AAPS Mulls Revenue Enhancement Proposals

Bond re-funding approved, will nominally reduce millage rate

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (March 21, 2012): At its Wednesday evening meeting, trustees of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) heard and discussed a variety of revenue enhancement proposals from the administration.

Christine Stead Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Christine Stead directs a question to superintendent Patricia Green while trustee Glenn Nelson looks on. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposals ranged from digital billboards on district property to enrolling international students into the district. Board reaction to the proposals was mixed.

Trustee Christine Stead described the proposals as creative, but requested the opportunity to see “both sides of the ledger” – both revenue enhancements and cuts. Trustee Andy Thomas said he was “underwhelmed” by the revenue projections.

After a special briefing on a resolution to re-fund the 2004 Building and Sites Bond, the board unanimously approved the resolution. The re-fund, or “refinance,” of the bond would mean a slightly reduced millage rate for taxpayers. The re-funding will only go through if market conditions remain favorable.

Revenue Enhancement Proposal

In advance of the budget discussions scheduled to take place in April, the board heard a presentation on a revenue enhancement proposal from top AAPS administrators – deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel Dave Comsa, deputy superintendent for instructional services Alesia Flye, and director of communications Liz Margolis.

In her introduction, superintendent Patricia Green said that while other districts were looking at consolidation because of budgets, AAPS is looking at all ways of enhancing the revenue streams. The board did not vote on the potential revenue enhancements. The presentation was considered informational, to be used during the future budget talks.

Board reaction to the proposals was mixed. All the trustees thanked the presenters for their hard work and their efforts in trying to find money “in all directions,” as trustee Irene Patalan put it. Trustee Christine Stead said the proposals were creative, but requested the opportunity to see “both sides of the ledger” – both revenue enhancements and cuts. Board president Deb Mexicotte appreciated the “piling up [of money] that can occur when you dig deep.”

Trustee Andy Thomas, on the other hand, said he was “underwhelmed” by the revenue projections. While he acknowledged revenue generated was money that could be spent on teacher salaries, he also said these plans were really “a drop in the bucket.”

Trustee Glenn Nelson warned that by pursuing some of the proposals such as billboard advertising, there was the possibility of losing something in “our community engagement that would come back to haunt us in the big multi-million dollar things.” Compared to bonds passed by the public, he said the “scale is completely different. We need to remember that.”

Revenue Enhancements: Billboards

Margolis introduced the possibility of billboard space working with Adams Outdoor Advertising. The proposed digital billboards would be located on three properties: Huron High School, Pioneer High School, and Wines Elementary School. She assured the board that, when pressed, Adams came back with a proposal that would guarantee an annual $100,000 return. She also highlighted the fact that the billboards could be used for emergency purposes and to promote AAPS events.

Thomas spoke strongly against the billboard proposal, declaring that “putting a billboard at [the Huron High] location is repulsive,” because the school is in a scenic part of town. He also expressed his discontent with the Pioneer location.

Mexicotte echoed the sentiment of Thomas, saying she initially had the same “horrific” reaction to the billboard proposal. She amended her statement by saying she was “willing to consider it as a way to partner more closely with our local business community.”

Stead took a different approach to the billboards, questioning the safety of a lit billboard in a relatively unlit stretch of highway if it were placed in the highway ring of M-14 behind Wines. She took less issue with the Huron and Pioneer locations since both schools already had lit message boards. She also said they would not be the biggest billboards around, referring to the University of Michigan football stadium scoreboards.

Trustee Susan Baskett said she was neutral on the issue of billboards and could be persuaded one way or the other. She said she was pleased that Margolis pushed for more revenue from the deal, and that Margolis returned with more.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot also registered a neutral reaction to the billboards. She did question the length of a 20-year contract, saying she also still took issue with the length of the cell tower contracts on district property.

Revenue Enhancements: Website

Margolis also pitched the board the idea of allowing advertising on the AAPS website. She said AAPS has been monitoring Alternative Revenue Development (ARD), a group of former Detroit advertising people committed to helping public schools, and has seen them focusing on banner advertising on district websites as a revenue stream. The district would get a percentage back from ARD. Margolis offered a quarterly estimate of $37,000 in revenue that could be earned.

Patalan had a word of caution about website advertising bought by businesses outside of Ann Arbor. “Anything that looks like it’s pulling support from our local businesses,” she said, would be of concern. She noted how supportive local Ann Arbor businesses are of the school district.

Nelson noted these “advertising schemes” have an impact on local citizens’ views of the district. He cautioned against venturing into something that gives the district a direct infusion of money, but that ultimately has a negative impact on people’s opinions of the district. He expressed uneasiness at the idea that visitors to the district website would see commerce as the first thing.

Mexicotte also conveyed her struggle with the idea of advertising on the district website. She again mentioned she could be open to it, if it involved partnering with local businesses.

Because people are accustomed to seeing advertising on websites, Thomas said that proposal was fine for him. Baskett urged caution with any kind of advertising scheme.

Revenue Enhancements: Increasing Enrollment – Schools of Choice

Allen explained to the board that the district would again offer the Schools of Choice (SOC) program, which the district has offered for the past two years. For the 2012-2013 school year, 170 spaces will be made available in kindergarten through 6th grade, with an approximate $1.1 million increase in revenue. The increased revenue comes from the per-pupil allocation that students generate from the state.

Green mentioned the administration is evaluating in-district transfers at the secondary level to see if SOC could be opened up to middle and high schools as well. She said the district would be “remiss” if they didn’t take a look at what they’re doing.

