be. Allen noted that the current machines are at least five years old, and will need to be replaced again in 3-5 more years. “There’s going to be normal wear and tear,” he said, but in five years, the food service program will have $125,000 in savings from the upgrade.

Thomas also pointed out, “I’m not sure I appreciate the ease of service [of an all-in-one system].” He noted that a system with multiple components would allow broken parts to be replaced without replacing the whole thing, which is, in general, less expensive.

Allen explained that, while he’d normally agree with Thomas, the multiple wires connecting these machines are causing a lot of the trouble. In the planning committee meeting where this proposal was first introduced, David Lahey of Chartwells – the company which holds the food service contract with AAPS – had explained that, at times, the USB and other cables connecting the different system components have been stolen, causing a delay in processing student payments, as students are then asked to write down their student numbers by hand. Allen added that broken machines in the current system lead to inaccurate meal totals. “If you are writing numbers down,” he said, “human error can impact revenue.”

Trustee Glenn Nelson noted that it was his understanding that the new machines will cause real improvements in the student dining experience, in addition to reducing staff costs to repair broken machines, and Allen concurred that the new machines would make the whole process more efficient.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked about the necessity of purchasing 80 units, and whether servicing the units was included in the price. Allen answered that service was included, and that each elementary school would get one unit, each middle school would get five, and each high school would get eight to ten.

Baskett then asked if Allen would like the board to expedite the passage of this proposal so that the new machines could be installed sooner. Allen noted that this was not an emergency, but that if the proposal was approved that night, the implementation would happen two weeks sooner, and certainly be complete this semester. Deb Mexicotte and Christine Stead also supported approving the proposal sooner. Mexicotte asked board secretary Amy Osinski to move the item onto the consent agenda of that night’s meeting.

Outcome: The replacement of food service point-of-sale computers was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda later in the meeting.

Consent Agenda Approved

In addition to the items already mentioned above – the Early College Alliance, the WAY Washtenaw program, and the food service computer replacement, the extensive consent agenda approved by the board included: the technology refresh first briefed by the board at its regular meeting on Aug. 18; two sets of minutes approvals; and gift offers. The consent agenda was moved by Irene Patalan, seconded by Christine Stead, and approved unanimously on a roll call vote.

Transportation Update

At the performance committee meeting on Sept. 14, Robert Allen had updated the committee on the district’s new consolidated transportation system, run by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. He reported that the first week of school had gone very well compared to the first weeks of other school years, but acknowledged that some buses were late the first day due to construction.

Committee members shared concerns, including the construction delays not being better anticipated, a perception among some of the public that the WISD hiring process was unfair, and how AAPS and WISD plan to combat negative public comments on the new system. Todd Roberts responded that the new system is going better than expected, and expressed that critical comments made by people who are not users of the system lack credibility. Allen added that he would put together some quantitative metrics comparing this year to past years to present at a future board meeting.

Transportation: Public Commentary

John Riedisser, a former AAPS bus driver, addressed the board regarding not being selected as a bus driver by the WISD under the new consolidated transportation system. He read the letter he had received stating he had not been chosen after “reapplying and re-interviewing” for his job. After 21 years of service to the district, he compared the feeling of not being chosen to feeling like his house had been burned down to the ground. He expressed his “devastation” that this happened to him at 52 years old, which is “too young to retire, and too old to start a new career.” He also stated that other former drivers who were not chosen are equally “disgusted,” and that he and they are “ready and willing to go back to work.”

Transportation: AFSCME and Transportation Employee Contract Closures

Roberts introduced this item, referencing a memo that Allen had submitted to the board outlining a set of proposed payouts to employees who were part of the district’s AFSCME or Teamsters bargaining units, as well as non-union former transportation employees.

Allen explained that the previous Teamsters contract with transportation employees – before the district’s transportation was consolidated with WISD – lists only retirement or resignation as reasons to pay out accumulated sick time. Allen argued that though the wording in the contract did not include payment for other separations, such as being laid off, AAPS should “honor the spirit of the contract” and pay out accumulated sick time for laid-off bus drivers, monitors, and supervisors in the same fashion as it would have for retirements or resignations.

