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Posted on Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

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

By Janet Miller

Six people are facing off for two four-year seats on the Ann Arbor Board of Education. They will face having to cut $15 million from a budget that’s already been sliced and diced with the potential for public unrest high.

They met as a group when the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area hosted a candidates’ forum Monday at the Community Television Network Studio, 2805 S. Industrial Highway. It will be rebroadcast a few times before the Nov. 8 election.

The terms for the two seats run Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2015.

The six candidates

Albert Howard


Albert Howard

Albert Howard knows a thing or two about running for elective office: He’s run for a U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia. He ran in the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary, when he claimed that God told him he would be president. He’s running for president in the 2012 election. And, he’s running for Ann Arbor school board.

He lists his occupation as chauffeur, pastor and family and stakes the claim of having the first pro-Israel transportation service. He also is the creator of Operation King of Islam, which seeks to ban the Quran and all mosques in the U.S., Canada and Europe. He did not return a number of phone calls or email messages from

Ahmar Iqbal


Ahmar Iqbal

Iqbal said his financial background — he was a financial analyst with the World Bank and has worked with companies around the globe — would add a new perspective to the school board as it prepares for another round of budget cuts. Despite financial issues, Iqbal said he wants to extend the school year and add foreign language beginning in first grade.

Iqbal said he’d like to see all district contracts put out for bid in an effort to lower costs, and he’d like to see even more efficiencies with the bus system. He said the district must manage expenses better. For instance, he said, instead of spending capital funds on something like artificial turf for a sports field that benefits a handful of students, he would prefer to see capital projects that improve energy efficiency, a project that would benefit more students.

Iqbal owns an alternative energy consulting and management company and has two children in the district.

Patrick Leonard


Patrick Leonard

Leonard said his work on the front lines — he’s been a volunteer mentor in a district elementary school and he worked as a child care assistant when he was a college student — would give him a unique perspective as a school board member. While some voters may view his age - he’s 22 - as a liability, Leonard said it’s an asset. He’s a product of the school system, and he understands how the district works from the inside.

He supports a hiring freeze for administration and a possible reduction in administrative staff as a way to cut spending. Spending in areas such as custodial services and utilities should be searched for savings, Leonard said. And he’s not opposed to more cuts in transportation. But first there must be community input and communication to avoid the outcry over the bus system that came when school began, he said.

Leonard graduated from the University of Michigan in July and works in marketing and research.

Simone Lightfoot


Simone Lightfoot

One of two incumbents seeking re-election, Lightfoot was appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2009 and was elected to a one-year term in 2011. She said her board experience has given her a clear picture of the budget and achievement challenges the district faces, and that she sees the district through the lens of a student who has gone through Ann Arbor schools and as a parent. She also said she brings her background in public policy - she was a community organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Lightfoot wants to look at contracted services - including transportation, food service, professional development - for ways to cut costs. She also wants to freeze all salaries where there are no contract obligations and to direct the superintendent to fill only essential job vacancies. Still, that won’t result in $15 million in cuts. The district, she said, will be looking to make additional staffing and transportation cuts.

Lightfoot is a sustainability and climate change consultant for the NAACP and the National Wildlife Federation. She has two children in the district.

Lawrence A. Murphy


Lawrence A. Murphy

Murphy said he knows about tight budgets and tough financial decisions. As the owner of a small business, he runs a tight ship: Just seven people and no maintenance or secretarial staff. His business has survived two recessions, he said. He would bring that kind of fiscal management as a school board member, he said, at a time when the school district must continue to make cuts.

Those cuts should stay away from teachers, he said. That means more cuts in administration, and he backs a hiring freeze for all administrative positions. He also favors reducing athletics, including reducing some coaching positions, especially for sports such as football that have multiple staff members. He also would consider reducing transportation costs, creating a single-tier system when K-12 students travel on the same bus.

Murphy owns a small automotive supply manufacturing business and has two children in the district.

