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Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Ann Arbor school trustees decide against facilitator to help them get along

By Danielle Arndt


The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education is attempting to make progress on its goal of trust and relationship building.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

Ann Arbor school board members rejected spending money on a facilitator to help them tackle their No. 1 board goal of trust and relationship building.

Instead, Deb Mexicotte, who was reaffirmed to the office of president at the board’s organizational meeting Wednesday night, is exploring a less costly option: a code of conduct or expectations.

At their annual board retreat in August, trustees focused on two goals they would like to tackle for the 2012-13 academic year. Trust and relationship building among the board members was the first goal. Finances, including another attempt at a countywide schools enhancement millage, was the second.

Mexicotte said the board typically establishes a few goals each year to work on in addition to the board’s responsibilities of overseeing the superintendent, setting policy and passing a balanced budget. The board goals tend to be targeted at things that will help the board function or operate better, she said.

In August, a lack of trust and respect among school board members was identified as the root cause of several ongoing issues, including tension between board members and sidestepping of important conversations about race and equity.


Deb Mexicotte

Mexicotte brought some figures to the board table in December about how much it would cost to do some board professional development centered on trust and relationship building. The idea was to hire a professional with experience facilitating school board trainings to lead a series of conversations and activities for the board that would help repair any rifts and trust issues.

Mexicotte said she determined it would cost about $2,000, plus mileage and any printing material expenses, to hire someone for a session. If the board were to do this once a month for four months, for example, it could cost $8,000, plus about $1,000 in mileage and printing, Mexicotte said.

While some members strongly favored board professional development, the board quickly agreed that given the need to cut costs from next year's budget, it did not want to spend $8,000 or more.

The concept Mexicotte proposed Wednesday she called “An Affirmation of Boardsmanship.”

“I believe if you have a set of founding principals that you assert and say out loud it does make a difference and helps to establish a common, shared cultural understanding of the way you want to operate as a board … and relate to the community, staff, parents, students, each other, the superintendent and administration,” she said.

Mexicotte asked board members to send her suggestions for what they would like to see on the list so she could try to prepare a document for further discussion and consideration at next Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Mexicotte modeled her rough draft of the document she hopes to develop after one in Illinois. Items on the list could be about joint management efforts, using district resources appropriately or being prepared for meetings.

She said it is her hope that if the board can work on this goal of trust and relationship building, it will have the comfort and safety level to have some honest conversations about race and some of the other courageous conversations the board has talked about having, but never seems to be able to get to.

Trustee Irene Patalan said she liked the Affirmations of Boardsmanship concept very much.

“It’s like saying, yes, we are going to bring our very best to this table and to the work that we do…” she said. “So I’m happy to have the beginning of this tool. On a personal level, I used it for my own personal self-evaluation. … I believe that our example is important and I believe if anything, we want our kids to look at us and see civility and accountability and transparency.”

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 10:38 p.m.

Alarictoo and AMOC nailed it. A great deal of time is wasted at every meeting by certain board members who want to be the center of attention, rather than buckling down and addressing the many critical issues facing the district. Posing as the long-suffering, beleaguered trustee whom the others continually ignore is nothing more than melodrama. Perhaps you're honing your skills for a larger stage? This isn't about you. You were elected to serve the community -- the whole community. How about getting some work done?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

I'm not sure a code of conduct is necessary, as there is probably some such document in play somewhere already. All the board members seem to mean well, and they all bring their personal take to the table. My bet is that they all have heard what the other person has said, they just don't agree with what to do next. Sometimes the next move just isn't clear, especially under such difficult circumstances.

say it plain

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

Please, please, when NEW CANDIDATES run for school board next election cycle, remember to reference this meeting in your materials. We'd be far far better off with high-school students running the School Board, honestly. They'd have the kids' well-being truly in their hearts and minds, and it wouldn't all be about their own ego-posturing.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

I'm surprised that the Board perceives that they haven't been having important conversations about race and equity issues. At the several meetings I've attended or watched (not all, but a reasonable sample) certain of the trustees seem almost unable to talk about anything *but* race and racial equity issues. I'm not sure if this is the source of some of the distrust and differences among the board members, but I find it both unpleasant to watch and profoundly unproductive when every single issue facing the board is hijacked by a few trustees eager to display their concern for and solidarity with members of a specific racial group. I commend the patience of the rest of the board members, who always seem to listen politely, without the eye rolling Alarictoo describes witnessing from Simone Lightfoot, and to address the issues thus raised. I further note that under the leadership of Superintendent Green, AAPS discussions about the Achievement Gap, Discipline Gap, etc. have finally broadened to also address the gap between the achievement of students with disabilities compared to "typically developing" peers. AAPS's special education students are another group whose needs should be assessed and met primarily with a concern for fairness, rather than with strict "equality".