There were two groups of AFSCME employees referenced in the memo – AFSCME transportation employees (bus mechanics), and AFSCME custodial, maintenance, and grounds workers. Allen pointed out that the AFSCME mechanics had already been laid-off, along with the rest of the transportation employees, and that the proposed payout to them was the same accumulated sick time payout being suggested for the Teamsters employees.

Regarding the AFSCME custodial, maintenance, and grounds employees, the memo states, the payouts would be due to the fact that in their new, 2010-11 contract, employees made serious concessions in terms of the number of vacation days allowed to be saved. The old contract allowed a maximum of five weeks of vacation time to roll over, but the new contract allows only three weeks. So, for those employees who had been careful, honest, and judicial in their use of vacation time under the old contract, Allen argued, the days they saved should be paid out as they begin work under their new contract.

Lastly, Allen’s memo noted, there were a number of non-union transportation employees to whom he would like to give payouts for accumulated sick time in the same fashion as for the other transportation employees.

Roberts pointed out that money is already earmarked to make these payments. In a follow-up discussion with The Chronicle, board secretary Nelson explained that making these payouts is “essentially recognizing and taking care of an expense that we anticipated, and that will have zero impact on our fund balance.” Allen pointed out that the funding for “termination pay,” as it’s called, is reserved in the district’s fund equity.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked what the average payout was for employees in each group. Allen did not have the numbers organized to give that answer, but was able to estimate that roughly 140 AFSCME members and 160 Teamsters members would receive payouts.

In his memo, Allen had listed the total cost of all payouts as $249,000, broken down as follows: $119,000 to Teamsters bus drivers, monitors, and supervisors; $55,000 to AFSCME mechanics; $35,000 to AFSCME custodial, maintenance, and grounds workers; and $40,000 to non-union transportation employees.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot noted that she was happy that the district is able to demonstrate this level of fiscal responsibility to have this money already accounted for. She also said she appreciated “the human factor,” and referenced the meeting’s public commentary as evidence that many of these employees are undergoing difficult transitions.

Outcome: The motion to approve the payouts as suggested was approved unanimously on a roll call vote.

Financial Institution Approval

Allen asked the board to approve a list of financial institutions with which AAPS does business. He pointed out that the district primarily does its banking with Chase, and that the other banks are used primarily for investments. In each case, he said, AAPS asked for updated information, 2009 audits, and FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) status, which he described as “a certification that banks get.” Also, each institution has agreed to and approved of AAPS investment procedures.

All but one of the institutions as listed in the board packet are located in Michigan. They are: Bank of America (Troy); Bank of Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor); Citizens Bank (Ann Arbor); Comerica Bank (Ann Arbor); Fifth Third Bank (Southfield); Flagstar Bank (Troy); JP Morgan Chase (Ann Arbor); Key Bank (Ann Arbor); MBIA (Ann Arbor); Michigan Commerce Bank (Ann Arbor); Michigan Liquid Asset Fund (Ronkonkoma, New York); TCF (Ann Arbor); and United Bank & Trust (Ann Arbor).

Nelson asked how a new institution could get on this list, and Allen said that the institution could contact him.

The motion to approve these financial institutions for doing business with AAPS was made by Patalan and seconded by Thomas.

Outcome: The motion to approve AAPS use of the financial institutions listed above passed unanimously on a roll call vote.

Administrative Board Appointments

Trustees of the board of education sit on a variety of committees at the local, county, and state level. At Wednesday’s meeting, after discussing her suggestions with the board during the study session, president Deb Mexicotte made the following appointments:

  • Glenn Nelson: Washtenaw Association of School Boards, Recreation Advisory Commission;
  • Simone Lightfoot: Michigan Association of School Boards Legislative Relations Network, Student Discipline Hearing/Grade Change/Reinstatement Panel, Youth Senate/Youth Empowerment Project
  • Susan Baskett: Washtenaw Association of School Boards Legislative Relations Network, Health Place 101, City/Schools
  • Irene Patalan: City/Schools, Celebration of Excellence
  • Deb Mexicotte: Transportation Safety Committee
  • Andy Thomas: Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Foundation
  • Christine Stead: Student Discipline Hearing/Grade Change/Reinstatement Panel

Mexicotte left open the board seat on the equity audit committee, the work of which, she said, “has in large part been taken over by other equity work.” She directed the performance committee to review the role of this committee. Mexicotte also noted that the district-wide School Improvement Team no longer exists.

