Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Annual Organizational Meeting (Jan. 16, 2013): Matters of organization dominated the board’s discussion at its annual organizational meeting.
The agenda planning process was at the heart of the conversation, as was the issue of committee restructuring. The board also observed a moment of silence for Scarlett Middle School math teacher Scott Turner, who passed away Monday, Jan. 14, 2013.
The board launched into its first meeting of the new year, beginning with trustee Deb Mexicotte taking her oath of office after winning re-election for a four-year term this past November.
The board’s first order of business was to elect its officers. All four board officer positions were uncontested and were approved unanimously. Mexicotte was re-elected president; Christine Stead, vice-president; Andy Thomas, secretary; and Glenn Nelson was elected as treasurer.
The four officers took their oaths of office, and Mexicotte reappointed Simone Lightfoot as parliamentarian.
After establishing that the board would review the agenda for future meetings at the conclusion of each board meeting, and that agenda items would need a majority vote to be added to a future agenda, the board voted on several possible future agenda topics.
The topic of semester versus trimester scheduling at Skyline did not make it onto a future agenda; but the board is expecting a recommendation from administration on that topic in February. A review of school security will be placed on a board agenda sometime this academic year. Budget forums will be scheduled in the first half of the year, after the administration receives more direction from the board. The superintendent’s performance evaluation will take place in February and March. And options for the future of the Roberto Clemente Development Center will be scheduled for February or March.
Every January, the board reviews its internal organizational structure and procedures, and makes amendments if desired. At the Jan. 16 meeting, trustees reviewed and made adjustments to various aspects of the board’s policies. Those adjustments included adding participation of more student groups at board meetings and changing the agenda setting procedure.
Board Organization: Designated Board Associations
The board reviewed its designated associations. Currently, the board allows six groups to offer reports at all regular board meetings – the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), Parent-Teacher Organization Council (PTOC), Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), Black Parent and Student Support Group (BPSSG), and the Youth Senate.
At last year’s organizational meeting, the board voted to include a broader representation of students. The Youth Senate shared its seat with representatives from each of the six high schools. Because she appreciated the student perspective so much over the past year, trustee Irene Patalan suggested opening the Youth Senate seat up to even more student groups this year, turning it into a district student representation seat.
After a discussion regarding the need to hear from student groups that can speak about school climate, the trustees decided to remove the Youth Senate from the designated board associations. Mexicotte made it clear that it was the board’s direction and intent to expand student voice at board meetings. The board wants to continue hearing the Youth Senate’s point of view, as well as the voice of the greater student body.
Several trustees commended the work the Youth Senate has done in helping the board realize the kinds of input they could receive from the high schools. Trustee Susan Baskett indicated that she did not want members of the Youth Senate to feel pushed out.
Outcome: The board voted to continue to invite the AAEA, AAPAC, AAAA, PTOC, and BPSSG to make regular reports to the board. The Youth Senate lost its status as a designated association. Student groups will be invited to speak on a rotating schedule.
Board Organization: Administrative Committee Assignments
The trustees reviewed their administrative committee representation assignments, none of which changed from the previous year.
While most of the assignments were reconfirmed in a pro forma way, Lightfoot expressed concern about the role of a board representative for the Youth Senate. Given that the Youth Senate was not longer a designated association to present a report at every board meeting, Lightfoot wondered how the representation would shift.
As the trustee assigned to the Youth Senate, she was tasked with the job of ascertaining the desires of the Youth Senate members, and will report back to the board.
Board Organization: Meeting Schedule
After determining that the administrative staff have the opportunity to take vacation time during the district’s scheduled mid-winter break, the trustees decided to cancel a scheduled committee of the whole (COTW) meeting that was to take place during the break. The trustees also briefly discussed the possibility of adding more meetings during the summer months to “do the deep dives” into their concerns. Last year, more summer meetings were added because of the amount of business the board had to handle and changes forced by budget constraints.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the meeting schedule.
Board Organization: Committee Structure
A change from two working committees of three trustees each was implemented the previous year, and the board has settled into a single committee of the whole (COTW) structure. Currently, the COTW meets once per month in a location that rotates around the district. Generally, the trustees felt the COTW structure was working well and wanted it to continue.
Lightfoot was concerned that more sub-committees were going to be created, which she feared would be a return to the previous committee structure. The change in structure from planning and performance committees to the COTW was to allow each trustee to have a say in planning and performance, she said.
