The Ann Arbor Chronicle » search firm it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AAATA Preps to Shift Gears Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:59:56 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 21, 2014): The meeting began with CEO Michael Ford’s formal announcement of news that board members and the public had already heard – that he was leaving the AAATA in mid-October to take the job as CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Ford had formally tendered his resignation that day. The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit.

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board. (Photos by the writer.)

CEO Michael Ford listens to public commentary at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two items on the board’s voting agenda related at least indirectly to the leadership transition that the AAATA will be making. First, the board approved a resolution authorizing board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for Ford’s replacement. The resolution approved by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also authorized $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search.

Griffith said he has asked board members Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley and Eric Mahler to serve with him on the search committee, citing a desire to have a mix of board experience and geographic diversity represented on that group.

Second, the board approved the AAATA’s FY 2015 work plan, which will provide the basis for the FY 2015 budget. The budget will appear on the board’s Sept. 25 agenda for approval. The AAATA’s fiscal year runs from October through September. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Sue Gott credited Ford with developing the work plan, saying it would be valuable as a blueprint for the transition in leadership.

A major decision on the choice of bus technology might be made after Ford departs the AAATA in mid-October. Although the board approved a 5-year bus procurement contract with Gillig, and authorized an order for the first 27 of up to 60 buses called for in the 5-year contract, the board left the choice of drive-train technology open – between hybrid electric technology and clean diesel. The upfront capital cost difference is $200,000 per bus more for the hybrid technology. That final choice of technology will need to be made by the November board meeting.

Also at its Aug. 21 meeting, the board amended its pension plan to recognize same-sex marriages, which stemmed from a Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and the IRS ruling that resulted from that decision.

The board chose to delay approval of new service standards, which are a required element of AAATA’s Title VI compliance. The board can meet the Federal Transit Administration deadlines for submission of its Title VI materials if it approves the new service standards at its September board meeting.

Board members also received an update on the progress being made in a Michigan Dept. of Transportation environmental assessment of a project that could implement active traffic management (ATM) of the US-23 corridor. The project includes the idea of allowing vehicles to use the median shoulder during peak demand periods. The MDOT presentation included a visit from former AAATA board member Paul Ajegba, who is region engineer for MDOT’s University Region – a 10-county area that includes Livingston and Washtenaw counties. If The Chronicle publishes coverage of that presentation, it will be in a separate report.

The Aug. 21 meeting was held in the boardroom at the AAATA headquarters on South Industrial, instead of the usual location, which is the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The downtown library on South Fifth Avenue was closed in connection with the repair of its public elevator.


Much of the meeting reflected the theme of transition, as it had been known for several weeks that Ford was likely to take the job that had been offered to him by the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Ford will depart the AAATA in mid-October to take the post as the first CEO of the RTA. Ford formally tendered his resignation on Aug. 21, 2014.

Ford was picked for the job as CEO of the RTA three months ago, on May 21, 2014. The RTA board approved Ford’s contract on Aug. 20, 2014. Ford’s announcement as a finalist and his selection for the RTA job came amid the AAATA’s successful campaign for a new millage to fund additional transportation services in the geographic area of the member jurisdictions of the AAATA – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. That millage was approved by voters on May 6, 2014.

The AAATA board had awarded Ford a raise at its June 10, 2014 meeting, based on a performance evaluation completed at its May 15, 2014 meeting, which came 11 days after the successful May 6 transit millage vote.

The RTA was established by the state legislature in late 2012, and includes Detroit and the four-county region of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland.

Ford was hired by the AAATA in 2009.

Transition: Aug. 21 Opening Remarks

Board chair Charles Griffith led off the meeting with the “communications and announcements” agenda item asking, “Does anybody have anything to say?” Michael Ford’s response was “I do!” That drew some laughs from around the board table.

Ford stated: “It’s probably no secret by now, it’s kind of the moment everybody has been waiting for – I am going to be accepting a position with the RTA as the CEO there… I appreciated my time here. We have done a lot. And I’m really honored and privileged to be, and to have been the CEO here. It’s been a big deal to me. We have done a lot in the community. I want to thank my board – you guys have been tremendous, helping guide us and get us where we are. … I would also like to thank the staff, my senior staff and others, the operators, the facility folks, the mechanics who make everything go every single day, a very important part of this organization and the face of this organization.”

Ford singled out administrative assistant Karen Wheeler for special thanks, calling her “the glue, my rock.” Ford’s remarks elicited applause from the board and staff.

Griffith responded to Ford’s remarks by telling him, “We are going to miss you terribly. We didn’t want you to go but if you were to go anywhere, the RTA was our top pick. So you’ll still be working with us.” Ford replied to Griffith by saying that he would not forget where he came from.

Griffith told Ford that the board would have a couple of months to get some more work out of him related to the transition.

Transition: Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for all of those riders who need the representation of a strong CEO and strong leadership of the AAATA administration in order to ameliorate longstanding policies that are adverse to providing the best possible service to seniors and disabled persons. He was there to compliment CEO Michael Ford and the work that Ford had done to achieve greater recognition for seniors and disabled persons, but Partridge stated that there was much work left to be done. So he was calling on the board to redouble its efforts during the interim – to provide the leadership necessary to remove problems associated with the use of the system by seniors and disabled persons – whether it is using the A-Ride paratransit system, the Good as Gold system for seniors, or simply riding the buses.

Transition: LAC

Cheryl Webber gave the report from the local advisory council (LAC) for Rebecca Burke, who’d sent along her regrets that she was unable to attend the meeting. LAC is a body that advises the AAATA on issues related to the disability community as well as seniors. Webber thanked Michael Ford for his service and his ability to empower the AAATA staff to go forward with the visions that are going to build the agency’s future.

Transition: AAATA Search Committee

The board considered a resolution authorizing board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Michael Ford.

The resolution considered by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also approved $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search.

When the board reached the voting item on the agenda, Charles Griffith noted that the item had been recommended by the AAATA’s governance committee. He allowed that the board had been aware for quite some time of the possibility that Ford would be taking the new position with the RTA. So the resolution would allow him to establish a search committee.

Griffith said the governance committee thinks it’s a good idea to hire a search firm to assist, saying that it worked pretty well with the selection of Ford about five years ago. [The governance committee, under the AAATA bylaws, consists of the board chair, the CEO and the chairs of the other standing committees of the board. Roger Kerson is chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee; and Sue Gott is chair of the planning and development committee.] Griffith said the board wanted to do this expeditiously, venturing it would probably take longer than the 60 days that Ford had left working for the AAATA.

Gott thanked Griffith as chair for the amount of time that he put in to position the AAATA to make the transition. Susan Baskett asked if there was an estimated timeframe or desired timeframe for making an offer saying, “We’ve got to shoot for something.”

Griffith ventured that the search firm would help the AAATA figure that out. He said the board had taken more time with Ford’s selection than it had actually been comfortable with. That’s why they wanted to address this in as expedited a way as possible. The search firm needed to be brought on board in order to come up with a realistic timeframe. He hoped that it would not take longer than three months, but he was not yet confident that’s the answer that the board would get from the search firm.

Baskett asked if the specifications for a search firm had been prepared by the search committee. Griffith understood the question to be about the composition of the search committee – and said he was prepared to appoint members to the committee. He said he was looking for a balance of experience on the board and geographic diversity from the membership. Later in the meeting, Anya Dale, Eric Mahler and Gillian Ream Gainsley were named by Griffith as the other board members beside himself that he had asked to serve on the search committee.

When Baskett clarified her question, Griffith noted that the Federal Transit Administration had strict guidelines, and one of the first jobs that the committee would have with the search firm that’s selected would be to come up with the criteria for the new CEO. But he was not sure that there had been any specific criteria applied to the RFP (request for proposals) for the search firm – except that the firm needed to have experience with transit and experience specifically with executive management.

There had been a list with 17 different firms that the AAATA had use the last time it conducted this process, Griffith said. His recollection was that five or six bids come back from that RFP. The AAATA was pretty happy with the firm that it eventually selected.

Roger Kerson ventured that it’s important that the process be expeditious, but getting it right was also very important. It’s not something the board wanted to do every year, he quipped. He wanted the process to be speedy but also deliberate.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to authorize the board chair to form a search committee and hire a search firm.

Transition: FY 2015 Work Plan

Appearing on the board’s Aug. 21 agenda was approval of the 2015 work plan. [2015 AAATA work plan]

Highlights of new items include measurements of service performance – an initiative that comes in the context of additional transportation services to be offered starting Aug. 24. Those services will be funded with proceeds from a new millage that voters approved on May 6, 2014.

Another highlight is the construction of a walkway across the block between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue – on the north side of the parcel where the new Blake Transit Center has been constructed. The reorientation of the new transit center to the south side of the parcel makes it possible to contemplate the walkway along the north side, which abuts the Federal Building. According to CEO Michael Ford’s regular written report to the board for August, he has made a funding request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to pay for construction of the pedestrian walkway.

When the board reached the item on its voting agenda, Ford noted that the green-highlighted text reflected changes from the previous year’s work plan. He ventured that the plan had been dealt with fairly thoroughly. He told the board he could answer any questions, noting that the FY 2015 budget would need to support the work plan. [The FY 2015 budget will appear on the board's September agenda. The AAATA's fiscal year runs from October through September.]

Sue Gott asked Ford to give a one-minute set of highlights from the work plan. Putting the new service on the street now and for the rest of the year was really important, Ford replied. In connection with the board’s discussion about the choice of drive-train technology – clean diesel or hybrid electric – Ford noted that the work plan includes an item that would have the AAATA develop an environment policy. The AAATA had just constructed a new LEED-compliant transit center and has hybrids in its fleet, but did not have an overall environmental strategy, so the work plan was meant to address that.

Ford also highlighted in the work plan a possible redesign of the Ypsilanti Transit Center to increase lobby space and improve the bathrooms. Space needs were another highlight for the AAATA’s work plan. Ford noted that the AAATA was hiring additional drivers, and would need to have space for them. Some runs might need to be started out of Ypsilanti in the near future, he ventured.

Service performance standards were another item in the work plan highlighted by Ford. Following the work plan had been a good guide for the AAATA, Ford ventured. He credited the board and board member Sue Gott for helping the AAATA achieve the work plan.

Gott said she wanted to credit Ford with the work plan, and the reason she wanted to highlight it was this: Despite the transition in leadership, Ford was leaving the board with a very solid blueprint. The work plan was tremendous work that Ford and the staff had created, Gott said. It would be key to helping the board have a smooth transition.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the FY 2015 work plan.

Transition: Board Officers

Board chair Charles Griffith also noted that under the AAATA board bylaws, board officers needed to be voted on at the September board meeting. He indicated that he would be asking some board member or possibly board members to act as the nominating committee for board officers for this year. He invited board members to contact him if they had any interest in doing that. The other two current officers are: Eli Cooper (treasurer); and Anya Dale (secretary). Roger Kerson is chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee; and Sue Gott is chair of the planning and development committee.

The AAATA’s typical pattern is to elect the same chair for at least two years and then rotate to a different board member. Griffith is winding up his second year as chair.

Bus Procurement

On the board’s agenda were two items related to procurement of up to 60 new buses – a 5-year contract for purchase of the buses from Gillig LLC, and an order for the first 27 buses. The total cost of each bus will be between $444,000 and $662,500, depending on the length, drive system and options. That puts the total value of the contract with Gillig at a figure between $26.6 million and $39.7 million.

Of the 60 buses, 20 would be new, additional buses that are needed for the expansion of services the AAATA is offering as of Aug. 24. Those services will be funded with proceeds from a new millage authorized by voters on May 6, 2014. The other buses will replace existing buses that are nearing the end of their useful life.

The large spread between the minimum and maximum cost per bus is due to the incremental price difference between a hybrid electric drive system and a conventional clean diesel drive, which is nearly $200,000. According to the minutes of the Aug. 12, 2014 meeting of the AAATA’s planning and development committee, the extra cost of a hybrid bus over the life of the bus is $138,604. That figure includes cost comparison data relating to the upfront capital and fuel costs of both technologies.

