AAPS Community Budget Forum (May 14, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board continues to solicit community input, as trustees plan for the approval of the district’s fiscal year 2012-13 budget by June 30. The district is facing a $17.8 million deficit, and is considering cuts to teaching staff, busing, music camp supports, and high school programming, among other areas.
Attendance at the second community budget forum held Monday at Huron high school was lighter than at the first one, held a week earlier. Still, almost 40 community members and about a dozen staff members participated.
The two main themes that came out of the second forum were: (1) a desire to keep the cuts away from the classrooms (i.e. not cutting teaching staff or increasing class sizes); and (2) a concern that the cuts as proposed would disproportionately affect the most educationally vulnerable segments of the district’s population. Many participants also expressed concern that the timing of the proposed budget reductions would not allow for transition planning this late in the year, and that the district was not being sufficiently forthcoming with detailed budget information.
Trustees Glenn Nelson, Irene Patalan, and Christine Stead attended the May 14 budget forum. The board will hold a discussion on the budget during their next committee of the whole meeting to be held on Wednesday, May 16 beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Balas administration building’s main conference room.
AAPS superintendent Patricia Green welcomed everyone to the forum, and reviewed the reasons behind the structural deficit that has caused AAPS to need to make over $55 million in cuts in the past five years. Green said that her administration does not want to be suggesting any of these cuts to the board, and that the cumulative effect of these reductions will be painful no matter which decisions the board makes. She then invited AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen to present the proposed budget.
The proposed budget was made in terms of three alternatives – Plans A, B and C – each with progressively bigger cuts. Even Plan A, with the smallest number of cuts and the greatest use of the district’s financial reserves, 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. Plans B and C have progressively greater cuts and less use of reserves.
Allen gave a presentation of the full budget proposal almost identical to the one presented to school board members last month, and then asked participants to break out into small groups to discuss their concerns with the potential budget reductions and brainstorm additional revenue enhancement ideas. An AAPS administrator sat with each of the small groups to serve as the facilitator and recorder.
Community members attending the forum were asked 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 additional 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
The concern mentioned most often at the May 14 budget forum was that the proposed cuts could negatively affect student learning – due to higher class sizes. Participants expressed the belief that the core curriculum will be what closes the achievement gap, and suggested that keeping class sizes as low as possible should be prioritized above everything else, including all extracurricular activities. “Don’t cut anything related to instruction,” “Cut anything but the basics,” and “Students first – preserve class sizes” were all suggestions made at the forum.
One community member noted that higher class sizes is what caused a lack of success for some students at their comprehensive high schools. And that had created the need for alternative programs such as the one in place at the Roberto Clement Student Development Center.
Another main set of concerns had to do with a perceived lack of equity in the proposed cuts. Participants argued that marginalized students who need the most support will be the most affected by transportation cuts; that “at-risk families are being hit hard across the board with cuts;” and that the cuts are being made “from the bottom up.” Another contention was that students of color would have more trouble getting to school, but the budget cuts will not reduce the academic achievement of whites, thereby widening the racial achievement gap.
Regarding the possible restructuring of Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, a few tables compared the timeline for transition for that alternative high school to a timeline for transition of an athletic program. Participants noted that lacrosse, previously a varsity sport, had been given a year to transition to a club sport, but Clemente could be closed with seven weeks notice – not enough time for the community time to re-group. According to a Clemente student who attended the forum, “Clemente students are starting to freak out.”
Participants also questioned if there was enough time left in the year to enact the budget reductions as proposed, and said that “people should have been given more time to react.” One table requested that the community be given detailed information earlier next year, because it’s projected to be another bad budget cycle.
Finally, it was argued that the district need to be more transparent, and that data should not need to be requested via Freedom of Information Act requests. A participant suggested that the district should also provide more background on the institutional history that had gone into the budget recommendations. Forum attendees also asked to be kept involved in the budget process between the May 14 budget forum and the final budget vote.
Community Response: Revenue Enhancement Suggestions
Community members suggested the following strategies for bringing in additional revenue – which are grouped thematically:
- Redouble efforts to pass a countywide enhancement millage
- Support the AAPS educational foundation
- Help the AAPS educational foundation raise substantial amounts of money
- Cut middle school athletics
- Cut all sports
- Convert more sports teams to club sports [as was done with lacrosse]
- Cut all extracurricular activities
- Institute a “pay to ride” plan to cover busing costs, waiving the fee for those who can’t afford it
- Have the PTOs subsidize busing
- Use smaller buses for smaller routes
- Outsource busing
- Eliminate two of the buses serving Ann Arbor Open
- Eliminate swimming at Ann Arbor Open [at Mack pool]
- Allow advertising in district spaces
- Apply for more grant funding
- Open more alternative programs in the district to bring in more School of Choice students
- Fill Clemente to capacity by allowing additional School of Choice students to enroll there
- Add Arabic language as an elective to attract kids who are attending local charter school
- Join the Early College Alliance
- Make sure the district is getting all of its Medicaid reimbursements
- Redistricting so all students can attend the elementary school closest to their homes
- Combine elementary schools and sell off unused properties
- Merge low-enrollment elementary schools
- Eliminate employees’ dental and vision benefits
- Outsource the payroll department
- Take back central administrators’ salary raises
- Cut administrator’s salaries
- Prohibit all administrators’ vacations until the budget is resolved
Community Response: Questions
Table groups asked a number of questions that 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. The district has said it would post on its website answers to questions asked by forum attendees. Questions asked included:
- How would cuts to the three dedicated police officers impact the schools?
- What percentage of the budget needs to be kept in the fund balance?
- What process was used in coming up with these suggested reductions?
- Why aren’t there details being offered in the plan to restructure Clemente?
- What is an estimate of the value of the Clemente building and property?
- Is there a plan for the alternative schools that could be shared to explain what could be happening and reduce fears?
- Why aren’t all of the alternative schools on the chopping block?
- What savings would be realized by eliminating the NWEA assessment?
- Why were there increases in central administration salaries?
- Can the district release more details on the proposed cuts?
- When a proposed cut in listed, are “offset expenses” reflected in that cut?
- What is the timeline – when will these budget decisions be made?
- How can people who aren’t present at the budget forum give input?
Green closed the forum by thanking everyone for their input, and saying that everything discussed at the forum would be shared with the board and posted on the district’s website as the budget conversations continue over the next several weeks.
Next board meeting: Committee of the whole, May 16, 2012, 5:30 p.m., at the Balas administration building main conference room, 2555 S. State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.