Glenn Nelson Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Glenn Nelson at the March 21, 2012 meeting.

Nelson appreciated Green’s introduction, but noted that attracting more of the students in the district to stay with AAPS would result in getting $2,000 more per pupil, because of Ann Arbor’s greater foundation allowance. He emphasized not losing sight of “being the school of choice for students in the Ann Arbor district area.”

Mexicotte noted the district has been doing things to bring in local [in-district] students. She cited the Early College Alliance, the Options Magnet program, and Ann Arbor Tech as being part of that effort.

Stead expressed concern that bringing in 170 additional students for the 2012-13 year was “ambitious,” given that since the inception of SOC, the district has brought in a total of 170 students. Lightfoot also voiced a similar concern. Jane Landefeld, AAPS director of student accounting and research services, stated that enrollment from SOC has grown each year.

Baskett brought up the marketing campaign to increase SOC enrollment, saying it had “fizzled away.” She asked what would be done differently this time to increase the numbers.

Allen acknowledged that the administration is evaluating the data to maintain potential students who have expressed interest. Margolis said AAPS is working to attract students who live in the district. She also said that moving to an all-day kindergarten program would attract families who previously went elsewhere for an all-day program.

Nelson said attracting students to AAPS is going to depend on “our performance as a district.” He asserted it was crucial “we in Ann Arbor maintain a greater portion of excellence” than other districts.

Lightfoot wanted to make sure the impact on personnel is considered. She noted she had a difficult time explaining to the public how the district was hiring at Balas [the administration building] and laying off teachers.

Revenue Enhancements: Increasing Enrollment – I-20 Students

Another suggestion presented by Allen is to allow I-20 international students into the district. The I-20 forms allow for schools to enroll non-immigrant students with either F (academic) or M (vocational) visa classification. Schools are allowed to charge tuition to I-20 students, as well as receive the state’s per pupil foundation allowance. With the AAPS $9,000 foundation allowance, each I-20 student could generate up to $20,000, depending on the cost of tuition.

Thomas asked if the I-20 students would be enrolled at the high school level only. Allen told Thomas that nothing stopped them from being enrolled at the lower levels, but the program is focused on high school.

Andy Thomas Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Andy Thomas enjoys a lighthearted moment before the break.

Thomas registered his skepticism of the long-term viability for “double-dipping” – receiving both the foundation allowance and tuition. He wondered how long it would take the state to “plug that loophole.”

Baskett said the question of allowing in-district transfers and SOC for high school students needed to be resolved before adding in I-20 students. She stated she was “concerned about the fairness and equity element.” She also expressed concern over capacity.

Nelson was “intrigued” by the possibility of bringing in I-20 students. He saw it as a way of becoming more internationally aware and astute by getting feedback from international students. He said he would love to have some students from Finland or Canada, two countries at the “top of the system,” to give some real data, not just PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores.

Lightfoot had concerns about the I-20 program, wondering if the district’s resources might be hamstrung. She stressed the “great deal” of responsibility placed on the district for tracking and monitoring the I-20 students.

Mexicotte said she believed the I-20 program was a good one to explore, citing diversity and cultural exchanges. And, she said it would be a good thing for revenue.

Revenue Enhancements: Professional Development, HR and Finance Contracts

Flye emphasized the importance of professional development (PD) for implementing the Achievement Gap Elimination Plan (AGEP) and the discipline gap. [The AGEP had been discussed in detail at a March 14, 2012 committee-of-the-whole meeting.] She noted the instructional services team is looking to develop PD to be used and presented in a variety of formats at the regional level. She stated that such professional development workshops could garner $10,000 per event.

Comsa observed that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) is reviewing eight requests for proposals for human resources (HR)/finance software, which could result in a common software for those departments countywide. If that were the case, it would open the door for AAPS to contract out its HR and legal services staff to other districts as those districts cut staff. The estimated revenue was $10,000 to $100,000.

Allen reported the finance department had been investigating the possibilities of providing business services to other districts within the county. That same common software Comsa referred to could allow for contracting out AAPS staff for payroll and accounts payable. The estimated revenue was $20,000 to $100,000 per district.

Lightfoot said the proposal was a big revenue opportunity, but she expressed concern about potential increases in staffing costs. She also noted that whatever services AAPS marketed – PD or otherwise – they needed to be exceptional.

Baskett said she recognized that the administration was talking about bringing in business, but she also saw the need potentially to reduce costs.

Nelson asked if there were any unanticipated costs for the implementation of any new software. Allen responded that while there would be implementation costs, there would be greater efficiency. He gave the example of greater efficiency in reconciling full-time equivalent staff positions (FTEs) and budget.

Revenue Enhancements: Other Items

Margolis discussed the licensing of high school logos, which she described as in its “infancy.” The district had recently undertaken a licensing program with Advantage Sports on a pilot basis. The district’s licensing agreement has been invoked with retailers who were selling unauthorized products, which has allowed the district to gain from those sales. She assured the board that the licensing agreement had not been invoked with small mom-and-pop stores, just big retailers. The result of this activity yielded $660 for the district over the course of six months.

Baskett said $660 seemed “pitiful” and asked if it were legal to choose when the licensing agreement is enforced.

Thomas said the district should get a piece of whatever money is made on logos, so it made sense to contract out services to do so.

Margolis also acknowledged AAPS had a current policy for naming rights for facilities. The current gift guidelines suggest 25% of construction costs. She said that while the district doesn’t currently have donors in that category, there is “always hope” it can attract some.