Of the AAATA’s existing 80 buses, 52 use hybrid technology. The ongoing debate among AAATA board members on the choice of technology is based in part on the AAATA’s own experience with hybrid buses. The 5-year warranty has expired on the AAATA’s oldest hybrids, which has required a contingency budget for their future repairs. And manufacturers have now shortened their warranty periods for new hybrid buses from five to two years. That shorter warranty period will translate into greater costs to the AAATA for repairs.

According to AAATA staff cited in the PDC meeting minutes, the hybrid buses’ lower emission levels are a benefit of hybrid technology. However, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing emission reduction standards now ensure that all new transit buses – whether hybrid or conventional – have very low emissions. On average, hybrid buses run at a noise level of 72 dB(A) compared to 75 dB(A) for conventional buses.

So the AAATA board has not yet made a final decision on the choice between hybrid technology and conventional clean diesel. The order for the first 27 buses from Gillig – which was also given approval at the board’s Aug. 21 meeting – leaves open the decision on the choice of technology. Of the 27 that are being ordered, 14 are replacement buses and 13 are buses needed for the service expansion.

The board would need to act by November 2014 on choosing the technology for the bus order. The choice to order hybrid technology could be based on the identification of grants that might pay for the cost differential of that technology. Delivery of the buses is planned for October 2015.

Here’s how the bus acquisition schedule breaks down:

              OCT   FEB   JAN   JAN   OCT  
Purpose      2015  2016  2017  2018  2019  TOT
Rplcmt buses
(now elig)     4                             4                          
Rplcmt buses 
(elig 11/15)  10           5     4          19
Rplcmt buses
(elig 11/19)                           15   15 
5YTIP Svc Exp 
(8/2015)       4                             4
5YTIP Svc Exp        
(6/2016)             9                       9
5YTIP Svc Exp  
(8/2017)                   7                 7 
TOTAL                                       58


Bus Procurement: Aug. 21 Meeting Discussion

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen told the board he supported the staff analysis of the technology choice for the new buses – which was clean diesel.

Gillian Ream Gainsley gave the report from the planning and development committee. She described the meeting as “inspired.” The committee had discussed the clean diesel versus hybrid technology for the drivetrains for the new buses that are being ordered. She noted that of the 27 buses, 14 were replacing conventional diesel buses and the other 13 buses would be for the service expansion.

The committee had received a presentation from staff, she said. One thing the committee had learned was that the new lower-emission diesel buses are quite different from the conventional diesel buses that are currently in the AAATA’s fleet. Emissions are a lot lower than they used to be, and the noise levels are lower than they used to be, but they’re a bit higher than hybrid technology. The up-front purchase cost is roughly $200,000 greater, she noted, and that cost differential is not made up over the life of the bus in fuel savings. So the committee had a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of those different options. She said the AAATA want to be environmentally responsible but they also want to be fiscally responsible.

The committee had asked staff in that discussion to come up with some projections about combinations of buses, possibly keeping a ratio of hybrid to conventional buses that is consistent with the ratio in the current fleet, Ream Gainsley said. The committee had put off a decision on technology, but she noted that the buses needed to be ordered. So the committee had approved an order to purchase buses, but had put off a decision on exactly what combination of hybrid and clean diesels.

There had been some discussion also about the bus procurement contract, Ream Gainsley said. The AAATA was limited by the fact that there are not many vendors in Michigan, so there was only one bid. She noted that there were two companies that were interested and one ended up declining to bid on the contract. As much as the AAATA would love to have more than one bid, when there are only two companies in the state that offer the product, that makes it difficult. So on that basis, the committee had recommended the procurement contract with Gillig.

In his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson said his take-away from the discussion of the bus technology was that the gap between performance for the clean diesel and the hybrid technology had diminished over the last few years. He identified as an issue the fact that other agencies are not buying many hybrids, so hybrids are not as prevalent in the industry – and that makes it harder to keep the hybrids in good repair.

CEO Michael Ford distributed a handout to board members on the topic of clean diesel and hybrid drive trains.

CEO Michael Ford distributed a handout to board members on the topic of clean diesel and hybrid drivetrains. In the foreground is board member Susan Baskett.

Kerson noted that AAATA manager of maintenance Terry Black was focused on those maintenance issues, saying the AAATA needs to have service available out of every bus, every hour, every day, and every month. His understanding of the resolution was that it approved the purchase of the buses – and then in December a decision on the drivetrain would be provided to Gillig. That meant that the decision would need to be made by the board in November, he thought. The board did not want to be in a situation where Gillig was waiting for the AAATA board’s December meeting to take place in order to start manufacturing the buses.

So Kerson wanted the board to focus its efforts. As board members they need to focus on the question: What do we still need to know to make this decision? And how can we get these requests in a timely manner to the staff so that the board is not sitting there in October and November and wondering what kind of factors need to be weighed.

During question time, CEO Michael Ford allowed that there had been a lot of discussion about hybrids versus conventional buses. He wanted any other questions or concerns addressed – and he hoped to have any additional feedback from the board by Aug. 31 so that the staff could work on getting those questions answered. He provided board members with a handout of the steps that the staff were working on so that board members’ memories might be jogged for other considerations that board members want staff consider.

Bus Procurement: Five-Year Contract – Board Deliberations

When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, board chair Charles Griffith reviewed how this item was a contract for a five-year plan to acquire additional buses. It was separate from the following resolution that was an actual bus order. He allowed there been some concern about the lack of other bidders, but noted that the AAATA was limited by the number of providers. Gillian Ream Gainsley said she appreciated Michelle Barney’s comment during public commentary about the need for Sunday service and feeder routes.

She said that those routes would eventually be reconfigured, and everyone was eager to see those things happen. The challenge is that the AAATA is limited by how fast buses can be manufactured. This resolution addresses that, she said. It’s a huge contract, and it’s the largest purchase that the agency makes, she noted. She appreciated the fact that staff was ready to get moving on it very quickly after the millage had passed. The board had been asking for a lot of information, because it’s a really big decision. So she appreciated the staff effort to move the process forward as fast as possible, so that the new service can get moving.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the bus procurement contract with Gillig.

Bus Procurement: 27 Buses – Board Deliberations

When the board reached the voting item on the agenda, Charles Griffith noted that the order would be for 27 buses – part of them replacement buses and part of them expansion buses. Griffith allowed that there’d been quite a bit of discussion about which kind of technology to use for the drivetrain. Staff would be doing some additional analysis to help the board with that decision. He felt that the board was committed to making that decision in a timely fashion.

CEO Michael Ford commented that the decision would need to be made by the board’s November meeting.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the bus order for 27 buses.

Same-Sex Pension Benefits

The board considered an amendment to the pension plan of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority – to recognize same-sex marriages and for the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband” and “wife” to include a same-sex spouse.

The amendment was to bring the AAATA’s pension policy into compliance with Internal Revenue Service Ruling 2013-17 and IRS Notice 2014-19. Those IRS rulings give guidance on how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional.

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson described the same-sex pension benefit item as stemming from the fact that the Supreme Court had overthrown the Defense of Marriage Act. Based on that, the Internal Revenue Service had issued a ruling saying that pension plans must recognize any legal same-sex marriage. That meant that the AAATA needed to “true up” its pension plan – otherwise people’s pension contributions would no longer be tax-deductible. And that would be very bad news for everybody in the plan, he said. He was very supportive of the idea that the AAATA would recognize marriage of any employee who had a legal same-sex marriage. He called it pretty much a “no-brainer.”

When the board reached the voting item on its agenda, board chair Charles Griffith echoed Kerson’s sentiment that it was a no-brainer.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to adopt the pension plan amendment.

Title VI Service Standards

The board considered adoption of new service standards as part of the AAATA’s compliance with Title VI. The civil rights legislation – in the context of public transportation – requires, among other things, proof that a service change has no adverse effect on disadvantaged populations. [.pdf of AAATA Title VI Service Standards]

The AAATA’s standards include items like a once-per-hour minimum frequency of fixed-route service and 90% of trips completed within 5 minutes of the scheduled time. Policies include items like bus shelters at bus stops with 50 or more boardings per day where there is no other shelter available and where a shelter is physically and legally feasible.

The required types of standards include:

  • Headway or frequency by mode. That is, either bus every x minutes or x buses/hour. There can be a minimum standard or different standards by time of day (peak vs. off-peak) or day of week.
  • On-time performance by mode. Can be either for each trip (i.e. at route endpoint), or for each timepoint along the route.
  • Service availability by mode. Can be either percent of population within a certain distance of service or maximum stop spacing. Can have different standards based on differences in population density.
  • Vehicle load. Expressed as ratio of riders to seats. Can vary by time of day (peak vs. offpeak) or day of week.

Required service policies include those on:

  • Distribution of bus stop amenities
    • Benches
    • Shelters
    • Customer information (printed and electronic)
    • Escalators/Elevators
    • Waste receptacles
  • Vehicle assignment
    • Age
    • Type (e.g. hybrid)
    • Can be by mode

Title VI Service Standards: Public Comment

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Jim Mogensen told the board that when he was preparing his remarks that evening he was initially planning to address the bus procurement item – and he was planning to speak in favor of the staff analysis, which recommended clean diesel instead of hybrid technology. But with the addition of the Title VI issue, he felt that he needed to use his three minutes to speak on that particular issue. He did not believe that the standards were yet ready for adoption. He thought it was important for the board to keep in mind a couple of things.

First was the fact that the AAATA has been classified as a very large organization – and is therefore required to do a much more extensive analysis than a regular fixed-route provider on the Federal Transit Administration list. The AAATA was grouped with Flint, CATA and SMART, he said.

Mogensen’s second point was that when service changes are implemented, it assumes that everything is ok right now, which might not be the case. As an example, one of the standards is the headway (time between buses). The AAATA’s standard says that there will be a minimum headway of 60 minutes, he noted. But for a very long time that has been the minimum headway, he noted – for all of the bus routes. That doesn’t address the issue of differences between minority routes and non-minority routes with respect to that standard. Mogensen felt that those issues had not quite been addressed. He knew that the purchase of service agreement (POSA) had just recently been put in place for Superior Township, and he had not had a chance to examine that agreement. But from his point of view, AAATA’s service as a whole is all of the fixed-route service.

Mogensen did not believe that the board should approve the service standards that evening. He told the board they should wait until the next meeting in September – and he told them that he would try to do a more formal analysis before that meeting. He encouraged the board to ask staff about the need to have much more formal data collection.

Michelle Barney introduced herself as a member of Partners for Transit. She had done an awful lot of bus riding and talking to people about the transit millage earlier in the year – mostly in Ypsilanti. She’d also done some phone banking, she told the board. She wanted to talk to the board about how equity issues are seen by people on the street. She talked about racial justice on the north side and the south side of Ypsilanti. When she had talked to several members of the board on the phone in the last couple of weeks, they told her that the AAATA has to give more service to Ypsilanti Township – because the township is a new member of the AAATA. Further, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor were paying more money for the buses, she’d heard board members say, so Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor are demanding more service – because they are paying more money for the buses.

But Barney noted that those jurisdictions are paying more money because their property values are higher. They do not pay a greater percent – pointing out that everyone pays the same percent under the AAATA’s new millage, which is 0.7 mills. The city of Ypsilanti is entitled to the same level of service, she said. The issue of Title VI and whether the AAATA will get money from the federal government is very important. She said she hated to use the word but she had decided to do it and that word was “Ferguson.” What does Ferguson have to do with it? she asked rhetorically. It is not a threat, she stated, but Ferguson has woken up the country to the fact that prejudiced behavior doesn’t just happen in New York, in Harlem – it also happens in the heartland of America. People are waking up, she said. Barney also commented on the new Route 46, indicating that the AAATA needed to have routes that fed people to the downtown where that route departed, otherwise that new route was useless.

