Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole (May 16, 2012): Although they showed mixed sentiment on some issues, trustees tentatively expressed agreement on a total of $4.8 million in budget cuts, and just over $6 million in revenue enhancements.
That still leaves a $7 million gap to be addressed as the district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, which begins July 1. There was general agreement on the board to use some amount fund equity to meet the budget targets, but no agreement about how much to use. Hypothetically, the entire $17.8 million shortfall could be covered by drawing on the fund equity the district has to start FY 2013, which is $18.73 million.
But without some cuts and revenue enhancements, that fund equity would be close to just $1 million by the end of the year, which is a half percent of the district’s currently proposed expenditure budget for FY 2013 – $194 million. In addition, it would leave insufficient reserves to manage cash flow through the summer. And by the end of the following year, fund equity would be projected to be negative $23.5 million.
At the May 16 meeting, most trustees expressed support for leaving Roberto Clemente Student Development Center in place in its current form for at least another year, while evaluating the program’s educational effectiveness. Much of the board sentiment on Clemente was reflected in an exchange between trustees Simone Lightfoot and Glenn Nelson near the end of the three and half hour budget discussion. Lightfoot asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”
The administration’s budget proposal called for the elimination of between 32 and 64 teaching positions, but trustees were in broad agreement that there should be no cuts to teaching positions, if at all possible. Nelson suggested that by hiring less-experienced new teachers to replace retiring teachers, the district would still be able to save roughly $960,000, without incurring any rise in class sizes. Trustees expressed support for that approach, which board president Deb Mexicotte dubbed the ”Nelson model.”
While trustees showed a consensus about maintaining teaching staff levels, they were divided on the issue of transportation. Lightfoot suggested a “hold harmless” approach to transportation this year – as the districts forms an administrative committee with broad stakeholder participation to develop a sustainable transportation plan. Taking almost an opposite view on transportation was trustee Christine Stead, who advocated several times during the meeting that all non-mandated busing should be cut. Based on the board discussion, busing for Ann Arbor Open will likely be preserved via a cost-neutral plan that relies primarily on common stops at the district’s five middle schools. Also likely is that the 4 p.m. middle school bus and the shuttles to and from Community High School will be cut. Some board members also indicated an interest in “phasing out” busing to the magnet programs at Skyline High School.
The board took no formal votes during their committee-of-the-whole-meeting on May 16. However the board’s consensus on various issues, convey to the AAPS administration, will inform the final budget proposal. That final proposal comes to the board for a first briefing and public hearing on May 23.
In addition to the budget discussion, the May 16 committee meeting included four and a half additional hours of discussion on: discussing gifted and talented programming in the district; outlining the superintendent evaluation review process; and creating a framework for a broad-based committee to study the sustainability of transportation in the district.
Budget Discussion Process
Board president Deb Mexicotte began by outlining an approach to the budget discussion that would first identify areas of consensus on the proposed budget reductions. After that, it focused the board’s conversation on areas where opinions diverged. The idea was to determine “what [the board] will be able to tolerate” as it addresses the $17.8 million budget deficit. AAPS superintendent Patricia Green added that her administration had brought additional information to inform the discussion.
The board held three rounds of discussion. In round one, trustees briefly considered each of the 27 proposed reductions put forth in the administration’s budget proposal , and were encouraged to reach consensus on items that could be eliminated with very little or no discussion. During this round trustees agreed on cuts to 13 budget items totaling $1.9 million.
In round two, trustees discussed each of the remaining 14 budget items in detail, but did not try to come to consensus about how to balance them against each other. This round ended with an administrative presentation and lengthy board discussion on the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.
In round three, trustees tried to reach consensus on a subset of the remaining suggested reductions – in the context of the required fund equity that would otherwise be needed to balance the FY 2012-13 budget. In the end, trustees were able to agree on another $2.8 million of cuts. They disagreed on the question how much of the remaining $7 million deficit to address by using fund equity versus deepening the budget cuts. Almost all the consensus cuts came from the administration’s core budget proposal (Plan A). The exception was a 10% cut to the district-wide discretionary budgets, which was part of the suggested second-tier of additional cuts (Plan B).