Andy Thomas


Andy Thomas

The other incumbent, Thomas was appointed to the board in May 2010 and was elected to fill the one-year term last fall. As an incumbent, Thomas said, he has a record to run on, including his opposition to the board’s decision raise the salary for the superintendent position to $245,000. It gave the wrong message, he said, when the district was asking other employees for wage concessions. Another accomplishment, he said, was hiring Patricia Green as the district’s new superintendent.

As for future cost savings, Thomas said he sees a request for more salary and benefit concessions from employees along with an increase in the pay-to-play fee for athletics. He said he’d also back sharing principals as long as it was evenly distributed around the district. He didn’t back a proposal last school year that four of the 21 elementary schools share principals because it was not fair. Finally, he said the district should seek a technology millage early next year and eventually ask for a countywide enhancement millage.

Thomas has a son in the district and is a retired health care administrator.

Oct. 11 is the last day to register to vote to be eligible for the Nov. 8 election.


Richard Carter

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 10:23 p.m.

Howard is, shall we say, interesting. On his page linked to above is a page explaining how he's phrophesied that the White House will move ... to Michigan Stadium! Per <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Dr. I. Emsayin

Mon, Oct 10, 2011 : 4:03 p.m.

Simone Lightfoot is worth getting to know. Find out about her past experience in the world of work and politics as well as her background as a child growing up in Ann Arbor. She is uniquely qualified and thoroughly thoughtful.

Jack Panitch

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

@DonBee &quot;The pay raise for the Superintendent and the hiring of additional administrators . . . .&quot; Please jettison the political sound-bite, and provide evidence. First, provide the comparables that show we could have gotten a Superintendent of this talent for less money. It's nice to call stuff &quot;silly,&quot; but it's another thing entirely to back up your conclusion with anything approaching fact. And as I understand it, the District is replacing a handful of key people who retired or departed. You make it sound like parthenogenesis. Please list the hires you're concerned about and explain why these folks are dead- wood. "Spending over $5 million on athletic facilities . . . ." The question of spending on varsity sports certainly is one that ought to be discussed by our whole community. But you make it sound as if the Board is the only body that wants these programs: that the community would happily let them go. That's not the Ann Arbor I live in. I'm sure some of us see tea parties as essential to a well-rounded education, but I'll bet more of us value athletics and teamwork. "Continuing to spend over $3 million from the general fund for Varsity . . . ." See above. Many people believe sports are a crucial part of education at this age. Debatable, perhaps, but silly? No. "Refusing to implement the busing study. . . ." Do you have a copy of this phantom study? If so, could you please make it available? We would all like to see it. If you don't have it, how do you know that it would save money or would be workable? "The fact that the Board decided to go along with cuts they knew would have a direct impact on students but protected the administration shows just how much the board is in the pocket of the administration." Now you know what's silly? You know what has me rolling on the floor laughing? The image of Susan Baskett in anyone's "pocket." I could go on and on.


Sat, Oct 8, 2011 : 4:19 a.m.

DonBee: The Board is comprised of seven people, right? Seven brilliant, talented, self-sacrificing, public-service oriented people, not two. Seven, who make decisions as one. With all due respect, I look at your laundry list of concerns, and I reflect on the reasoning and facts and proportion and judgment that goes into them, and it brings me back to an analogy I once made between running the District and flying a plane under Instrument Meteorological Conditions. You see, our Board, with the help of one amazing navigator who never wanted the job, just spent a year flying blind, on instruments, guiding a very complicated piece of machinery to a safe landing with all souls accounted for (and thriving by last count). Bombarded by the mind-numbing complexity of literally hundreds of critical issues, they made difficult, gut-wrenching decisions on our kids' behalf, no matter how politically unpopular. We threw our drink glasses at them and rushed the cabin (because unhappily that's &quot;how we roll&quot;), and still they did their jobs. No arrogance, no ego, no selfishness -- just service for the good of our kids, toward a brighter future for a community that is unquestionably crucial to this State's economic future. Your criticism is the earth below, rising up animorphically to knock that airship right out of the sky. I'll take their record and their collective thought process on our behalf, not without question, but with open-minded questions in an effort to better educate myself. Andy Thomas and Simone Lightfoot, both made huge contributions, show strong character, and know what it means to represent. They have experience and continue to grow in their positions. We need both of them.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Is there any way/ place to ask the candidates their views on issues? For example - I am extremely interested to know what they think about the proposed &quot;balanced calendar&quot; for Mitchell/ Scarlett that will be up for discussion again next year. I will be happy to vote for a candidate that says they would make Mitchell/ Scarlett a school of choice within the district - like AA Open - and would provide designated alternate schools for the families in the Mitchell/ Scarlett areas that do NOT want that calendar.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 7:06 p.m.