Title VI Service Standards: Board Discussion

Roger Kerson quipped that the performance monitoring and external relations committee had also had an “inspired” meeting just like the planning and development committee – because he was the only board member in attendance. Reporting out from that committee, Kerson said that in examining the Title VI standards – perhaps because he’d met as a committee of one – he did not have the wisdom of his colleagues to which he could appeal. So he hadn’t considered some of the concerns that Jim Mogensen had raised during his public commentary.

Kerson ventured that those issues needed to be examined to determine whether the resolution was ripe for consideration or whether it perhaps needed another look. What Kerson had focused on was the question of whether it would change anything that the AAATA is doing now. And what he heard from staff was that they would be looking at things like maximum loads more closely. Based on the information the board had heard during public commentary, they might want to decide to delay, he said: “Let’s have more than just me think about it,” he said.

Board members engaged in a 20-minute back-and-forth on the topic and eventually concluded that they should postpone consideration until the next meeting in September. AAATA manager service development Chris White indicated that there was room in the timeline for the board to delay action until its next board meeting – but after that, paperwork was due to the FTA on Oct. 1, 2014.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the Title VI service standards until its September meeting.

Title VI Service Standards: More Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Jim Mogensen thanked the board for delaying their vote on the service centers. He said he would do his best to provide as much input as he could under the deadlines. He noted that the regulations say that once you adopt standards for the three-year plan, you are not allowed to change them during those three years. He also mentioned that before he became disabled, in his professional life he did regulatory analysis in Washington DC for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the EPA, and for the Small Business Administration. So he had some understanding of how some of these things operate, he said, and he would try to help.

Mogensen has had an ongoing concern about the issue of AAATA’s commuter service versus mobility service in the middle of the day. When you look at the loading factors, most of that occurs during the commuter service and you can envision a situation where there is a very high peak time service and a much lower service in the middle of the day. And that causes difficulties for those like Mogensen, who primarily use the AAATA to get around during the day. Even though it makes sense why the AAATA would be doing that, there are some important issues related to how that dynamic plays out.

Also during public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Michelle Barney told the board that she not been there in a while because she’d had some health issues, but she told the board that she would now be there more often. Title VI was very complicated, she allowed. She had tried reading it and she tried printing it off the web, but she didn’t have enough money because it costs $.10 a page to print. But she had made requests of the area’s Washington DC legislators and of the NAACP in trying to reach a local ACLU attorney – to find out if there’s anything published that is a valid summary of Title VI. She wanted something she could read, maybe 30 pages instead of 130.

Title VI Service Standards: On-Time Performance

One of the Title VI service standards is on-time performance – which the AAATA establishes at 90% of trips being completed within five minutes of the scheduled time. During his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that on-time performance was currently suffering due to the widespread construction that’s being undertaken on various roads and streets in the area. AAATA is spending about $6,000 a week primarily on trying to back-fill to keep buses on schedule, he said.

Half of the $6,000 is being spent on the Pontiac Trail route. The other half of the $6,000 has gone into supporting Packard, Carpenter, Jackson Avenue and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. The AAATA was doing its best to keep this service on time, but was encountering some problems with that, he allowed. With the University of Michigan’s student move-in week coming up, traffic would increase and that would exacerbate the problem, he ventured.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its Aug. 21 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. In addition to the communications and commentary reported earlier in this article, here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Access, Website

During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, after making complimentary remarks about Michael Ford’s efforts to give greater recognition to seniors and those with disabilities, Thomas Partridge said there was more work that needed to be done. He called on the board to adopt new priorities to put the most vulnerable riders first, and remove discriminatory practices of the current system, including the contract with the SelectRide company. No one should call a cab in the A-Ride system and have a vehicle appear that has 450,000 miles on it, Partridge said. It’s not good practice to provide people rides in vehicles with that kind of high mileage, he said. There are also vehicles that are not kept in good repair, he contended.

During his report from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Roger Kerson noted that more of the AAATA’s website work was being taken in-house with the hire of someone to handle that work. [At the board's August meeting, it was announced that Preston Stewart had been hired for the position.] The board needs to continue to address the concerns of accessibility of the website, he said.

Reporting out from the local advisory council, Cheryl Webber said the longest discussion at the LAC meeting was about the AAATA website. They’d discussed the accessibility and user-friendliness to people who look there for information. She had not really thought about it before then, but her experiences were that the website was not useful enough to her to consult it. “And that’s really sad,” she said, because a lot of work went into it. It looked pretty, she allowed, but she found herself going to Google maps and choosing the bus routing option for directions from point A to point B. She said she was looking forward to improvements being made to the website.

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Partridge said it was important that throughout all of the proceedings of the AAATA, priority should be given to concerns of the most vulnerable ridership – which includes not only low-income ridership but also ridership that is handicapped or that has senior citizen status. Related to the selection process for the CEO, Partridge said it was very important that Ford leave the AAATA with a CEO selection process underway with criteria that would give emphasis to candidates that have quality experience with senior ride and handicapped ride programs.

Comm/Comm: Police on Buses

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Jim Mogensen responded to a comment in Michael Ford’s written report that mentioned a meeting he’d had with state representative David Rutledge and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton in the context of the Eastern Washtenaw Safety Alliance. One of the potential suggestions was to have police officers or members of law enforcement ride the buses. Mogensen thought the AAATA board needed to give careful consideration to how that might be implemented and how that might be seen in terms of surveillance – as another way of going undercover to find out what’s going on in neighborhoods and monitoring people’s behavior.

Comm/Comm: Financial Reports

With respect to the financial reports that the performance monitoring and external relations committee had heard, Roger Kerson said that AAATA had received the first cut of the new millage money – which was about $4.5 million.

From left: AAATA board members Eric Mahler and Larry Krieg.

From left: AAATA board members Eric Mahler and Larry Krieg.

Of that, $3.8 million had been programmed for activities in the next year, including some capital expenditures and things that need to be done to get up and running. There is a $600,000 surplus in the budget, he said. As he understood it, that money is going to be used for service in the “out years.”

During question time, Larry Krieg said that in reading the budget reports, he was a little bit concerned about how much money was being saved by having people out on disability. He wondered if there was any particular reason why the AAATA had more people out on disability than usual.

AAATA head of human resources Ed Robertson told Krieg that the AAATA would prefer to have no people out on disability and currently he thought there were two. He thought there had been more people out on disability during the winter.

Comm/Comm: New Service

During communications time, Michael Ford noted that the new extended services to be provided by the AAATA – funded by the millage approved by voters on May 6, 2014 – would start the following Sunday, Aug. 24. He also noted that there would be a celebration held at the Ypsilanti Transit Center on August 25. It would include a media tour of Route 46 followed by a press conference at the Ypsilanti Transit Center, to be hosted by Partners for Transit, he said.

Comm/Comm: Response to Suggestions

Ford noted that the AAATA had responded to suggestions made at the previous month’s board meeting – to make information about the Aug. 24 service changes easier to find on the AAATA’s website – by placing a prominent link on the homepage. The board had also heard a suggestion to make clear to passengers how they can make compliments. That would be included in the RideGuide as well as on the website, Ford reported.

Present: Charles Griffith, Eric Mahler, Susan Baskett, Sue Gott, Roger Kerson, Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley, Larry Krieg.

Absent: Eli Cooper, Jack Bernard.

Next regular meeting: Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

]]> 0
Ann Arbor’s Interim City Admin: Crawford Wed, 20 Apr 2011 04:03:27 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its April 19, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted unanimously to appoint Tom Crawford as interim city administrator. Crawford currently serves as the city’s chief financial officer. He will begin service on April 28.

The job for permanent city administrator will now be posted and advertised. Affion Public will be contracted to assist the city’s human resources department with the search – for a flat fee of $18,000 plus addition travel expenses expected to total less than $25,000. The targeted salary range for recruitment will be $145,000-$150,000.

Affion’s work will begin with a visit to Ann Arbor in the first week of May to meet with councilmembers, city employees, and members of the public to get a clearer idea of the intangible qualities that are desired in an applicant. An ideal timeline would include closing the application window after 30 days, using late May and June to winnow the field and interview candidates, with an offer to be made in early July. On the ideal timeline, the new administrator would start work in early August.

Although the city’s public services area administrator Sue McCormick had been widely assumed to be a natural choice for interim, a condition on the interim appointment was that the person would not be a candidate for the permanent job. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Fills City Administrator Job"]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

]]> 0
Farewell to Roberts, Search Firm Selected Mon, 04 Oct 2010 14:48:30 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Sept. 29, 2010): Though Todd Roberts, outgoing superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), sat in his regular seat at Wednesday’s school board meeting, there was also a newcomer at the end of the table. Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent of operations, did not participate, but he sat with the board for the duration of the meeting. Roberts’ last day with the district will be Oct. 8, and Allen will be taking over as interim superintendent on Oct. 9.

AAPS Robert Allen

From left to right, outgoing AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts, board president Deb Mexicotte, treasurer Irene Patalan, vice-president Susan Baskett, and Robert Allen, who will assume command of AAPS as interim superintendent on Oct. 9. (Photos by the writer.)

AAPS is hosting a public farewell reception for Roberts at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 7, at Skyline High School. Board president Deb Mexicotte quipped that the reception would be an opportunity for everyone to express good wishes or condolences to Roberts “as he moves on to accept a not-as-good position in North Carolina.” At Wednesday’s meeting, the board chose Ray & Associates, an executive search firm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help them recruit and select a new superintendent.

The meeting also served as the annual organizational meeting for the board, during which trustees elected three new officers, changed the composition of their standing committees, and set their meeting dates for the remainder of the school year.

The board also heard a first briefing on yet another high school option being developed county-wide – an international baccalaureate program.

Trustee Tributes to Roberts

Trustees shared personal memories and stories about their work with Roberts over the years, and expressed that he would be greatly missed.

Todd Roberts

Todd Roberts at his last AAPS board meeting.

Andy Thomas praised Roberts for being incredibly engaging and respectful, even toward people with whom he does not agree.

Christine Stead credited Roberts with being inspiring during the strategic planning process, and for always thinking about how schools could be improved. She also noted that his relatable and accessible personality made it easy for the community to engage with him.

Glenn Nelson related a story about a 21-year-old who stopped Roberts on the street to thank him for being the man’s grade school principal, and used that story to stress how strong of an impression Roberts leaves on those with whom he works. Nelson said he will never forget the spirit and humanity that Roberts brought to his work here, and that he hopes to run into him in the future.

Simone Lightfoot thanked Roberts for his help when she was getting acclimated to the board, and for being so understanding. She praised his willingness to respond to the board, and his focus on getting problems fixed.

Susan Baskett thanked Roberts for his years of service. “You will be a name that will always come up,” she said, noting that he had helped the district weather some tough storms. She also thanked him for leaving AAPS “in good hands” and implored him not to forget them.

Irene Patalan said she wished she could lasso North Carolina and bring it here, and that she will miss Roberts terribly. She extolled his “egoless” nature, and affirmed that many people have been inspired by his leadership.

Deb Mexicotte said simply that Roberts had done everything AAPS has needed, and thanked him for being a “servant leader.” She also presented him with a plaque on behalf of the board.

Roberts responded with humility, saying that he hardly deserves all the compliments, and noting that he has learned a lot from a lot of people here about how to be successful. He praised the community, saying: “The person who comes to serve as superintendent will be lucky … I just feel that I’ve been the one to be really fortunate.”

Roberts thanked the board for selecting him four years ago, and giving him the opportunity to serve this district in this capacity. He thanked the board, and AAPS staff – especially his cabinet members, who he praised as “outstanding people and professionals.” He saved his anchor acknowledgment for his executive assistant Joann Emmendorfer and executive secretary to the board, Amy Osinski, saying “Those of us who work in Balas [administration building] know that they are the ones who really run the district.”

Search Firm Selection

Mexicotte reviewed the process the board was using to select a search firm to assist with filling Robert’s superintendent position, which will be handled on an interim basis by current deputy superintendent Robert Allen. Allen has declared that he will not be a candidate for the permanent job.

