Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Oct. 12, 2011): Reaction to new state-level legislation and how it’s affecting the school district was a common theme of nearly every section of the Oct. 12 AAPS board meeting.
At the meeting, the board passed the necessary set of resolutions to qualify for the restoration of $1.6 million of support from the state, as board members criticized the state’s process as “hoops” they needed to jump through.
Budget constraints came up in most of the topics on which the board took action, as well as during two informational updates – one on the bus service, and one on the results of an insurance audit undertaken by the district. Multiple speakers who addressed the board urged trustees to take political action and to lead the community in legislative advocacy and state-level reform.
Transportation service changes were again a major point of discussion at the Oct. 12 meeting. Board members questioned the success of the district’s bus service consolidation with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Four parents spoke at public commentary about safety concerns resulting from loss of bus service, especially with the winter weather approaching.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, the board also voted to purchase additional algebra textbooks, approved the printing of the Rec & Ed catalogue, and renewed a contract for therapeutic services needed for special education students.
Response to State-Level Actions
In every part of the meeting, references were made to the ongoing reductions in state funding facing the district, as well as to several new state laws. Some laws were recently enacted and more are currently under consideration, which constrain and restructure public education while broadening and supporting the growth of charter schools across the state.
State-level actions and associated district and community responses discussed at this meeting included: financial best practices incentives, pending charter-school legislation, political reform, legislative advocacy, and planning for the 2012-13 budget.
Response to State: Financial Best Practices
AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen reported that the district qualifies for a one-time state funding incentive for meeting four out of five “financial best practices” as defined by the state: (1) AAPS named as the holder of employee medical benefit plans; (2) development and implementation of a service consolidation plan; (3) procurement of bids on non-instructional services such as food service; and (4) creation of a link from the district’s website to a dashboard of statistics.
Because the district has met these requirements, Allen explained, $100 per pupil of the foundation allowance previously cut by the state will be refunded to AAPS. That works out to a return of $1.6 million to AAPS. He also noted that this $1.6 million is not included in the budget, and that it should be paid to the district within a month of applying to the state.
Multiple trustees expressed mixed feelings about the additional funding.
Trustee Andy Thomas asserted that while he will obviously endorse the resolutions necessary to certify the district’s compliance with the state-defined best practices, he found it “demeaning” that the district is being made to do so. “This is not about best practices – this is about control,” he said. After reducing per-pupil funding by $500, Thomas argued, “the attitude of the state is that we don’t deserve the money back unless we jump through hoops.”
Trustee Christine Stead agreed, pointing out that the district is also not only meeting, but exceeding, the fifth “best practice” – to pay 80% of medical insurance premiums, while passing on 20% of the premium cost to employees. Stead argued that AAPS is doing even better than that, if the intention of the practice is to keep health care costs in check. In the district’s current contract with teachers, she pointed out, the district’s contribution to health care premiums is capped at just over $12,000 per teacher, less than 80% of the cost.
Stead said she also wanted to call attention to the question of what to do with the additional funding, and suggested the best course of action would be to save the money and apply it to next year’s deficit, which is projected to be $14 million.
Allen said AAPS “has completed all the hoops,” but argued that what the district really needs is a “solution to the structural deficit … At the end of the day,” he said, “we are not being funded adequately.”
Stead agreed, calling on taxpayers to demand a restoration of the local levy authority that was lost when the state changed the K-12 school funding mechanism under Proposal A. She argued that the state has also “violated the trust of taxpayers” by slashing 20j funding, a provision of Proposal A that “held harmless” those districts who would lose funding under the then-new system. Funding through 20j was eliminated in 2009.
Finally, saying she wanted to add some context, board president Deb Mexicotte stated, “The state is bringing pretty much every tool [it] has to bear against public education …We’re going to get $1.6 million back for doing things were already doing, or doing better …We have to remember how much was taken away.”
