You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Former candidate: Many reasons to stay away from school board race this year

By Letters to the Editor

In last year’s Ann Arbor School Board election I earned the dubious title of top vote recipient who did not win a seat on the school board. I came in third out of six and there were two seats available. With this title comes a not-so-tiny amount of name recognition. On this basis, my wife urged me to run again this year. However, I decided not to run for the following reasons:

1. It is very difficult to beat an incumbent. The two victors in last year’s election were the incumbents, and this year’s open seat is being sought by an incumbent, Deb Mexicotte.

Incumbents have significant name recognition. Although this can be a liability if things aren’t going well, often voters go with the devil they know versus the devil they don’t know - especially if they aren’t thoroughly informed on the issues . In addition, during their tenure on the board, the candidate can get to know some of the influential people in the AAPS world such as Steve Norton (who has run several AAPS related campaigns) and Ruth Kraut (who runs the popular Ann Arbor Schools Musings blog). Each of these people are connected to an army of active voters. An endorsement from one of them works wonders.

2. For the 2012-2013 budget the board opted to not make as many painful cuts and instead draw down the $19M equity fund (also known as working capital, also known as spare cash for unforeseen contingencies). It is generally recommended that municipalities have an equity fund balance equal to 15 percent of their budget, which would imply $28M (by way of comparison, financial advisers recommend that households keep 1.5 months spare cash on hand - which implies 12.5 percent).

However, the board is drawing this fund down to $13M (6.9 percent of the budget) during the course of the upcoming school year. This makes the board look more effective to the voters because there’s fewer painful cuts, just less cash in the cookie jar - which voters don’t notice.

If a contingency does occur, such as the $7M in new revenue doesn’t materialize, the district will be scrambling for cash to meet payroll next summer.

3. The Ann Arbor school district may not be ready for me yet. In my business I have learned to be a shrewd manager of limited financial resources (I compete directly with companies from low wage Asian countries). If things get worse for the school district, and the cuts get significantly more painful, then my message of Less Overhead will be understood and appreciated.

4. Deb Mexicotte is smart. Though we don’t always share the same priorities, she is incisive and I have seen how she can break down a complex subject into sortable components. This is a useful skill for the board.

For now I will sit on the sidelines frustrated, admittedly, with the knowledge that I have the experience that the board desperately needs. Still, as we all know, nothing in life remains the same. Doors open and doors close. So, on behalf of my 4th and 5th grade sons, I remain eager to help.

Lawrence Murphy

Ann Arbor


Ruth Kraut

Sun, Aug 26, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

I appreciate Mr. Murphy calling my blog influential. I wish more people read it! (You can find it at I think the interesting question that he raises is this one: "For now I will sit on the sidelines frustrated. . . I remain eager to help." It is often unclear to me--and I have said this in my blog numerous times--how those of us who are not on the board but are eager to help can pitch in, BEYOND the school level. A few years ago during one of the Ann Arbor school budget discussions, we were asked to indicate an interest in working on a committee focused on certain areas (related to strategic planning). I indicated my interest, but was never contacted--and I don't know if anyone else was either. Just as the city and the county have various standing committees which have community members (e.g., parks, planning, zoning) I think it would be great if the school board would facilitate something like that as well--and I think it would make it easier for both the school board and the staff.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

Deb Mexicotte is smart, glad you noticed, and is always trying to problem solve, nicely, no less. The board takes a lot of heat, unfairly, I believe, but they are committed and do a lot of thinking and discussing to try to keep things going in the right direction. The board drew down the equity fund to give a breather, sort of, to the cuts going on, especially to the teachers, it seems. And the teachers are taking it on the chin from the state, again this year, so good for the board on that one. There'll likely be a county wide millage proposal this school year, and we'll see what happens, though I for one, would likely support it. There are things that haven't happened, never mind what is at risk to be taken away in these difficult financial times, that need to be put in place to make the public schools more equitable and productive institutions.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

1. So you are basically saying you ccan not bat an incumbent? I wonder how that would go over for the sales force in yoru business? Sorry, they aren't interested in talking to us, they alreaady have a guy to take care of that. Sounds like you DON"t have the ability to show people why you would be better 2. So the board made a decision to not make more painful cuts that would effect educational opportunities and that is a reason you choose not to run? That seems to be saying, if they had made more cuts, you would have run? You need to clarify is this your whining, or a reason you are not running 3. The people of Ann Arbor are not ready for people who can not make their case. You gave absolutely ZERO reason to ever vote for you based on your letter alone. It is not that we are not ready for you, it is we do not want you. 4. The person you would be going against is smart. Wow, it must be tough to live in your world. You only compete against those that are stupid? Smart people make you cower in fear? Yeah, the people of Ann Arbor want THAT kind of person as a leader NOT You would have been better off to say you choose not to run to spend more time with your family., It makes you look less desperate for attention and quite frankly, I do not know all of your positions, but based on this letter alone, you have very little shot of ever getting my vote. No wonder you were first amongst losers.

Steve Bachman

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

The comment from johnnya2 strikes me as mean-spirited and unproductive. I think folks who run for School Board do it out of a drive to help improve things for our kids. Their willingness to serve and to "put themselves out there" should not be taken for granted. Disagreeing with positions is fine, but this comment seems intended to beat Mr. Murphy down. He is a good man and not deserving of such treatment.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Amen, what a sob story letter. The district isn't ready for him yet? Unbelievable.

Paula Gardner

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

Larry Murphy wrote this as a letter to the editor. The "author" line of this has been changed to reflect this.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 1 p.m.

From the murky depths of the Progressive Pond known as Ann Arbor will come our savior. One who knows how to balance budgets and get their message to the voters. Until that time we are stuck with the "Old Guard" of left over hippies from the 60's.

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

Mr. Murphy presents convincing reasons why he would lose, and also reasons we should be concerned. The district is choosing to spend money now with the hope that the impending firestorm of school district failures statewide will cause Lansing to relent. Perhaps this is a good bet, since they receive far more per student than neighboring districts. But it is also possible the hold-harmless funds the district has received since 1994 could be eliminated and given to systems such as Ypsilanti/Willow Run. The board needs to manage the risk. If the district was actually sticking up for students and teachers, I would be sympathetic, but that is not my perception. The top of the pyramid is rapidly accumulating promotions and raises, including the recent announcement that the new Pioneer athletic coordinator would remain a Director position. Perhaps this is required to recruit and keep top talent, but it seems to just create an arms race between other districts. My biggest complaints with Ms. Mexicotte are the suspension of written evaluations of its top administrator, and the reluctance to make necessary reductions in building and administrative costs. In spite of this, I concede she will win easily.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 11:27 a.m.

Does Ruth Kraut really endorse anyone? She gives candidates an opportunity to answer a questionnaire, she suggests her readers go to meetings, but I don't think I ever saw her support one candidate over another.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 10:50 a.m.

Oh brother. Sour grapes.

andy kelly

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 11:40 a.m.

It is unfortunate that this public cry for recognition covered over the painful reality of the A2 school system. Mr. Bertsos established some very good points about the reality of fiscal responsibility and the ineffectiveness of the current board. Of course, there is a simple but radical solution: 1. Remove the ineffective administration. 2. Hire MORE high quality teachers and split administrative responsibility equally among ALL teachers. 3. Practice a little civil disobedience against the government regimen of ineffective testing standards and ALLOW A TEACHER TO TEACH!!!!. What was Mr. Bertsos solution? Cut teacher pay again? That effort only gets you so far and along the way you loose good teachers and surely will not pick up any more good teachers of quality along the way.