Mexicotte reported on the reference checks done on the two final firms – Ray & Associates and McPherson & Jacobson. [See previous Chronicle coverage: "AAPS Search Firm Choice: Down to Two"] She reported that references for Ray & Associates were uniformly positive. On the other hand, the references on McPherson & Jacobson had caused enough concern that the reference committee of Mexicotte, Stead, and Baskett recommended only Ray & Associates for the board’s consideration.

Lightfoot asked Mexicotte to elaborate on the concerns regarding McPherson & Jacobson. Mexicotte said that other clients had listed concerns regarding multiple items, including the firm’s attention to detail, its commitment to community engagement, its ability to attract a strong and diverse pool of candidates, and its reference check process. Baskett noted that the second reference for McPherson was so negative that it was truly surprising, and suggested that Mexicotte pass on the feedback to McPherson. Mexicotte agreed to do so.

Outcome: The board approved the selection of Ray & Associates in a roll call vote.

After Ray & Associates was officially chosen, Mexicotte reiterated that Ray’s references were glowingly praising, and gave some examples. In all areas of the rubric the board used for the search firm selection, Ray strongly demonstrated success, she said.

Baskett noted that some of Ray’s references, while extremely pleased with their overall service, did make some suggestions to AAPS about how to have the best experience possible working with them. Mexicotte elaborated that some individuals in the firm came especially recommended, and that the board might want to request they are included on the AAPS team. She also said that based on the references, it seems like Ray might not be as good as AAPS at creating advertising materials, so the district may want to take the lead on that.

Stead added that it’s important to think about the importance of following the search firm’s advice, based on their experience and the outcomes they’ve had. “Ray’s references were phenomenal” she said.

Patalan said she agreed with Stead, and that in their interview, Ray’s representatives emphasized the importance of trusting Ray’s process. Baskett added that she appreciated Ray’s values, and that she likes the average tenure of Ray’s placements – eight years. Lightfoot added that she was impressed with Ray’s focus on the candidates’ well-being as well as the needs of the district. She concluded, “I think we’ve made a wise choice, and I look forward to working with them.”

Mexicotte asked if the board would be amenable to her working with Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, to finalize the contract with Ray & Associates, and the board agreed.

Baskett asked what the next step will be. Mexicotte said she would request that the selected firm attend the next board meeting.

International Baccalaureate Program

In a memo included in the board’s meeting packet, Roberts reminded the board that one of the goals from Strategy 1 of the district’s strategic plan is to assess the feasibility of starting an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Due to a high level of interest from other local districts, Roberts invited superintendents from across Washtenaw County to participate in creating an IB school, and the group formed a planning committee.

The board recently approved two additional paths to graduation for the district’s students – Early College Alliance and the WAY Washtenaw program – and creating the IB would add a third additional path.

Three members of the planning committee – Joyce Hunter, AAPS assistant superintendent of middle and high school education; Naomi Norman, director of assessment, planning, and research for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; and Bert Okema, an IB consultant – introduced the proposed county-wide IB school to the board.

Hunter began by briefly speaking about her work on the IB planning committee.   She noted that the planning committee was very well-organized and explained how its work had been guided by “decision points” regarding the Washtenaw County IB school. These had included decisions about structure, enrollment, school design, site options, governance, personnel, budget, equity, and feeder schools of the new school.

Okema then gave a brief history of the IB. The heart of the IB, he argued, is holding students to rigorous, high academic standards, while assessing students in a broad variety of ways. The IB was founded in Europe, he said, and has a strong emphasis on “international-mindedness.”

Okema explained how the Washtenaw County IB program would connect to Michigan’s high school content expectations, and outlined the general IB curriculum. IB students are required to take courses in each of six areas – first language, second language, experimental sciences, mathematics/computer science, individuals/societies, and the arts. They are also expected to write an independently researched 4,000-word paper, pass a theory of knowledge class, and complete 150 hours of “activity-based learning.” Stead questioned the relevance of the IB program to the 21st century, and was reassured by Okema and Norman that that program exceeded district goals.

In response to questions from Baskett, Okema agreed that some elements of the IB are somewhat Euro-centric, but that it has more recently broadened to include wider influences, such as works of literature in translation from around the world. History in an IB program can be based on European, Asian, or American history, and individual IB schools can choose the focus for their schools. Nelson added that the mathematics element of the IB is not Euro-centric, and math did not develop first in Europe.

Norman then introduced how the IB program would look in Washtenaw County, and reviewed the rationale for its creation. Though there is not currently an IB program in this county, she pointed out, there are currently 33 IB programs in Michigan, including in Oakland and Macomb counties. She noted that over 80% of 800 county families surveyed were interested in a local IB program, including many homeschooling or private school families. Norman also pointed out the economic development opportunity that an IB program would bring the county by attracting international business.

Washtenaw International High School, as it is now being called, would be created as a county-wide consortium, and would grow to serve 600 students. Norman stated that the IB school will have a high commitment to equity, and to supporting students with a wide range of abilities. In similar fashion to the Early College Alliance (ECA) which AAPS just joined, teachers from participating districts would staff the IB.

The IB school would be located at the former East Middle School site in Ypsilanti. Enrollment would be based on lottery, with slots allocated in proportion to the size of each member district. In addition to the 600 county students, Norman explained, up to 80 additional students transferring from other IB schools worldwide could eventually be accommodated. Norman explained that an additional program – the IB Career Certificate program (IBCC), with more of a focus on technical education – could be added in the second year of the program.

Norman reviewed the elements of the consortium agreement. The school would be governed by a board made up of the superintendents of each participating district, as well as the WISD. She explained that the WISD will be the fiscal agent of the IB. The consortium is looking for grants to fund start-up costs, but the WISD is willing to lend the program some of the necessary funds. The program is set to use 100% of the foundation allowance per student, and is planning to be fully enrolled for 150 9th graders in 2011, adding one grade per year year. Baskett asked about the application of the waiting list, and Okema explained that any students on a waiting list will only be able to join the IB during the first two years of high school.

Patalan asked about the support of students with special needs or other difficulties, and Okema assured her the IB would meet their needs. He also mentioned that students are allowed to return to their home schools if they so choose.

Though he expressed general interest and support of the program, Thomas stated multiple concerns. First, he pointed out that it seems like enrolling 600 students might be optimistic. Okema said that a critical mass of roughly 600 students makes the program cost-effective, creates a desirable school climate, and allows more curricular options. Norman added that current student interest from possible member districts confirmed that 600 was a good number.

Thomas also questioned the IB’s proposed location on the very eastern edge of the county. Hunter said the planning committee did consider other sites, but chose the former East Middle School because it was the best fit. Roberts also pointed out that roughly 70% of the population of Washtenaw County is centered around the East Middle School site. Norman confirmed that it is anticipated that students will be transported to and from school by parents, or drive themselves. There is parking available, and the school is on an AATA bus line.

The board had some discussion of what a reasonable driving distance would be to the school, and what enrollment would be expected to be from each participating district. Thomas requested that the planning committee bring more concrete estimates of enrollment to the second briefing.

Baskett asked about how the lottery will work to address equity. Norman answered that the planning committee used guidelines from Los Angeles, which focus on creating anticipation within the county’s middle schools so that all students will feel qualified to apply if interested. Then, in contrast to the ECA, the lottery would not be amended if the diversity of student populations were not proportional to the county populations. Norman also allowed that adjustments can be made by the governing board if the school’s equity goals are not being met.

Baskett also asked about necessary teacher contract adjustments. Norman answered there is a sub-committee of district union representatives meeting to work out those issues, including: the school’s calendar, extracurricular support, structure of the school day, and number of preparation periods. Salary and benefits would be handled by the member districts, but teacher evaluations would be handled by the IB.

Outcome: The district’s participation in a county-wide IB school will come for a second briefing and decision at the next regular board meeting.

Special Needs Service Provision

Elaine Brown, AAPS assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services, presented the board with the first briefing of a renewal contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates (PTA). PTA offers physical, occupational, and speech therapies to complement full-time AAPS special education staff. The total PTA contract would be for $592,592, with AAPS funding roughly 17% of the contract, and the rest supported by federal special education grants.

Thomas asked about the breakdown of AAPS staff versus contracted staff for special education services. Brown’s staff confirmed that all three physical therapists are contracted. Of the occupational therapists, five are contracted, and eight are salaried AAPS employees. All 43 speech therapists are AAPS employees.

Nelson pointed out that there will be a special education renewal millage on the ballot in the spring. While the need for these services does not go away legally or ethically, Nelson pointed out, the failure of this millage would cause a larger proportion of the general fund to be used on special education services.

Trustees asked that additional cost breakdowns comparing last year’s services to this year’s projected service be brought to the second briefing at the next regular meeting.

Outcome: The annual contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates will come before the board for a second briefing its next regular meeting.

Association Reports

As an item of business at the meeting, the board reapproved the slate of associations from which it invites reports at each regular board meeting. Mexicotte noted that other groups could be added later if the board desired. The six groups are: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the PTOC.

Association Reoprts: Youth Senate

The Youth Senate’s report was focused on lunch at the high schools. Nikila Lakshmanan, a junior senator from Community High School, reported that Community’s 40-minute lunchtime offered off-campus privileges, as well as tutoring and extracurricular activities, and was universally enjoyed by Community students. At Pioneer, she said, lunch also works smoothly, as all students eat together, and seniors are allowed to eat off-campus.

In contrast, Lakshmanan highlighted lunch concerns brought to the Youth Senate from the other two high schools. At Huron High School, she said, some students are upset by the new lunch schedule, which splits freshman from the other students. Finally, Lakshmanan reported that many Skyline High School students feel that their lunch area is already overcrowded, and are concerned about the addition of another grade next year.


Melanie Raubolt thanked outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts for four years of excellent leadership, and welcomed Robert Allen and Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley to their new roles as interim superintendent and deputy superintendent of instruction, respectively. Raubolt reported that it is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Awareness (AAC) month. AAC technology helps people with communication disorders to connect more effectively with those around them.

Raubolt noted that some buses have been late due to new drivers, and construction – AAPAC hopes these issues will be worked out soon. Lastly, she thanked Haisley Elementary School’s principal for implementing training in positive behavior support for all staff, and encouraged other schools to offer similar training.


Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC. She mentioned that the group is seeking a recording secretary, though the rest of the board is set. The PTOC participated in training from the NEW Center regarding legal obligations and management of PT(S)Os, and found it extremely useful. The PTOC will hold its annual launch party on Monday, Oct. 18 at Logan Elementary. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Superintendent’s Report

Roberts gave the final report of his tenure as AAPS superintendent. He praised multiple students, teachers, and community groups for their recent successes.

Students in Transition

In a study session before Wednesday’s meeting, the board was introduced to Azibo Stevens, the district’s new liaison to WISD’s Education Project for Homeless Youth (EPHY). According to the federal McKinney-Vento Act, a student should be considered homeless if they “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This does not necessarily mean homeless students are living on the streets; it could mean that they are “doubled-up” with another family, living in a motel room, or staying at a shelter.

Azibo Stevens, AAPS liaison to WISD's Education Project for Homeless Youth

Azibo Stevens, AAPS liaison to WISD's Education Project for Homeless Youth.

Stevens explained to the board that this definition is broader than many school personnel are aware of, and thus, the population of homeless youth attending AAPS is likely much larger than the number of students receiving services from EPHY.

He said it is important to identify homeless youth in order to encourage them to access the support services available to them through AAPS and EPHY, such as help with transportation, advocacy, food, and in some cases, extra academic support.

In response to questions from the board, Stevens suggested that AAPS staff could help to identify and refer students to him by noting those students whose address frequently changes, and posting homeless liaison contact information in the main office of each school. He also pointed out that many families are unlikely to self-identify as homeless, even if they meet the definition, and that in order to reach qualified families, it may help to ask parents if their family is “in transition” rather than “homeless,” which is a more stigmatized term.

Consent Agenda Approved

The consent agenda included minutes approvals, gift offers, and one second briefing item – the utility easement recommendations reviewed by Randy Trent at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting. With no questions on the easements, or any other item, the board unanimously approved its consent agenda.