Mexicotte clarified that the board had always had the option of setting up two other kinds of committees: standing committees and ad-hoc committees. Standing committees would be long-term committees that would last for a year or more – to look at a long standing issue or policy. Ad-hoc committees would be short term with a narrow focus. Ad-hoc committees are designed to look at something specific and bring back recommendations to the board, she said.
If either ad-hoc or standing committees were created, they would be subsets of the board, with no more than three trustees on a committee, Mexicotte continued. The assignment would be determined by individual trustee’s interest in the topic. Lightfoot asked if she could attend a committee meeting if she wasn’t a member of that particular committee. Mexicotte responded by saying that the meetings would be closed to non-members of that committee – so if a trustee had a passion for a particular topic, it would be important to be part of it.
As an alternative, Thomas clarified, if there was a topic that was important to more than three trustees, they could reserve that work for the COTW. Baskett said she saw sub-committees as something that could come and go, but said the COTW structure should be maintained. She cautioned that trustees should all prepare themselves for “if not more meetings, more reading and more conversations with the community.”
When Mexicotte asked the board when it would be appropriate to bring up topics for sub-committees – such as a policy review of coaching and athletics that Lightfoot has asked for – Nelson offered a “simplistic, perhaps not very helpful” answer: When they had four votes to create the sub-committee. He maintained that the board as a whole needed to control the existence of such committees, so that there was not authority given to any one or two people around the board. He also noted that the board might determine an issue was so important, they would not want to relegate it to sub-committee status. Mexicotte suggested that any sub-committee creation could be part of agenda planning.
Outcome: The committee of the whole structure will remain in place, with sub-committees created as needed.
Board Organization: Setting the Agenda
After Nelson brought up a proposal to change how items would be included on the agenda, trustees spent a significant amount of time discussing how the agenda would be set.
The agenda is currently set by Mexicotte and district superintendent Patricia Green, working in conjunction. Trustees have the opportunity to bring up items they want to add to the agenda at the end of the meeting during “agenda planning.”
Board Organization: Setting the Agenda – Process
Nelson said that although he believed the agenda setting process of the board was the best of any board he’s been a part of, there were still two problems the board struggled with: (1) meeting length; and (2) topics of interest on the agenda. Every once in a while, he said, there was a feeling on the board “that we’re dealing with something that shouldn’t have been on the agenda.”
Nelson’s suggestion was to add a more formal voting process of adding items to the agenda, so trustees can be sure they all want to discuss a topic. To add an item to the agenda, at least four of the seven trustees would have needed to voted in favor of it. When trustees are “working on things at midnight, we will know we all voted on it.” He would like the process more transparent, but noted that he did not want to throw out the good things they have already have in place – such as the leadership role of the president and the superintendent in setting the agenda.
Because agendas sometimes are planned out several months ahead of time, and priorities change over that time, Thomas asked if the board would be able to change the agenda. Nelson suggested that perhaps the method could be that at the end of a meeting, the board approves the agenda of the next meeting and gives tentative approval for future meeting agendas. The board currently approves the agenda at the beginning of each meeting, which Nelson said seemed to be “pro forma.” Nelson also said that if something came up that was time sensitive, it could be introduced at the beginning of a meeting.
Thomas also asked for clarification that if an item to be included on the agenda passed on a 4-3 vote, and there was a motion later to reconsider the addition of that item to the agenda, that motion would have to be brought up by a member of prevailing side. Lightfoot, as parliamentarian, indicated agreement with Thomas, saying that reconsidering an agenda item would need to be brought up by a member of the prevailing side. Mexicotte confirmed that it would need to be a “change of heart” motion.
Board Organization: Setting the Agenda – Board Reaction
Mexicotte said she appreciated the approval of the next agenda and future agendas during “agenda planning” at the end of a meeting. She saw it as a great preparatory tool. While Thomas questioned the point of approving the agenda twice – once at the end of the previous meeting and again at the beginning of the actual meeting – Mexicotte said it would let them review what is coming up. The approval at the actual meeting, she said, would be pro forma.
Patalan affirmed the change would formalize the agenda setting process and make it more transparent. She said it would make them a better board by focusing trustees more. It would allow for the seven members of the board to bring different things to the table. It was an example of “good boardsmanship,” she said.
