Both candidates running for the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools met with top district administrators for an informal question-and-answer session held at the the Balas administration building on Aug. 28, 2012. This kind of information session is regularly hosted by the district before each school board election. This year, Dale Leslie and incumbent Deb Mexicotte will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
After brief introductions, Leslie and Mexicotte were given a chance to ask the administrators any questions they had about the district and its operations.
Leslie took advantage of the occasion to talk about his campaign. He said he is familiar with the district, and made several criticisms – about the quality of instructional materials, the elimination of police liaisons in the high schools, and board’s goal setting.
Mexicotte responded to Leslie’s critique of the board by contrasting the goals that the board had set for itself internally with those it set for the district as a whole. Mexicotte had no informational questions of the administrators. She was first elected to the board in 2003 and currently serves as president of the board. Most recently, she was re-elected in 2010.
This year, the board seat that Leslie and Mexicotte are seeking will be for a four-year term ending in December 2016. The other six members of the AAPS board, whose terms continue at least through 2014, are Susan Baskett, Andy Thomas, Simone Lightfoot, Christine Stead, Glenn Nelson, and Irene Patalan.
AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis welcomed everyone to the meeting, and the attendees briefly introduced themselves. [Dale Leslie is a former business owner of Leslie Office Supply and a former board member of the Ann Arbor Area chamber of commerce, prior to its merger with the Ypsilanti chamber. Deb Mexicotte works for the University of Michigan as assistant director in the Office of New Student Programs.]
All 11 administrators in attendance gave a brief overview of the scope of their departments within the district, and passed out business cards to each candidate.
In addition to Margolis, the district was represented by: Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations; Jenna Bacolor, director of community education and recreation; Elaine Brown, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services; David Comsa, deputy superintendent for human resources and general counsel; Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent for instructional services; Patricia Green, superintendent; Dawn Linden, assistant superintendent for elementary education; Jane Landefeld, director of student accounting and research services; Robyne Thompson, assistant superintendent for secondary education and career and technical education; and Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties.
Also present was Teri Williams, election coordinator for AAPS. She passed out contact information for all district central administrators, as well as a guide on compliance with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which school board candidates must follow. She urged the candidates to make sure any people who campaign on their behalf are also aware of the rules and regulations. Williams also referred the candidates to the Washtenaw County election office, as school district staff members do not advise school board candidates on campaign activities.
Leslie: Updating Instructional Materials
Dale Leslie indicated he was pleased to see the district hold such a forum for candidates. He stated that he’s familiar with how the district operates and how it should be improved, citing his experience as both an AAPS student and an AAPS parent. He highlighted a couple of the reasons why he was running for school board: a strong need for a different kind of educational paradigm – given that there will soon be teenagers in the high schools who were born in the 21st century – and a need for better communication.
When Leslie brought up the fact that the board recently had a presentation on replacing 10-year-old biology textbooks, Alesia Flye – deputy superintendent for instructional services – acknowledged the textbooks were outdated, which was the reason the board approved the purchase of new textbooks. Flye emphasized the curriculum review process that has been put in place over the past year, saying the community and the board should have a clear idea of instructional materials being used in the classroom. Superintendent Patricia Green added that the curriculum review cycle was implemented at the request of the board.
Leslie: Police Liaisons
Leslie asked if there had been any meetings with Ann Arbor police chief John Seto about negotiating the recent cuts to the district police liaison position. Leslie said that cutting all the positions was akin to “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Green stated that before the positions were cut, there was significant conversation with the police chief. She said there have been subsequent conversations with city administrators and the police chief regarding different models of police involvement in schools. Green is advocating for regular meetings between the district, the police department, and city officials. [At the board's Aug. 15, 2012 meeting, the board heard public commentary calling for the positions not to be reinstated.]
Mexicotte: Board Leadership
Leslie also expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership on the school board, saying the foremost priority of the board should not just be “getting along with each other,” a goal the board identified at its recent retreat. He contended that the leader of the board should not have let it get to that point, a direct criticism of Mexicotte, the current board president.
When it was her turn to speak, Mexicotte thanked the administrators for their presence that evening, and said she had no questions. But she then took the opportunity to address Leslie, as both a candidate and a constituent. She clarified that the board set two goals for itself at their retreat in early August: the first, to build relationships and trust among the board members so they can work better together, and the second, to work towards being stronger financial advocates for the district. She said the next Committee of the Whole meeting [on Sept. 12, 2012] will be focused entirely on financial goals.
Mexicotte also acknowledged that the board, in conjunction with the district, works on a number of goals. She listed several that were worked toward over the past school year: the Achievement Gap Elimination Plan, the Discipline Gap Elimination Plan, energy policy, and curriculum review.
Upcoming Candidate Forum
The Ann Arbor Area League of Women Voters (LWV) will be holding a forum for school board candidates. [As of Aug. 31, the LWV website lists a candidate forum for board of education candidates to be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9 at the Community Television Network studio at 2805 S. Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor. The forums are typically broadcast live on CTN Channel 19 and are later available online for viewing on demand.]
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