Both Thomas and Patalan took issue with selling naming rights. Thomas said it felt like they were “selling their souls.” Patalan equated it to the naming of Comerica Park, saying advertising in some places “doesn’t feel okay.” Lightfoot said she felt the same way, but she “understood the need for revenue generation.” Mexicotte noted a policy was already in place and has been primarily used for honoring in-district educators.

Stead commented on four pieces of legislation currently going through the state legislature that might affect the district’s ability to use naming rights to generate revenue.

Margolis also introduced the idea of acquiring scoreboard and timing equipment for the district’s three comprehensive high schools at no cost to the district – through an advertising contract with an Ohio company, Side Effects. The cost of the equipment would be covered with advertising on the devices. The district would begin making money after the items were paid for.

Both Baskett and Lightfoot questioned the need to replace any equipment at the recently-built Skyline High School. Later, during items from the board, Mexicotte explained that a rudimentary scoreboard had been installed at Skyline, with the idea that athletic boosters would help with upgrading the equipment in the future. She suggested thinking of it as an “upgrade,” not a replacement.

Lightfoot expressed surprise that once the equipment was paid off, the district would not receive 100% of the advertising revenue, though the district would immediately own the liability and maintenance of the equipment.

Thomas expressed a view parallel to his thoughts on website advertising. He indicated that people expect to see a certain amount of advertising on scoreboards, so the proposal was acceptable to him.

Allen also noted that building fees, newly monitored Medicaid reimbursements, and the University of Michigan parking project program were also sources of revenue. He mentioned his team was looking to update the building rental fees to make sure the costs were covered for opening the buildings. Administration is also currently evaluating fees for parking at Pioneer High School in connection with UM football games. Collected Medicaid reimbursements from WISD for the previous two years have netted $1.4 million. FY 2009-10 and FY 2010-11 audits were expected back from WISD in the next couple of weeks.

Nelson expressed his interest in the analysis for building rental fees. He said he wouldn’t assume that the revenue for building rental would go up, just because the price went up.

Stead stated the parking program resulted in about $1 million in revenue per year. She asked if the district would continue seeing about $700,000 in Medicaid reimbursement per year, and Allen confirmed that it would.

Outcome: The board did not vote on the proposed revenue enhancements. The presentation was purely informational.

Bond Re-funding Resolution

In a special briefing, the board was introduced to a bond re-funding resolution. Superintendent Patricia Green prefaced Robert Allen’s presentation by saying the current market conditions were favorable for the re-funding of the 2004 Building and Site Bond, issued for the Comprehensive School Improvement Program (CSIP). She equated the re-funding to a refinancing of a home mortgage.

Allen presented the bulk of the material to the board, accompanied by the bond underwriter and the district’s financial planner to answer any questions the board might have. Allen said the bonds in question were issued in 2004 for $123 million. With current market conditions, the district would have the opportunity to save taxpayers money over the life of the bonds.

Allen did note that since the proposal was put together on March 16, bond rates have increased, decreasing the projected net savings from $8.7 million to $7.3 million. With bond rates standing as they are, he projected the savings to be .05-.07 mills for taxpayers. [1 mill is a tax rate equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

After clarifying with trustee Andy Thomas that the proposal is to re-fund the bonds at the earliest date possible, Allen noted the bonds were callable up to May 2014. The district’s financial planner, Paul Stauder, explained that the bonds were issued in 2004 with a 10-year call option, meaning the district must pay the current 5% interest rates for the remaining two years through the escrow arrangement. After the full 10 years elapse, the district would pay the lower interest rates.

When asked by Thomas, Stauder said the board had authorized a similar transaction back in 2007, but due to the passage of time, the authorization was “stale.” He said that if savings remained “strong and robust,” the district would execute the transaction. Board president Deb Mexicotte recalled that decision back in 2007, noting the actual re-funding did not happen because the markets changed.

Thomas mentioned this kind of re-funding is not an actual “refund” but would result in a downward adjustment of the millage for taxpayers. Stauder said it was called a re-fund according to Michigan statutes, but it was a refinancing. Trustee Glenn Nelson allowed that if the re-funding does go through, the millage rate would stand at 2.1, with a conservative estimate of .05 mills savings.

Trustee Christine Stead mentioned five bills in the state legislature, citing SB 770 and SB 771, that would impact activity such as refinancing bond or debt. She indicated she would put together a resolution to consider as a board. She expressed a desire to look at the implications of refinancing looking ahead. Stauder said the bills should not have a direct impact on AAPS, but might on surrounding districts, tying it to districts’ financial and economic health.

Outcome: The bond re-funding resolution was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda. The consent agenda also included the second quarter financial report, minutes, and gift offers. The trustees had no discussion on the financial report, as it was fully discussed and clarified at the March 7, 2012 meeting.

Energy Savings

Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, presented phase five of the Energy Savings Capital Improvement Performance Services project. Before he began, superintendent Patricia Green wished him a happy birthday.

Giving a little background to the energy improvements made, Trent said when he was hired in 1984, everything ran 24 hours a day. Since then, there have been four phases of improvement, and this was phase five. He stated while there was an initial cost of putting in new, more efficient equipment, the cost would be recovered in utilities savings. His department was looking to spend $7.8 million, with savings near $700,000, which shows about a 9% return. He noted there would be a likely rebate from DTE Energy of $400,000. With these improvements, the physical properties budget would drop from $5.4 million to $4.7 million per year.