MASB Delegates Chosen

Mexicotte announced that the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) delegate assembly this year will be held in Grand Rapids, and that it was a good opportunity to be part of shaping the MASB. Lightfoot and Nelson volunteered to attend, and the board approved them.

Organizational Meeting

At its previous meeting, the board had voted to hold its annual organization meeting before the November election, because the five trustees on the November ballot are running unopposed. At Wednesday’s meeting, Mexicotte again noted that should something unforeseen happen, such as a write-in candidate winning a seat, the board could hold another organizational meeting. Trustees then voted to suspend the bylaw that states the organizational meeting should happen after the election, and proceeded to reorganize themselves.

All four officer positions were filled by uncontested self-nomination, and approved by the board. The new configuration of AAPS school board officers is: Deb Mexicotte, president; Susan Baskett, vice president; Andy Thomas, secretary; and Irene Patalan, treasurer. Each officer swore to “abide by the bylaws, rules, and regulations of [their offices] as to the best of [their] knowledge and ability.” Upon Mexicotte’s request, Lightfoot agreed to remain the board’s parliamentarian.

The standing board committees were also reconfigured. The board has two committees: planning, which is proactive in exploring upcoming areas of concern or interest to the board; and performance, which is focused on the assessment and evaluation of current AAPS programs, activities, and initiatives.

Mexicotte noted that the committee representation she was about to suggest was based on trustees’ interests as ascertained in one-on-one discussions with her before Wednesday’s meeting, as well as on the areas in which trustees have shown vigilance and concern. She then requested that Stead, Baskett, and Patalan sit on the planning committee, chaired by Stead; and that Nelson, Lightfoot, and Thomas sit on the performance committee, chaired by Nelson. All of her suggestions were accepted by the board.

While other administrative committee appointments had been made during the previous meeting, Mexicotte explained that a new committee had been formed – the guidance counselor advisory board. She requested that she be able to appoint herself to serve on the new committee, and the board approved that request.

As part of the organizational meeting, the board also sets its calendar. They meet twice monthly, usually on non-consecutive weeks, and the meeting dates for the rest of 2010 have already been posted.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board considered the remaining meetings for this school year. Of the suggested slate of dates, Nelson pointed out that the board was scheduled to meet during the district’s February break, and suggested moving that meeting to the beginning of March, and the other March meetings down a week. The board agreed to take advantage of March 2011′s five Wednesdays, and set the following as its 2011 meeting dates: Jan. 12 and 26, Feb. 9, March 2, 16, and 30, April 13 and 27, May 11 and 25, and June 8 and 22.

Agenda Planning

One amendment was made to the board’s calendar – an executive session for the purpose of attorney-client privileged communication was approved for Wed., Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. [Since the meeting, a study session was also added for 7 p.m. on that day.]

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

Next Regular Meeting: Oct. 13, 2010, 7 p.m., at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, fourth floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 0
AAPS Search Firm Choice: Down to Two Mon, 27 Sep 2010 16:18:18 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education search firm interviews (Sept. 22, 2010): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board has narrowed its short list of potential consultants to help with its superintendent search to two firms: Ray & Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Nebraska. Both firms have significant expertise in conducting national superintendent searches.

During a seven-hour meeting held at the Balas Administration Building, the board discussed selection criteria, set their interview process, interviewed five firms, and decided to check the references of two of them. A theme that emerged throughout the day was the challenge of conducting a search in an “open state” such as Michigan, where candidates’ names will be made public early in the process as a requirement of the Open Meetings Act.

The board is expected to make a final selection at its regular board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 29. The search firm will be seeking a replacement for outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts, who announced his departure in mid-August. AAPS deputy superintendent Robert Allen was recently selected to serve as interim superintendent when Roberts leaves within the next two weeks.

Selection Criteria

Board president Deb Mexicotte opened the meeting by distributing a rubric for the interview which trustees could use to rank firms during the interviews. The selection criteria had been compiled by the board secretary based on input e-mailed to her by individual trustees. The criteria included:

  • familiarity with AAPS and similar districts;
  • demonstrated success conducting national searches;
  • demonstrated success recruiting and placing candidates from Michigan and neighboring areas;
  • ability to engage the community in the search process; and
  • experience of the team assigned to AAPS, including facilitation experience and involvement after placement.

Mexicotte encouraged board members to use the rubric, but also to amend it to suit their needs or to weight categories as they saw fit.

Trustees briefly discussed who would pose which questions during the interview. It was determined that after each presentation, Mexicotte would facilitate questioning using a round robin approach. She planned to choose a trustee at random, and then work around the table, allowing each trustee to ask one initial question, followed by additional questions as time allowed.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, for clarification regarding confidentiality during the superintendent selection process. Comsa clarified that as soon as a search firm presents the names of any candidates to the board, those names are public information. Mexicotte added that names must be brought to a full, open session, not an executive or closed session of the board.

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees

Members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education discuss the selection of a search firm at their Sept. 22 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

This information led to a brief discussion among trustees about the number of names they would like to see presented to them by the firm they choose, and at what stage in the process. There was some debate about the merits of seeing the entire list of applicants, or reviewing large numbers of resumes. Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Glenn Nelson expressed some interest in knowing who applied, beyond just the applicants recommended by the chosen firm. “I don’t have absolute trust,” Nelson admitted.

Trustee Christine Stead countered that view, suggesting that to review resumes of all applicants is not the best use of the board’s time. “One of the major reasons to hire a firm is to reduce workload,” she said, arguing that “if we won’t allow a firm to vet [candidates], then we shouldn’t hire one.”

Comsa pointed out that the hired search firm would handle this issue based on input from the board, and the conversation was put on hold until a firm was selected.

Trustee Andy Thomas then questioned what the expected outcome was of the day’s meeting, and Mexicotte suggested that after the interviews, she would ask trustees to list their top three firms. With those pooled rankings, Mexicotte said, the board would then decide which firms to eliminate, and on which to check references. Comsa added that that board should not narrow the field to a single firm, as the final decision should be made during a regular, open meeting.


Board secretary Amy Osinski invited representatives of each of the firms to the main conference room at Balas at their appointed time. Each firm’s representatives presented for 20-30 minutes on why they would be the right fit for AAPS specifically, and were then interviewed by board members for an additional 20-30 minutes. There was a short break between each interview.

Interview: Ray & Associates

Ray & Associates sent three representatives to the interview. Their presentation touted the firm’s experience involving the community in developing a candidate profile. Calling the community meeting the “bread and butter” of the search process, they guaranteed that everything they gathered from participants would be incorporated into the search, and suggested using surveys as well as holding forums.

Their presentation also touched on the difficulty of recruiting in an “open” state – a reference to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. Candidates may not want the fact that they’ve applied to be made public while they are still on a slate of semi-finalists. They said they believed it is part of their job to convince candidates why applying would be worth it, regardless of the professional risks. They asserted that they had “never produced a slate of candidates from which the board could not choose a successful candidate.”

Trustees asked about the timing of salary determination in the selection process; how many stakeholder meetings would be held; how the firm would deal with community members skeptical to participate; whether they’ve had an unsuccessful search; the typical number of semifinalists presented to the board; whether the firm could identify candidates and recruit effectively from within Michigan; the firm’s suggested search timeline; and which other school districts they saw as similar to AAPS. They also requested curriculum vita for all members of the team who would be assigned to AAPS.

Representatives of Ray & Associates recommended determining salary early in the process, and holding a large number of stakeholder meetings – some open forums, and some by invitation only. Regarding skepticism about participating, they said they would stress to the community how the AAPS board is unique in its commitment to soliciting public input. Their description of an ineffective search was in Paterson, N.J., where trust issues among the 18-person, governor-appointed board made the process “artificial.”

They expressed confidence they could produce competitive local as well as national candidates, and touted their connections to roughly 400 local associates. They suggested bringing a slate of 8-12 semi-finalists on paper to the board, along with a metric to evaluate their resumes. They also suggested that although the firm could recommend only the top five candidates to interview, which has been a model used in other “sunshine states,” they felt that option gives the search firm too much input into the selection. Regarding a timeline, they suggested starting a search in October and ending by January, with the rationale that the sooner an incoming superintendent can announce he or she is leaving a current position, the better chance the district they are leaving has to find a good replacement.

Representatives of the firm demonstrated extensive knowledge of AAPS in their answers – referring to the district’s fund balance, its strategic plan, and its targets for increasing achievement and reducing achievement gaps. They compared AAPS to Ames, Iowa; Montgomery, Virginia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Interview: Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates

The presentation by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates stressed their extensive network as an attribute that sets them apart from other firms. They sent two representatives to meet with the board, and noted that they have 120 associates nationwide, as well as connections to an organization called Suburban Schools Superintendents (SSS). They also touted their ability to use the firm’s contacts to cross-reference candidate references, and “uncover the real person.”

The Hazard representatives used most of their time to review in some detail the steps of the selection process and the various degrees of service they could offer AAPS – national, national plus, or basic. They explained the subcontracting they do with ECRA Group to conduct background research on candidates.

Lastly, they reviewed their guarantee that, if hired, they would not recruit the new AAPS superintendent for five years, and will redo the search for free if the new superintendent leaves within a year.

Trustees asked about the firm’s commitment to diversity; target participants for community engagement; how it recruited candidates; cost; and customization of services.

Hazard offered to add a third, part-time, “minority” consultant to their team to demonstrate their celebration of diversity. They said they would work very hard to get minority candidates, and focused on the racial composition of the student body as justification for a minority superintendent.

Their response regarding community input was in reference to their contract with AAPS, which would allow for two consultants to spend two days in the district collecting community input, based on groups identified by the board. They did not suggest an open forum, but instead specific focus groups.

Hazard asserted that other firms do not search for those candidates not actively seeking work, while they do. They reiterated how their contacts with the SSS would be able to lead them to candidates untapped by other firms.

The firm agreed to customize a set of services for AAPS, which could allocate greater resources on parts of the search that the district would like to emphasize. Regarding their higher cost (roughly $6,000 more than other comparable firms), Hazard’s representatives argued that they simply spend more time on the search than other firms, and that there is an extra cost associated with doing a national search.

Interview: David J. Kinsella & Associates

Kinsella began his presentation by stating that he was a little nervous to present to the board. After introducing himself, he praised the district’s strategic plan, and described how the main challenge of the next superintendent would be to move the plan forward. He described his strength as “making a good fit:” listening very carefully to clients to create a very specific candidate profile, targeting sources to find candidates, and measuring them against the position specification.

Kinsella asserted that he has a vested interest in this selection, as he is an involved member of the local community. He acknowledged that the board might be concerned about his lack of experience doing superintendent searches (he has done one, 30 years ago), but that the search process is the same. Kinsella also noted that he is not barred from going into any districts, as some firms might be if they had recently placed candidates in those locations. He asserted that his confidence in his ability to successfully evaluate leadership characteristics of potential candidates should allay any concerns the board has about his qualifications.

The board asked Kinsella to elaborate on his recruiting strategies, including reaching out to women and minorities; review the steps in his proposed selection process; give an example of a placement he made “taking a company from good to great”; describe whether or not AAPS having a strong strategic plan could pose a risk for a new superintendent; and offer an opinion on whether or not the district should consider non-traditional candidates.

Kinsella acknowledged that he did not have the same experience recruiting superintendents as the other firms, and would rely on input from the board as to which communities to target. He also mentioned he would contact organizations such as the National Alliance of Black School Superintendents (which evolved to become the National Alliance of Black School Educators), and the Urban Association of Superintendents.

He said he would “try to find a diverse slate, but at the end of the day, you’re looking for the best person.”

Kinsella described his selection process in some detail, focusing on the in-depth research and interviewing he does. He described his successful placement of a corporate executive who moved his company from loss to gain, and described how he would look for similar leadership qualities in AAPS superintendent candidates.

As for any risk posed by the possession of a strong strategic plan, Kinsella said that any candidate who would want to change the direction of the strategic plan would be a mismatch, though he would want to find candidates who could “take it to the next level.” He said that whether or not to include non-traditional candidates would be completely a board decision, but that he would be open to it.

