Spend or Save? Budget Splits AAPS Board 5-2

Trustees grapple with ongoing funding deficit

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (June 8, 2011): After hours of debate, Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees passed a 2011-12 budget early Thursday morning on a 5-2 vote, with trustees Simone Lightfoot and Christine Stead dissenting.

bus map AAPS

This map shows the relationship between locations of students' homes and the district's elementary and high schools. It was the focus of much of the board's discussion on June 8, 2011 when trustees approved the 2011-12 budget.

The original budget proposal brought to the board in April suggested cuts to 70 teaching positions, eliminated high school busing entirely, and used $1.73 million of fund equity. In the interim, the state offered school districts one-time payments to offset increases in retirement costs, as well as possible one-time grants for use of “best practices” as defined by the state. Those funding changes prompted board members to hold a study session earlier this month to offer AAPS administrators direction in how the temporary funding should be applied to the budget.

Based on that feedback, AAPS interim superintendent Robert Allen presented an amended budget at the June 8 board of education meeting. That amended budget slightly decreased the rise in class sizes, added back high school bus service by offering common pick-up points instead of traditional bus stops, and used less of the district’s fund equity.

During the budget discussion, trustees disagreed about multiple details of the budget, but the area of greatest contention was the proper amount to maintain in the district’s fund balance. Ultimately, the budget as presented passed with one major amendment, which moved $300,000 back out of fund equity and put it into the high school transportation budget, in order to allow for more common pick-up sites if needed.

In this meeting report, The Chronicle charts the board deliberations through the entire discussion. For a previously published nuts-and-bolts description of the approved budget, see “AAPS Board Sets 2011-12 Budget.”

Also at this meeting, updates to the district’s strategic plan and a set of board policies were approved. More policy updates, along with the district’s food service contract, were reviewed as first briefing items.

Negotiating Budget Priorities

The meeting included a more open debate among trustees than usual. The central theme in their deliberations was the question of how much money to retain in fund equity, especially given that AAPS had anticipated a greater cut in state funding than what was approved as part of the state budget at the end of May.

Interim superintendent Robert Allen noted at the June 3 budget study session that at least $17 million in fund equity is required to manage cash flow, because the district is required to make payroll, but does not receive funding for a window of 8 weeks during the summer months. In addition, multiple trustees referred to the district’s emergency use of nearly $11 million of fund equity during the 2009-10 school year by way of highlighting the unreliability of state funding. [In December of 2009, the state decreased the per-pupil foundation allowance mid-year, and AAPS chose to use fund equity to maintain continuity of services rather than make drastic cuts, such as laying off a large number of teachers mid-year, as some other districts were forced to do.]

Budget: Revenue Enhancement

Though all trustees agreed that the district’s budgetary woes are being caused by an ongoing structural deficit in state funding mechanisms, their thoughts diverged on where AAPS should target its efforts to bring in more money: (1) upping efforts to attract more students through Schools of Choice (SOC); (2) facilitating increased grant funding; (3) advocating for tax changes at the state level; or (4) trying again to pass a countywide millage to enhance operating funds.

Allen noted that the district did not reach its goal of attracting 170 additional students through SOC. Only 130 students had been added to the district through SOC. Trustee Susan Baskett asked why AAPS did not reach its SOC target for the second year in a row. Allen answered that there is more demand for high school slots, and suggested opening AAPS high schools to SOC students in the future.

Trustee Andy Thomas expressed his belief that using SOC to increase enrollment is a “zero-sum game,” since other local districts are simultaneously pursuing students who live in the AAPS district area. Saying he’s always been skeptical of trying to balance the budget with SOC, he asserted, “it’s hypothetical at best that we can squeeze this [option] any harder.”


AAPS trustee Andy Thomas at the June 8, 2011 board meeting.

Noting that SOC students will be bringing nearly $1 million to the district next year [as their foundation allowance will follow them to AAPS], board president Deb Mexicotte disagreed. She said that while she agrees SOC can not be a cornerstone of the district’s budget plan, “it’s more than shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Trustee Glenn Nelson agreed with Mexicotte, saying that AAPS is merely neutralizing the flow of students out of the district, and not exploiting surrounding districts.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot suggested the district should look at additional grant funding as a means of enhancing revenue. Trustee Christine Stead agreed, noting that the lack of a district-incorporated 501(c)(3) business might have compromised the district’s ability to secure grants, since some grants require the ability to earmark funding. She argued that the mission of the AAPS Educational Foundation, which supplements AAPS funding with grants, limits the kind of funding that AAPS can receive, and that setting up a separate entity should be seriously considered.