Thanks, John!

John Callewaert

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

There is another forum on Monday: Candidate forum at the AA PTO Council Launch Party. The meeting/party will be held on Monday, Oct. 10th from 6:30-8:30pm at Slauson Middle School (1019 West Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48103-4299) The draft agenda as it stands today: 6:30 pm Meet and greet with Dr.Green, BOE candidates &amp; PTO officers 6:50 pm Welcome -PTOC chair-Donna Lasinski 7:00 pm Dr. Green -Vision for AAPS- followed by Q &amp; A 7:45 pm BOE Candidates Introduction- 8:15 pm Mix and mingle However, as I understand it there will not be a chance for the audience to ask questions during the forum - the organizers will ask all the candidates two predetermined questions. You could speak with them after the event or contact them via their websites (listed above) - some also have regular coffee hours. I am not aware of any other public events before the election.

Allison C.

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 2:38 a.m.

Simone Lightfoot - has a vision to improve the AAPS district. I have really enjoyed hearing Lightfoot speak at public forums and feel that her experience previously serving on the board (as an incumbent), and passion to stand-up for what she believes in, is commendable. At this point, I'm having a hard time deciding between Murphy, Iqbal, or Thomas. Iqbal has stated,&quot; his finance background as being the unique asset he can bring to the board,&quot; but doesn't he realize the district has rising costs annually - these costs alone offset the $2 million in revenue. However, Iqbal is well-spoken and could bring a different perspective to the board. I have been following Thomas and Murphy closely and will continue to do so... I'm still undecided, but I must admit that I'm impressed with this pool of candidates. John C. - I disagree with your &quot;ranking&quot; of candidates, especially with the criteria you used to determine that order. As an electorate, we can't look at one forum or a website and decide our candidates. It's important to speak with the candidates' - visit their coffee hours and community functions to learn more about their vision. I've had the opportunity to meet some of the BOE candidates during their canvassing. First, I can tell you that Mr. Leonard is far from inexperienced, he's spent more time working and volunteering in schools than all of the candidates combined. From our conversation I could tell he was experienced beyond his years. He understood the public policy issues, social inequalities, and budget deficit facing our district and proposed well-informed, thoughtful solutions. I think we should give him more consideration in this upcoming election; in fact, he has my vote right now.

Basic Bob

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

&quot;hiring freeze for all administrative positions&quot; - Murphy &quot;possible reduction in administrative staff&quot; - Leonard &quot;opposition to the board's decision raise the salary&quot; - Thomas &quot;fill only essential job vacancies&quot; - Lightfoot It seems we have a consensus that the district needs to reduce administrative overhead. Starting with the failed administrators exiled to special assignments. Does any dare touch the third-rail of AAPS school board elections - Community High School? Doubtful.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

I do not know that I would categorize the hiring Patricia Green as the district's new superintendent as an &quot;accomplishment&quot;.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