Board members also asked Kinsella how many candidates he would present to them, and whether he has experience with keeping candidates confidential early in the process.

Kinsella answered that he would usually present a slate of three to five candidates, and that he sees his job as narrowing the field considerably for the board. He stated that he believes working with potential candidates to determine whether or not to make their interest in the position public is a major task for a recruiter. Regarding confidentiality, Kinsella assured the board that he would do as much of the vetting as possible up front so candidates are not exposed to the board too early. He asserted, “I would assume responsibility to keep [candidates] in the shadows of the public as long as we could.”

Interview: Michigan Association of School Boards

Representatives of the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) spent the first third of their presentation describing changes to the group’s organizational processes, including the addition of a unique “database profile matching system.” They then described how a successful search will lead to the new superintendent having good community support as well as board support, and how building community support is a function of the input process. Finally, MASB staff gave a lengthy explanation of how they would post the open superintendent position, as well as recruit passive candidates. They then went on to describe the interview process they would follow when selecting candidates.

Trustees asked MASB what prompted the changes in the organization; whether they were biased toward in-state candidates; whether or not they have worked to recruit passive candidates in the past; when they would recommend setting search criteria; what the experience level was of each member of the MASB team that would be assigned to AAPS. Trustees also asked about the creativity of MASB; and about the effect of the Open Meetings Act on the search process.

MASB representatives explained that their organization needed to change its image to capture a larger market share. They noted that MASB works with other state school board associations to share information, and that MASB’s track record shows that many searches have included a large number of out-of-state candidates. They skimmed lightly over answering whether or not they had successfully recruited passive candidates in the past, noting that they communicate with a large number of school administrators. They suggested not setting search criteria until five or six weeks into the process, allowing MASB to gather data from all AAPS constituencies.

MASB sent four representatives to its interview with the board: Dick Durbin, the director of superintendent search services; Bill Brewer, a recent addition to the team from the private sector; Mike Emlaw, a senior consultant who worked with AAPS on its last superintendent search; and Kelly Jones, who Durbin initially introduced as the board’s “primary contact,” but who did not participate in the presentation.

After Durbin, Emlaw, and Brewer answered the question about how many searches they had been a part of (the most was eight – by Emlaw), AAPS trustee Christine Stead addressed Durbin directly, pointing out that he should not have invited Jones if she had no role in the presentation. Stead then questioned Jones directly about what her role would be in the search. Jones answered that she is the office manager, and that this is her first time attending a presentation.

MASB representatives responded that they could engage the community creatively by translating online surveys into other languages, and bringing interpreters to open forums if necessary. They also reiterated how MASB’s new online application capability and profile-matching tool were unique in the search industry.

Trustees questioned the effect of having access to an online application system, in which all AAPS board members would be able to review every application. They wondered if it would make an unnecessarily large number of possible applicants public. MASB representatives answered that they believed the Open Meetings Act allows trustees to review applications in confidence, as long as they do not deliberate. Then, when choosing candidates to interview in open session, it would be appropriate for the board to reference arbitrarily-assigned candidate numbers rather than names. MASB representatives stated that, even with board members having full access to all applications, none of the candidates’ names would be made public until they were invited to interview.

Along the same lines, trustee Glenn Nelson questioned whether AAPS was offering high enough salaries, given that AAPS had not hired a sitting superintendent during its last three superintendent searches, but instead hired deputy superintendents from other districts. Emlaw answered that it’s not about the money, but the law. The public nature of a search under the OMA, he argued, causes sitting superintendents not to want to risk upsetting their constituents by applying for other positions. On the other hand, to a sitting deputy or associate superintendent, the application poses less professional risk, since it is socially acceptable to want to continue moving up the professional ladder.

Interview: McPherson & Jacobson LLC

McPherson & Jacobson sent a single presenter to the interview, Bill Dean. Dean began by introducing himself personally and professionally, and then gave a brief review of the proposal his firm had submitted. The proposal had been specifically tailored to AAPS, and included sections on the phases of the proposed search process; descriptions of the team that would be assigned to AAPS; newspaper articles showing the transparency of the process used by the firm, and how that has motivated stakeholders to participate; a list of all female or minority placements made in other searches; and a list of all searches done by the firm in the past five years. Dean concluded his presentation by asserting how Ann Arbor is special, and AAPS needs someone who understands the city’s uniqueness and who will be able to move its strategic plan forward.

The board asked how McPherson would recruit to Michigan, given the state’s dismal economic position nationally; how they would find candidates in Michigan and nearby states; how they could creatively engage the community; how they would find candidates with vision regarding closing the achievement gap; whether they would recommend non-traditional candidates; what makes them stand out against other firms; at what point in the process they set salary; how many candidates they would present to the board; and whether or not there would be any people of color on the team of consultants assigned to work with AAPS.

Dean was confident that the firm would be able to find candidates willing to work for AAPS, and reassured the board that the special culture of Ann Arbor would be a draw. He also reviewed successful searches in other states where McPherson previously had no presence. “We grow connections,” he said. “We are unafraid of picking up the phone – you have to be kind of forward in this job.”

Regarding community engagement, Dean reviewed the firm’s commitment to transparency, and how testimonials from other engaged community members really helped to convince people to participate.

As for finding candidates with experience closing achievement gaps, Dean suggested that the board should request directly that candidates present evidence of what they have done to close the achievement gap in their districts. Dean mentioned being very impressed with AAPS Community High School as a model for how to educate children non-traditionally. He said he would be comfortable recruiting a candidate that has a different sense of how to deliver education, and that if the board was interested, he would work with them to find non-traditional candidates.

Salary would be set early in the process, Dean said, adding that his goal would be to bring a short list of six to eight candidates to the board for its review.

Dean also acknowledged that the three members of the team McPherson assigned to AAPS were all white males. He explained that this team was chosen because it consists of the consultants with the most experience, but that if the board wanted to have a person of color on the search team, the firm could accommodate that interest.

Post-Interview Debriefing

Deb Mexicotte asked board members to participate in a straw poll, voting for their top three firms, which they did. The results showed Ray and MASB with six votes each, McPherson with five votes, Hazard with four votes, and Kinsella with no votes.

Christine Stead, Glenn Nelson

AAPS trustees Christine Stead and Glenn Nelson during a Sept. 22 meeting to interview potential consultants for a superintendent search.

Mexicotte then asked trustees to argue for their top two choices.

Andy Thomas began, saying that he was most impressed with McPherson for being committed to the values held by AAPS, and for having done its homework before the interview. Ray, he said, proved that they really understood the community involvement piece. Thomas also mentioned being concerned with MASB’s approach to selecting candidates.

Glenn Nelson said he would put Ray at the top of his list, and appreciated the diversity of the team they brought. Secondly, he’d choose MASB, though he was concerned about the lack of experience on their team. Nelson also noted that he was not impressed with Hazard’s emphasis on suburban schools, but they were his third choice.

Christine Stead strongly preferred McPherson. She appreciated their organization, and that they provided proof of the transparency of their search process by including newspaper articles in their proposal. She also noted that the firm’s fees were reasonable.

For her second choice, Stead said she would choose Ray or Hazard. In her opinion, Hazard articulated network capabilities better, but Ray fared better in terms of showing a commitment to diversity.

Calling parts of their presentation “inarticulate,” MASB’s approach greatly concerned Stead. She argued that they would expect too much from the board, and that “the team seem like they assembled themselves in the hallway on the way in here.” She also expressed that their commitment to diversity seemed superficial.

Susan Baskett put McPherson first, and Ray second, though she noted that they lacked creativity. Regarding Hazard, she noted, “They did nothing for me. I wouldn’t want to put them in front of my neighbors.”

Simone Lightfoot chose MASB for its “local flavor,” its knowledge of the Open Meetings Act, its articulation of changes within its organization, and its new database matching system. Responding to Stead’s concerns about the amount of work MASB would expect from the board, she noted that the board would likely end up with the same candidates out of their applicant pool whether or not trustees reviewed the applications online first. To her, that was optional.

Lightfoot liked Ray’s show of diversity, and noted that McPherson’s response that they could add a person of color to the team if AAPS requested it did not work for her.

Irene Patalan was happy with the three largest firms, and listed McPherson as her first choice, and Hazard as her second. She noted that in Hazard’s presentation, “there was a lot of Michigan going on in what they had to say.”

Mexicotte was most impressed with McPherson and Ray. She felt McPherson was most responsive to the board’s request for proposals (RFP), and that she would not have any doubt that they would be able to produce a good pool of candidates. Ray’s candidate handling, community engagement, and diversity impressed her. In distant third place, Mexicotte said, she would consider MASB. She felt like the team was not well-integrated, and that they should not have brought a member who didn’t need to be here. Mexicotte also noted that the newness of their management was concerning to her. Finally, she noted that while finding local candidates might be a strength of MASB, she had no concerns with her top two choices being able to find qualified candidates in Michigan.

Seeing that the ranking of each trustee’s top two candidates led to McPherson and Ray having the most votes in that round, Mexicotte suggested considering only those two firms at the next regular board meeting. Lightfoot and Nelson, who had shown the most interest in MASB, agreed to yield to their colleagues’ concerns regarding the firm. There was general agreement to focus the selection on those two firms.

Mexicotte looked to Dave Comsa for advice on conducting reference checks. Comsa suggested that any information gleaned from the reference checks needed to be presented to the board in open session, and reminded the board that no deliberation could take place before then.

Mexicotte, Baskett, and Stead volunteered to function as a sub-quorum group to conduct the reference checks together, by speakerphone, so they could all hear the same responses. They will then report their findings from their notes at the next regular board meeting. Mexicotte asked Comsa if there was a set of reference-check questions they should use, and Comsa suggested that they simply ask people that the firms listed as references to confirm the things the firms said about themselves.

Some trustees expressed interest in having the two firms being considered respond to some follow-up questions in writing before a final decision is made. It was decided that individual trustees would submit any questions they had to board secretary Amy Osinski by Friday at noon, and that she would forward them to McPherson and Ray for written response by Tuesday. Mexicotte requested that Osinski call the other three firms to tell them they are no longer under consideration.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan, secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas.

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.

]]> 1
Interim Superintendent: Allen to Lead AAPS Mon, 20 Sep 2010 13:39:01 +0000 Jennifer Coffman 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]

]]> 2
Seven Submit Search Bids for Superintendent Fri, 10 Sep 2010 17:01:46 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education formal bid opening (Sept. 10, 2010): Seven professional services firms have bid on an Ann Arbor Public Schools contract to aid in the search for a new district superintendent. Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, chaired a formal bid opening today, publicly opening the stack of mail containing the bids.


Amy Osinski and Dave Comsa, opening the bids. Comsa is assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services; Osinski is the school board's secretary.

In each case, Comsa checked whether the bid contained a signed original, as well as a notarized affidavit disclosing any familial relationships that might pose a conflict of interest. Comsa stated that the purpose of the morning meeting was simply to open the bids and cursorily examine them, but not to answer questions or hold any discussion.

However, representatives of two bidders were present – David J. Kinsella & Associates, and the Michigan Association of School Boards. These were the same two firms that attended the pre-bid meeting last week.

Of the seven bids received, three are from Michigan firms. The bids received, the location of the firms, and their base bid amounts were, in the order they were opened, as follows: Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Rosemont, Ill. ($28,000-$30,000); David J. Kinsella & Associates, Ann Arbor, Mich. (15% of the first year’s base salary of the new superintendent, plus expenses); Michigan Association of School Boards, Lansing, Mich. ($22,050); ProAct Search, Wilmette, Ill. ($22,450); Michigan Leadership Institute, Ossineke, Mich. ($17,000-$23,000); McPherson & Jacobson LLC, Omaha, Neb. ($18,500); and Ray & Associates, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa ($21,000-$24,500).

As he went through them, Comsa mentioned some of the various elements of the base bids: that some included the cost of aiding in the selection of an interim superintendent, but others listed that service as an additional charge. All of the bids also estimated additional ancillary expenses, such as advertising, travel, mileage, and out-of-pocket costs of the consultants.