Mexicotte explained that there was enough money in the state-managed School Aid Fund last year to raise the per-pupil allowance of every student in Michigan by $200, but instead $500 was cut. Therefore, she concluded, it’s hard to feel grateful for getting a tiny bit back.
In addition to the funding cuts, Mexicotte asserted that the additional constraints being placed on how schools conduct their business, the rise in charter schools, and the proliferation of education laws that are not student-focused are leading to a “downward spiral to breaking public education in this state.”
Mexicotte asked Stead to read aloud the three resolutions needed to receive the funding, which she did. The first declared AAPS the policyholder on employees’ medical benefit plans; the second certified that the district had participated in service consolidation; and the third confirmed that AAPS had met at least four of the five requirements to qualify for this one-time state funding of $100 per pupil.
Outcome: Trustees unanimously supported the three resolutions required for AAPS to receive the $1.6 million in best practices funding from the state.
Response to State: Public Commentary on Charter School Legislation
Steve Norton, AAPS parent and executive director of Michigan Parents for Schools (MIPFS), shared his concerns during public commentary regarding a package of bills currently under consideration by the Michigan state legislature regarding charter schools [SB 618, 619, 620, 621 and 624]. Called the “parent empowerment package,” Norton argued that this set of bills would do the opposite of that. He said the legislation encourages the creation of small education enclaves throughout the state, and encourages everyone to walk away from the problems of public schools instead of trying to fix them. He described the goals of the bills as: removing the cap on the number of charter schools and cyberschools in Michigan, and allowing public schools to vote to turn themselves into charter schools.
Norton also highlighted unsuccessful efforts by MIPFS to get amendments to the legislation passed that would have required all charter schools to be run by non-profit organizations. As the bills now stand, he argued, they “provide less of an educational opportunity than a business opportunity, allowing private profit [to be] made at public expense.” Norton encouraged the board to be leaders in engaging the community about the significance of this package of bills for the education of the vast majority of children in our state.
Response to State: AAEA President – Political Reform
In his regular report to the board, teachers’ union president Brit Satchwell expressed his frustration with the state, and encouraged people feeling the effects of budget cuts throughout the district to direct their outrage to Lansing. He warned against members of the local community who distract the discussion by “raising red herrings” and continuously claiming a lack of transparency on the part of AAPS. Their actual problem, Satchwell said, is that they simply do not agree with policies that support education.
“Less is not more,” Satchwell emphasized. He expressed frustration with people who claim the district’s budget must “be fat somewhere,” and who claim that the budget woes are due to poor management on the part of the district. Applauding the “heroic efforts made in the buildings” by teachers and administrators, Satchwell urged everyone to “take the fight upstream.”
He pleaded with the board to become the “tip of the spear” in the fight, and implored the community to follow them. “The people who brought this disaster to your kitchen table have to go,” he urged the community, “The financial difficulties we are facing are not forces of nature – the solutions are not here.”
Response to State: Countywide Legislative Advocacy Task Force
During the “items from the board” section at the end of the meeting, the board engaged in a brief brainstorm about approaches that could be used to bring together school districts and municipalities across the county to advocate as a group at the state level.
Referencing Satchwell’s call for the board to “be the tip of the spear in combating what is happening to us,” trustee Susan Baskett noted that the mayor of Saline recently engaged her in a discussion about how the recent elimination of the Michigan Business Tax would affect schools and cities alike. “We are all trying to keep up with what’s happening with the legislation,” Baskett said, “but it’s all happening so quickly.”
AAPS superintendent Patricia Green agreed, saying that the issue is coming up and is a topic for the entire county. She noted that in Pennsylvania, where she worked previously, a consortium of regionally-affiliated school board representatives met to address legislation that affected them all, and asked if that was taking place in this area.
Mexicotte noted that the Michigan Association of Schools (MASB) regularly holds a breakfast with legislators, but that perhaps convening a countywide task force would be a better approach.