Mexicotte then directed board secretary Amy Osinski to contact the appropriate committees and let them know who their board representatives are.

Executive Session Added

Mexicotte stated that that board would need to call an executive session for the purpose of attorney-client privileged  communication at 5:30 p.m. before the next regular meeting on Sept. 29. Stead made a motion that such a session be added to the board’s calendar, and Patalan seconded.

Outcome: The motion was approved unanimously by a roll call vote.

Board Committee Reports

The board has two standing committees – the planning committee, which deals with upcoming items, and the performance committee, which reviews and evaluates items that have already occurred. Irene Patalan chairs the planning committee, which also seats Christine Stead and Simone Lightfoot. Susan Baskett chairs the performance committee, which also seats Glenn Nelson and Andy Thomas.

Planning Committee

Patalan reported that her committee had been briefed on the night’s proposal to approve six easements, which would be brought by Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, later in the meeting. She also expressed being struck by the good discussion the committee had with food service and technology staff regarding approval of the new food service computers. Lastly, Patalan reported that the committee had also heard from Trent regarding a survey he did of historically underutilized businesses (HUBs). The goal of the survey had been to get ideas from HUBs about how better to encourage them to bid on AAPS jobs. Patalan noted that the survey was done on Zoomerang, and that it included contact information from the district. She also said that Trent would share more survey data once the results had been fully analyzed.

Performance Committee

Baskett reported on a presentation her committee heard on the lab school being created in conjunction with the University of Michigan. She acknowledged the transportation update brought by Allen (see above), and said that AAPS expected all glitches due to construction to be worked out by the end of the week. Baskett also thanked Nelson for suggesting a matrix to organize the work of the committee for this year.

Association Reports

The board invites the Youth Senate, the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) to offer regular reports at its meetings. At this meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, the AAAA, and the BPSSG.

Youth Senate

Nikila Lakshmanan and Priya Menon gave the Youth Senate report. They began by reporting that the Senate was considering ways to increase its focus on local service to the community. This summer, they piloted summer community volunteer teams with much success. They also touted the Senate’s achievement solutions teams (ASTs) as a “youth-led answer to preventing high school failure” and expressed that school districts should not tolerate letting students fail or drop out of school. Noting the district’s relatively high graduation rate of 87%, they challenged the district to refer failing students to ASTs as part of the solution. Lastly, the Senate thanked Todd Roberts for his hard work as superintendent, and asserted that his efforts have led to increased “school and community pride” as well as having inspired the Senate to keep up its own work.

Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education

Jen Mamer began the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC) report by thanking Roberts for his “outstanding leadership and dedication,” and wishing him the best. She welcomed Elaine Brown as the new administrator of student intervention and support services (SISS), and noted that AAPAC is looking forward to partnering with her.

Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown, the new administrator for student intervention and support services.

She noted that Brown shared her vision for the coming year with AAPAC at its annual retreat this past week, including improving the transition process between school levels, the use of Positive Behavior Support, increasing inclusion opportunities, and employing research to improve instruction. Mamer also updated the board on the Disability Awareness Workshops being planned for this year, and encouraged parents to volunteer to help with them in their schools. Finally, she thanked Mary Spence for her update on the M-SMART program at work in the district.