Comsa stated that board members would be reviewing the proposals this week, and would discuss them at a study session scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 15. At the regular board meeting immediately following that study session, the finalists will be selected, who will then be invited to interview with the board on Sept. 22.

The board is engaging in a search for a new superintendent. Current superintendent Todd Roberts announced his resignation in August. [See Chronicle coverage: "With Roberts' Exit, AAPS Plans Next Steps"]

]]> 1
Superintendent Search Step One: Hire Help Mon, 06 Sep 2010 16:14:20 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Representatives from two executive search consultants met with two members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education on Friday to discuss the request for proposals (RFP) recently issued by the district. In the last week of August, the district issued the RFP, which solicits proposals to help with the board’s search for a new superintendent, after Todd Roberts resigned in mid-August.


AAPS board members Susan Baskett and Glenn Nelson met with representatives of two search consultants who will be bidding for the contract to help AAPS with its superintendent search. (Photos by the writer.)

The two consultants that attended were the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), from Lansing, and David J. Kinsella and Associates, from Ann Arbor. By the end of the meeting, both consultants said their questions had been answered, and that they planned to submit proposals.

As the board embarks on the replacement process for Roberts – the district’s current superintendent who will be leaving in November – it has decided to hire an executive search firm to help in the recruitment, selection, and hiring process. Friday’s meeting was optional, and offered potential bidders a chance to ask questions of board members Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett before bids are due on Friday, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.

Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, opened the meeting by inviting the consultants to interact informally with the board members. Dick Dunham of MASB began by asking whether the board as a whole planned to be involved in the superintendent search, or if the search firm would be interacting mainly with a committee of the board.

Nelson said that although the board had not addressed that question explicitly, his belief was that the board was planning to work on the search as a “committee of the whole.” “Based on history, and how we work, I think it will be the entire board,” he said, clarifying that some specific tasks may be delegated to board president Deb Mexicotte throughout the process. “We trust our president,” Nelson said.

Baskett echoed his sentiments, saying that the selection of a new superintendent was such an important job, they would all take part. She added, “We [board members] have a history of working well together,” and assured the consultants that “it would not be cumbersome” to work with the full board. “There are only seven of us,” she said.

AAPS search firm reps at RFP pre-bid meeting

From left to right: Dave Kinsella of David J. Kinsella and Associates; Dick Dunham and William Brewer of Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB).

Dave Kinsella of David J. Kinsella and Associates asked how many of the current board members had been part of the search for Roberts in 2006. Four of the seven current board members – Nelson, Baskett, Mexicotte and Irene Patalan – had been involved. Baskett pointed out, “This will [Nelson’s] fourth superintendent.” Nelson provided some additional context, explaining that, though there were five board seats up for election in November, only incumbents had filed. “If the thought arises that you might be working with a different group [of board members] in January,” he said, “you won’t.”

Both consultants asked about the extent of community involvement in the search process expected by the board. Baskett began the response by saying, “You know Ann Arbor – we expect it all.”

Nelson explained that the search consultant that the board had employed during the search for Roberts – which was MASB, one the two bidders at the meeting – had facilitated open meetings at which community input was solicited, synthesized the suggestions, and reported them back to the board. He stressed the consultant’s role in that part of the process, and suggested that the board would expect the same level of involvement in managing community input this time around. Nelson also mentioned that, during the Roberts search, a committee of community members appointed by the board met with the candidates. He emphasized, “Community input is very, very important.”

William Brewer, also from MASB, asked if the board had identified principal constituencies from which it would want input solicited. Baskett answered, “Yes, it’s a long list.” Nelson named performing arts groups, civic groups, and community centers as some of the constituents to be included, but noted there were many more.

Baskett stated that some feedback she received after the last search made her question whether some members of the community would participate in another search process. She noted that the board would look to the search firm they hire to help get the community involved, and stated that she wants people to leave happy that they participated. Nelson agreed, “This is part of where we need help, efficiently bringing in the community.” He added that the goal should be for everyone to know the search was a good, fair, open process.

Dunham confirmed that the board wanted to do a national search for a superintendent, and asked whether the board would entertain a non-traditional candidate, such as someone who had experience in the private sector but no experience in education.

Baskett answered that the board had not yet discussed desired criteria of the next superintendent, and that they would be looking for advice from the search firm to craft these criteria. Nelson then followed with a response he stressed was only his individual perspective. He noted that some universities have a governance model in which a president manages external affairs, and a provost manages internal ones. “I can see us entertaining the notion of that kind of structure,” he said, “in which case, we would want the best CEO in the country as the superintendent, and the best educational expert in the country as the deputy superintendent of instruction.” [The AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction position is currently unfilled, but was maintained in the district’s 2010-11 budget.]

Dunham asked the board members to explain how the AAPS strategic plan is relevant to the search process. Nelson answered, “We don’t want the coming months to be a period of treading water.” He expressed an interest in the district continuing to update the plan’s action items, and emphasized that the plan belonged to the district, not to the superintendent. Baskett agreed, saying, “We’re not going to give it up.”

Nelson did note, however, that the 180 people actively involved in the strategic planning process would likely overlap with those who would attend the community meetings focused on the superintendent search. This overlap could cause the timeline for the strategic planning process to be amended due to the superintendent search, Nelson conceded.

Both consultants complimented the board on the comprehensive nature of the RFP. Kinsella joked that he “would have had to be an oral surgeon” to extract this depth of information from previous clients.

Nelson first thanked the consultants for their feedback, and said that the board is proud of itself. He gave kudos to both board treasurer Christine Stead for writing the first draft of the RFP, and Comsa for providing excellent staff support of the board’s work. Nelson then took the opportunity to characterize the board as one that is “respectful of expertise, but likely to say, ‘Show me.’”

Baskett agreed, saying, “I like to think of us as intelligent, but not snooty.” She noted that five of the seven current board members have worked as consultants in some capacity, and that she herself had managed many government contracts. “We don’t follow blindly,” she said, “but do recognize that others have talent we could use.” Baskett closed the meeting by asserting, “The seven of us enjoy working with each other. We hope whoever we choose enjoys working with us.”

Present: Board secretary Glenn Nelson, trustee Susan Baskett, and Dave Comsa, assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, 7 p.m., Downtown Ann Arbor District Library, fourth floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 3
School Board Issues RFP for Search Firm Fri, 27 Aug 2010 16:53:29 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Aug. 23, 2010): At a special meeting held Monday, the school board approved a request for proposals (RFP) from professional services firms to assist them as they search for a new superintendent. The RFP was released to search firms and posted on the AAPS website [.pdf of RFP]. The district’s current superintendent, Todd Roberts, has resigned, and will be leaving the district by mid-November to move closer to family and to become chancellor of the North Carolina School for Science and Math.

Christine Stead and Deb Mexicotte

Christine Stead and Deb Mexicotte discuss a draft of the RFP from search firms to help with the hiring of a new superintendent. (Photos by the writer.)

Board treasurer Christine Stead had offered to draft an RFP for board review at the last regular board meeting. Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for the rest of the board to review her work, and suggest changes. Most of the recommended changes were accepted without objection, but others led to some reflective discussion that revealed priorities for the board.

One of the changes made to the RFP was to add a pre-bid meeting for the purpose of answering clarifying questions about the RFP. The pre-bid meeting will be held on Friday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m., at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State Street. Any interested bidders are invited to participate in person or via teleconference. The deadline for submitting responses to the RFP is Friday, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.

The only other official business conducted at Monday’s meeting was the passing of a motion to entertain Roberts’ suggestions for interim staff, which he will bring to the next board meeting.

A Review of the Draft RFP

Board president Deb Mexicotte opened the meeting by simply stating that its purpose was to review the RFP drafted by Christine Stead for the purpose of selecting an executive search firm to help the board choose the next AAPS superintendent. Mexicotte also pointed out that the board does not usually issue RFPs directly, and she thanked Dave Comsa, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, for attending the meeting in case the board had any human resource or legal questions.

Stead began by reviewing the RFP she had written for the board’s review, stressing its status as a draft: “Every part of this can change – the content, the order, the timeline.” She then presented an RFP with the following seven sections:

  1. RFP Milestones
  2. Firm Background Information Required
  3. Scope of Work
  4. Search Process – Anticipated Milestones
  5. The Context of Our Search
  6. District Goals Relevant for the Search
  7. Submission Requirements

The RFP milestones suggested by Stead reflected the timeline discussed at the last board meeting, which would result in a search firm being selected at the Sept. 29 board meeting.

The firm background section is essentially the list of questions to which the firms will be expected to respond in their proposals. Stead explained that this section asks the firms to highlight their capabilities and demonstrate that they have been successful in similar searches. “Here,” she said, “is where we’ve asked for price estimates, duration, and proposed search timeline.”

The scope of work, Stead described, are the exact specifications of this project. “We are asking for assistance in a particular way,” Stead said, “We want to understand how they develop search criteria, how they identify candidates, and how they identify community priorities.” Stead pointed out that while the scope of work indicates that community engagement is a requirement for the selection of a permanent superintendent, AAPS does not specify how to involve the community. “That would be up to the search firm to propose.”

The search process/anticipated milestones section includes the following key dates:

  • Sept. 29, 2010: search firm selected
  • Oct. 27, 2010: interim superintendent selected
  • Nov. 15, 2010: interim superintendent start date
  • May 4, 2011: permanent superintendent selected
  • July 1, 2011: permanent superintendent start date

The milestones section also states that modifications to the timeline can be recommended by the search firm. Stead noted that she reviewed the board meeting calendar to come up with the dates, and that the two months between the hiring and start date of the permanent superintendent were built-in time for transition activities. For instance, Stead suggested, they could allow the new superintendent to “get to know our folks while getting things wrapped up in his or her own district.”

The next two sections – the context of the search and the district goals – are “somewhat subjective,” according to Stead. She explained that she had intended the context section as a past-oriented section used to express that the board “has had a lot going on,” as well as to present the culture of leadership the district has experienced under Roberts. The district goals section is future-oriented, and describes the main focal points of the district’s work this year. It includes sections on: updating the strategic plan, continuing resource challenges facing the district, the district’s challenge to close its achievement gaps among students, and maintaining community engagement.

Stead then closed by pointing out that the submission requirements call for eight hard copies, one for each trustee, plus one for the board office. She also suggested that each firm submit a copy of its proposal electronically, in case the board wants to more widely distribute it for some reason. With that, Stead opened the floor for suggested changes.

Suggested Changes to the Draft RFP

Mexicotte thanked Stead for putting together the RFP for the board’s review. Over the next two and a half hours, trustees made suggestions, and Stead amended the RFP in real time, so that by the time they were finished, the document was complete, pending technical proofreading and review by legal counsel. Most suggested changes drew no objections from other board members, but in a few cases, there was some discussion.

RFP Changes: Diversity

The first of the items requiring any discussion was brought by trustee Simone Lightfoot, who said she was looking for the word “diverse” throughout the document. Mexicotte asked where would be a good place in the RFP to speak to the board’s diversity concerns. Lightfoot suggested amending both the firm background and scope of work sections in order to reflect the board’s concerns that the firm has experience identifying a diverse and competent pool of superintendent candidates, as well as successfully placing them. Mexicotte supported Lightfoot’s suggestions.

RFP Changes: Unanticipated Events

There was some discussion of how to handle questions about unanticipated events during the search. Lightfoot suggested that the firms be required to describe conditions under which the search time frame could be modified. Board secretary Glenn Nelson asked why Stead had included a requirement for the firm to describe what they would do if a candidate leaves the search.

Stead explained that what AAPS would like to hear is that the firm has had some experience with a lead candidate withdrawing from the search. Mexicotte agreed: “We could ask for an example. Everybody’s had a search fall apart.” Roberts asked if the firm will think they fulfilled their contract if the search does not yield a viable candidate. Stead asked Comsa under what conditions the contract must be paid, and Comsa confirmed that AAPS must pay the search firm for its work, even if the outcome is initially unsuccessful. Wording was added to the RFP to make it clear that AAPS would not consider the search successful until a candidate accepts the position of permanent superintendent.