Some of the improvements Trent noted were LED lighting in parking lots, classroom and hallway lighting upgrades, carbon dioxide controls, pneumatic and digital controls, and liquid pool covers. He highlighted not just the money savings but the positive environmental impact the more efficient equipment would have.

Trustee Andy Thomas clarified the capital outlay of $7.8 million would come from two sinking funds, and that the savings of $699,000 would continue every year. Trent stated his budget would be cut by roughly $700,000, ensuring the new equipment would pay for itself within 10 years. Trent also said most of the equipment had life spans well beyond 10 years.

Trustee Glenn Nelson acknowledged the sinking funds that the money would come from existed because taxpayers voted for them. He tied that to the technology bond, saying that if the technology bond passed [on May 8, 2012], general fund money would not have to be spent on technology and could be focused on teachers and supplies.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked why Trent was not proposing to go with the $5.6 million lower bid from Huron Valley Electrical. He replied the other bids received were for lighting only and were not a direct comparison.

Several of the trustees mentioned the liquid pool cover. Irene Patalan said she was going to “Google it” to learn more about it. [A liquid pool cover consists of isopropyl alcohol and other ingredients that help prevent heat loss and evaporation.] Nelson asked if the cover needed to be continually replaced. Trent responded that it was added in the same way chlorine was added. Baskett asked about the safety of the cover. Trent assured her it had been in use in other southeastern Michigan schools for the past three or four years.

Outcome: This issue will return for a second briefing at the next regular meeting.

Spring Grant Awards

Linda Doernte – AAPS director of purchasing, grants, and business support services – presented two FY 2011-12 spring grants for approval totaling $82,160.

The first grant was a new one from the AAPS Educational Foundation to fund physics equipment and hourly wages. The largest expenditure of $52,662 from the grant is for AirTracks Physics equipment, which Doernte said was the technology “expected for people in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.” Funds for hourly wages were for the Music Together program ($8,000), which engages students in core developmental areas through music and movement, and the Bridge Support for Homeless Students Liaison ($20,000), who works with unaccompanied minors and all students who meet the federal requirements for homelessness.

The second grant Doernte presented was for $1,498 from the Grant Programs Fund of the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL), a local nonprofit organization. The grant would fund a 36-week project to establish computer access for a 7th grade student who is wheelchair bound, cognitively impaired, and has ataxic cerebral palsy. The goal of the project, Doernte said, would be to establish communication with a student who does not use auditory speech, using an Apple iPad 2.

Doernte stated that both grants exemplified how important technology is over a wide spectrum – from helping a student with auditory communication to AP students.

Outcome: This was a first briefing item. It will return to the board for a second briefing and vote at the next regular meeting.

Public Commentary: NWEA MAP testing

During public commentary, two people addressed the board on the topic of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

Parent and local blogger Ruth Kraut expressed her concerns about the NWEA MAP, which include: administering the test to early elementary students during the first weeks of school; overlap in areas evaluated – between MAP and other tests that are currently administered; showing scores to students immediately after taking the test; and the eventual use of the test to evaluate teachers.

Kraut appreciated that the board wanted to get ahead of state-mandated teacher evaluation requirements, but remained unconvinced the MAP was the way to do that. She asked that the board invite Deborah Ball, dean of the UM School of Education and head of the state’s teacher evaluation committee, to discuss the issue.

Parent Julie Roth came to the board with a compilation of concerns from parents of elementary school students regarding the NWEA MAP, some of which were similar to those expressed by Kraut. Roth’s concerns included the following: that the upcoming technology millage will be used to upgrade equipment for the primary purpose of supporting the testing; that the MAP would be used for teacher evaluation, something it was not designed to do; the frequency of testing leads to teaching to the test, and that students receive the test score immediately, which runs contrary to the district’s choice to not use grades at the elementary level.

Roth asked that the board put the test on hold to allow for greater evaluation of the test’s unintended consequences. If it weren’t put on hold, she asked that the test be administered twice instead of three times yearly, and not at all to K-2 grade students. She asked that scores not be visible to students, and that one or more overlapping tests be discontinued. She also urged that an anonymous feedback survey be circulated to teachers, principals, parents, and students.

During clarification on public commentary, superintendent Patricia Green asserted the NWEA was recommended for the purpose of benchmarking student progress three times a year. She said she will take a look at some of the issues of concern, and noted that the district’s strategic plan emphasizes personalized learning. She also referred to plans at the state level that will require all assessments to be done online. She said that is “one of the reasons why we are trying to shore up our technology with the technology bond.”

AlesiaFlye, AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction, also clarified that a committee has been reviewing the process and has been receiving feedback through the year from all levels of the organization. She maintained the primary purpose of the MAP was to give the district another tool to target instruction for students at all ends of the learning spectrum. She said she would follow up with both parents who spoke, so she had a “clear understanding of [their] concerns.”

Student Reinstatement Action

Before adjourning, the board recessed to continue their executive session, started before the regular meeting began, regarding a student discipline matter. The continued executive session lasted an additional three hours. At the end, the board approved the expulsion of Student A.

President’s Report

AAPS board meeting agendas include a report from the board president, which is an office currently held by Deb Mexicotte.

President’s Report: Intro to COTW Reports

Mexicotte began her president’s report by saying she realized there is currently no formal committee reporting out since the board consolidated the planning committee and the performance committee into one. As the chair of the committee-of-the-whole (COTW), she will report out what occurs at the COTW meetings. At the March 20 committee meeting, the board heard two presentations: the Achievement Gap Elimination Plan (AGEP) and a review of the student intervention and support services (SISS) department.

