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Posted on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board candidates raise and spend money in bids for four-year seats

By Janet Miller

Previous stories: Meet the candidates: Six people vie for two seats on the Ann Arbor Board of Education

Ann Arbor School Board candidates to appear at Thursday debate

With the largest field of candidates for the Ann Arbor Board of Education election in recent years, there’s been serious fundraising and campaign spending, at least by some of the candidates.

With Tuesday's election for two, four-year seats looming, candidates are using tried and true methods of campaigning such as flyers and yard signs but are also turning to technology, hiring website services and data retrieval companies.

Leading the fundraising, according to required campaign finance statements filed with the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office elections division, is Lawrence Murphy, although most of his $8,800 campaign fund is self-funded. He also leads spending, at least up to now, with $4,420 in expenses. On his heals for spending is Ahmar Iqbal, who had spent $4,235 by the filing deadline.

Three candidates - Albert Howard, Patrick Leonard and incumbent Simone Lightfoot - have not raised the minimum to trigger filing campaign finance forms. These three filed for and received waivers because they said they did not expect to raise at least $1,000, said Matt Yankee, director of elections.

Oct. 28 was the deadline to file the pre-election campaign statement for the Nov. 8 election.

Only incumbent Andy Thomas has received official financial support from teachers. The Ann Arbor Education Association’s Political Action Committee gave $1,000 to Thomas but declined to endorse a second candidate.

The teachers’ union typically endorses at least one candidate, said Brit Satchwell, president of the AAEA. The six candidates were invited to speak before an AAEA PAC committee, which made the endorsement.

“We decided that Andy Thomas, singularly, is worth our recommendation,” Satchwell said. There are other strong candidates, he said, but the committee could not reach agreement on a second endorsement, he said. In addition to the financial support, the AAEA has posted the endorsement on its website

The candidates, their financial support and campaign spending, according to filings:

Iqbal, who owns an alternative energy management and consulting company, received $5,830 in contributions and has spent $4,234. He listed a $1,500 loan he made to himself. Iqbal was the only other candidate to receive financial support from a political action committee, with $100 from the Singh PAC in West Bloomfield. He has strong support from the medical community, with more than $2,300 in donations coming from physicians inside and outside Washtenaw County. And he received $100 each from Joe and Beth Fitzsimmons, state co-chairs of the campaign to elect Rick Snyder governor.

On the spending side, Iqbal has spent $2,440 on leaflets and markers, $718 on yard signs, $300 for Web services and another nearly $300 on voter data.

At $8,800, Murphy, the owner of a small automotive supply company, has raised the largest campaign funds, but that includes $7,500 from himself and a $990 loan from Jeanine Diller, his wife. He’s spent $450 on Web graphics and $2,382 on flyer printing with another $720 on lawn signs.

Thomas, a retired health care administrator, raised $2,580 and spent $1,732. He received financial support from teachers and from other school board members, including Glenn Nelson ($100) and Irene Patalan ($100). As of mid-October, Thomas had spent nearly $1,500 of his own money on pens, pencils, stamps and other supplies and filed a separate report Oct. 27 showing he had made a $912 in-kind loan to the campaign. Also, Steven Norton, an organizer of Ann Arbor Parents for Schools, a nonprofit citizen advocacy group, made a $438 in-kind contribution for flyer printing. Thomas has spent more than $1,300 on yard signs and another $366 on flyers.

This is Howard’s first Ann Arbor school board election, but he ran for president in 2008 in the New Hampshire Primary, when he claimed that God told him he would be president. Leonard, at 22 the youngest candidate, works in marketing and research. And Lightfoot, who was appointed to a vacant seat in 2009 and elected to a one-year term last year, is a sustainability and climate change consultant.

For a complete list of candidate contributions and expenditures, click here.


Jack Panitch

Fri, Nov 4, 2011 : 1:52 a.m.

AMOC, let me make sure I understand: you won't vote for Mr. Thomas on the basis of his support from the teachers' union, irrespective of the experience he brings to the table and irrespective of his voting record or anything he has accomplished in his time on the Board. Thank you for your thoughtful opinion.


Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

This information deserves to be out in the main stream of the comments. Quoting Andy Thomas's reply to Tish: "I usually try to stay out of these conversations, but feel compelled to correct a factual error. I also voted against the salary increase for the superintendent. The vote was 4-3."


Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 3:56 p.m.

Jack - Both DonBee's comment and the material that Mr. Murphy mailed out stressed that they would support any additional funds from any source, including an enhancement millage only AFTER the school district addressed their extremely top-heavy administration and other overhead costs. I agree very strongly with that position, and I am a regular voter, even on these single-issue elections when they were held in August. That comment has earned Murphy one of my votea, and my recommendation to friends and colleagues. Similarly, the endorsement of the AAEA disqualifies Andy Thomas for my vote. The last thing we need is a school board member committed to defending the status quo for the teachers' union instead of being focused on how best to educate all the students in the district.


Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 9:07 a.m.

Bravo, Jack Panitch!

Jack Panitch

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

<a href=""></a> So, if I did this right, the link above leads to David Jesse's article on the teachers' contract. DonBee's commentary appears underneath.


Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

Nope, it does not work. Had to do a previous and then scroll down. Obviously I was not clear. I did not argue about the fact that the teachers should be well paid, never have. Right now my priority is more teachers in the classroom and fewer administrators. More money from sinking fund and the remain bond funds on long term improvements that save General fund monies in the long run and less on athletics. I don't see either of these priorities on the board. I never supported the enhancement millage and never will. At least until AAPS gets their budget house in order.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 2:59 a.m.

