AAPS Budget Forum Highlights Concerns

Attendees offer budget suggestions as AAPS faces $17.8 M deficit

Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Budget Forum (May 7, 2012): Concern about the possible closure of Roberto Clemente Student Development Center dominated the discussion portion of the district’s first community budget forum, held Monday evening at Pioneer High School.

AAPS budget forum

The AAPS budget forum was held at Pioneer High School. (Photos by the writer.)

Community members who attended the presentation heard a presentation of the full budget proposal almost identical to the one presented to school board members last month.

Highlights of that presentation included a core budget proposal that calls for a reduction in staff by 32 full-time positions, the elimination of some busing services, and the closure or merging of one of the district’s alternative high schools. Roberto Clemente Student Development Center is one of the district’s alternative high schools.

Community members at Monday’s forum were asked to break out into small groups to discuss their concerns with the potential budget reductions and brainstorm additional revenue enhancement ideas.

In addition to concerns about Clemente’s possible closure, community members also expressed concern about the rise in class sizes that would be associated with the elimination of 32-64 teaching positions, the elimination of funding for music camps, and the proposed cuts to transportation services.

The district will host a second budget forum Monday, May 14, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Huron High School. The board is not required to approve the budget until June 30.

Budget Presentation

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green welcomed just over 40 community members, and roughly 17 administrators to the forum, and later singled out board trustees Glenn Nelson and Christine Stead, also in attendance. She introduced the budget by saying that the district doesn’t want to make any of the cuts.  But she said that until state funding changes, AAPS will continue to face drastic reductions. Green described the budget proposal as split into three parts – A, B, and C, which progressively increase the degree of cuts and decrease the amount of fund equity used to address the $17.8 million budget deficit.

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen then reprised the budget presentation he had given at the April 25, 2012 board meeting, with a slight revision of one slide. He reviewed the funds held by the districts and their restrictions, expenditure categories as a percentage of the total budget, how AAPS is funded, and assumptions underpinning both revenue and expenditure projections.

Allen’s presentation highlighted the effect of rising retirement costs on the structural deficit facing all school districts throughout Michigan. That highlight had been a suggestion from trustee Andy Thomas at the board’s most recent meeting. Finally, Allen reviewed the proposed $6 million in revenue enhancements and $13-$19 million in reductions that had been presented to the board at its April 18, 2012 meeting.

Community Response

Community members attending the forum were asked to work in small groups to answer the following three questions:

  1. Given the budget realities facing the Ann Arbor Public Schools, what is your main concern with the proposed budget for 2012/2013?
  2. Based on revenue options, do you have any suggestions on how the district could raise revenue, such as private giving or increased marketing?
  3. What other questions to you have that were not answered this evening?

They were then asked to report out to the whole group. Meeting handouts also stated that AAPS would post further information on the district’s website after the community budget forums to answer questions from participants, and also invited forum attendees to submit their concerns or questions in writing.

Community Response: Concerns

All of the groups reported significant concerns about closing Clemente. Participants said that board members do not understand the Clemente program. They questioned how the board could be considering closing a program so central to the district’s mission of closing the achievement gap. They also expressed worry that Pioneer and Huron high school teachers would not be accepting of Clemente students, if they were returned to the comprehensive schools.

They also contended that this possible closure was coming too late in the year for Clemente families and staff to respond effectively to the dramatic changes. Participants noted that if Clemente is closed, programs that work to prevent learning gaps in earlier grades would become even more essential, and that the district has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable students.

Another theme that ran through the community’s responses to the proposed budget was that it “cut from the bottom instead of the top.” A few references were made to excessive administrator pay, including extra pay for completing regular duties, and the “cavalier nature” of the raises given to top administrators.

Regarding the proposed transportation cuts, it was noted that eliminating high school busing would have a negative impact on who could participate in the lottery to get into Skyline High School. Another community member suggested that transportation cuts should be looked at holistically – in the context of community health. That person suggested that transportation cuts would encourage people to walk, which would fight obesity. It was also noted that cutting busing would likely increase Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) ridership and that that was a good thing. However, shifting the cost of transportation from the district to the students was also stated as a concern.