Allen noted that grants are “soft money,” and therefore difficult to use in sustainable ways. Thomas, too, argued that grants are often only seed money for new programs, and often ultimately require the district to spend more. “I support the [district's] grant writer,” he said, “but it will not get us out of the $10-$14 million-a-year structural deficit.”

Trustee Irene Patalan argued that the structural deficit at the state level could be solved by raising taxes, including adding a tax on services. “For [Michigan] not to have a service tax is horrible and outrageous. You mention taxes and people run the other way, but it’s time for us to start paying our fair share … Honestly, people of Michigan, you get what you pay for.”

Nelson countered Patalan, saying that while he is in favor of structural change happening at the state level, local tax levies are more helpful to the district. He argued that it was disadvantageous for Washtenaw County, as the second-wealthiest county in the state, to participate in statewide funding distribution pools. “When we do a Washtenaw County millage, every dime stays in Washtenaw County,” he said. “Local [millages are] a better deal than state [millages].”

Mexicotte suggested advocacy could occur on multiple fronts simultaneously, and the most effective approach to revenue enhancement would be multi-faceted.

Budget: Board Review of Departmental Budgets

One item of the budget reduction plan was that every department across the district was required to cut its budget by 7%, without eliminating any entire program.

Two recent AAPS graduates, Alison Kennedy and Carlena Dwong, spoke during public commentary at the meeting in support of continued funding of AAPS creative writing classes, as well as the district’s supplementary support of literary arts programs at the Neutral Zone, a local teen center. Some Neutral Zone programs are supported in part by funding from the superintendent’s discretionary account.

Kennedy said that discovering her love for writing has changed her, and that creative writing and poetry inspire empathy and self-reflection in high school students. Dwong stressed that the literary arts programming at the Neutral Zone, including a youth-driven independent printing press, is unique in the nation. Both implored the board not to cut funding for these programs.

Board members seemed taken off guard by the public commentary, and questioned Allen about the literary arts funding. Allen responded that the administration is planning to continue to support Neutral Zone programming, but not at the same level. Patalan stated she was pleased that all programs were being maintained, because it allows for the funding to increase again in the future more easily than if programs were eliminated completely.

Stead said it would helpful for the board to be aware of community concerns such as those raised by Kennedy and Dwong, and asked when the board would be receiving a list of the programs impacted by the 7% departmental cuts. Allen responded that the board does not usually review departmental budgets at that level of detail, but that he could provide a list of impacted programs within a few weeks. Stead said she would appreciate such as list, noting “these details are really meaningful for people.”

Mexicotte suggested that cuts should be “put to a test against our strategic plan.” Nelson agreed that board review of such budget detail was very important, calling for a “district-wide assessment of whether these cuts are appropriate.”

Budget: “Best Practices” Funding

Nelson asked Allen about the probability that AAPS would qualify to receive the additional “best practices” funding being offered by the state. To qualify for this funding, a district must demonstrate use of at least four of five “best practices” as defined by the state, which include outsourcing, consolidating services, and limited health care expenditures. Allen said there was a “good chance” that the district would meet the “best practices” requirements, leading to the receipt of an additional $100 per student – $1.6 million – in one-time funding.

Nelson noted that, because the $1.6 million is not currently reflected in the budget, that sum would be added to the fund balance if it’s received. Instead of using that strategy, he suggested that the board should anticipate that AAPS will receive that $1.6 million, and direct the administration to use it to hire 10 more teachers and lower some class sizes.

“We could put off larger sections one year,” he said. “Why cut in 2012 what we could wait and cut in 2013?… Let’s keep the system as excellent as we can for as long as we can.” Nelson admitted hiring additional teachers would be “taking more risk financially to place less risk someplace else,” but asked his fellow trustees to heed his suggestion: “A few [class] sections next year with real, live kids in them are larger than they have to be.”

Several trustees disagreed with Nelson’s proposal. Patalan asserted that the district can save money and still deliver excellent services. Stead suggested that instead of hiring additional teachers now, the district could hire them in the fall if class sizes as increased by this budget proved to be too unwieldy. Nelson countered that adjusting classes once the year had started would be unfeasible, and “very disruptive.”