RFP Changes: Setting and Negotiating a Contract Price

The board had some discussion about how to set and negotiate the contract price. Because the RFP mentions that the firm might help with both the interim and permanent superintendent searches, trustee Susan Baskett said she’d like to ask firms to itemize their proposed costs for the two searches. Mexicotte confirmed that she would like to structure the RFP as requiring the permanent superintendent search, with the interim superintendent search priced as an optional piece of the proposal. This is sometimes called an “alternate bid.” Roberts suggested stressing that the main task is the permanent superintendent search.

Nelson asked if the board would be locked into a price as a result of the RFP, and requested that room be added to negotiate the price. Stead explained that setting the price would be a process. The firms will submit an estimate in their proposal, she said, but that could change once the board meets with them. “We might decide to be more articulate, and that we want 70 community meetings, not one,” she quipped, “so that could change their estimate.” Comsa asked that the board email their final draft to him so that he could add required legal wording. As an example, Comsa said he would add phrasing such as, “The board can accept any bid (not necessarily the lowest), reject any or all bids for any reason, … and that AAPS will select one firm and one alternative, in case we cannot work out pricing.”

Lightfoot asked if the board could speak openly yet about whether or not there was a price they did not want to go over. “Do we have a firm price?” she asked. “I’ve heard it could cost up to $80,000.” Mexicotte asked what it cost to hire a firm last time they did a superintendent search, and when no one on the board answered, David Jesse, an education reporter from, chimed in to say that the last search cost the district roughly $13,500.

Mexicotte said that the market would help to determine a price, but that the search may cost in the range of $20,000 to $35,000. Roberts added that it depends on the firm, and Mexicotte pointed out that the board may choose a higher bid if that firm will deliver a better service. Baskett argued that it may sound like a lot, “but the cost of not doing it right is just enormous.”

RFP Changes: Timeline Modifications

The board discussed the anticipated search process milestones. Mexicotte asked if the wording could be softened to make it easier for search firms to modify the timeline, and suggested that it would currently be difficult for a firm to shorten it. The front end of the timeline is the most ambitious, Mexicotte said, and then there is a long break until May. Baskett commented that she did not want to see the timeline extended past June 30. In response to Mexicotte, Roberts confirmed that his start date at AAPS had been July 1, but that he had gone back and forth between AAPS and his former district [Birmingham] a few times during a transition period. Comsa suggested adding some wording to require that if the firm wants to modify the timeline, any extensions need to be made in writing 60 days ahead of time.

RFP Changes: Student Achievement

Lightfoot suggested adding a student achievement bullet point to the context section, in addition to the discussion of student achievement in the district goals section. “I’m interested in whoever they bring us having had experience in working with student achievement,” she said. Baskett suggested saying that the district was committed to the “relentless pursuit of achievement for all students,” but Lightfoot wanted the statement to be more specific. “I’m talking about the gap,” she said. Mexicotte and Nelson stepped in to craft a statement that spoke to the “yin and yang” of community expectations regarding student achievement. On one hand, they said, excellence is achieved in many respects, while the achievement of students of color and students from lower-income households continues to require extra focus and resources.

RFP Changes: Roberts, Superintendent, or District?

The lengthiest discussion on possible changes to the RFP centered on whether the context section should be focused on the work of the superintendent specifically or the district more generally. Within that conversation, there was some debate among trustees about the degree to which Roberts should be named rather than referred to as “the superintendent.”

Lightfoot began by questioning the multiple specific references to Roberts throughout the context section. Nelson agreed, suggesting that perhaps it would be better to “change the tone from ‘Todd Roberts did these things,’ to ‘The district did these things.’” Baskett concurred as well, saying, “This has truly been a collaboration.”

Mexicotte partially disagreed. “Speaking to the strength of our superintendency is important. I like the tone of it because of what it says about us. It’s fine to take Roberts’ name out, but it should reference the superintendency.” Stead suggested that leaving in such specific references would help the firms self-select.”These are big shoes to fill,” she asserted.

Lightfoot asked what the purpose of the context section was, and Stead answered that it was to give national context to the current work of AAPS, in case an out-of-town firm wants to bid. Part of that context, she argued, is that AAPS has benefited from having a strong leadership team led by Roberts. Lightfoot continued, “It reads as though we’re hero-worshipping Dr. Roberts, and that the district was in dire straights before he came.” Baskett asked what would matter to a new superintendent in terms of the context: “Does it matter to a new person that it was [Roberts] who built the leadership team,” or just that AAPS has strong leadership? Baskett suggested that the proposed wording would be more appropriate if they were writing a farewell speech to Roberts, but was unnecessary in the RFP.

After staying quiet up until then, Roberts spoke up at this point in the discussion in favor of de-personalizing the context section. Instead of bullet points, he suggested turning the section into a narrative with the focus, “This is what you’re coming into.” When the trustees balked at the work involved in condensing and re-writing the section, Roberts advised, “I’d suggest just taking my name out, and using ‘superintendent’ where needed.”

The board decided to go through the context section bullet by bullet and examine each reference to Roberts individually in order to fine-tune its intended meaning. Most of the references were generalized to “the district” or “superintendent” but a few were kept specific to Roberts. In the end, on the last two bullet points of the section, the board was split 50-50, with vice-president Irene Patalan abstaining [she had missed the early part of the discussion, and did not feel like she could form an informed opinion], so it fell to Mexicotte to choose the final wording.

RFP Changes: Pre-Bid Meeting

Baskett asked whether the board wanted to hold a pre-bid meeting, at which potential bidders could ask questions of a committee made up of trustees and AAPS staff. There was general agreement that holding such a meeting would be a good idea, and Comsa advised the board that three or fewer board members should attend, so that they do not have quorum.

Mexicotte asked Nelson and Baskett if they would be willing to attend. They agreed to represent the board, and Baskett suggested that Comsa and Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations, attend from the administration in order to be able to answer any legal or financial questions that may be raised.

Board members reviewed the timeline, and selected Friday, Sept. 3 as an appropriate date for the pre-bid meeting. Comsa suggested it begin at 10 am. Baskett suggested firms could tele-conference or Skype if necessary.

Outcome: Patalan made a motion to hold a pre-bid meeting on Friday, Sept. 3, at 10 a.m., place TBD [later set as the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St.] The motion was seconded by Nelson. Baskett offered a friendly amendment to add the pre-bid meeting to the RFP milestones chart in the RFP. The pre-bid meeting was approved by all present in a roll call vote.

RFP Changes: Friendly Amendments

In addition to the suggested changes that led to discussion, several amendments were offered by trustees, as indicated in parentheses, and accepted in straightforward fashion:

  • Added flexibility to the wording of RFP milestones dates, allowing steps to be completed early (Baskett);
  • Streamlined wording to be more concise (Nelson);
  • Re-worded request for references to say that they should emphasize districts similar to AAPS (Lightfoot);
  • Reduced required board attendance from “all” to “required” meetings (Nelson);
  • Added a request that the firm help the board set an appropriate compensation package (Nelson);
  • Added a description of the launching of the district preschool in the context section (Nelson);
  • Clarified that the work of the special education millage renewal will fall largely within the scope of work of the interim superintendent (Nelson);
  • Included community partnership in the context’s community engagement section (Baskett);
  • Deleted the demographic description of Ann Arbor (Mexicotte);
  • Clarified the expectation that the search would be national in scope (Roberts);
  • Changed Amy Osinski’s title to be accurate (Nelson); and
  • Defined “successful candidates” as “effective educational leaders” (Lightfoot, Nelson).

RFP Changes: Rejected Amendments

The vast majority of suggestions from trustees, as well as from Roberts and Comsa, were incorporated in the final RFP. A few, however, were not.

Lightfoot asked whether the board should specify that the firm should seek candidates from districts similar to AAPS. Baskett answered that during a prior search, one of the best candidates came from a small town with a total of only 3,000 students. Stead and Mexicotte suggested that such a suggestion would be appropriate to discuss when setting search criteria for the permanent superintendent with the chosen firm, but did not need to be included in the RFP.

Mexicotte suggested adding two sections to the context section, one on the climate work being done by the district, and one on the district’s marketing and enrollment efforts. Nelson said that those pieces were not needed for the firm to be able to bid, and suggested that that board should really think about how long it would take a firm to answer this RFP. Roberts responded that the firms will mostly be responding to the background and timeline sections, and that typically firms have a standard response. He suggested that the sections Mexicotte had proposed might be more appropriate to discuss with the selected firm when it is going out in search of candidates.

Baskett asked whether the board wanted to include a rubric in the RFP to give firms a sense of how they would make their final selection. It could help the firms focus their responses, she said, “and at some point, we need to decide on our rubric.” Mexicotte said she liked the idea of having a set of criteria for selection, but that they could be decided later, and that she would want to leave the weighting of those elements to individual trustees.

RFP Approved

Comsa said that there is some standard, legal wording he needed to add to the document. Nelson asked if the board could delegate to the president, in consultation with legal counsel, getting the document in final form. Mexicotte asked informally if it was the “board’s pleasure that Dave does what he needs to do, and then I OK the final copy, making only the most technical of changes?”

Everyone expressed agreement that Mexicotte pull together the final copy.

However, Comsa interjected, saying that the board needed to make a motion in open session to accept this document barring technical and formatting changes. So, Mexicotte asked for a formal motion.

Outcome: Stead made a motion, which Lightfoot seconded, to approve the RFP as written and amended, pending review by legal counsel, to be distributed by Aug. 27, 2010. It was approved unanimously by roll call vote of Patalan, Baskett, Nelson, Stead, Mexicotte, and Lightfoot.

Distribution of the RFP

In a follow-up discussion with Mexicotte, The Chronicle asked how the board would distribute the RFP. Mexicotte said the board will be sending the RFP to search firms recommended by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), and might also seek firm recommendations from other school districts that have recently engaged in a superintendent search. She said that the finalized RFP will also be posted on the AAPS website by Friday.

Mexicotte said her hope was that the RFP would result in the receipt of at least five to seven quality bids.

Roberts to Suggest Interim Appointments

Near the end of the meeting, Mexicotte asked the trustees if they would be “willing to entertain Superintendent Roberts’ suggestions for both interim superintendent candidates as well as other academic appointments that might then need to be backfilled.”

Noting that Roberts is “thoughtful and mindful,” Patalan said she would absolutely like to hear his suggestions. Lightfoot and Baskett agreed. Baskett added that she would also like Roberts to recommend compensation for such positions.

Outcome: Stead moved, and Patalan seconded, hearing Roberts’ recommendations regarding an interim superintendent and other academic offices at the next regular board meeting. The measure was approved unanimously by Lightfoot, Patalan, Baskett, Nelson, Stead, and Mexicotte.

Agenda Planning

Mexicotte told the board she would still like to meet with the executive committee to look at longer-range calendar issues. She would like to look for a date for the committee to meet just after Labor Day.

Public Commentary

Kathy Griswold, former AAPS board member, addressed the board regarding transportation concerns, a topic she has addressed previously at several prior meetings.

First, Griswold said Roberts should send a letter to the city in support of the new crosswalk proposed in the King Elementary School neighborhood for which Griswold has been advocating. Secondly, she responded to board members’ comments at the last regular board meeting regarding the delay in the Thurston driveway project.

Griswold said she had been called out at the last meeting for delaying the project by filing a complaint with the state, but that, if anything, she had speeded up the process by letting AAPS staff know that the state was lacking in necessary paperwork.

Finally, Griswold read a statement from a University of Michigan professor stating three concerns with the Thurston driveway project: 1) separating cars and buses should not be a top priority since it’s not the main source of risk; 2) the proposed design resembles airline drop-offs, which might not work for K-5 students; and 3) adding more pavement is expensive, and might not solve the congestion problem.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan (arriving at 7:45 p.m.), secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot. Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, AAPS superintendent.

Absent: Trustee Andy Thomas.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

]]> 1