Ann Arbor Administrators Association

Michael Madison, the principal at Dicken Elementary, brought the Ann Arbor Administrators Association report to the board, expressing excitement over the opening of the school year, and inviting the trustees to attend one of more curriculum nights. He pointed out that over the summer, 21 new teachers were hired, transitioned, oriented, and trained. Madison also pointed to Pioneer High seniors coming to many of the district’s elementary schools this week as a example of positive collaboration among grade levels. Finally, Madison offered some updates from selected schools. He mentioned that the Thurston Elementary driveway was indeed finished by the first day of school, and that the school was very grateful to Randy Trent for making good on his promise. He noted the Community High was addressing cyber-bullying and harassment, and that Forsythe Middle School had a successful 6th grade ice cream get-together.

Black Parents Student Support Group

Sylvia Nesmith reported for the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG). She began by noting her appreciation for Todd Roberts’ commitment to the BPSSG, and for making himself available to them. Nesmith also welcomed Elaine Brown to her new position as SISS administrator and noted that the BPSSG has always had an interest in AAPAC, referring to the fact that students of color have historically been overrepresented in special education. Nesmith was pleased with Brown’s appointment, saying she seems to be “concerned and capable,” and that Roberts had “left a footprint” by hiring her. Finally, Nesmith asked the board to comment on the status of the Equity Audit and PEG work.

Easement Recommendations

Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, asked the board for approval of six water main and sewer easements at five locations – Burns Park Elementary, Skyline High, Tappan Middle School, Pioneer High (which has two), and Angell Elementary. A memo sent from Trent to the board explained that, if these easements were approved, “the City [of Ann Arbor] will assume all responsibility for any and all costs and liability associated with the maintenance, inspection, repair or replacement of the Water Main Systems located on the property of the schools noted above.”

At the meeting, Trent noted that all of the water mains and sewers, as well as one “water loop” addressed by the easements, were done during AAPS construction. He described the easements as “legalese” to be sure that the city of Ann Arbor maintains the systems.

Thomas clarified that this has to do with transferring responsibility of water mains that AAPS constructed to the city for maintenance, and Trent said that was correct. Thomas also asked why one of the easements was wider than the others, and Trent explained that the width of the easements was related to how deep the systems were, because one needs to dig at an angle to get to them.

Baskett asked Trent to define “water loop.” Trent explained that a water loop, or fire loop, allows water to come from two different directions, and noted that the responsibility for all of the water loops done since the bond project has been transferred to the city.

Baskett then asked bluntly, “Is there any reason why we wouldn’t approve this?” and Trent answered, “No.”

Patalan asked for clarification that agreeing to these easements means the city is responsible for these pieces. Trent explained that the process of transferring responsibility didn’t always happen before, but that as AAPS is learning about it, it is happening more often. “This gets our lawyers together with their lawyers.”

Outcome: No action was taken on this item at the meeting. It will return to the board for second briefing and a vote on Sept. 29.

Planning the Organizational Meeting

Board president Deb Mexicotte noted that the timing of this year’s organizational meeting had been a topic at both the summer board retreat, as well as during the study session earlier that evening. She described the organizational meeting as the meeting at which the board selects its officers, and committee representation. The organizational meeting has usually occurred in July, after board elections in May. Now that the board elections have been moved to November, this school year’s organizational meeting was originally set for January 2011.

Mexicotte summarized the board’s discussion as having centered on the question of whether or not to move the organizational meeting up in the year. She noted that the impetus for considering moving it up was that all five board members on the November ballot are running unopposed, so there is essentially no reason to delay the meeting until after the election.

Mexicotte explained that the board does have a bylaw that states the organizational meeting will take place after the election, so that bylaw would need to be suspended to hold the meeting earlier than that. She then opened the floor to her colleagues.

Stead commented that she thought it made sense to have the organizational meeting in September, noting that the three new trustees that joined the board this year have been placed into open positions as they came onto the board, but that there may be better ways to configure the board so that it works even better. She then moved to hold the organizational meeting during the next regular board meeting on Sept. 29.

Nelson seconded her motion, saying, “We are in a structure which is good, but was arrived at very incrementally.”

Thomas then listed four special circumstances that, for him, justify moving the meeting: 1) the fact that three of the seven current trustees were not elected, but appointed; 2) the unusual nature of having five board members up for election in a single cycle; 3) the surprise that all five are running unopposed, which makes it seem that “the results of the election are relatively certain;” and 4) the importance of getting moving on the superintendent search, which is not the only work the board has to do.