These are the comments DonBee posted at the time DJ wrote the article about the teachers'' contract. At the time, DonBee too supported the idea of an enhancement millage, the very same thing he takes Mr. Thomas to task for now. DonBee's comments appear immediately below: I will not argue the teacher pay issue. What I will say is this does little to fix the long term issues for the district. The bus drivers and custodians took large permanent pay cuts - the custodians through a new contract and the bus drivers by being basically outsourced to the WISD. This contract, the largest single expense that the district has is mostly temporary fixes. The only real long term fix (and it could be huge) is to cap the medical premiums that the district pays. This is one of the fastest growing benefits that any business has deal with. All the other changes are basically - we can not pay you more now, so we will pay you more in the future. This is the same problem that the state is facing with pensions now. While this is not pensions, I believe we may be right back to this same position next year at this time. We need real structural fixes if we are going to have good to great education going forward. Some of that will have to come from fixing costs - including how many districts we have in the county. Some of that will have to come from being smarter about how the district spends money on books, energy and other non-wage items. Some will have to come from reducing the top heavy administration of the district. Once those things have been fixed, then the taxpayers are going to have to find a way to provide more money. I worry that if the taxpayers see to much in the way of &quot;smoke and mirrors&quot; that the next millage request will go down in flames. I now understand why the contract was top secret. Shame on Dr Roberts and Ms Mexicote for keeping the taxpayers in the dark.


Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

Mr Panitch - I did not support the contract. I was and am unhappy with the contract because it provides a guaranteed percentage of future revenue to the current teachers. This is the hang up for the NBA now and for other industries where it has been tried. We do need to fix the structural issues, and it starts with fixing the administrative costs, and then how the sinking fund is spent. It would have been far more useful to spend the $5 plus million of the sinking fund and bond money this year on energy efficiency - that has a long term payback - then on a varsity changing room and a varsity weight room. The priorities of the school board have been and continue to be WRONG.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 : 2:31 a.m.

DonBee's comment about &quot;hamstringing the District&quot; is particularly misleading. Anyone who knows anything about the District's finances and the structural deficit knows that the teachers gave up significant concessions for nothing remotely guaranteed to yield anything ever. Far from hamstringing the District, this creative contract allowed the District to balance its budget. What hamstrings the District is the structural deficit. There really isn't much to debate on that point. As I understand it, though, the union, particularly Brit Satchwell, gets the lion's share of the credit for coming up with the idea and shepherding it through negotiations and approval by the teachers. This was actually a brilliant, creative and brave position taken by the teachers, who knew that no one would really notice or appreciate the sacrifice. I noticed it and wrote about it at the time. DonBee was there too and apparently has forgotten. Any sitting trustee would have been foolish not to approve the contract.


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 4:56 p.m.

I have know Mr. Murphy for a while and can tell you that he is removed from the internal politics yet knows a lot about the existing issues facing the school board. It is exactly this kind of candidate that is supposed to govern, someone who can contribute and then go back to the work they normally do. If he works half as hard on the school board as he does in his company, we will all be better off for his efforts.


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

I think it is important to have board members that understand the educational system and willing to make choices that are best for the students, not their own political gain. I would like to see a board that encourages the high school administrators to treat parents with more respect and show a willingness to engage with ALL parents, not just the PTO administrators. I would also like to see the school board start doing surveys at the end of each semester or trimester with high school students on their classes. There are many smart students in AAPS that could provide helpful feedback to improve the learning environment. This is what many colleges do. We have 2 students at Skyline and not impressed so far. It has been a hit or miss with teachers and administrators there. Unless we see improvements in the next few years, we will send our two younger children to a private school. Like many schools, you have a few lazy teachers that make the whole group look bad. I want to support our educators, but our administrators need to learn to work with ALL parents and support that engagement.

Anne R.

Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

I like Patrick Leonard's ideas and focus on how to close the learning gap between students from varied backgrounds. He has much hands-on experience working in our schools that can help them successfully address this issue. It's time!


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

I stand corrected. Thank you.


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Mr Thomas is the teacher's pet here. He voted for the new teachers contract which promises the teachers a piece of any new revenue the district gets. Mr Thomas can almost be assured of voting in favor of another try at a WISD wide enhancement millage. Mr Thomas will then be able to hand his allies in the teacher's union major raises. I don't deny teachers are important and deserve a good wage. But hamstringing the district with this contract that splits any new revenue between existing teachers and the district is just plain wrong. We need to hire back some of the 70 teaching positions lost before we give additional money to existing teachers.

A Voice of Reason

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 : 11:44 p.m.

No, on average they are already making $100,000 per year for 185 days of work (includes benefits and pensions), plus 12 sick days, with no accountability for children learning. If you are unhappy with your salary, vote your union out and save your union dues. It is hard to take teachers seriously when they are presented by a thug like union and your manipulative current president who does not have student's interest at heart. When the MEAP scores are finally cut properly to match national standards to help remove our state from being 48th in MEAP results, we will see what the teachers can do. Maybe you will have to meet with them after school, or form study groups on your own time vs. the 8 hours you work. The good teachers make sure the kids (all kids) progress.


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Who are you recommending DonBee since you know so much about the candidates? If I remember correctly, the teachers took a pay cut to help the district out with financial obligations last year. Don't you think that if the economy changes that teachers deserve to get some of that 2.2 % back? I am guessing teachers aren't expecting much for quite some time.


Wed, Nov 2, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.

It always seems like a conflict of interest when the school union selects the board that is supposed to oversee their performance. . What is the definition of crazy: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.