Lightfoot did not agree with Nelson’s proposed changes. To her, the proposed changes only put up more barriers to getting an item added to the agenda and “stifles conversation.” It was “not equitable, not fair, and not doing their due diligence” by not hearing from dissenting views. To her, it felt like an effort to control the conversation. Lightfoot stated that she would not be supporting “any effort that says four of my colleagues have to approve what gets on the agenda.”
Nelson said that it was Lightfoot’s difficulty in getting items added to the agenda over the previous year that had led him to think more about the process. His changes were designed to give each of the seven trustees the opportunity to bring up what they wanted to talk about, using a clear and transparent process.
Lightfoot said that the process was already equal, but the responsiveness was not. “If you’re doing this to help me, Glenn, it won’t.” The “bantering back and forth” to get items on the agenda was okay, but she also expressed frustration over the work she has had to do to get items that are important to her on the agenda. In terms of the current process not being transparent enough, she suggested bullet-pointing their agenda setting process on the district website.
Nelson replied that he was not suggesting the changes for Lightfoot in particular, or for himself, but for the reputation of the board. He wanted to find a process that meant all of the board agreed with how the agenda was put forth.
Thomas said that because of the way the board has operated over the past year, trustees had suggested so many items for the agenda, a log jam of sorts had been created. On occasion, that has led to the feeling that some of the trustees have had more control over the agenda than others. He believed the process suggested by Nelson sidesteps that problem, and he “can’t think of a way more fair for a board to do than to vote on the agenda.” He didn’t feel that it is that hard to convince three other trustees that an item needs to be added. Lightfoot disagreed, saying it was that difficult, and the people who were saying it wasn’t difficult weren’t the people for whom it was difficult.
Stead countered the notion that she was one of the people who controlled the discussion for agenda planning, and noted that one of the items she was going to bring up that evening was an item she had asked to be added to the agenda several times, but had yet to be added. She said she would be willing to try the process that evening when she brings up the the four items she had intended to bring up during the agenda planning part of the meeting. That way, it would be possible to test out the proposed process to see if it “feels comfortable.”
If the process was to be adopted, Mexicotte said, and an item doesn’t make in into the agenda, it’s likely that it was something that didn’t translate to an issue everyone agreed on. She viewed it as a question of accountability – that trustees are accountable to each other and the community. When a trustee puts his or her name on an agenda item, it makes that trustee accountable to that item. She noted that the power she had was not that of the Wizard of Oz, but of the power of persuasion, of having a voice at the table. Mexicotte said that when trustees tell her they would really like to get items on the agenda, she counsels them to “go get the vote; go get some allies.”
Thomas believed convincing him of the rightness of a position was not a requirement for him to support putting it on the agenda. He said that even if he did not agree with a position, he might still agree to have the conversation. Mexicotte also connected the need to convince at least three other trustees to add an agenda item to the need to build relationships: “Having to persuade and suggest is a relationship-building skill” and is one trustees should engage in, she concluded.
Outcome: The board agreed that a majority vote will be required to add or remove agenda items for both COTW and regular board meetings – with time given at the end of each meeting to approve the following meeting’s agenda. Baskett and Lightfoot dissented.
After determining that they would like to vote on adding items to the agenda, the trustees put the process into practice at that evening’s meeting. After the first topic brought up to be added to the agenda Mexicotte clarified that trustees should begin with a motion to place an item on the agenda, with discussion to follow.
Agenda Planning: Semester/Trimester Schedule for Skyline
Christine Stead again brought up the issue of moving Skyline High School from a trimester to a semester schedule. She noted that at the Dec. 12, 2012 COTW meeting, trustees discussed a lot of items grouped under the heading “high school start times” – which partly included the trimester/semester issue. Stead wanted to see the specific question of moving Skyline to semesters on the agenda in the near future, so a decision could be made for the 2013-2014 academic calendar.
Stead also noted that she had been asking for this issue to be included on the agenda since “about this time last year.” She expressed a desire to let the community know when the board was going to be talking about it. She also wondered if the administration had already made a decision about moving to semesters. Green responded to Stead by saying she had met with all three deputies: Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent for instructional services; Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations; and David Comsa, deputy superintendent human resources and general counsel, and was now waiting for additional information before making a final decision. She said she imagined she would come forward with a recommendation in February.