Stead added that AAPS has had some difficulty in the past working with legislators as a group. While crafting recommendations for how education legislation might be reformed, she reminded her board colleagues, AAPS had approached legislators for their input. “Each legislator asked for a private, ad-hoc group just for them … They hadn’t come together, and they were partisan in their approach.”
Baskett argued, “No one entity should have to do this alone – it’s affecting all of us across school and city boundaries.” She added thanks to Skyline teacher Pat Jenkins for inviting her to help out with an activity with her Communication, Media, and Public Policy (CMPP) magnet students.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she loved the suggestion of a countywide task force, “We should be the tail wagging the dog, taking the lead.” However, Lightfoot warned, “the nice, sweet kind of approach isn’t going to work.” She argued that the district will need to enlist different sets of allies at different times, since some of the work that needs to be done is partisan in nature. Finally, referencing the CMPP students Baskett had mentioned earlier, Lightfoot said she would “love to find ways to enlist students in our public policy fight.”
Response to State: Budget Planning for 2012-13
Stead noted in her regular report as committee chair that the planning committee had discussed the upcoming 2012-13 budget at its recent meeting, in the context of state-level cuts. She said that the district will be engaging the community as early as possible in making decisions about the anticipated $14 million in cuts that AAPS will be facing. She noted that AAPS will hold a community forum this fall to review what has been cut already over the past five years and to start engaging the public.
“We will be planning our budget in late winter and early spring so that we can make decisions earlier this year,” Stead said, pointing out that AAPS has lost just over $50 million in the past five years alone. “We will want to get people’s best thinking.”
Stead also noted that AAPS staff had brought to the planning committee a “handful of ideas” on revenue enhancement, but that the committee had asked for more due diligence to be done before continuing to pursue them. “We are looking at every opportunity for incremental revenue,” Stead said, “but not always at the cost of integrity and other things.”
Concerns about transportation continued to dominate public commentary, as they had at the September board meeting. At the Oct 12 meeting, Allen gave an update on changes to the district’s transportation service since outsourcing busing to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). Then, Allen – along with AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis, WISD business manager Brian Marcel, and WISD transportation director Tom Moore – answered trustees’ questions regarding transportation.
Transportation: Public Commentary
Four parents addressed the board with safety concerns related to the their children’s current lack of bus service. They enumerated the following safety concerns: proximity of walking path to major roads; worry about whether paths will be cleared during winter months, road construction blocking designated safe walking routes; and the effect of the approaching bad weather of the winter months on students’ walks of over a mile while carrying 20 to 25-pound backpacks.
One parent noted that her family did not own a car, and another noted that while they could drive their daughter to school in the morning, they were unable to pick her up after school since they would be at work. They pleaded with the board to restore bus service in their neighborhoods, and noted that it’s common for families to see an empty bus passing by their house that previously stopped but now does not.
A parent from Pine Lake community argued that her co-op complex is 1.7 miles from Slauson, her child’s school, and that her complaints to WISD transportation director Tom Moore have not yielded results. “If you Google 2680 [Adrienne Dr, the Pine Lake Clubhouse address], it’s 1.7 miles,” she pointed out, and requested that the district recalculate the distance. Finally, she argued that the changes to transportation have disproportionately impacted minorities.
Transportation: Bus Service Update
Allen reviewed that 2010-11 was the first year that AAPS contracted for bus service with the WISD, and that the goal was to save $1.5 million. After the audit report in November, Allen said, the district will be able to compare 2009-10 with 2010-11 to see what the actual savings were. The projected savings for 2011-12 are $1 million, he said, after the board allocated an additional $300,000 to address implementation of common bus stops at the high school level.
Allen reviewed adjustments made the original 2011-12 bus schedule due to feedback from the community, including the addition of four new runs and 39 new stops. He also said that late or overcrowded buses have been greatly reduced, and said that some adjustments are still being made in the outer quadrant of the district. Finally, Allen noted that an official count of ridership would be performed by the WISD and submitted to the state.
