Ann Arbor parents submit language to recall 6 school board members
A group of outspoken parents is trying to remove six of Ann Arbor Public Schools' seven Board of Education members from office.
Recall language for trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Glenn Nelson, Irene Patalan, Christine Stead and Andy Thomas was submitted Wednesday to the Washtenaw County Elections Commission.
Jody Huhn, a representative of the group Ann Arbor Public Schools Parents for Change, filed the petition language separately for each individual.
Huhn, a parent at Thurston Elementary School, said the group could not submit recall language for board President Deb Mexicotte — "unfortunately" — until January, due to a change in a Michigan election law in 2012.
The law states officers cannot be recalled during the first year or the last year of their terms, if their terms are more than two years in length.
Mexicotte was re-elected in November to a four-year term. This is her fourth term on the school board. She was first elected in 2003.
The petition language for all six board members named by Huhn cites the same four reasons for the recall:
- Failure to demonstrate thoughtful consideration of constituent priorities.
- Failure to demonstrate transparency in decision making.
- Failure to demonstrate cohesive and singular direction as evidenced by consistent split voting.
- Failure to provide sufficient backing and support for district superintendent position as evidenced by high turnover rate averaging 2.25 years per term.
Huhn told AnnArbor.com the recall petitions were the result of the district losing yet another superintendent. Patricia Green resigned unexpectedly in April after about a year and a half with AAPS. She signed a five-year contract in July of 2011.
"The group of us feel like maybe the problem is not with the superintendents we pick but with the board," she said. "The problem to us is obvious. ... No one can agree, no one can support each other or get along on the board. There are always split votes."
Stead declined to comment on the recall effort at this time. Baskett, Patalan and Thomas could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Lightfoot said civic advocacy is her career and her life's work.
"So I always applaud citizen engagement and participation in government. And if you're unhappy with something, I've supported your right to protest that and lament it to the world," she said. "I may be personally disheartened that someone is unsatisfied with the very important work that we're doing on the board ... and that they didn't reach out to us to seek clarity in some of their notions ... I do support civic advocacy. It's what I do."
Lightfoot added that she stands behind her record as a school board trustee and believes it is "not in line with what is being alleged."
"So I don't take it personally because I believe it is so opposite of my record as a trustee," she said. "There may be some more validity with some of the others ... but I stand by my record."
She also said her address and cellphone number are public and she always welcomes speaking with members of the school community about any issues or concerns they may have.
Nelson echoed Lightfoot's sentiments about recalls being a part of the policy process: "I have no objections to it being used."
"It will be interesting to see how many people support it and who they are," Nelson said, adding he views it as "useful feedback" and an opportunity to better understand the values of the community and how he can better reflect them in his service.
On the allegations, Nelson said the board reflects the diversity of Ann Arbor and the trustees are transparent about their differences. He said while there may be split votes, the final vote is the decision of the board and after the debate, all of the trustees are good about supporting the decisions that are made.
Huhn and the AAPS Parents for Change group were active in trying to encourage the Board of Education to look for a local or internal candidate for Ann Arbor's next superintendent — who will be the fifth in the past decade. They also advocated for the board to give special consideration to Roberto Clemente Student Development Center Principal Ben Edmondson, who applied and was one of the six semifinalists, via a Change.org petition at the beginning of the superintendent search.
However, despite the group's urging, the board again elected to name two out-of-state individuals as finalists for the superintendency, Huhn said.
The board conducted final interviews with the two finalists — Brian Osborne of New Jersey and Jeanice Kerr Swift of Colorado — Tuesday and Wednesday and is expected to vote to offer the job to one of them on Friday.
Huhn said the group's timing was intentional and was in direct response to "the fact that they didn't choose someone local and we have to start all over again with someone new ... who can't make an impact for six to nine months and has to get to know the district."
"It's in direct response to the fact that they (the board) didn't even elect to move a third, local candidate forward in the process," Huhn said. "Even if they didn't pick Ben (Edmondson) ... they didn't listen to the community to strongly consider someone internal."
Lightfoot and Baskett tried to add a third finalist to the pool but were out-voted last week. Baskett said at the time, trustees would have "hell to pay" with the community for not choosing a local face as a finalist.
The Washtenaw County Elections Commission will meet 1 p.m. Aug. 1 to review the petition language in a clarity/factual review hearing. The hearing will take place at the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting room at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. It is open to the public.
The individuals named in the petition can appear to defend their position, and Huhn can present her side to the commission as well.
The commission will consider the language, and could vote Aug. 1 to accept or deny the petitions. The commission consists of Judge Donald Shelton, County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum and County Treasurer Catherine McClary.
Should the commission approve the petition language, each individual named on the petition has a right to appeal the language to Circuit Court. The filer of the petitions also has the right to appeal, should the commission deny the petition language.
If the commission approves the language on the petition, 14,733 signatures would have to be collected in a 60-day period to force a recall election.
The number of signatures necessary is equal to 25 percent of the number of voters that cast a ballot for Michigan governor in 2010 that reside within AAPS district boundaries, as required by law.
Huhn said the AAPS Parents for Change will start hitting the streets with the petitions as soon as the language is approved. She said she is cautiously optimistic and hopeful the group will be successful.
"I do feel like there seems to be a lot of parent support (for what we're doing)," Huhn said. "Even if we don't collect all the signatures, we really just feel strongly that we have to send a message to the board: You're not listening. We're ready for a change."
AAPS Parents for Change did submit a letter to the school board earlier this week with the same message.
AnnArbor.com's Wastenaw County and health reporter Amy Biolchini contributed to this report.