President’s Report: AGEP

Mexicotte said the AGEP report was well received by the board. [See Chronicle coverage: "Board Applauds AAPS Achievement Gap Plan"] She thanked the staff under the leadership of AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye and superintendent Patricia Green. She also acknowledged the district’s equity leadership team (DELT) and DELT-A (the executive cabinet, plus seven additional administrators), saying she was impressed with the use of data. Mexicotte said the plan was made available to all building administrators. She extended the offer to anyone who wants to know more about the plan to contact the central office. The plan is also available on the Academics page of the AAPS website.

Trustee Andy Thomas also extended his thanks to the people who worked on the plan. He said it was the “first truly integrated approach” the district has taken to solving the achievement gap problem. He also acknowledged there were ways in which it could be improved but said it was the best opportunity the district had for addressing the problem.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot echoed the thanks offered by Thomas, and singled out Green. She noted the achievement gap issue had been a long struggle for her personally, but the report was worth “every tear.” She said she was ready to implement the plan, although it was “by no means perfect.” She expressed the desire to enlist students to help improve on the plan.

Trustee Irene Patalan recognized the ongoing desire the district has had to help students achieve. She said the Ann Arbor community is one that is willing to have conversations. She also expressed her appreciation for the work that went into “this living document” that will help meet the challenge of closing the achievement gap.

In her superintendent’s report, Green acknowledged Flye and Elaine Brown – AAPS assistant superintendent of Student Intervention and Support Services – for their leadership, saying, “It takes leadership to bring a vision to light the way you have.” She also thanked Michael Madison – president of the Ann Arbor Administrators Association – for his remarks and endorsement of the AGEP initiative. She indicated the next step is to develop a comprehensive implementation plan of the AGEP. She mentioned professional development plans were already in the works.

President’s Report: SISS Update

Mexicotte explained the SISS update report, presented by AAPS assistant superintendent of Student Intervention and Support Services Elaine Brown and her staff [at the COTW meeting on March 14, 2012], went “far beyond” reports received before in highlighting the achievement of bringing the district into compliance. She mentioned that SISS staff have been looking at how the district’s assistive technology can be improved, and that the technology bond would be instrumental in improving it. She also said SISS is undergoing a regular program review. Lightfoot expressed her excitement at the improvement in compliance undertaken by the department.

Association Reports

Five associations are invited to make regular reports to the school board: the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent Teacher Organization Council (PTOC), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). The Youth Senate (YS) is also invited to speak once a month. The YS, BPSSG, AAPAC, PTOC, and AAAA addressed the board at the March 21 meeting.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Pioneer High School senior Aoxue Tang reported for the Youth Senate. She thanked the board for continuing to support and invest in arts education, saying that research has shown the positive effects of music on academic skills. She also noted the cost of having the AAPS technology millage vote run as a singular voting event, causing AAPS to bear the entire burden of the $60,000 cost. The Youth Senate supports the millage, but has concern that the cost of running the election will take away from student group funding, she said.

Association Reports: Black Parents Student Support Group

Leslie McGraw reported for the BPSSG. She noted the BPSSG dedicated its March meeting to coming up with an action plan to address the district’s Achievement Gap Elimination Plan (AGEP). She thanked trustee Susan Baskett for attending the meeting. McGraw also mentioned they will be hosting a forum the morning of April 28 at Peace Neighborhood Center to show parents how to be more proactive in advocating for their children. She invited all board members and administrators to attend.

McGraw noted the work being done by the southeast area PTOC, made up of Bryant, Pattengill, Allen, Mitchell, Pittsfield, and Carpenter elementary schools. They are determining if their students are receiving the appropriate level of resources from the district. She also mentioned the BPSSG will be partnering with the Neutral Zone to engage more students of color.

Association Report: Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education

Rick Altschuler reported for the AAPAC. He spoke of the Disability Awareness workshops presented in the elementary schools. He thanked trustee Christine Stead and superintendent Patricia Green for attending the Wines workshop, extending the invitation for other board members and SISS staff to attend future workshops. AAPAC volunteers have raised money for the past five to six years to purchase their own trailer and set of equipment for the workshops, which had previously been rented from Oakland County schools. He applauded the initiative of Clague Middle School staff for developing a program for incoming sixth graders. He also mentioned AAPAC’s efforts to fund a workshop coordinator position.

Association Report: Parent Teacher Organization Council

Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC. She mentioned one of the roles of the PTOC was to add resources and tools to the PTO toolbox, for all PTOs in the district. They had the Dispute Resolution Center present at the March PTOC meeting to add to their conflict resolution toolbox. The PTOC voted unanimously to support the technology millage.

Association Report: Ann Arbor Administrators Association

Dicken Elementary principal Michael Madison reported for the AAAA. He was joined by many of his colleagues so “the board and public could put a face with a name.” He recognized Brit Satchwell, the outgoing president of the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) – the teachers union – saying Satchwell has been very supportive as a partner with AAAA. Madison commended the AGEP, saying the plan not only talks about eliminating the gap, but actually does it. With 13 weeks left in the school year, he encouraged the trustees to see what is going on at the district schools.

Awards and Accolades

Board president Deb Mexicotte noted the AAPS website was awarded a Sunny Award by the nonprofit Sunshine Review. The Sunny Awards recognize the most transparent government websites in America. AAPS was one of 214 out of more than 6,000 websites to earn the award.