A suggestion was made to frame budget decisions by asking the question, “What is the return on investment?” of various expenditures, and to stop emphasizing that this is the “state’s fault.” Several groups expressed concern about higher class sizes resulting from possible cuts to teaching staff. And, regarding the summer music camp expenditure of $60,000, it was noted that the cost is relatively small for the large number of students it supports.

Community Response: Revenue Enhancement Suggestions

Community members suggested the following strategies for bringing in additional revenue:

  • Sell Clemente and its property
  • Sell Community High School and its property
  • Across-the-board pay cuts or step freezes (on the teacher salary schedule)
  • Graduated across-the-board pay cuts – 10% for highest paid employees and smallest percentage coming out of teachers’ paychecks
  • Use more fund equity
  • Use recognition of the district’s “Julliard-type” music program to draw in students from surrounding communities
  • Sell advertising space at athletic fields
  • Study building utilization to see if other buildings could be closed
  • Eliminate supplemental pay for high school department chairs
  • Deepen cuts to non-academic extracurricular activities
  • Reconsider attempting a countywide enhancement millage
  • Make “pay to participate” fees cover the entire cost of participating in an activity, not only provide a subsidy
  • Eliminate 7th hour at the high schools
  • Increase grant writing and fundraising

Community Response: Questions

Table groups asked a number of questions which were not answered formally for the whole forum group, though administrators did walk around and answer specific questions individually during the small group discussion and after the forum.

Many of the questions asked during the reporting out of small groups related to Roberto Clemente Student Development Center:

  • How much will the budget be affected if the tech bond does not pass? [The bond was approved by voters with around 70% support.]
  • Do all employees have similar health insurance benefits?
  • Why were there no cuts proposed to central administration?
  • What happens if SB 1040 [state retirement system reform] passes and how will that affect the district’s budget?
  • How much money is being spent on administrators’ extra pay if they achieve their goals?
  • How much is the district spending on outside consultants?
  • There is an interest in seeing the whole budget – what was cut and what was not cut.  Could the district provide line item detail on consultants and all budget items?
  • Exactly how does fund equity function to maintain the district’s cash flow, and how much of the fund could be used without impacting cash flow needs?
  • How does the student-teacher ratio change if teachers are cut by 32 FTEs [full-time equivalent positions], 48 FTEs, or 64 FTEs?
  • Is there an update on a possible collaboration with AATA?
  • Are there any contractual issues that would arise if cuts were made to the summer music program?
  • Why give sports [lacrosse] a year to plan [to become a club sport], but not give a school a year to plan to close?
  • What will happen to graduation rates and dropout rates if Clemente is closed?
  • Would Clemente’s closure cause of loss of revenue from School of Choice students?
  • Why was closing or restructuring Clemente in all three plans [Budget reduction plans A, B, and C]?
  • What is the impact to the community of having uneducated children if Clemente is closed?
  • Why was combining Community High School with other schools not considered?
  • What was the rationale for closing Clemente or A2 Tech? Did the district consider all the buildings and real estate when it suggested this reduction?
  • How was the decision made to possibly move Clemente students into A2 Tech rather than shifting the A2 Tech students or other AAPS students out of their buildings?

Allen said that AAPS plans to put answers to these questions on their website after the second community budget forum, to be held May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Huron high school.

Green thanked everyone for their input, and praised Allen for his candid responses and financial expertise. She announced that the second AAPS forum would be held next Monday, and that the detailed summaries of each forum would be forwarded to school board members for their consideration.

Next regular board meeting: May 9, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.


  1. By hopeful mom
    May 10, 2012 at 3:19 am | permalink

    Roberto Clemente is a program which has been a godsend for my family. My daughter struggled while attending Clague Middle School. The staff with the exception of one woman counselor were not able to reach her. Being in Middle School is a challenge for most pre-teen kids (girls especially). The teen brain is developing which could be very confusing to kids of this age. There is so much drama and outside peer pressure that get in the way of many kids making good decisions when it comes to school. My daughter was one of those kids.