I am not sure I want either Mr. Thomas or Ms. Lightfoot back on the board. Both have done some good things and some not so good things. The pay raise for the Superintendent and the hiring of additional administrators are both problematic to me. AAPS is already top heavy and continuing to interview and hire administrators is just plain silly. Spending over $5 million on athletic facilities from the bond and sinking fund to create &quot;college level&quot; weight rooms and locker rooms is again silly. Using that money to improve energy efficiency or for renewables would have paid better dividends to the district in the long run. Very few students will even be allowed to use these Varsity facilities. Continuing to spend over $3 million from the general fund for Varsity sports, while pleading poor is also a bit on the silly side. Refusing to implement the busing study that would have cut the costs of busing significantly again was silly. The fact that the Board decided to go along with cuts they knew would have a direct impact on students but protected the administration shows just how much the board is in the pocket of the administration. Continuing to use the Pacific Education Group, adding a consultant for a national search for a superintendent, both are a waste of funds. Both have created splits in the community. Mr. Thomas and Ms. Lightfoot &quot;went along to get along&quot; too often. There is no fiscal discipline in the district. Then add the fact that they have not been vocal about the superintendent using podcasts, instead of being present at community meetings on the busing issue, shows they care more about being on the board than fixing problems. No, they will not see my vote. Now the question is can any of the other 4 convince me they have the vision and the drive to fix the board, and through the board, the district?


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 11:24 p.m.

Iqbal is my choice of this group. AAPS needs some deeceeplyn'


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

Iqbal was very clear in the recent debate. He thinks the AAPS has more than enough money, he said it several times. Clearly the massive cuts to K-12 over the last decade and especially the past 2 years are not enough for him. I could not disagree with him more. The AAPS is working with far too little resources, it is cut to the bone. I don't want my kids in a school system that is so bare-bones. I have several friends who moved to private schools just this year, as the increase in class sizes AGAIN was the final straw.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

Massive cuts? A2anon....up until this year the total amount of money available to AAPS rose every year. AAPS in their budget documents prove that. Enrollment feel, but dollars grew. 2011-2012 is the first year that the real income to the school district fell. The problem is that the BUDGET calls for an increase ANNUALLY of 5 percent. Revenue has not grown at that 5 percent level for several years, yet for many years salary and benefits continued to rise as if the 5 percent was a real increase. The board decided 5 percent growth in total revenue was the right number to plan against. When it did not happen - budget cuts.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

Ahmar Iqbal is a proud supporter of Rick Snyder (just google their names together and you will see all of the money and hosting of events Iqbal has given to support Snyder). If you care about public schools in Ann Arbor, you should NOT vote for Iqbal. He is an articulate speaker no doubt, and he is cleverly playing on a few key emotional issues (e.g. busing), but make no mistake. He wants to push the Snyder agenda of attacking public education.

John Callewaert

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

I found one event. One of Ahmar's campaign pledges is &quot;Actively advocate Lansing lawmakers on keeping the school aid fund for K-12 only as well as reforming local funding options for school districts.&quot;

John Callewaert

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

Here's my ranking after attending the forum and reviewing all the websites. 1. Iqbal: brings the budget knowledge &amp; experience to dig through all the details to find the opportunities. Has a real passion for making sure the "Educated in Ann Arbor" brand means something. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 2. Lightfoot: was the only current trustee I heard asking hard questions of the administration during the discussions on cuts to athletics. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 3. Murphy: has great ideas – not certain they fit Ann Arbor PS. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 4. Leonard: needs more experience but hope he stays involved. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 5. Thomas: lacks depth. Used a list of email addresses of folks who contacted the board with concerns to promote his campaign – to me that's inappropriately exploiting his role as board secretary. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 6. Howard: appears to be using the opportunity to promote his personal beliefs. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> All deserve our thanks, though, for their willingness to serve our community.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

Good field of candidates, certainly have a choice this time. Wonder what all of them think about emergency managers? EM's seem inevitable at some point unless the student population drops drastically. Last one out of Michigan, don't forget to turn out the lights.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Please tell me one of these candidates supports discontinuing bussing kids across town when there are schools within walking distance of their homes. What a waste of gas and busses.