The Politics of Education: In A2 More Money Is the Answer To Everything. Right?

We had dinner with friends not too long ago, and fell to chatting about the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Bobby shook his head and said when people ask him about the public schools (and thanks to his job, he gets asked pretty often), he replies that the school system isn’t that great. His kids went to elementary school in the AAPS, but then to Greenhills for middle and high school. Several children with whom our son went to elementary school are now attending private school, specifically Greenhills. Their families, at least to hear them tell it, can’t afford the $17,000+ tuition, but thanks to financial aid, are determined to have their kids where they feel they will thrive academically, and that’s not at Clague Middle School, Huron or Ann Arbor’s newest high school, Skyline. About 1,800 kids in Ann Arbor attend private schools, including the religious schools. In a District of about 16,000 students total, the 11.2 percent of kids whose parents opt them out of the public school system, are costing the AAPS a bundle in lost state funding, $9,723 per pupil in 2009, according to funding data published in the Detroit News, or $17,501,000 dollars. 

Just imagine what the AAPS could do with that money? Why, with more money the Ann Arbor Board of Education could give the incoming Superintendent a $70,000 raise over what former Sup. Dr. Todd Roberts was taking home. Well, it turns out the School Board members, at least four of them anyway, don’t need no stinkin’ $17,501,000 in additional state funding to give the incoming superintendent a $70,000 raise even before s/he begins. At the most recent meeting of the Board of Education, Board President, Deb Mexicotte, listened as a consultant explained why paying more would result in Ann Arbor getting a “different tier” of candidate applying.

A “different tier” of candidate? 

They were, however, magic words spoken to a Board of Education President who cares more about not looking like a fool, than actually understanding what she’s being told, and looking after the interests of the parents and students.

Then, the consultant compared Ann Arbor’s school district and superintendent compensation to that of “other” towns with major universities. Well, kinda. The consultant’s comparison included districts with nowhere near the same number of students enrolled. Some had double the number enrolled, others had fewer than one-third. For those who missed fifth grade math, what the consultant did was contrast Ann Arbor’s school district to those much larger and those much smaller, not compare multiple districts of similar population, geographical size, or overall enrollment. He used towns with “large” universities, like that “large” university in Knox County, Tennessee, known as the the UT Extension campus, and “large” universities in Sacramento, California, such as the University of Sacramento—a college that enrolls about 1,500 students.

Nonetheless, most of the intrepid BOE members weren’t bothered by the fact that the consultant’s “comparison” wasn’t a comparison at all. Obviously, not a single one of them had bothered to check the consultant’s work which he had emailed to them prior to the meeting. For instance, the consultant pegged the enrollment in the Cambridge School District at 6,500. The web site of the Cambridge School District has enrollment at 5,971 in 2010. When Trustee Andy Thomas reasonably suggested Ann Arbor should not be paying a superintendent “the same as a superintendent would get in a district two to three times larger,” Mexicotte shot back that “the job is the same, regardless of the number of students.” And she knows this how? Because she organized the Dance for Mother Earth in 2001 in her job as Assistant Director of New Student Programs at the University of Michigan? This is one of the more ridiculous comments Mexicotte made; it is the lunacy of an individual who would argue that 40 kids in a classroom is the “same” as 20. 

The real reason why Mexicotte and her three Big Spenders (Patalan, Nelson and Stead) could rationalize the need to give the new Supe a $70K pay bump wasn’t so hard to puzzle out. The four of them suffer from a disease that targets elected officials here in Ann Arbor. It’s called Chronic Inferiority Complex Syndrome (CICS). The “reasoning” of the BOE members infected with the disease goes like this: If Cambridge, Mass., with ten thousand fewer students, and a 2010-2011 annual budget of just $137,000,000, can pay its Superintendent more than Ann Arbor, why something must be very wrong. Very. Very wrong. CICS sufferers inhabit an insular little world where certain elected officials with access to tax dollars believe that Ann Arbor can buy its way to the big leagues. Kinda like Ann Arbor “businessman” Rick Snyder bought his way into the Governor’s mansion.

If you’re infected with CICS, you don’t question a consultant’s assertion that significantly more money will get you a significantly “better” Superintendent. You don’t ask the consultant for examples of “different tier” candidates, or inquire exactly what the hell “different tier” means. You don’t remember that the teachers in the District just took a pay cut, and that the former Superintendent slashed his own pay by 8 percent. You don’t remember that you just got your clock thoroughly cleaned by voters when you backed the latest grab for an enhancement millage.

You sure as hell don’t stop and wonder how come Cambridge can pay its Superintendent more, give the teachers a raise, spend more per pupil, have more K-12 teachers, fewer administrators, and do it all on a budget that’s $50 million dollars less than Ann Arbor’s. That would be the best question of all, you see. You don’t ask it because the answer would betray the fact that Trustees like Irene Patalan, Deb Mexicotte and Glenn Nelson have been negligent in their duty to oversee the District’s financial health, and the past two superintendents.

So, what’s up with Cambridge?

First off, Cambridge has a more diverse and robust tax base, thanks to not having any entity that even remotely resembles Ann Arbor SPARK. Ann Arbor SPARK, of course, has been funded with millions of tax dollars skimmed from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, thanks to a TIF scheme approved by elected officials, one of whom (John Hieftje) now sits on the Board of Ann Arbor SPARK. SPARK’s CEO Michael Finney is paid over $250,000 per year. According to the fine folks at GuideStar, who study non-profit funding, Mr. Finney’s salary is commensurate with that of a CEO at a non-profit with a budget ten times larger than SPARK’s. So, in exchange for his super-sized salary, our city has experienced a net loss of 6 percent of its total jobs, according to a piece posted to CNNMoney.com. It’s economic development Ann Arbor style.