Thomas said he would feel good about hiring 10 teachers for $1 million or even 20 teachers for $2 million, until he looks ahead to the projected deficit for 2012-13. From that perspective, he said, “It really does not seem worth adding to our one-year-out problem.”

Budget: High School Busing Reorganization

The elimination of high school busing was suggested in the original budget proposal, but at the study session held June 3, trustees directed the administration to look at other options to reduce transportation costs. At the June 8 meeting, Allen brought forth an amended budget that included funding for a modified version of high school bus service.

Allen explained that the district is required to provide equitable services to all students at the same grade level, and therefore could not eliminate high school busing but then add back in only a few stops just for students who had no alternate transportation available (which was an idea suggested at the study session). However, the new system as proposed now, he said, allows the district legally to place bus stops only in areas where needed, since those stops will be accessible to all bus riders.

Instead of being picked up at traditional bus stops, high school bus riders will be picked up at a fewer number of common pick-up sites throughout the district. Most of these common pick-up sites will be elementary schools, which are concentrated primarily in the center of the AAPS district area. A small number of common pick-up sites might be added in areas of the district where there are concentrated numbers of high school students who live too far out to walk to the nearest elementary school pick-up site.

Using common pick-up sites instead of providing traditional bus service to high school riders will save the district $600,000. Eliminating high school busing entirely would have saved $1.3 million.

Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications, set up an easel at the front of the board table and presented a large map of the district to answer some of the questions posed by trustees at the previous study session, and to aid in explaining the new proposal. The map plotted the location of the homes of all AAPS 8-12th grade students, elementary schools (in green), and high schools (in red), and included an overlay of 3 sets of concentric circles showing 1.5-mile and 2-mile walk zones around each of the high schools.

Trustees asked about the distances students will need to walk to the common pick-up sites.  Margolis told them that has not been determined, but routes should be set by the end of July. She assured the board that the plan and routes would be well-communicated to all AAPS families with bus riders.

Lightfoot strongly opposed the proposed reduction in high school bus service, pleading with her colleagues: “I cajole you, I beg you, to put off this decision to reduce busing. There are too many questions to vote on this tonight.”

Margolis asserted, “This is not a half-baked idea. We have been talking about common stops for a long time.” After reading a lengthy list of questions about the plan put forth by constituents, Lightfoot responded, “I don’t think the idea is half-baked, but I do think it’s three-fourths of the way baked … It’s not worth $600,000 [in savings]. We need to do a better job to get this cake fully baked.”

As an alternative to using common stops, Nelson suggested providing traditional bus service to high school riders, but increasing high school walk zones from 1.5 miles to 2 miles. Mexicotte pointed out that would mean that a group of students (those living more than 1.5 but less than 2 miles from their high schools) would lose bus service entirely, instead of all high school students receiving a modified service. Stead also disagreed with the idea, saying that it’s not reasonable to ask high school students to walk farther when it’s 20 degrees or colder outside.


Trustee Glenn Nelson uses the map to illustrate the rationale for his proposed amendment on busing, which eventually was narrowly approved.

Nelson then approached the map, and expressed his concern that any savings gleaned from this proposal would be outweighed by the loss of students on the periphery of the district. Gesturing to dots on the map, he argued that these students might choose to leave the district rather than have to travel far to get to a common pick-up site. He suggested that the board cut the target reduction in high school busing costs to allow transportation staff to create more common sites. Saying AAPS could not afford not to have pick-up sites near the edges of the district, Nelson asserted, “Having more stops is worth keeping students in the system.”

Lightfoot appreciated Nelson’s suggestion, as did Baskett, who said students on the outskirts of town should not have to walk farther to catch a bus.

Baskett expressed disappointment that the board did not have “harder numbers” to consider, since the map as presented showed all students in grades 8-12, when the group affected by the proposal would be only bus riders in grades 8-11. She also noted that she would have liked to see Ann Arbor Transportation Authority routes worked in to the mix.

Patalan asked Allen’s opinion on increasing the number of common sites, and Allen said he would be in support of more stops to reach as many high school students as possible. He also reminded the board that more work would need to be done to determine exactly which dots on the map represent students who ride the bus. Pointing to a group of dots in one corner of the map as an example, Allen said, “maybe none of those students need transportation.”

Mexicotte suggested that the board could move by assent to direct the administration to use a more liberal approach when setting common pick-up sites, and could lower the savings target by perhaps as much as $300,000. Stead responded, “It’s one thing if this directive costs $10,000, but if it’s $300,000, I’m not comfortable.”