Transportation: Discussion – Summary Report Overdue
The board asked about numerous specific problems regarding transportation this year, but focused on one overarching issue – the lack of a summary report, which was supposed to have analyzed the program data from the first year of the district’s contract with the WISD before AAPS renewed for a second year.
WISD business manager Brian Marcel responded that the WISD spent its staff time preparing for this year rather that writing a report about last year. He offered the rationale: “If we don’t get complaints, that’s a good thing. Last year, we had almost no complaints.” Multiple board members said they would still like to see a complete report from the 2010-11 school year, including the length of time students were on buses, the number of late buses, and customer satisfaction measures, among other metrics.
Transportation: Discussion – Quality of Customer Service
Board members asked about how adjustments have been made to routes and stops. Allen assured trustees that the WISD has been consistent in implementing the new board policy, and in following up with families who still have questions.
The board questioned the level of office staff that the WISD has available to resolve concerns, whether the WISD had logged all complaints and their resolutions, and whether the WISD transportation department phone number was even operational.
Moore answered that the WISD has ten phones answering transportation calls, and that they are logging calls as well as e-mails received. He acknowledged that the WISD received 1,400 calls on one day early in the school year, which maxed out the system, but that they have since increased the capacity for receiving calls. Moore noted that the number of calls has dropped off dramatically, saying that he might get two messages a day now.
Allen confirmed that families with concerns should contact the WISD first, and that the WISD phone number is operational. Moore promised that everyone who leaves a message will get a call back. Marcel said he does not want a recurrence of the high volume of calls, and said he thinks the district’s plan to set its budget earlier will help, because the community will have more notice of any changes to next year’s bus service.
Green added that she has met with the superintendent of the WISD to share concerns and raise the issue of contract renewal in the future. As a result of that meeting, Green said, AAPS and WISD staff met to review what happened and why the phone banks were overloaded, and talked about how services had to improve.
Trustee Irene Patalan applauded the community for sharing the sacrifice involved in changing the transportation system this year. She added that, though “the board would love to go back to the way things were,” change is a “way of life.”
Transportation: Discussion – Overcrowding
Baskett asked how overcrowding is being handled on buses, and what legal obligations the district has to students regarding bus seating.
Allen reviewed state transportation law, which says that school buses can be filled three-to-a-seat. He noted that AAPS has asked the WISD to fill buses three-to-a-seat for elementary school students for a maximum of 65 or 71 students, depending on the type of bus. For middle and high school students, Allen continued, the district aims for two-to-a seat, meaning a full bus is either 44 or 48 students.
Baskett asked for clarification about how parents or students can get another bus, if taking a head count at the bus stop indicates that the bus will be overcrowded.
Moore answered that there are not enough drivers to have substitute drivers available to immediately react to an overcrowding situation. He encouraged parents or students experiencing chronic overcrowding to contact his department, but assured the board that “on a day-to-day basis, [buses] are not overcrowded.”
Baskett asked about staffing levels and turnover.
Moore acknowledged that the WISD has experienced more that 40% turnover in transportation staff this year, while industry standard turnover is less than 10%. He stated, “School bus driving is unique and not for everyone … We have the freight that talks back.” Moore explained that many drivers have left for jobs with Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the University of Michigan (UM) or Federal Express, paying the same or better “without the talking back.” He closed by saying that the WISD is currently accepting applications for new drivers.
Transportation: Discussion – Safety
Thomas asked what is being done to address safety issues on walk routes to schools, and noted that it will take coordinating with other governmental entities that are facing their own budget problems. “Who is the advocate on behalf of the students … of the district in dealing with the city, county, and state?” he asked.
Multiple staff members and board members weighed in on a response to Thomas.