Parents document kids singing; Ann Arbor Public Schools

Parents of the Wines Elementary 5th grade choir record their children's performance.

She also praised the Wines Elementary 5th grade choir, who sang two songs for the board under the direction of Beth McNally. She said she was “glad to see the wonderful work that is being done at the music program at Wines.”

Trustee Simone Lightfoot was selected as one of 40 women to be honored as a Woman of Excellence by the Michigan Chronicle on March 30 in Detroit.

Also in the superintendent’s report, Patricia Green acknowledged the synchronized swimming teams of both Pioneer and Huron high schools. She also noted the success of many AAPS students at the South Eastern Michigan Science Fair. She mentioned the Community High’s Mock Trial Team advancement to the state championship.

Green called out Pioneer’s DECA chapter’s showing at the state conference. In addition, she mentioned the involvement of Slauson and Tappan middle schools and Pioneer High School in the University of Michigan’s German Day competition. Green was joined by trustees Glenn Nelson and Irene Patalan in celebrating the quality and success of the Art Walk on March 18, showcasing student artwork. Nelson cited the “liveliness” of downtown, and Patalan said the students “take her breath away.”

Agenda Planning

Agenda planning is an item on every AAPS board of trustees agenda.

Agenda Planning: Policy

Christine Stead suggested adding a review of policies set to expire this year. She also indicated a need to revisit student discipline policies, as well as sexual misconduct policies. She said she was working on a peer mentoring policy, as previously suggested by Deb Mexicotte.

Mexicotte and superintendent Patricia Green both indicated Green was reviewing the policies surrounding hearings, notifications, and rights and responsibilities “writ large.”

Simone Lightfoot asked for a policy review for hate crimes and speech, citing a recent incident at Burns Park.

Agenda Planning: Date Change

In an unusual move for the board, Mexicotte announced that the April 11 meeting was canceled. She said the work that needed to be done at that meeting could be done at a special regular meeting held immediately preceding the April 18 committee-of-the-whole meeting, which will be held at Clague Middle School.

Agenda Planning: Other Items

Irene Patalan urged an informal meeting this year with the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA). She would like to have it take place some time this calendar year.

Mexicotte mentioned that Logan Elementary School principal Terra Webster said her staff would be happy to meet with the board regarding culturally relevant teaching. She suggested they could start with written material in the board’s packets, then go from there. Webster had asked if the board would be interested in receiving more information. Glenn Nelson responded by saying he would like to see that information come from Green’s office and not from potentially every school administrator.

Stead voiced her desire to change the term “gifted and talented” to something broader. She suggested “innovation” versus any kind of tracking program. Mexicotte requested that if a term such as “innovation” is used, it should be defined.

Stead reiterated her request for “both sides of the ledger” on proposed revenue enhancements. She asserted a need to move the timeline up for discussion of budget cuts in order to be able to enlist the community’s help. Mexicotte told her it was “on our agenda to get it on our agenda.” She mentioned that the board would be discussing the budget at next month’s committee-of-the-whole meeting and the regular meeting on April 25.

Items from the Board

Andy Thomas acknowledged the number of “very fine” music presentations over the past few weeks, including the Choral Cavalcade at Huron High School and the US Navy Band performance at Pioneer High School, where members of the high school band were invited to play. He complimented director of choirs at Tappan Middle School Bonnie Kidd and the Tappan Choir for their achievement at Choral Festival. He also highlighted two of the AAPS Educational Foundation Great Idea Grants he had recently delivered. One was to Logan Elementary, a grant to purchase culturally relevant literature. The other was to Bryant Elementary, a grant to help replenish materials in the parent lending library.

Glenn Nelson acknowledged the work being done by the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund. He also complimented the leadership of the Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts as they initiate talks about consolidation.

Simone Lightfoot agreed with Nelson about the proactive work being done by Willow Run and Ypsilanti. She also reported she went to a Rising Scholars meeting at Pioneer High School. She highlighted the work being done at Pioneer, not only with their Rising Scholars program but also with their 2.0 And Below program, which works to help students who are struggling. She mentioned the days she spent at schools around the district.

Irene Patalan said she had received positive feedback to the welcome AAPS is extending to future kindergarten families at Kindergarten Round-Ups.

Christine Stead acknowledged the importance of the Disability Awareness Workshops and expressed her desire that a recent drug awareness workshop conducted could be done at more schools to raise community awareness. She also mentioned the proactive work being done by the Willow Run and Ypsilanti leadership. Lastly, she acknowledged what an anchor role the Dexter school district had played in the community after the March 15 tornado. She also congratulated Huron High School’s girls basketball team for reaching the Final Four.

Deb Mexicotte also expressed the board’s support and concern for the Dexter community. She mentioned the district’s role in the 40th Annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow that was held at Pioneer High School. She acknowledged the role Patricia Green and Randy Trent played in helping the Native American Student Association secure a location closer to the University of Michigan campus.

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

Next meeting: Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 5:30 p.m., at the Clague Middle School Media Center, 2616 Nixon Rd. [confirm date]

Monet Tiedemann is a free-lance writer who will be covering the AAPS board of trustees on a regular basis starting at the end of July, when Jennifer Coffman returns to her teaching position in a neighboring district. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By Account ability
    April 6, 2012 at 8:40 pm | permalink

    When will the citizens millage committee file their required annual financial report with the county? And for that matter when will the county stop turning a selective blind eye and issue a late notice?