Nelson removed the budget from the consent agenda, and formally proposed an amendment to lower the targeted savings in high school bus service from $600,000 to $300,000 by spending more from fund equity. He argued that lowering the targeted savings amount would give the district’s transportation staff more latitude in setting locations of the common pick-up sites, and would therefore reduce the risk of students leaving the district because of lack of transportation. He also revisited his earlier argument that AAPS should be optimistic that it will qualify to receive the one-time “best practices” funding being offered by the state, and that $1.6 million would more than offset the increase in fund equity use caused by his amendment.

Margolis, via a note read by Mexicotte, pointed out that the SOC windows for surrounding districts have already closed for the next school year, and that while local charter schools might have space, they do not typically provide transportation.

Stead argued against the amendment, questioning how Nelson came to the $300,000 incremental cost figure. She noted that the district may not reach its targeted savings in other budget reduction areas as well, and it’s irresponsible to use fund equity to fund Nelson’s amendment.

Patalan also did not support Nelson’s amendment, saying it felt to her like “second-guessing” administrative recommendations.

Referring to the map, Thomas expressed concern that without adding back some funding, high school busing might not be able to reach what he saw as four clusters of students who did not live close to any elementary schools.

Outcome: A vote on Nelson’s amendment to lower the targeted savings in high school busing from $600,000 to $300,000 to allow for the placement of more common pick-up sites around the periphery of the district passed 4-3. Trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, Glenn Nelson, and Andy Thomas voted in favor of the amendment; trustees Deb Mexicotte, Irene Patalan, and Christine Stead voted against it.

Saying the district was putting itself “at inordinate risk for next year,” Stead tried to propose an amendment to return the targeted savings in high school transportation to $600,000. However, Mexicotte did not allow it, explaining that only trustees who voted in favor of Nelson’s amendment could move to reconsider it.

At that point, Baskett called the question to a vote, and everyone but Stead voted to end discussion on the budget.

Outcome: In a roll call vote, the AAPS FY 2011-12 budget passed 5-2. Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Christine Stead dissented.

Strategic Plan Updates

A series of updates to the strategic plan were reviewed in detail at the previous board meeting, and were brought as second briefing items to this meeting. Patalan spoke warmly of the plan, and Nelson noted his “strong support” of the revisions as proposed, especially the additional emphasis on “engaging” instead of “informing.”

Outcome: Updates to the strategic plan were approved as part of the consent agenda.

Second Briefing: Policy Updates

At the previous board meeting, Nelson had presented a set of policy updates recommended by the performance committee. Regarding the policies as now amended, he noted that the committee’s revisions since the last meeting were meant only to reflect the comments and suggestions offered at first briefing.

Thomas offered a brief re-cap of the first briefing to Stead, who had been absent during the previous meeting.

Outcome: These policies were approved as part of the consent agenda, which also included an approval of draft minutes, and gift offers.

First Briefing: More Policy Updates

Both committees have been engaged in a review of those policies that are due to expire at the end of the school year. The administration has also recently conducted an extensive review and overhaul of the district’s policy on the use of AAPS facilities, Policy 7250.

At the June 8 board meeting, Stead briefed the board on recommended updates to two policies reviewed by the planning committee: Rights and Responsibilities (Policy 5000); and Graduation Requirements (Policy 5050).

Nelson briefed the board on recommended updates to six policies reviewed by the performance committee: Achievement Outcome Reporting (Policy 6110); Equity in Achievement and Access (Policy 6130); Technology Integration (Policy 6150); Accreditation (Policy 6200); Achievement for All Students (Policy 6300); and Special Education (Policy 6350).

Allen introduced Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, and Sara Aeschbach, director of community education and recreation, to review an extensive update to Policy 7250, Use of Facilities.

Policy: Rights and Responsibilities (5000)

Stead noted minor wording changes as suggested by her committee. Mexicotte questioned the inclusion of a list of constituents to be included on reviews of the district handbook, and Stead said that the revision was meant to ensure greater involvement on the part of parents.

Trustees also noted how the handbook is board policy, and parts are required by law to be updated.

Policy: Graduation Requirements (5050)

Stead reviewed significant changes made by the planning committee to this policy, mostly surrounding the addition of a “personal curriculum” option, which allows some flexibility in students’ requirements to obtain a diploma.