Green stated that she had met with Steve Powers, the new city administrator to talk about how the city and AAPS could work together on this issue as winter approaches, and Moore said the WISD has been assured by local departments of public works that walk routes would be maintained and cleared.
Margolis added that she is working closely with the Ann Arbor Police Department officer who coordinates crossing guards to be sure they are placed as effectively as possible. She said that the recently passed law fining drivers $100 for not yielding at pedestrian crosswalks should help the situation.
Allen said he is collecting information from parents proactively about areas of concern, and pointed out that AAPS sits on a Transportation Safety Committee (TSC) along with the police and fire departments, and other entities.
Mexicotte, who sits on the TSC as a representative from the board, confirmed that “all the players are at the table” at the TSC, and that “knowing that these challenging are only going to get more challenging, the committee is getting ready to better help parents get used to these changes.”
Transportation: Discussion – AATA
Baskett said she is concerned about how AAPS bus service will look moving forward, and noted that the AATA is adding some service on the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti corridor. She then suggested that the district should try to influence the AATA’s master planning process, so that use of the AATA might be an option for AAPS families who can afford it.
Transportation: Discussion – Staff Time
Lightfoot noted, with the many issues AAPS staff have to tackle, it seems like they are still doing a lot of the work related to busing, even though the district is contracting with the WISD to provide this service.
Allen responded that, initially, AAPS wanted to be sure that the WISD had the proper guidance. Saying he no longer planned to be involved on a daily basis, Allen said he now believes “the understanding is there.”
Transportation: Discussion – Special Education Reimbursement
Mexicotte questioned why ridership is reported to the state, since providing transportation is not a state mandate. Marcel answered that it is because of state support of special education services, including transportation. In order to receive state reimbursement of 70% of the transportation costs for special education students, Marcel explained, the WISD must report the ratio of regular riders to special education riders in order to determine the percentage of transportation department office and supervisory staff that can be reimbursed.
In addition to two second briefing items, the board agreed to vote on a first briefing item at this meeting – the purchase of new algebra textbooks.
Other Actions: Algebra Textbooks
Assistant superintendent for secondary education Joyce Hunter explained the need for additional algebra textbooks. In a memo to the board which she referenced at the meeting, Hunter reviewed that last year, the decision was made to provide all 8th graders with an opportunity to take algebra. This decision was made, she said, “in order to increase the number of students enrolled in higher-level math courses and to increase the number of African-American and Latino students in AC and AP courses in accordance with the Strategic Plan.”
[See this previous Chronicle coverage: "Schools: Achievement Gap or Equity Gap" for more on how the decision to offer Algebra to all 8th grade students evolved.]
Hunter explained that in order to align the new 8th grade algebra course with high school expectations (which will allow 8th graders to earn high school credit for the course) the district will need to purchase additional copies of the Holt textbook being used in 9th grade algebra classes.
The board asked how the books will be distributed, why a request to purchase these books was not made in the spring, and how students and teachers are currently functioning in 8th grade algebra without these books.
Hunter clarified that each student will be lent a book to take home, and each teacher will have a class set for use in the classroom. She also took responsibility for not ordering the books last March, when the courses were set, saying that in consideration of the budget constraints, she had decided to have teachers make course packs and use supplemental materials, but noted that system was less than ideal.
Stead suggested it would be helpful for students to vote on this item immediately, instead of waiting until after a second briefing, noting “It’s nice to be able to do something at this level that directly impacts student learning.”
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the immediate purchase of 507 Algebra textbooks at a total cost of $32,537.
Other Actions: Second Briefing Items
There was little discussion on the two second briefing items considered at this meeting – the printing of the Rec & Ed catalog, and the contracting of therapeutic services for special education students. Both items were reviewed at more length during the Sept. 14 board meeting. ["AAPS Families Challenged by Busing Changes"]
Regarding the special education contracts, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services Elaine Brown stated that Green has asked her to bring competitive bids for the needed services earlier in the year next year for board review. Brown also noted that competitive bidding had been a part of her recommendation to contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates this year, and that PTA had provided the lowest bids.