  2. April 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm | permalink

    I want to follow up on the comment of “Account Ability”. Today I got in the mail a slick postcard for the technology bond millage. It was from a group calling itself the “Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee”.

    There is no such group filed with the County Clerk’s office. However, there is a group called “Citizens Millage Committee” with the same post office box address as the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee”. I assume these are the same people, but one never knows…

    I then went to the website of the “Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee” and took the “Contact Us” link. I was told “Access Denied” because I didn’t have the required login ID or password.

    So. A group supporting the millage hasn’t filed the legally required papers, and/or got its own committee name wrong on its lit.

    And its website is closed.

    Why am I not thrilled about supporting the technology bond millage?

  3. By abc
    April 7, 2012 at 10:52 am | permalink

    Mr. Cahill are you saying that you have found a shadowy group that is trying to influence a vote. You are still such a CARD!

  4. April 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | permalink

    I would say that the shadowy group is likely associated with the schools. The website (a2cmc.org)has links to school pages and speaks in instructionese. But it has a contribution page without a mailing address (one must offer to contribute first and “mailing instructions will be sent to you”) and the group did send out an overtly promotional postcard.

    David Cahill could likely explain better than I that governments are not permitted to spend public money on promoting ballot measures. They are permitted to provide informational materials. Sometimes this creates a grey area. I note that the City of Ann Arbor has begun an educational campaign, er, program regarding the fall parks maintenance millage renewal.

    Anyway, this appears to be clumsily done, which does not actually speak to the validity of the ballot proposal itself.

  5. April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm | permalink

    Re: the comment in [2] from David Cahill

    Cahill’s description of his experience (slick mailer, looking up the organization, etc.) mirrored closely The Chronicle’s own experience poking around.

    For readers who might not be aware of how easily accessible campaign finance information is (to do that kind of poking around) here’s the link: [Washtenaw County clerk campaign finance database]

  6. April 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | permalink

    This is all very odd and unsettling. Why would any group trying to raise money not allow contributions to be made directly?

  7. April 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm | permalink

    They had a PayPal button. The other instructions were only if you wanted to mail in a contribution.

  8. By abc
    April 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm | permalink

    Mr. Cahill

    I am not sure it should be odd or unsettling… for you. When you, yourself, was a member of a shadowy group that was looking to influence a vote you were not interested in contributions. You were interested in spreading lies and untruths. But this was before ‘truthiness’ had been coined. You must remember, it was when you were a CARD.

  9. April 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm | permalink

    Re: [8] the allusion to CARD

    Only for the sake of clarity for readers who might be baffled, you have to rewind history at least six years. CARD was a group called Citizens Advocating Responsible Development that launched a petition drive to force a voter referendum on the bonds for the proposed Broadway Village development at the old Kroger shopping center site. See old ArborUpdate thread. The petition drive fell short of the number of signatures required, but the development eventually fizzled anyway.

    I think it’s not crazy to ask who exactly the group is that is supporting the AAPS tech bond, but there’s no need to cue spooky music on the one hand or to disparage the questioner, on the other. Thanks.

  10. April 9, 2012 at 9:04 am | permalink

    I’m surprised, but pleased, that we can still go and read ArborUpdate, even though it is no longer active. It was also interesting to see some of the names that have disappeared over the years, like Young Urban Amateur and John Q. Are there any plans to preserve the content of AU? For that matter, what, if any, plans are there to preserve the content of the Chronicle when the current proprietors decide to bicycle off in the sunset?

  11. April 9, 2012 at 9:23 am | permalink

    Re: [10] preservation of ArborUpate and The Ann Arbor Chronicle

    I believe that ArborUpdate is hosted on Ann Arbor District Library servers – it’ll be around as long as AADL is around. As for The Ann Arbor Chronicle, when we hit the two-year mark, we provided the AADL the right documents to remove any legal hurdles to hosting The Chronicle’s archives, in the event of its demise. That does not obligate AADL to do anything. Our front-line strategy is to remain in business.

  12. April 9, 2012 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Re (8) and (9): As a point of general information, I looked into the question of legal status of a citizen group that collects money for a particular purpose, including promotion or opposition to an issue. This was in connection with CATCC, the group that opposed the Library Lot hotel and conference center (the Valiant proposal). I was its treasurer for its brief existence.

    What I found is that there are no legal requirements (disclosure, recordkeeping, etc.) for such a group until/unless there is actually a ballot issue involved. At that point, the group would have to file a statement of organization with the county, just like any political campaign, and report contributions and disbursements. (And of course, if it had been made into a 501(c)3 organization for tax deductibility, that is another level of accountability.)As the treasurer, I did nevertheless keep careful records and report all disbursements to the group (the account was closed a couple of weeks after the Council mercifully put a stop to the project).

    But not filing campaign statements does not make a group “shadowy”. In the case of CATCC, members supplied their names for public view. [link]

    I was not involved with CARD (incidentally, that acronym also applies to a citizen group working on the Pall-Gelman contamination [link]) but it was some years before everything was necessarily possessed of a website, etc. so this type of public disclosure would have been more difficult.

    I find it amusing that an anonymous commenter uses “shadowy” as a term of opprobrium.

  13. April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am | permalink

    I sent an actual snail mail letter (how retro!) to the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee on Saturday. I mentioned my failure to find the group on the Clerk’s campaign finance web page. I also pointed out the “Access Denied” problem.

    I will let people know if and when I get a reply, and what the reply is.