Mexicotte asked why “dropping out” was replaced with “not graduating,” and Stead answered that “dropping out” seemed negative to the committee, whereas “not graduating” was more inclusive language.

Mexicotte suggested including a list of the allowable reasons a student could create a personal curriculum, as well as a warning that using a personal curriculum could have post-secondary implications, such as ramifications for students wanting to participate in the NCAA.

The board also had some discussion on how GED requirements are not included anywhere in the board policies, as they are set by the state. Saying that AAPS policies affirm the things the board values, and make sure the administration pays attention to those things, Nelson argued that the GED should be referenced.

Stead questioned where such a reference would fit, and Mexicotte suggested combining GED requirements in a section of the policy with other programs such as Head Start, over which the board does not have policy control, but is making a commitment to offer in the district. Mexicotte also suggested including a directive for counselors to advise students on the tradeoffs between pursuing a personal curriculum or a GED.

Thomas also pointed out that the AAPS world language requirement was not listed, and needs to be inserted.

Policy: Achievement Outcome Reporting (6110)

Nelson noted two small wording changes, and Lightfoot added that district interim deputy superintendent of instruction, Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, spoke to the committee about the need to reconcile reports annually at the school level.

Policy: Equity in Achievement and Access (6130)

Nelson introduced this policy as “very important policy in its substance,” and said his committee had found little to amend in it. Mexicotte suggested defining “increased” in terms of the frequency of monitoring wanted, and Nelson accepted her critique.

Policy: Technology Integration (6150)

This policy was brought for review with only minor wording changes to make explicit references to network and server capacity.

Policy: Accreditation (6200)

No changes were suggested to policy 6200.

Policy: Achievement for All Students (6300)

Nelson said his committee had changed some of the language in this policy to be consistent with current programming. Stead questioned whether a reference to the district’s “achievement gap elimination plan” should be a reference to the “school improvement plan” instead?

Lightfoot responded, noting that she has been pushing AAPS to enumerate its efforts at closing the achievement gap in a single document since being appointed to the board, and saying that she has been told the plan is close to complete.

Mexicotte recommended that the policy language stay as recommended, since the achievement gap elimination plan should be in place soon. If something changes, she said, the board can review the policy again next year.

The board will be holding a study session on Wednesday, June 15 at 5:30 dedicated to discussing student achievement.

Policy: Special Education (6350)

Nelson reported that no major language changes were made in this policy, but Mexicotte strongly disagreed, arguing that including “behavior” in the definition of students qualifying for a 504 plan was not correct.

Mexicotte, who is herself a parent of a special needs child, noted that 504 plans are allowable under of the Office of Civil Rights, not the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), and serve a very different purpose. She explained that the purpose of a 504 plan is to address temporary problems occurring in a student’s life, such as parental divorce, a broken leg, or cancer treatment. “By adding ‘learning and behavior’ as a life activity you have started to blur those pathways and made it more like IEP-light,” she said. An IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, is created for students with ongoing special needs, she noted, and said she is wary of sliding in that direction when the 504 language is under separate offices.

Nelson said the performance committee would discuss Mexicotte’s concerns with the SISS administrators.

Policy: Use of Facilities (7250)

Trent began by noting that Strategy 7 of the district’s strategic plan highlighted use of the district’s facilities as supporting its mission, and that the facilities use policy had not been updated in over 20 years.

The lowest rental rates in the proposed policy, Trent explained, would be for basic classroom rental. The highest rates would be for AAPS stadiums, pools, and athletic fields. He explained that other district’s rates were reviewed as a means of comparison, in order to ensure that AAPS was offering competitive rates.

Saying that he didn’t want listeners to think taxpayer-supported facilities are not accessible, Nelson requested that Trent give a sense of the priorities in how facility use is allowed.

Aeschbach responded that the majority of users, such as non-profits and community organizations, are not required to pay fees to use the facilities. She gave the example of the Girl Scouts as a group that pays a small rental fee.

As far as priority and scheduling, Aeschbach said, schools have first priority for scheduling their own facilities, followed by school-related groups such as Community Education and Recreation, PTOs, and bargaining units. The next group of users in terms of priority are non-profit and informal community groups, followed at the end of the list by private parties.

Mexicotte suggested that the administration find a way to structure the costs for Skyline High School so that the cafeteria and annex charges could be separated.

For the second briefing, the board also asked for more clarity in language on the solicitation of funds in district facilities.