Outcome: As part of the Oct. 12 consent agenda, the board unanimously approved the printing of the Rec & Ed catalog, as well as the contracting of therapeutic services needed for special education students. The consent agenda also included minutes and gift offers, which Mexicotte said were much appreciated.
Other Actions: MASB Voting Delegates
Mexicotte explained that each year, the board sends a number of voting delegates, usually two, to the annual conference of the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB). She noted that the conference will be held near Traverse City, MI this year, and asked for volunteers to represent Ann Arbor. Lightfoot and Baskett volunteered, and Thomas noted that he believed Glenn Nelson, who was absent from the Oct 12 meeting, was also interested.
Mexicotte said the board could nominate up to six delegates, and suggested certifying the three delegates nominated.
Outcome: Lightfoot, Nelson, and Baskett were certified as AAPS delegates to the MASB conference, and board secretary Amy Osinski was directed to register the delegates for the conference by Oct 14.
Update on Insurance Audit
AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services Dave Comsa reported to the board that the district’s auditors had recommended performing benefits eligibility audits, which AAPS then did. He explained that all audited employees were told that no action would be taken against them if they were honest in claiming dependents from that point forward.
Employees cooperated, Comsa said, and because of their voluntary cooperation, the district will recoup $766,000 by no longer covering ineligible dependents. Following the audit, Comsa said, AAPS enacted additional safeguards against being able to claim ineligible dependents, including requiring documentation such as birth certificates or marriage licenses.
The board expressed pleasure that the audit has yielded cost savings, as had been hoped, and that the district has taken steps to protect against such a problem recurring.
First Briefing: Policy Updates
At the beginning of her planning committee report, Stead thanked Green for presenting an action plan to use as a tracking tool during policy review. Later in the meeting, Stead presented a first briefing of updates to a set of board policies her committee had reviewed: Policy 5150 (Student Attendance), Policy 5200 (Progress Reporting), Policy 5400 (Safety, Injuries, and Emergencies), Policy 5500 (Smoke-Free Environment) and Policy 5600 (Medication).
Of those reviewed, Stead said, changes were suggested to two policies – Student Attendance and Smoke-Free Environment.
The suggested changes to the student attendance policy were to bring attendance procedures for elementary, middle, and high school students under one policy.
If approved by the board, the smoke-free environment policy would be amended to include the school grounds in the policy, thus bringing an “outdoor” element to what had been an indoor policy. The board questioned what this would mean to smoking by adults at outdoor sporting events, and to tailgating on Pioneer grounds on UM football Saturdays. Stead confirmed that all smoking on AAPS grounds would be prohibited, and that UM police would be responsible for policing Pioneer’s parking lot on UM game days.
Though the other three policies reviewed by the committee were not seen as needing updates, Stead said the planning committee did suggest some changes to their administrative regulations, rules regarding the implementation of the policies, on which the board advises but does not vote.
Regarding the progress report policy, Stead suggested adding a line about how parents have the responsibility to stay informed about student progress. Lightfoot suggested putting in language about requiring additional oversight of students whose progress triggers concern. Stead was amenable to having her committee look at the regulations again to see how such an idea could be incorporated.
Stead also reported that small wording changes were suggested in the regulations of policies 5400 (Safety, Injuries, and Emergencies) and 5600 (Medication) to reflect current practice.
Outcome: The board will review these recommendations at second briefing at its next regular meeting.
During the catch-all, “items from the board” section at the end of the Oct. 12 meeting, Stead commended the local chapter of Links, Inc. for holding a “well-facilitated, solutions-focused” meeting on the achievement gap. [In a phone call with The Chronicle, Baskett explained that Links, Inc. is an exclusive, international civic group for African-American women, and noted that the recent meeting of the organization's local chapter was an invitation-only study of the achievement gap facing AAPS.]