The Chronicle has organized this report by first listing the cuts the board adopted with little or no discussion. After that, discussion and general agreement reached by the board on the remaining proposed reductions are grouped into the following categories: Clemente, transportation, teaching staff, and other district-wide cuts. The report concludes at the same point the trustees’ discussion ended – with a brief discussion of next steps in the process, and general agreement that AAPS should pursue revenue enhancement via advertising.
Line Item Cuts – Round One
The board’s first pass at line item reductions yielded $1.9 million in savings. Mexicotte led trustees through a comprehensive list of the 27 proposed budget reduction options one by one and asked if there was consensus to retain each item on the list of cuts. She started a list of any items on which the board wished to have more extensive discussion on chart paper set on an easel at the front of the room.
Via this method, the board agreed to the following 13 reductions with very little or no discussion:
- Eliminate four high school counselors ($400,000);
- Eliminate middle school athletic directors ($37,500);
- Eliminate funding for athletic entry fees ($58,000);
- Move lacrosse to club sport status ($93,000);
- Outsource noon-hour supervision ($75,000);
- Eliminate district subsidy for summer music camps ($60,000);
- Reduce budget for substitute teachers ($200,000);
- Combine bus runs for Bryant and Pattengill elementaries ($16,560);
- ITD restructuring ($200,000);
- Move Rec & Ed director and office professional positions to Rec & Ed budget ($205,000);
- Eliminate the early notification incentive for retiring staff ($40,000);
- Enact Phase V of energy savings capital improvements ($500,000); and
- Reduce health care costs ($100,000).
Regarding the reduction in counselors, Stead asked for clarification on whether the positions would come from attrition or retirements, and which schools would be affected. AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye said that three of the four positions would be reduced via retirements – one each at Forsythe and Scarlet middle schools, and Huron High School. Those three schools can reduce one counselor and still meet the contractual counselor-student ratio of 1:325, Flye said, but a staff reassignment would be needed to fill the position left by retirement at Scarlett. The fourth counseling position would be eliminated at Pioneer High School – a suggestion that came from that school’s administration.
Trustee Susan Baskett questioned whether the reduction in counselors would have an effect on the district’s ability to enact the new counseling and guidance programming, which was presented at the February 2012 committee of the whole meeting. Flye said it will be a challenge to deliver some of the new plan’s services, and that a reduced number of counselors at each building could be problematic down the road.
Trustees got clarification that the athletic entry fee was beyond the fees associated with regular conference participation for all sports. Baskett asked whether students would have less exposure to recruiters. AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen answered that recruiters would still be able to come to many events.
Mexicotte tallied up the total amount saved from the above cuts, and it came to $1,985,060. Trustees agreed to employ all four of the revenue enhancement suggestions proposed by the administration (Schools of Choice, Medicaid reimbursement, MPSERS offset, and best practices incentives), totaling $6 million.
That left $9,814,940 as the remaining amount the board was still looking to cut as it moved into the next phase of discussion. [$17.8 million – $1,985,060 – $6 million = $9,814,940].
Roberto Clemente Student Development Center
At the May 16 meeting, four people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center. AAPS administration also presented a new set of information for board review, including a set of options for relocating or restructuring the school, and a large amount of data on achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing, course offerings, and cost comparisons between the six district high schools. Additional board discussion on Clemente, including its summer school program, followed the administrative presentation.
Allen introduced the proposed reduction to Clemente as potentially saving $400,000, which included savings related to the building, principal, office professional, custodian, and utility costs. Moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer would save another $80,000.
Clemente: Public Commentary
Barbara Malcolm, a community liaison at Clemente, asserted that the board members are no longer representing the community that elected them. She said she has been appalled by “actions, lies, and deceit” and that the school board has lost much of its credibility in the community. Malcolm said the district still faces the same level of attacks on blacks, poor people, and disenfranchised students as it did when she was a student at AAPS. She said it was shameful that Mexicotte has called Clemente “racist” and “a one-way street.” Calling superintendent Patricia Green an “outsider” who was “not part of the community, only paid by it,” Malcolm accused Green of dismantling a pillar of the community. Malcolm asked Green at least to “own” a statement Green had made at the beginning of her tenure as superintendent that Clemente was not on the chopping block. She argued that AAPS needs to educate all students, “not just those who do well on standardized, biased tests.”
