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Posted on Thu, Dec 3, 2009 : 5:03 p.m.

Seven candidates file for open Ann Arbor school board seat

By David Jesse

Seven Ann Arbor residents have submitted applications to fill the Ann Arbor school board seat vacated by Helen Gates-Bryant last month.

None have served on school board before. One will join at a time when the district is looking at cutting $20 million from its budget over the course of this school year and next.

The candidates are:

  • Jack Panitch, an attorney and stay-at-home dad with two children in the district. "For my two boys, for all our children and for this wonderfully creative and resourceful community at large, I would like to be part of the solution. I understand the time commitment, and I am eager to grab an oar. In a landscape with diminshing resources, I aspire to remain viligant about equity and excellence for all students."
  • Elizabeth Nelson, a parent of a child in the district. "I believe that the board would benefit from the perspective of someone who understands, on a practical level, what parents and students need from the special education department.  I've dealt with that department on all levels and I appreciate that the services provided represent a significant expense to the district.  I have seen huge breakdowns in communication between administration and parents and there is a high level of distrust -- toward administration-- among parents of special education students. To a degree, this distrust has been earned, but I don't believe it's constructive, and that's why I've hesitated to get involved in advocating on this particular issue. The way I see it, my concerns are exactly the same as any other parent dealing with any other department in the district: all families expect honest and straightforward communication about the standard of education our children will receive."
  • Andrew Thomas, recently retired and the parent of one child in the district. "I am seeking the position on the BOE because I am very concerned about the school district's financial situation, and want to be part of the solution. I have 25 years of experience as an administrator in the health care industry, and have been involved in more than my share of budget squeezes, so I believe I can contribute in a very positive way. I have also been very involved in the district, through the PTO Council and the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, as well as the Burns Park PTO and Tappan PTSO."
  • Christine Stead, a management consultant with two children in the district. "I think it's going to be a real interesting time." She said she's done a lot of work with the district's strategic plan and was on the steering committee of the citizen's committee working to pass the enhancement millage. "I've been doing a lot of work with the district and that's given me an understanding of the district's financials."
  • Margy Long. "I think it's the right time to get involved.  The board is facing some very
    tough financial decisions.  I want to make sure that we're keeping the needs of all of the students in mind whether they're soaring in school or struggling.  I've been involved in the schools and district since 1997 when my kids started school and I think my skills as a community organizer and policy analyst will be helpful during the tough times ahead.  This isn't a problem just for parents of students in the district.  The quality  of our public schools is key to the quality of our community.  We need everyone involved.
  • Kim Callahan Lijana, a doctoral student and graduate research assistant at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. "I am pursuing this position because I have great respect for the strong public school system in Ann Arbor and for the Board of Education; but I am also very concerned about the economic situation in Michigan particularly the budget challenges facing school systems and the potential impact on the students."
  • Simone Lightfoot, parent of two children in the district. "As a US Air Force veteran, I know how to exercise calm amidst crises while moving with a sense of urgency.  I am experienced at maintaining focus on both the mission and resolve.And as a former small business owner, I understand budgets and building community relationships, how to extract the constructive from the critique and the value of soliciting broad points of view. Serving as a deputy chief of staff in the Michigan House of Representatives, I learned
    the public policy and legislative process and how to successfully bridge opposing
    interests.  I have the ability to break complex issues down into manageable steps before taking decisive action."

The school board will hold interviews with the seven on Dec. 8 and will select a candidate at the Dec. 16 meeting.

The district told the media in an e-mail it would release copies of the candidates' application packets at 10 a.m. Friday



Fri, Dec 4, 2009 : 8:07 a.m.

I see two possibly strong candidates among this bunch. Jack Panitch and Elizabeth Nelson. Both have a vested interest, background and concerns about the issues facing our school district and either would be a good choice to fill the temporary vacancy. Simone Lightfoot would make a terrible choice.