Outcome: This was the first briefing on all these policy updates; they will return to the board for a vote at the next regular meeting.

Food Service Contract Renewal

AAPS holds a contract with Chartwells to provide food service to the district, which is set to expire in 2013, but requires annual renewals by the board.

Chartwell’s district general manager, Jody Taratuta, and the firm’s director of dining service, David Lahey, were on hand at the June 8 meeting to review what they called their “Nutrition Accomplishments and Initiatives,” and to request that the district renew its contract with the company.

Lahey outlined the scope of food service delivery in AAPS, describing that 75% of meals are purchased at full price, while 22.5% are given away free, and 2.5% are purchased at reduced cost to qualifying students. He confirmed that breakfast is offered at all schools, and that participation in both breakfast and lunch has been increasing. Allen added that next year, all three comprehensive high schools will be near 1,600 students, which will allow for much more manageable lunch hours. Before Skyline was built, Pioneer had 3,000 students.

Lahey said the number of students who receive free or reduced lunch has increased by 700 students over the past two years. In part, he credited principals with being aggressive at getting applications to families who need them. Taratuta also acknowledged that new application and certification procedures at the state have helped streamline the inclusion of new students to the program. Mexicotte thanked Taratuta for “finding something nice to say about the state.”

Taratuta reviewed new lunch program standards put forth by the USDA, and trustees questioned what proportion of AAPS students were purchasing a complete lunch (the content of which is set by the USDA) versus a la carte options (the content of which are set by the district’s wellness policy). Lahey answered that roughly 20% of Chartwell’s income comes from a la carte sales.

Thomas asked what controls are in place to ensure that students make nutritionally-sound choices from the a la carte offerings. Lahey said that the requirements set by the AAPS wellness plan exceed USDA requirements. AAPS does not serve fried foods, candy bars, whole milk, pickles, or poptarts, but does offer many fruits and vegetables.

Mexicotte also noted that parents can track their students’ choices online, and encourage their children to make healthy choices. Allen walked board members through how to sign on to MealPayPlus, the online tracking program, adding that he checks the purchases of his four children daily.

Nelson asked if there are stores in the schools not under Chartwells control, where students could purchase food with no tracking. Mexicotte responded that there are some booster-run concession stands open during limited hours that are not well-monitored.

The board briefly discussed the fact that the state of Michigan has approved an increase in the cost of meals, but that the increased cost would not be passed on to AAPS families. Taratuta noted that the increased cost is typically absorbed by Chartwells, because the district controls the pricing. AAPS director of purchasing and business support services Linda Doernte added that the district will still have a $0.5 million balance, even with the increases in per-meal costs.

Allen remarked that when AAPS started using Chartwells, the district had an accumulated deficit in food service costs. After costs were controlled by outsourcing the service, the district has been able to use some of the savings to pay for noon-hour supervision.

Patalan expressed appreciation that the district had been able to increase participation in the meal program. “We’ve made money, and reduced the deficit,” she said, “and, it’s a challenge to do those things while providing children with healthy choices.”

Mexicotte suggested that the board hold a study session sometime before the end of the year in order to review how meal reimbursements work, as it is a very complicated system.

Outcome: This was the first briefing on this item. The board will vote on Chartwell’s contract renewal  at the next regular meeting.

Board Action Items

The board unanimously voted to reinstate remaining board policies that are due to expire at the end of the school year. Twelve of these policies will be reviewed by the planning committee, and two by the performance committee.

Unanimous votes with no discussion also took place to renew the membership of the district’s comprehensive high schools in the Michigan High School Athletic Association, and to hold an executive session for the informal evaluation of interim superintendent Allen.

Finally, the board approved its schedule of meetings through the end of the calendar year, and a tentative slate of meetings for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year.

Mexicotte explained that the first meeting of January, 2012 would be an organizational meeting at which the board would select its officers following the November 2011 election. Two seats will be opening up, as the terms of office are expiring for both Simone Lightfoot and Andy Thomas. The two new seats will each be for four-year terms, and will begin January 1, 2012. AAPS is holding an information session for prospective candidates on June 30.

Public Commentary on Pioneer Suspensions

Tom Durham addressed trustees, saying that in the 26 days since his son was suspended – along with 20 other Pioneer seniors involved in an end-of-the-year prank – no one from AAPS administration has been able to sit down with him to address his concerns. He acknowledged that a meeting has finally been scheduled, but not yet occurred. Noting that one administrator told him that the district wanted to set an example by suspending the students, Durham argued that the process has been poorly executed at best, and that the students involved were not treated justly.