Stead asserted that working with Links is exactly the kind of community engagement AAPS has been hoping for, and that “if any one person could have solved this problem, it would have been solved a long time ago.” Baskett also thanked the leadership of Links, Inc., expressing appreciation that “the community is really getting involved with us.”
Lightfoot questioned the timeline for implementation of the district’s achievement gap elimination plan. Mexicotte suggested the appropriate process would be for the performance committee to make a recommendation for the plan to be formally reported to the board. Then, the executive committee of the board “can see where to slot it.”
In his regular report to the board, Bryan Johnson, chair of the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), also addressed the achievement gap. He noted that the BPSSG had recently hosted their kickoff meeting, and that the theme of their work for 2011-2015 will be “building the achievement bridge.” He explained that the BPSSG has formed committees around three goals – increasing parent involvement, reinforcing a culture of achievement among students, and working with AAPS to create an environment in which all students can succeed. The BPSSG executive committee, Johnson said, will also be working with community organizations on a program addressing academics, character, and citizenship.
Saying she was looking forward to working with the BPSSG, Mexicotte noted that she attended their kickoff event, and that it was a “roomful of energy, new ideas, and new partnerships.” She said the past leadership of the BPSSG has always been a great partner, and that the new leadership was energizing as well.
In her superintendent’s report, Green also thanked the BPSSG for inviting her to their kickoff event, and praised the group for embarking on a multi-year process to help eliminate the achievement gap.
Suspension and Expulsion
The board engaged in a brief off-agenda discussion on suspension and expulsion data, disagreeing about whether the topic was part of the recent planning committee meeting and if it should have been part of Stead’s report to the board.
Baskett said she had requested data on 2010-11 suspension and expulsion data last February, and that she should not have to wait to get it until February 2012 – when a study session on the issue has been scheduled. Lightfoot agreed, saying, “I think we, as trustees, should not have to wait until February – those numbers should have been made available to us.”
Mexicotte said the executive committee had asked AAPS administrators when they would have a good grasp on not only the numbers of students suspended or expelled, but how the district would be moving forward in dealing with these situations. While the board may receive raw data soon, Mexicotte said, “the idea was to give the administration some time to frame the numbers, understand them better, and bring a plan to that meeting.”
Additional Public Commentary
During public commentary, AAPS parent and board of education candidate Ahmar Iqbal, commended Green on her first 100 days as AAPS superintendent, and addressed the board on the issue of class size. He noted that when he went to the capsule and curriculum nights for his two children, he was troubled by the class sizes they are experiencing. Iqbal pointed out that the “overloading” of high school classes has prevented his daughter from transferring to another class and noted that his children are not experiencing class sizes at the targets set by the 2011-12 budget.
Iqbal also argued that he believes families will choose to leave AAPS because of the lack of available course offerings due to larger class sizes, and suggested the following solutions: hold additional teacher training sessions on how to deal with larger class sizes; require principals or other administrators to teach classes to reduce class size; and create a community task force with parents to explore options.
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.
At its recent retreat on Oct. 14, the board suggested that the issue of committee restructuring be brought to the next regular meeting on Oct. 26. The board is considering meeting as a “committee of the whole,” instead of using two, separate committees.
The planning committee’s report is included in the section above on early budget planning in light of state-level funding cuts.
In Nelson’s absence, Thomas spoke about the recent activities of the performance committee.
Thomas reported that the performance committee met with an Arab-American parent support group, who were requesting formal recognition so that they would then be able to link to their group website from the AAPS main website.
Noting that this parent group has been instrumental in addressing curriculum issues within AAPS, to bring knowledge and sensitivity to cultural concerns of Arab-American students, Thomas thanked them for their insight, and said he thought the committee discussion had been very positive.