Mexicotte that said it seemed to be the intent of the administration to bring the topic back to the board at a February meeting. She said that the board could either move to place it on the agenda as a board item, or they could take the administration’s lead. Stead asked how soon they would need to make a decision that would impact the following school year. Green said it would have to be by February. Green emphasized that it was not her intention “to study this into next year.”
Lightfoot said that any recommendation should come with ample chance to talk with the students, teachers, and principals involved. Baskett added that she would like to be able to hear from Skyline’s principal, Sulura Jackson, and any of Skyline’s teachers or parents at the board’s meeting when it was discussed.
Several of the trustees felt that they had talked about the issue adequately, and that now they were looking for a recommendation from the administration and the instructional staff on how to proceed with the issue. Mexicotte said she felt that it was partly an administrative decision. Thomas agreed and said that he believes the decision to abandon the trimester model was not the kind of thing the board should be involved in. Both he and Nelson said they preferred an administrative lead on this issue. Nelson said he did not want to be viewed as pushing the administration into premature action.
Outcome: The motion to place the semester/trimester issue on the agenda failed to pass. Mexicotte, Nelson, Patalan, and Thomas dissented.
Agenda Planning: Review of School Security
Stead also asked that a review of security procedures be added to the agenda, in light of the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Nelson asked Stead what she imagined such a review would entail. After expressing some frustration about having to now imagine how proposed agenda items would be talked about, Stead told Nelson she imagined they would discuss the policies and procedures currently in place. Because the board had cut police liaison positions in the previous year’s budget, Stead wondered if that would be an issue they would reconsider.
While Thomas was in favor of putting the security review on the agenda, he questioned the timing. Did the board need to discuss this issue before budget approval for the next year – given their review might have implications for the budget? Stead clarified that she would want to have the conversation during the current academic year.
After Nelson expressed some concern about the workload on the administration, Green assured the board that the administration was already working on it. Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties, was in process of costing out building changes. Green said she would prefer not to put a date on a board presentation just yet, because the work was “ongoing,” but would be amenable to a presentation before the end of the current school year.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved adding a review of school security to an agenda this academic year.
Agenda Planning: Budget Forums
Also during agenda planning, Stead asked that budget forums be placed on the calendar. Budget updates are currently listed on the agenda planner, but no budget forums are scheduled.
Green said that because the trustees had determined they would like to do community outreach, the administration was looking to hear from the board about how to approach scheduling the budget forums. Mexicotte clarified, saying that because the board had previously asked the administration to move up the budget proposal to April, the administration may not be clear if the board wanted forums to come before or after the proposal.
Outcome: Budget forums will be added to the agenda calendar after more direction from the board.
Agenda Planning: Superintendent Evaluation
Stead also brought up the issue of the superintendent’s performance evaluation. She said that before making any kind of adjustment to the superintendent’s contract, she would like to have the discussion about the evaluation first. She proposed having a session to assess, as a board, the metrics they’ll use to evaluate Green.
Outcome: The superintendent’s performance evaluation will first be discussed at a series of executive sessions in February, then will be discussed by the board in its entirety at the March COTW.
Agenda Planning: Roberto Clemente Review
Baskett asked for the anticipated date for a report on Roberto Clemente Student Development Center. After last year’s decision to keep Clemente open, the administration was charged to do a more thorough review of all options.
Green said that because the review is still taking place, it was not yet on the board’s agenda planner. She said that they were planning for a date either in February or March. Baskett said that they “owe it to everyone” to set a date because if there needed to be any contractual changes, there needed to be enough time to make them.
Outcome:The administration will present to the board its review of options for Roberto Clemente in either February or March.
Agenda Planning: Board Goals – Affirmation of Boardsmanship
Mexicotte introduced another opportunity for the trustees to discuss how to move forward on their goal of building trust and relationships [This was a goal set at last August's board retreat]. After the board decided at its Dec. 12, 2012 meeting that not all trustees were amenable to paying a facilitator to mediate discussions, Mexicotte worked to develop a document that detailed “an agreed upon set of expectations and shared values” for the board. She had tasked the administrative team to review similar documents for school boards around the country, then combined elements of those documents with her own perspective. She called the document an “affirmation of boardsmanship” – an affirmation of how they would relate to each other, the administration, and the community.
Mexicotte envisioned that the affirmation would be part of an overarching strategy to get at trust and relationship building. She hoped the trustees would read over the document, then add to it – to make it meaningful to the board as a whole. To have the “courageous conversations” of race, class, and educational equity, Mexicotte said, they need to be able to build a level of trust. Identifying their shared values would be part of building that trust.