Later in the meeting, Baskett said she would appreciate an update from administration on its meeting with Durham.

Pioneer Booster Club Gifts

Betsy Petosky and Mike Madison presented a set of gifts from the Pioneer Booster Club to the district valued at over $87,000. Gifts included training room equipment, concession stands, white boards, a public address (PA) system, wrestling mats, a baseball shed, a batting cage, a pole vault pit, and reconditioned volleyball poles.

Petosky reported that the booster club’s goal was to emphasize projects that were capital improvements, and asserted that the benefits of athletics cannot be overstated.

Trustees thanked the boosters for their generosity and leadership.

Outcome: Pioneer booster club gift offers were approved as part of the consent agenda.

Board Committee Reports

The school board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

Performance Committee

Nelson reported that his committee had heard from Tom Durham regarding Durham’s son’s suspension, and that they had discussed that issue.

He then asked Lightfoot to give an update on the district school improvement team, on which she serves. Lightfoot highlighted the SIT’s efforts to pull together an event at beginning of year that focused on families that AAPS has not yet successfully included. She described the event as a “sort-of back-to-school, giveaway, food, festive rally,” that would include expert panels on topics such as: discipline and attendance, early oral language development, the Rising Scholars program, algebra strand initiatives, high school graduation, cyber-bullying, and kindergarten readiness.

Nelson noted that the performance committee was in full support of such an event. He also said his committee discussed concerns about Mitchell Elementary School’s achievement scores, and engaged in extensive policy review as described above.

Finally, Nelson noted that his committee was hoping to have a transition meeting with Allen and new superintendent Patricia Green during the first half of July.

Planning Committee

Stead reported that her committee also spent significant time on policy review, as well on the food service contract renewal. She noted though some food service costs have increased, there is no incremental cost to AAPS families.

Stead also noted that her committee discussed the possibility of crafting new millages – one to add classrooms to provide all-day kindergarten, and one for technology upgrades. She noted that in the future, the state is planning to withhold some funding from school districts that do not provide all-day kindergarten.

Staed also reported that this year public education has sustained the largest cuts ever in state funding, and that AAPS may want to consider working with districts county-wide on another enhancement millage.

Finally, Stead said her committee had also discussed the budget. They focused on how the board is not currently following its own policy of maintaining 15% of the budget in fund equity.

The planning committee will meet next on July 13, which will be the first meeting of the committee with incoming superintendent Patricia Green.

Association Reports

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At the May 11 meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, the PTOC, and the AAEA.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Aoxue Tang reported for the Youth Senate. She suggested that peer coaching could help students maintain accountability for their work as class sizes increase. She argued that every classroom needs to set up a system to support students who need it.

Tang also spoke in support of higher academic standards, saying that AAPS students will need to be able to succeed in a competitive world.

Finally, Tang reminded everyone of the Youth Senate’s upcoming dodge ball tournament, slated to take place on June 17 at Burns Park. She encouraged the board to send a team, and Mexicotte said she might suggest to trustees that they participate as a team-building exercise.

Association Reports: AAPAC

Scott Zeleznik reported for the AAPAC. He expressed appreciation for the peer mentoring, adaptive physical education, and young adult programs that are taking shape within AAPS.

Zeleznik also thanked assistant superintendent of student intervention and support services (SISS) Elaine Brown for her use of ARRA funding to enhance the district’s use of assistive technology, and for her commitment to turning parent concerns into action. He also thanked the administration, teachers, and paraprofessionals who work with special education children on a daily basis, the Center for Independent Living, and the trustees for including AAPAC’s input in the superintendent search.

In the future, Zeleznik reported, the AAPAC will continue to push for a more rigorous curriculum for special education students, more extensive use of positive behavior support, the continuation and expansion of the disability awareness workshops, and better transition planning. AAPAC, he said, will prioritize building collaborative relationships with new superintendent Patricia Green, and the new SISS administrator, and the district’s new teachers and principals.

Association Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera reported that elementary schools will be enjoying their ice cream socials and field days in the next couple of weeks. She reminded PTO leadership to send their newly elected officer list to the PTOC. She also congratulated all AAPS graduates.

Pachera then thanked everyone who helped to make this year successful, and asked trustees to work to ensure that equity is achieved in the budget, and not to hit hardest on the most vulnerable students.