  14. By Jack Eaton
    April 9, 2012 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    The Citizens Millage Committee web site (http://www.a2cmc.org/) has a link at the bottom right hand corner called Recent Posts. All post have been made by either “Site Admin” or “Steven Norton”.

    Mr. Norton is active with both the Ann Arbor Parents for Schools and the Michigan Parents for Schools organizations. Both advocate for sufficient school funding.

    Mr. Norton’s LinkedIn information notes his connection to Michigan Parents for Schools, a recent school board candidate and employment with a company that does “design and financial services for non-profit organizations and small business.”

    Mr. Norton’s name also appears on the January 2011 campaign finance form for the Citizens Millage Committee.

    None of this seems shadowy, nefarious, or conspiratorial. It’s just a group seeking to supplement the State’s meager school funding. They merely failed to be consistent in the use of the name for their group.

  15. April 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm | permalink

    Because they “merely failed to be consistent”, the average person (not as savvy as Jack Eaton) won’t be able to locate their campaign info on the County’s web site.

  16. April 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm | permalink

    The Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee is not a new group. They are the same group that has worked on past school millage campaigns. I don’t know if they have changed their leadership but I don’t think so. And I found this out by. . . searching the web and being pointed to this Ann Arbor Chronicle article: [link].

    And to Dave and Mary, regarding [11]: I’m glad that you have a back-of-the-pocket plan with the Ann Arbor District Library, but I am gladder (more glad?) that “Our front-line strategy is to remain in business.”

  17. April 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm | permalink

    Mr. Eaton [14] is quite correct. I’m currently treasurer of the (Ann Arbor) Citizens Millage Committee, and we have been registered with the County for 25 years – or more. The only confusion stems from the fact that the original name for the committee was simply “Citizens Millage Committee,” though it has only ever advocated for AAPS-related ballot issues. We have been including the “Ann Arbor” in our materials to clarify who we are. At the request of the County Clerk’s office, we have just changed our official name to “Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee.” I have explained all this to Mr. Cahill in a separate message.

    There is nothing “shadowy” about the A2CMC – it is a purely citizens group (technically, a “ballot question committee”) run by volunteers who care about our local schools. It’s been around for quite some time, but since I became involved in the group, we ran the advocacy campaign to renew both the AAPS operating millage and the sinking fund, in 2008; the Ann Arbor portion of the Washtenaw Schools Millage campaign in 2009; and now the Ann Arbor Schools Tech Bond campaign. Indeed, the district cannot engage in advocacy, and does not. The A2CMC’s role is to take our case to our fellow citizens and encourage them to support the investments we need to make in our community.

    Our address is printed in full at the bottom of every page of our web site, as required by law. The problem with our contact form on the web site was simply a mis-configuration, now fixed.

    All this is rather a distraction from the crucial issues at stake in this upcoming election. Our schools face growing challenges and difficult choices. We need to focus on these real issues as a community.

  18. April 10, 2012 at 9:16 am | permalink

    As promised, here is the e-mail Mr. Norton sent to me yesterday (Monday) evening:

    Dear Mr. Cahill,

    Thank you for your letter of 6 April about our postcard for the Ann
    Arbor Schools Tech Bond campaign. As you may have learned from the
    County Clerk’s office, we are registered with the county and have been
    for over 25 years. The only source of confusion is that we have been
    registered under “Citizens Millage Committee,” without “Ann Arbor”
    prepended to it.

    The reason why the name did not originally include “Ann Arbor” is lost
    in the mists of time; our ballot question committee has always been
    active only for millage elections for AAPS or in which AAPS
    participates. To clarify what we do, we have been using the name “Ann
    Arbor Citizens Millage Committee.”

    In response to the request from the Clerk’s office that we use the same
    name in all materials, we have just changed the registered name of the
    committee to the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee. You should be
    able to find us listed under that name in the County database as soon as
    they update our records.

    As to our website contact form, that was a mis-configuration of our
    website which I have just fixed. The form should work correctly for any
    visitor now.

    Thank you for your interest in the A2CMC, and I hope you will consider
    supporting our students and schools by voting “yes” on the tech bond
    proposal on May 8th.


    Steven J. Norton
    Treasurer, A2CMC

    End of e-mail. Fast footwork! Note the involvement of the Clerk’s office.

    Changing the group’s name is a good way to fix the problem. I’m also glad the web site is fixed.

  19. By Rod Johnson
    April 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm | permalink

    It sounds like they were notified of a problem and they fixed it. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or harried volunteers trying to keep up with everything that needs doing).

    Also, never underestimate the willingness of anonymous cowards (#1) to stir up trouble.

  20. By Account Ability
    April 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm | permalink

    Account Ability is not about malice or name-calling or provocative adjectives. It’s about expecting financial stewardship and transparency, in this case regarding school administration and finances and advocacy. These are the issues that all voters rightfully ask ahead of a millage question.

    Yet, the original question still remains [because the last filing, under any name, was for the year 2010]:

    When will the citizens millage committee file their required annual financial report with the county? And for that matter when will the county stop turning a selective blind eye and issue a late notice?

  21. April 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | permalink

    Re: [20] Our last filing was the annual report for 2010, filed in January 2011. At that time, we also filed an amended Statement of Organization that, among other things, requested a reporting waiver since we were not going to be active for some time. Thus, we did not need to file any further reports unless we spent more than $1,000 in an election cycle. In fact, until just recently, we had not raised or spent any money since the November 2009 election cycle. We are now active for the May 2012 election cycle, and will be filing the required pre-election report on April 27.