Ann Arbor school trustees decide against facilitator to help them get along
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com file photo
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.
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.”