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.
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.
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 members attending the forum were asked to work in small groups to answer the following three questions:
- Given the budget realities facing the Ann Arbor Public Schools, what is your main concern with the proposed budget for 2012/2013?
- Based on revenue options, do you have any suggestions on how the district could raise revenue, such as private giving or increased marketing?
- 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.