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Posted on Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

AAPS superintendent search: Site visits account for 27 percent of expenses

By Amy Biolchini

The Ann Arbor Public Schools spent $16,279 in its search process for incoming Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift, according to documents obtained by

About 27 percent, or $4,462 total, was spent on the two-day trips Board of Education Trustees Andy Thomas and Susan Baskett took to each of the two final superintendent candidates’ districts.


Jeanice Kerr Swift speaks during a community engagement session during her interview process with Ann Arbor Public Schools in July.

Daniel Brenner I file photo

AAPS initially offered the superintendent job to Brian Osborne, superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District in New Jersey.

Osborne declined, and the board voted 4-3 to offer the job to its other finalist, Swift. She now has a $200,000 base annual salary in her five-year contract with the district.

“The reports back from the visiting trustees to the Board were very positive for both candidates, which added confidence, credibility and proper due diligence to the ultimate decision-making,” said school board President Deb Mexicotte in an email. “It also allowed the Board to immediately consider our second candidate when our first candidate declined. So I think $4,500 against what we hope will be a long-term employment contract with a successful district and educational leader seems an appropriate use of our time and money.”

The Board of Education did not set a budget for the superintendent search, Mexicotte said.

AAPS has become fairly familiar with searching for superintendents, as this summer’s search marks the fourth time in 11 years that the district has changed superintendents.

This summer, the district spent $13,501 less than it did during its 2011 search for former Superintendent Patricia Green, when the price tag was $29,780.

However, the district paid out $14,000 in consultant fees to Ray & Associates in 2011—a fee AAPS avoided this year because Green resigned from her position within a two-year time frame the consultant included in its contract.

The following is the breakdown of how AAPS spent $16,279 on the superintendent search:

  • Candidate expenses (hotel nights, transportation, meals for three finalists): $6,801. Per candidate: Richard Faidley: $1,060; Brian Osborne: $3,271; Jeanice Kerr Swift: $2,469
  • Advertising: $3,346
  • Site visits (transportation, lodging, meals): $4,462.31
  • Miscellaneous (hearing impaired interpreter, meal charges, interview food): $1,669
  • Download a PDF of the complete itemized list compiled by

Comparably, here’s how AAPS spent $29,780 in the 2011 superintendent search:

  • Candidate expenses (hotel nights, transportation, meals): $7,838
  • Consultant services: $14,000
  • Copying: $148
  • Mailing: $110
  • Advertising: $5,685
  • Interview space and food: $1,997

In 2011, the district had intended to conduct site visits to its final two candidates but an unexpected snowstorm canceled the trip.

“When we started this new search, we heard loud and clear from many members of the public that they had been very disappointed that there was no site visit at the end of the last search and they felt it was absolutely essential that we do it this time,” Thomas said.

After the school board had narrowed its field of candidates from the six it interviewed to two, site visits were arranged on a tight two-day schedule July 11 and 12.

Thomas and Baskett flew from Detroit to Newark, N.J. late Wednesday night for a day full of interviews Thursday in candidate Brian Osborne’s district. Osborne was offered the position with AAPS first before he declined due to relocation concerns.

Thomas and Baskett finished their interviews about 4 p.m. Thursday and caught a flight to Denver and then Colorado Springs, where Swift served as the assistant superintendent of instruction, curriculum and student services for Colorado Springs School District 11.

Friday the two trustees spoke with individuals from Swift’s district until 2:30 p.m. and departed for Detroit afterward. The trustees spent a total of about nine hours in each district.

“I think that this provided a depth of understanding of the candidates that we would not have gotten otherwise,” Thomas said. “One of the purposes of the site visit is that when you go there, you’re looking to confirm things that the candidates said. It’s my feeling that if either of the two candidates had skeletons in the closet … we would have found them.”

During each of the site visits, Baskett and Thomas spoke with a range of individuals that they requested the candidates set up interviews with, including students, school board members, parents, principals, teachers, union representatives, community leaders and district leaders. Baskett said she made sure to contact other references on her own as well.

Thomas said the site visits didn’t change his opinion of either of the two candidates, but reaffirmed for him that they were both very solid options.

“My understanding at the end of it that we really couldn’t go wrong with either of the two candidates,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he personally preferred Osborne as a candidate because he was already serving as a superintendent, but did not see Swift as a second-best candidate.

Following the trip, Thomas and Baskett prepared a written report on their findings that they shared with the school board.

Baskett said she found the site visits to be of tremendous value because she was able to see firsthand how each of the candidates worked in their own districts.

In Colorado Springs, Baskett said she was able to see how Swift was managing alternative education programs—a point that Swift had brought up while interviewing with the district.

Swift’s first day as superintendent of AAPS is Tuesday. Her first meeting with teachers will be that morning at an 8:30 welcome-back event at Pioneer High School.

Amy Biolchini is the K-12 education reporter for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Wake Up A2

Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

"Ann Arbor Public Schools spent $16,279" or Approx. the same as Pioneers and Hurons science budgets....


Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

I've heard stories that AAPS teachers have to fight tooth and nail to get their expenses for conferences and the like reimbursed. Seems like preferential treatment for the BOE and Administration here.


Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 11:21 a.m.

I don't see the problem with this. Why the need for the huge write-up? Perhaps we could get detail like this next time the Teacher's Union negotiates contracts.


Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 9:40 a.m.

These comments are silly. As someone who travels all the time for business and approves the expenses of others doing the same, these expenses are perfectly reasonable, reflect the variability in costs due to origin / destination, and do not reflect more or less meritorious behavior by any candidate.


Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 9:52 a.m.

Silly is as silly does? Pennies? I disagree that just because an expense is allowable means it is warranted or justifiable. At this point the AAPS execs and BOE need to show the voters and tax payers that monitoring the budget isn't silly, but their duty as elected officials. The fact that you travel all the time and experienced with this in your work does not qualify you to say without first hand knowledge that the candidates expenses, especially Osborne's are reasonable. They are allowable and presumed reasonable. None of us will ever know for sure and that is what the history of financial silliness in the district tells us for years and years.

Dog Guy

Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

New Jersey and Colorado? What a waste of public-expense junket opportunity!


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

They couldn't get anyone from Hawaii to apply for the job.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Looking at Osbornes expenses vs. Swifts, even with a slight plane fare adjustment-he spent $800 more? I'd say Swift is already showing us she can budget better and we got ourselves out of a jam with Osborne when he declined. New Jersey can keep him and his extravagance. Welcome Dr. Swift!


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

Curious what kind of car he rented, on the AAPS tab. Lets give Swift a chance and support her- she at the very least explored AA on her own dime a few days early. More than what could be said of the NJ egotist.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

I agree and am now curious what instructions, if any, our Board President & BOE members gave Osborne on expenses he could submit. Maybe Swift has more experience with rules and following them so she erred towards showing more restraint. Osborne's cab charges and rental care fees seem to be outside of what would be expected.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

Do you have any more details on this line item: 7/8/13 Courtyard by Marriott Food charges only, no rental fee $980.70 Am I reading that right? Almost a grand for food?

Basic Bob

Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 7:54 p.m.

Osborne did not charge for mileage from his home to the airport, or parking at Newark airport. The taxi fare is a reasonable expense.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

@Donbee- I thought maybe the cab rides were from Osborne's home to airport or Osborne's departing location to airport and then rental cars from Detroit to Ann Arbor. But looking at the sheet, that does match with the time frame. There are 3 cab fares and a 2-day rental car fee of $254 but earlier rental fee from July of $68. Gas only for the 2nd rental. Then 3 cab fares: 2 cabs on Aug. 4 @ $68 each, or $136 1 cab on Aug. 5 @ $65 And then the car rental fees listed on 8/5 are for the July 18 interview $63 And more care rental fees for Aug. 4 & 5, $254.95 Gas for the car $28 @Amy Biolchini - do you have any additional information? It is a high charge for 2 days of a rental car at $254 Aug. 4, $68 Aug. 4, $68


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

The food came with a free interview room. Dr Osborne ended up covering the interview room with one of his visits. The only strange thing in the whole list is that Dr. Osborne had a Rental Car on both visits and yet ended up with 2 $68 taxi fees - the cost to go to and from the airport, so I am trying to wrap my head around those taxi rides, when he had a rental car.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

At this point the die is cast, there is a contract, a Superintendent, and a BOE. What happens, happens. The next input point for the citizens of the area, will be in November 2014, with the election for BOE. There will probably be 2 rounds of votes on taxes between now and then. A renewal of the sinking fund and then an Enhancement millage. Those should be interesting. While I don't like how some of the money from the sinking fund has been used in the past, I think it is necessary to keep the buildings in reasonable shape.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

a million dollars over 5 yrs. ! wow! what does the board expect her to do to justify her salary ? the teachers that i have talked to are upset that the board chose an outsider, they took it as a slap in the face !

Resident A2

Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 12:06 a.m.

Give me a break. She will earn her salary just like any other public school employee will. We didn't have anyone in district that had even close to her accomplishments. Please give her a chance!


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

There wasn't an outstanding local candidate. Can't pick someone just because they're local if they're substandard.

Mich Res and Alum

Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

The only thing that seems out of line is the site visits. $4,400 for 4 site visits (if they were done separately)? That's $1,100 for a two-day trip... Even if the plane tickets were bought last minute, they wouldn't be more than $500. Another $250 for hotels and $200 for a car, I guess. That leaves $150 for food for two days, so the price isn't especially high, but it certainly could have been done more economically. If they shared a rental car, then there's a big chunk of money that seems unaccounted for though.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

Airline tickets to Newark today for a Wednesday flight were running $800 each. About what short term flights cost between Detroit and NYC right now. With Delta hogging the route, it is pricy from here. The board costs are not out of line. It is the Dr. Osborne costs that caught my eye.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

It's itemized in the .PDF linked in the article.


Sun, Aug 25, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

Can we see the site visit reports from trustees Thomas and Baskett? I'd like to see what we got for that money. I'd like to know just what they learned when they visited these districts during summer vacation.