Finally, Thomas noted the performance committee had discussed concerns about whether counselors are used as effectively as possible, particularly in terms of preparing students about how to apply and pay for college. He said that AAPS is not always in line with best practices regarding guidance counseling, and said he expects a plan of action to come of the board in the near future to be sure counselors are used to best to meet the needs of today’s students.
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 Oct. 12 meeting, the Youth Senate, AAPAC, PTOC, BPSSG, and AAEA addressed the board. Mexicotte noted that she had recently met with the AAAA about equity work and how the board might work with them to be better partners. She added that she was disappointed that they did not report to the board at this meeting.
BPSSG and AAEA reports are included above in the summaries of board discussion on the achievement gap and the board’s response to state-level funding cuts.
Association Reports: Youth Senate
Rachel Blakemore from Community High School addressed the board on behalf of the Youth Senate. She reported on concerns regarding progressively limited course offerings at Pioneer and Huron, and expressed that many students are deeply troubled by the rumors circulating around that Humanities may not be offered in the future.
The remainder of the Senate report focused on busing. Blakemore reported that many of the drivers are inexperienced, and uninformed. She also noted that because of fewer shuttles between high schools, students’ academic and athletic opportunities are more limited. Finally, Blakemore pointed out that the lack of [AATA] bus passes has also limited student opportunities, as shuttles and normal school buses “are not adequate.”
Association Reports: AAPAC
Melany Raubolt addressed the board on behalf of the AAPAC. She thanked Green for addressing concerns regarding transportation of special education students, and reported that many glitches seem to have been resolved. She also thanked Brown for speaking to the AAPAC about improvements in the process of developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for special needs students, and noted that the AAPAC looks forward to learning about how students can develop a personal curriculum if needed.
Raubolt said she is looking forward to peer-to-peer mentoring expanding throughout the district, which reinforce that “children with special needs are children first, not disabilities first.” Three schools, she noted, are slated to participate in Disability Awareness Workshops (DAW) in November.
Ann Arbor is a large district, Raubolt said, whose children would be better served if AAPS offered a young adult program to special education students. She argued that parents should be able to visit all young adult programs to choose which is best for their students, and that all programs need to be flexible enough to meet students’ needs, including toileting needs. “Our students can lead productive lives,” Raubolt asserted.
Association Reports: PTOC
Martine Perreault reported for the PTOC, thanking Green for giving the keynote address at the group’s recent launch party as well as answering questions from the audience.
She also thanked the six candidates from the board of education for attending the launch party, and answering questions formally, as well as informally during a dessert buffet.
Finally, Perreault thanked the PTO officers who attended as well. She noted that the PTOC has had contact with every PTO and PTSO in the district at this point in the year, up from a membership of only 10% of the PT(S)Os four years ago, and that the PTOC continues to “build strength through unity.”
Upcoming PTOC events, Perreault concluded, will include treasurer training and a fundraising forum.
Green praised the district’s 63 national merit semifinalists, the Community High jazz program, the Huron drumline, the Skyline library, and multiple other specific schools, students, and teachers for recent achievements. She also reported on the recent visit of a group of students from Ann Arbor’s sister city of Hikone, Japan.
Finally, Green thanked the PTOC for the opportunity not just to speak, but also to “mix and mingle, to be a person and not just a superintendent.”
Additional Items from the Board
Baskett apologized to the Ann Arbor Tech community for the board retreat being scheduled on the same day as their open house to dedicate the school’s new name. She also invited everyone to the annual NAACP freedom fund dinner, to be held on Nov. 5 at the Sheraton. If they’re unable to attend, Baskett urged her colleagues and all listeners to consider sponsoring a student to attend for $35.
Mexicotte noted that she is a panelist on a forum taking a critical look at student performance on Oct. 22 from 9-11:30 at the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) student union. She added that this forum is one of a series EMU sponsors every year.
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice-president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot and Christine Stead.
Absent: Trustee Glenn Nelson
Next regular meeting: Oct. 26, 2011, 7:00 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.