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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Guest Post: Dan Rubinstein on Ann Arbor Public Schools Open Board Seat

Guest post! Dan Rubinstein read some of this at last night's board meeting, but here is his opinion piece in full.

From the Ann Arbor Public Schools website:  
Candidates are: Rebecca Jacobsen Jessica Kelly Rebecca Lazarus Deb Mexicotte Steve Norton Hunter Van Valkenburgh  

Interviews will take place at a Special Meeting of the Board on Friday, December 9, 2016, beginning at 9:00 AM at the Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk Dr., Ann Arbor. This is an open meeting; the public is welcome to attend. 
Update: Interview schedule
COURTYARD MARRIOTT, 3205 Boardwalk Dr., Ann Arbor
A. 9:00 AM - Hunter Van Valkenburgh
B. 9:35 AM - Rebecca Jacobsen
C. 10:10 AM - Jessica Kelly
D. 10:40-11:00 AM - Break
E. 11:00 AM - Steve Norton
F. 11:35 AM - Rebecca Lazarus
G. 12:10 PM - Deb Mexicotte
CTN Comcast Channel 18. Replays: Thursday @ 1:30pmSaturday @ 8amSunday @ 1pm

--> Followed at 2pm by a Governance Committee meeting - same location.

The vote on the appointment will take place on December 14th.

Dan Rubinstein's Comments



Board president among 6 seeking vacant Ann Arbor school board seat” reported that six candidates applied to fill the AAPS Board of Education seat vacated by Donna Lasinski, who was elected to the state house. The board appoints Lasinski's replacement. Interviews are December 9th, final selection December 14th.

The article addressed a key policy question: should a trustee who was just voted out – Deb Mexicotte, the current president – re-apply through this appointment process? The Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) addressed legal issues (sitting board members are not clearly prohibited from applying for an open seat) and trustees addressed conflict of interest issues (excluding Trustee Mexicotte from the selection process and voting allays ethical concerns).

This article is incomplete. Trustees should take additional factors into account. Ethical questions entail balancing competing considerations. Weighing the entirety of the legal, democratic, and conflict of interest issues, it is wrong for Trustee Mexicotte to try to regain a seat on the board through this back door, and it would be wrong for trustees to appoint her.

That the board or author consulted MASB counsel suggests Trustee Mexicotte’s move is legally unusual. That MASB is unable to give a definitive answer suggests lack of precedent (examples welcome). Perhaps this hasn’t been done before because it is prima facie inappropriate. Just because you can legally do something doesn’t mean you should. The legal question, of course, is open until this move is challenged in court. I hope it never comes to that.

Democratically, this move overturns the voters’ will. Not only was Trustee Mexicotte voted out, she was extremely controversial. As president, she led a series of actions that alienated a swath of Ann Arbor voters (see an alternative slate’s website for details). Her divisive actions and unresponsive attitude angered and frustrated many teaching and support staff and parents. We know this because she had all the advantages of an incumbent and still came in fourth: She had been on the board for 13 years; she had been president for the past seven; she was endorsed by fellow trustees. Still, the voters rejected her. Add the alternative slate’s strong showing (two of three were elected) and it is hard to interpret these results as anything other than a repudiation of Trustee Mexicotte’s leadership. The public voted for change.

In terms of conflict of interest, is it sufficient that Trustee Mexicotte is uninvolved in the interview process and will not vote? She has had years to build up political loyalties, quid pro quos, and personal friendships with trustees. Most troubling is the unknowable -- why trustees may vote for her. She has put her colleagues in the awkward position of having to publicly choose to vote for or against her. And we can’t know if deals were  made for votes after she is reappointed. One needn’t allege “corruption” to allow that there are dynamics at play that could “corrupt” how a board votes on its sitting president.


We just finished a traumatic election in which the will of the plurality was subverted by arcane and controversial decision rules. Re-appointing Trustee Mexicotte through this back door would re-traumatize Ann Arborites. Public schools’ uniqueness lies in citizen control. The public voted for change. Re-appointing Trustee Mexicotte would rely on legal speculation, overturn voters’ will, and entail irresolvable ethical dilemmas. These factors sum to an action that is disrespectful and wrong. Now is the time for the board to show they’ve heard Ann Arbor’s voters and to change their organizational culture towards responsiveness. Trustee Mexicotte should retract her application or the board should not vote for her.


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