Thomas questioned some of the more detailed items in the document, such as one stating that board members would not use district resources for their own personal use. Mexicotte assured him that she believed trustees were doing a good job with things like that, but she still wanted them stated in the document.
Baskett asked if the document would be something that would be enforced. Mexicotte replied that having a shared set of values meant that enforcement would become part of the community standards as trustees hold each other accountable. Baskett thanked Mexicotte for her efforts, but said she would have probably went about the problem differently.
Nelson said the document was a good start. Because there was “some opportunity for the board’s role to be misunderstood,” he appreciated that the discussion would help them better define the role. Patalan equated the document to a new year’s resolution, saying it helped set the tone. She wanted their meetings to show “civility, accountability, and transparency,” and believed the document would help guide that.
Thomas asked that, since they had just received the document that day, they all get the chance to look at individually and communicate their feelings to Mexicotte on an individual basis. If the document was to have any meaning at all, he said, it had to be something every member buys into. If there was something in the document that could not be agreed to, Nelson said that itself would be useful to know. Even if they don’t reach a consensus, the conversation would be helpful.
Outcome: The “Affirmation of Boardsmanship” document will be discussed at an upcoming meeting, with a goal that this will take place at the next COTW meeting on Jan. 23, 2013.
Communication and Comment
Board meetings include a number of agenda slots where trustees can highlight issues they feel are important, including “items from the board” and “agenda planning.” Every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the formal agenda or that are not covered elsewhere in The Chronicle’s meeting report.
Comm/Comm: Remembrance of Scott Turner
The board observed a moment of silence for Scott Turner, a long-time Scarlett Middle School math teacher, who passed away after a battle with esophageal cancer. Mexicotte remembered Turner as a valued and beloved member of the community, noting her daughter had him as an algebra teacher. Mexicotte read from her daughter’s Facebook page where her daughter credited Turner for making the “always awkward, and at times, awful” experience of middle school less so for her. A memorial for Turner will be held the evening of Jan. 22 at Scarlett Middle School.
Comm/Comm: Youth Senate Report
Skyline sophomore Milan Patel spoke to the board about the mastery grading system at Skyline High School. According to Patel, the mastery grading system requires a that student must score at least an 80% on all tests in order to receive credit for a class. Students who do not obtain mastery have the option to retake the tests in order to acquire the necessary grade. Tests end up being worth 80% of a student’s grade, with all other assignments making up 20% of the grade.
Patel took issue with the grading system, saying that students do not value homework because it is worth so little. His suggestion was to increase the grade value of homework, with product assignments being worth 70% of a grade and process assignments being worth 30% of a grade. To him, that would benefit students by having them work hard for the tests, as well as the homework assignments.
Comm/Comm: String Performance
The trustees were treated to a performance by a string trio made up of student sectional leaders of the Skyline High School orchestra.
Andrea Cowper, director of orchestras at Skyline, was on hand to introduce her students. The two seniors and one sophomore played “Por una Cabeza,” as well as a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for President Mexicotte.
Comm/Comm: Community Outreach
During “Items from the Board,” Mexicotte commended Nelson, Thomas, and Stead for getting the ball rolling on the community outreach plan discussed at previous meetings. Given the constraints the board will work under in determining the next budget, community input will be key, she said. Thomas put a call out to the other trustees to assist with the outreach efforts, so that the board connects with a representative cross-section of the community.
Nelson said they want to create awareness because “people are not as aware of the stress public schools, and AAPS in particular, have been put under in the past couple of years.” He maintained that having a conversation about what that means for public education in Ann Arbor should translate into more motion. Nelson said the board would be developing a framework for the conversations. Mexicotte reaffirmed the importance of such a framework, saying that listening, awareness, and partnership will be paramount.
Also during “items from the board,” Thomas reported on the outcome of his monthly coffee hour. The conversation centered around the budget and people’s reactions and suggestions. He noted there was a reaction against the gradualism of imposing budget cuts over the past couple years, saying one of his constituents compared it to cooking a frog in a pot. Thomas said that people were begging to “know the worst, then let’s get on with it.”
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Glenn Nelson, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Irene Patalan.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the fourth-floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, 343 S. Fifth Ave.