Association Reports: AAEA

Brit Satchwell, teachers’ union president, offered a congratulatory message to graduates as well, and then reviewed ways that citizens can take action against actions taken by the state government. Satchwell urged everyone to work toward the repeal of PA4, which allows the governor to remove elected officials from their posts and take over financial management of school districts and municipalities. Satchwell said the AAEA is working on collecting signatures on a petition to allow voters to repeal PA4 in November. He invited everyone to get more information by following the AAEA on Twitter, or by visiting MichiganForward.org.

Urging everyone to take political action, Satchwell also reported that a petition to recall governor Snyder will be at the farmer’s market in Ann Arbor, as well as available at AAEA offices at 4141 Jackson Road.

Awards and Accolades

The June 8 meeting honored staff and students through two presentations.

Logan Choir

Misty Noble conducted a volunteer fifth-grade choir in three pieces for the board’s pleasure. The board expressed great appreciation at the quality of the singing, and the preparation of the students.

Superintendent’s Report

Allen congratulated all graduates from 2011. He thanked AAPS staff and parents for supporting their students, and community members for supporting the school district, saying he felt fortunate to live in a community that placed high value on public education.

Allen then listed many accomplishments of district staff, students, and sports teams.

Items from the Board

Nelson noted that he was appreciative of the state board of education holding a hearing in Ann Arbor. He also reported that the Grammy award presentation was exceptional, that the African-American downtown festival was impressive in its support of education, and that he was looking forward to the upcoming Science Olympiad.

Mexicotte thanked her fellow trustees for a “passionate and informed debate” on the budget. Noting that in three weeks, the board would have “another voice at the table” when Patricia Green begins her tenure as AAPS superintendent, Mexicotte said she was looking forward to Green’s input about where to spend any extra funding. She also noted that she did not support Nelson’s budget amendment because she felt it “tied the hands of the administration a little bit.”

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice-president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot, Glenn Nelson, and Christine Stead.

Next regular meeting: June 29, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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  1. June 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm | permalink

    I have a question about the map. What is the red dot just outside the southeast boundary of the district?

  2. By Jennifer Coffman
    June 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm | permalink

    It’s Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, one of AAPS’ three alternative high schools.

  3. By abc
    June 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm | permalink


    I think you should have said that it is supposed to mark the RCSDC, because the RCSDC is actually about a mile west of that dot. That dot marks a farm.

    I hope the other dots are more accurate.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    June 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm | permalink

    Minor nit: I think “fewer common pick-up sites” or “a smaller number of common pick-up sites” got smushed together into “a fewer number of common pick-up sites.”

  5. By Joe Edward
    June 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm | permalink

    I would also like to see greater transparency with the high school athletic department budgets. It is currently very difficult to assess funding per student per team at each high school. It would also be useful to know the income generated by some teams from ticket sales, along with the annual capital cost for athletic facilities (along with the rental income generated). It would seem relatively easy to obtain data now that each athlete is required to “pay-to-play”. This information is critical as schools begin discussing which teams will be cut from the budget.

  6. June 14, 2011 at 7:02 am | permalink

    Thanks for the thorough report. It sounds like the motivations for the two “no” votes on the budget are quite opposite–one person wanting the district to spend less (Stead) and one wanting the district to spend more (Lightfoot).

    Two things I’ll note about transportation. One is that for the last three years, in my neighborhood (which used to be in the Pioneer district and is now in the Skyline district) AAPS had to provide two sets of buses–one to Skyline for Skyline students and one to Pioneer for students who hadn’t yet graduated. That was also true in many “formerly Huron/now Skyline” parts of the district. Next year will be the first year that is unnecessary. Second, when it comes to my high school student walking to school or to “common stops” early in the morning, I don’t worry about the cold but I do worry that it’s dark out and some of those roads are dark and without sidewalks. It will only take one hit-and-run accident to change the cost-benefit analysis of this.

    On another note–I’m really not sure why Liz Margolis or Deb Mexicotte would say that other local districts have closed Schools of Choice for the year. For the most part, that is not true. Ypsilanti, Whitmore Lake, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake and South Lyon schools (all contiguous to our district) are all either still open to schools of choice (Saline only through the end of this week) or will be having a second period of open enrollment later this summer.

  7. June 14, 2011 at 7:03 am | permalink

    Correction above: That should say: Ypsilanti, Whitmore Lake, Milan, Saline, *Willow Run* and South Lyon…