    Clague was not a match for my daughter. It wasn’t working. We paid for outside counseling for her and our family because we were at our wits end. Roberto Clemente was suggested as a school we might look into for our daughter. Because of her grades while attending Clague it was suggested that she go to summer school at Roberto Clemente. Not knowing anything about the school other than the fact that it had a reputation of being a school for “bad kids” we scheduled an appointment with the school and met with the principal, Dr. Edmondson. Our daughter was accepted and has been attending ever since. She is currently in 10th grade, has been on the honor roll for the past 2 years and just recently made a 4.0 in the last trimester.

    The Roberto Clemente program works! They hold the kids accountable for their actions. One way of doing this is by the weekly “rap sessions”. This is a time when all the students, teachers and staff get together and talk “rap”. You will be called out if you have had any behavior issues or acknowledged for your achievements for the previous week. There have been times when my daughter was called out. Not a good thing to have happen to you in front of the whole school. But for my daughter, this is what she needed, a time to be held accountable in front of her peers for making poor decisions/actions.

    At the end of each semester, Roberto acknowledges kids who have achieved a 2.7 or higher with awards. The kids gain self esteem for their good works, encouragement and hope that they can be just as successful as any other kid who tries. Today my daughter says she knew she could do the work but that she didn’t because of all the drama she endured while attending middle school. Since my daughter has attended Roberto Clemente she has been successful, not only with grades but also in being a responsible young woman. She has dreams, hopes and goals for her future. In fact, she has recently been accepted to attend WTMC (Washtenaw Technical Middle School). WTMC is a program located on the Washtenaw Community College campus. She will finish off her last 2 years of high school while being able to earn some college credit by the time she graduates from high school. She will graduate with her comprehensive school (Skyline) get her diploma and continue onto finishing off college.

    The Roberto Clemente program has been a good decision for our family. It works! Robert Clemente is a program that should continue as an alternative for those kids who have been pushed aside because of their grades or behavior issues. For those of you who have struggled with their kids in school, I encourage you to visit the school, meet the staff and listen in on one of the rap sessions on Wednesday. There is no coddling at this school. The kids are treated with respect and encouraged to make themselves better people so that they can succeed in their future.

    Leave Roberto Clemente’s program alone and choose to close one of the other schools, Community, Stone or AA Tech and combine them with one of the vacant floors at the new high school, Skyline. The kids at Roberto Clemente have every right to learn, achieve and be successful as any other kid only at a different level other than what the regular high school can offer. The Roberto Clemente program works! It’s not a school for bad kids. It’s a school of hope to parents that have struggled with their kids in school. Keep the Roberto Clemente program open……..it’s not just a school – it has become a part of our family as well.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    May 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm | permalink

    Beautiful. Congratulations to you and your daughter.

  3. May 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm | permalink

    There is another budget forum on Monday, May 14th, at Huron High School’s cafeteria, at 6:30 p.m.

  4. By A A Citizen
    May 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    Many concerns raised about Clemente being closed are by the people that use it. Of course they and the staff will state how important it is. However, this is not the majority.

    The majority of the tax base expect AAPS administration to do their job and make the appropriate cuts. These public forums are interesting, but not everyone has the ability to make them.

    These people are paid to make decisions they think are appropriate, not listen to whomever is complaining the loudest at the time.

  5. May 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm | permalink

    Less than 10% of the electorate voted in the Ann Arbor schools tech bond vote, but everyone who lives here gets taxed.

    The budget forums are an opportunity for people *who want to* express disagreement–OR agreement–to come discuss it. I guess if you don’t want to show up, or send comments (emails should go to boe@aaps.k12.mi.us) then that is your right.

    However, I think it’s important to have an open budget process, and half of life is about showing up. I want the details. Reagan said this about the weapons race (I think it was Reagan), but I believe it applies to public bodies in general: “Trust, but verify.”