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

"Ann Arbor school trustees decide against facilitator to help them get along" is one of the best headlines I've ever read. I hope it finds its way onto Jay Leno's show. Reminds me of an over-tired toddler who protests "I'm not tired!"


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 8:19 p.m.

I agree. I just loved the headline.

Der Commissar

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 3:55 a.m.

First rule of fight club: Don't talk about fight club.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 2:31 a.m.

If AAPS doesn't want the training, the new Supervisor of York township could use one. You should hear the crap at their meetings!


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

I simply could not believe my eyes and ears when I tuned into the AAPS BoE meeting on cable last night. There I was watching trustees Lightfoot and Nelson trying to discuss the inequities of getting items added to the list for discussion. Watching trustee Lightfoot roll her eyes and make little noises of disgust into her live mic while trustee Nelson in his own rambling way was trying to respond, while, seemingly unintentionally, completely misunderstanding her point, was simply ridiculous. Then when I tuned in again about an hour later, I found Deb Mexicotte speaking to the same topic. It is simply unbelievable to me that the BoE's highest perceived priority for this year is focusing on "learning to get along". Strangely enough, I was under the impression that we elected them to help guide the school district, not to have an encounter group on cable television. Should they not be able, as adults, to put aside their petty disagreements and personal agendas in order to pursue the business of guiding the school district? Certainly I am not the only one who thinks there are far more important items before the Board than there ability to "get along". Dear AAPS BoE: Quit wasting our time and do your jobs.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:30 a.m.

Are you serious?

Chester Drawers

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:07 a.m.

The counselors at Pioneer have developed a wonderful Peer Mediation program. Trained students and counselors work with students in conflict to resolve issues before serious problems ensue. Perhaps the BOE could avail themselves of these teenage mediators, who obviously have a whole lot more sense than these elected adults.

Dog Guy

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:04 p.m.

The board needs that babysitter: it resembles a prison band where everyone always wants to solo.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

"Trustee Irene Patalan said she liked the Affirmations of Boardsmanship concept very much. 'It's like saying, yes, we are going to bring our very best to this table and to the work that we do…" That should go without saying! People are elected to bring their very best to the table. Now you need an "affirmation" to say that you are bringing your best? If that is what this board has come to, then they should not be re-elected next time.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

If they cannot get along, citizens should pass a ballot measure requiring them to wear giant sumo suits. Or at least inflatable boxing gloves. Then they can go at it, and at least we'll be well entertained.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

We overpay these administrators and they can't even "get along"? Maybe they should take a remedial Kindergarten class to learn how to get along with others.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 1:04 a.m.

We are not talking about the paid administrators here. We are talking about the elected School Board members. The unbelievable part is that they are spending all of this time focusing on "learning to get along". Strangely enough, I was under the impression that we elected them to help guide the school district, not to have an encounter group on cable television.

Atlas Shrugged

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:41 p.m.

Seems like problems of trust and understanding (ie, a lack thereof) have been going on for some time, and solving the issues has been elusive. My personal opinion is that, for a relative pittance, hiring a trained facilitator -- a knowledgeable and impartial person -- could go a long way towards dealing with these organizational "people-problems." Penny-wise and pound foolish.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

OR.... we could get a board of ADULTS who know how to get along with each other! D'mon, Deb.... You're the President!!! DO Something!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

If the experts on the school board can't figure out how to get along, how can we trust them to install programs to help our kids respect each other? Really, we need these people to set an example. Maybe they need a few kindergarten teachers in there to facilitate the meetings.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:24 p.m.

They are leading by example - in every job that each person works, there will always be a time when certain people will not get along. This is life. To acknowledge that work needs to be done in a relationship, and to actively seek out ways to further build those relationships is a skill that all students need. Not all organizations are willing to admit their flaws - kudos to the school board for being willing to admit their weaknesses, work on them through cooperative means, and to lead by truly being an example.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

I'd vote you up 1,000 times, Lisa... You are totally on the money! For goodness sakes... does the board consist of adults, or kindergartners??

Chris Hall

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

This sounds like a good approach to start with. If it doesn't completely meet the needs there are many other options.