Back to managing the School District Ann Arbor style.

Here’s a table with data from both the Cambridge, Massachussets school district 2010-2011 approved budget, and the Ann Arbor school district 2010-2011 approved budget:




Ann Arbor Public Schools Cambridge Public Schools
Total enrollment K-12 16,536 5,971
Total teachers K-12 831.37 1,039
Special Ed teachers FTEs 291 37
School Administration FTEs 121.85 48
Total district employees 1,948.09 1,232
State funding per pupil 2009 $9,723 $6,129
Total district spending per pupil $12,000 $24,467
Total district budget 2010-2011 $183,640,000 $137,492,000
Superintendent Compensation $245,000 (proposed) $200,000 (advertised at $200K in 2009 search)

According to a November 7, 2010 piece posted to the AnnArborChronicle.com:

Bill Newman of Ray & Associates summarized a table he had e-mailed to the board earlier in the week, which listed the 2010-11 salaries and 2011-12 estimated salaries for nine districts near other large universities – Iowa City, Iowa; Knox County, Tenn.; Lincoln, Neb.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Seattle, Wash.; Cambridge, Mass.; Socorro ISD, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Sacramento, Calif. The average estimated salary of these districts for 2011-12 was $246,001, with a range of $189,520 to $272,950. All of the districts listed had enrollment at least double that of the 16,536 students in Ann Arbor Public Schools, except for Iowa City (12,500 students), and Cambridge (6,500 students).

Newman added that the board should take into account that although a lot of these districts are larger, they might have attracted candidates who might have looked at AAPS. Setting a higher salary attracts better candidates, Newman stated, explaining that each increment of roughly $25,000 would attract a different tier of candidates.

After telling Board members that Dr. Roberts had been hired in four years ago at $175,000, Mexicotte put forth a resolution to pay Roberts’s replacement $245,000. Trustee Irene Patalan seconded the motion.

Mexicotte’s motion passed 4-3. Know why? Because every member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education up for re-election this past November ran unopposed.

I created a poll for interested A2 politicos to weigh in on the subject. One vote per student. If you want to email Deb Mexicotte directly to ask where your $70,000 raise is, click here.

[polldaddy poll=4055904]

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=4882

7 Comments for “The Politics of Education: In A2 More Money Is the Answer To Everything. Right?”

  1. How do we make the Board understand that this decision will prevent the new Superintendent from securing the very community support he/she will need? I really don’t care what Mexicotte and companys’ ‘intentions’ were. They made a serious mistake in judgement, and if they are that incompetent, they deserve to be recalled before they do any more damage.

  2. Deb Mexicotte is getting pounded by the press in AA.com, which I don’t think is completely fair. She’s trying.

    A headhunter group is only going to be so good, better than do it yourself, not optimal.
    Big problem is that they gave no range, just announced the salary to the world, with no caveats, no conditions.

    Big money will attract big trouble…

    It looks really bad to make bus drivers impoverished and then pay the salary of a quarter of a million dollars a year for a staff member whose likelihood of staying here longterm is very low.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by A2 Politico, A2 Politico. A2 Politico said: New blog entry: The Politics of Education: In A2 More Money Is the Answer To Everything. Right? http://www.a2politico.com/?p=4882 […]

  4. In speaking with some past BOE members one said, quite frankly, that it would appear that this Board is out of control in this instance, and particularly Ms. Mexicotte. It’s absurd to argue that working in a larger district requires the same skills and managerial experience that working in a smaller district does. By virtue of that argument, there is little difference between districts or candidates who choose to apply for superintendent jobs for that matter. I, too, agree with Ms. Nelson that it is more difficult to understand why the BOE felt it necessary to review all of the incoming applications and pay a consultant to do so. Get rid of the consultant! I believe it was Ms. Mexicotte who announced that the present search could cost $70,000 when the previous search had cost less than $15,000.

  5. I agree with Elizabeth Nelson that we need the most qualified person interested in the job, period. However, I just don’t believe that throwing money at a candidate search or, ultimately, at a candidate, results in the best fit for a school district. So far as I’m concerned it is the responsibility of the BOE members to make sure that the consultant’s work is done to the highest possible standards. I was disturbed by this sentence: ‘Newman added that the board should take into account that although a lot of these districts are larger, they might have attracted candidates who might have looked at AAPS.’ That’s a lot of ‘mights.’ He obviously doesn’t know for certain, but wants the Board to feel sure that offering more pay is the best course of action.

    I’m still somewhat confused as to why this BOE needed a consultant to place ads in newspapers and go through job applications.

  6. Elizabeth Nelson

    There might be another logic to this: with the economic climate locally, anyone who is married or otherwise attached is likely to have anxiety about the ability of their spouse/significant other to find employment. That was my first thought in reading the chart comparing Cambridge, Mass. The job opportunities for the OTHER half of a two-person household are surely better in Cambridge (thought I’d suspect the cost of living is significantly lower here). I found this discussion of financial numbers less disturbing than previous/recent discussion about certain school board members wanting to ‘double-check’ the work of consultants. It was painfully obvious what one Board member was aiming for in that ‘double-check’ and it wouldn’t be helpful to anyone but the individual person eventually given the job. We need the most qualified person interested in the job, period.

  7. A big problem with recruiting is the reality that this is a district that has and will continue to have big budget shortfalls, union troubles, demanding parents, and the achievement gap and it’s in SE Michigan, not the most desirable of places these days, as the state is so economically depressed.. It’s a miserable sell to have someone come and take this job, or so the thought goes.

    Still, I believe they could find someone in the $200-220K range.

    Better yet, they should offer it to Mr. Allen, and save themselves the heartburn.

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