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