Thomas concluded, “I just want the public to understand that we are not trying to say that the elections are irrelevant, but these four unique situations have come together to make us believe that we need to have the organizational meeting at this time.”

Mexicotte pointed out that, of course, if something unexpected does happen during the election, such as a write-in candidate winning a seat, the board can hold a second organizational meeting.

Outcome: The motion to hold an organizational meeting on Sept. 29 was approved unanimously by roll call vote.

Following the vote, Mexicotte asked Oskinski to place the organizational meeting on the Sept. 29 agenda, as well as adding a vote to suspend the necessary bylaw before that.

Items from the Board

Nelson described a University Musical Society fundraiser he had recently attended at the former Pfizer complex, which is now owned by the University of Michigan.

Baskett acknowledged the local chapter of the NAACP for holding a welcome reception for Elaine Brown, the district’s new administrator of student intervention and support services (SISS), saying it was a wonderful chance for Brown to meet the community, and for them to meet her. Baskett also solicited support for the Ann Arbor NAACP’s Freedom Fund dinner in October, noting that individuals could support a student scholar’s attendance for $35.

Lastly, Baskett thanked Scarlett Middle school for welcoming her visit on the first day of school, and requested that Roberts provide the board with a final list of the 2009-10 retirees, as Baskett had been surprised by some of Scarlett retirements she noticed during her visit.

Mexicotte responded to Baskett, saying that there may be some difficulties in providing that list, and suggested that Baskett follow up with board secretary Amy Osinski.

Awards and Accolades

In late July, superintendent Todd Roberts said he got a call from Gov. Jennifer Granholm congratulating Community High School for its excellent ACT composite scores. She then asked for the phone number for the principal of Community, Roberts said, “so I quickly called the principal and said, ‘If you get a 517 call, take it – it’s the governor.’” [The area code for the Lansing area is 517]

Other notable accomplishments mentioned by Roberts included:

  • Ann Arbor was again chosen by Kipplinger’s as one of the ten best places to raise a family, in large part because the public school district ranks among the best in the country;
  • Of 57 Huron High School students who took the Advanced Placement (AP) calculus exam – 54 scored a five (the highest score), one scored a four, and two scored threes. This means that all 57 of them earned some measure of college credit for their scores;
  • A fourth grade teacher at Haisley Elementary used a grant to take students to the Detroit Institute of Arts during the first week of school;
  • 15 of the 59 players drafted by the National Hockey League this year had attended Pioneer as part of the USA Hockey program housed there;
  • Huron High English teachers won an award for publishing their book, “Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone”;
  • A Pioneer High teacher was chosen to advise the U.S. Department of Education; and
  • A counselor at Community High was selected by the Counselors that Change Lives program, for helping students find colleges that provide for each of them the foundation for a successful life.

Roberts also congratulated the AAPS Educational Foundation (EF) and its director Wendy Correll for their successful recent campaign, One Million Reasons. In particular, Roberts thanked three large donors for their contributions: the PTO Thrift Shop ($100,000), the Norton family (matching donations up to $50,000), and local technology company IMRA America ($50,000).

Later in the meeting, trustee Glenn Nelson suggested to the board’s executive committee to invite the AAPS EF to a future meeting, along with a representative from each of the major donors, “to recognize this significant, helpful work” they are doing in this budget climate.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan, secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, AAPS superintendent.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Glenn Nelson (School Board Member)
    September 20, 2010 at 7:22 pm | permalink

    With regard to a minor correction that may be relevant to someone from the public wanting to attend the interviews of search firms, the interviews of firms on September 22 will be from 2:30 – 7:30 pm rather than the 2:30 – 5:30 pm interval stated in the article.

    Thanks for another excellent article!

  2. By Jennifer Coffman
    September 21, 2010 at 8:19 am | permalink

    Thanks for the catch, Glenn. We’ll update the piece.