Charlae Davis said that if the process is sloppy, the outcome will be sloppy, and said she had serious concerns with the budget proposal process. She argued that denying families and students a role in the planning process is a form of oppression and said the process has been “victim-blaming.” She asked board members to consider whether they would be satisfied with this process if their own children were at Clemente.
Georgina LeHuray shared the story of her grandson’s switch to Clemente and the positive effect it has had on him. She argued that test scores are the wrong measurements to use in evaluating Clemente, and asked what will mean the most to these kids in 10 or 15 years – test scores or [the support] they get from these people at Clemente. LeHuray urged the board, “If you save one kid at Clemente, it’s worth every damn tax dollar we put on these kids … Do not fail these kids. Appreciate what you’ve got at Roberto Clemente.”
Clemente staff member Pat Morrow asserted that AAPS has failed the children who attend Clemente. She argued that achieving high test scores is not as relevant as getting a high school diploma, and said that sending Clemente students back to the comprehensive high schools would be setting them up to fail. “We can get kids into colleges, Morrow said, “and they can go onto be productive citizens.” She said the board needed to let the Clemente community know right now what its fate is.
Clemente: Short-Term Focus
Green said the presentation her team brought to share was developed in response to questions from the previous committee of the whole meeting about what the options the district had to make changes to Clemente. Lightfoot noted that she was not comfortable getting this information for the first time at 11:20 p.m.
Flye reviewed how Clemente is made up mostly of 9th and 10th graders, but includes some upperclassmen as well. The goal of the program, she said, is to help students return to their home school by making use of smaller learning environments, among other program features. Flye said that the administration’s short term goal was to maintain the philosophy, initiatives, and structure of the Clemente program, with the long-term of possibly redesigning the program.
Green added that the district has been talking about the possible redesign of alternative programs, and noted that A2 Tech’s name change came out of those talks. She noted that when she had been interviewing for the position in Ann Arbor, she heard that cutting alternative programs had come up during last year’s budget discussions. Green also addressed an accusation made repeatedly at recent board meeting public commentary sessions about a statement she made on Clemente’s future: “When I had visited over there early in the year, at the time I was asked, ‘Are you planning on closing the school?’ I said there had been no conversation about that – it was very early in September. None of these conversations had taken place.”
Clemente: Restructuring Options
Flye described four options for restructuring Clemente:
- Relocate Clemente to the A2Tech building and run both programs separately;
- Relocate Clemente to A2Tech and create a blended version of both programs;
- Relocate Clemente to a dedicated space in either Pioneer or Huron; or
- Integrate Clemente students into their home high schools, with the Clemente program principal coordinating support of Clemente students in the comprehensive schools.
Flye then explained why (option 1) and (option 2) were not seen as desirable. She briefly touched on how (option 4) was envisioned, and then went into detail about how (option 3) could work.
Flye noted that there might not be enough space to keep the programs fully separate in the same building (option 1). She also said that the principals of A2 Tech and Clemente had said it would not work well to blend the programs (option 2), because the two programs have such different areas of emphasis. Clemente targets mostly 9th and 10th grade students, Flye said, while A2 Tech targets older students.
If Clemente students were integrated into their home high schools (option 4), Flye said that some instruction could be delivered by Clemente staff, that some instruction could consist of “touchpoint” classes delivered with technological enhancements, and that” wraparound services” would be offered.
On the topic of relocating the Clemente program to Pioneer or Huron (option 3), Flye and Green suggested that modified schedules could be used to keep Clemente students totally separate from other students if that was desired. The modified schedules might include separate lunch periods, or alternative starting and ending times. At the comprehensive high schools, Clemente students would benefit from an enhanced set of opportunities, they said, including sports, arts, career and tech education and other electives, while maintaining Clemente’s mentoring approach and weekly “rap sessions.”
AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent led the administration in describing the spaces within Pioneer and Huron that could house Clemente. At Pioneer, he said, there are seven classrooms in the D wing that could be available, along with an eighth room upstairs that could be used if necessary, an administrative area, a separate entrance, and a large lecture facility that could be used for the weekly rap session. Clemente would displace math classes currently using the space, which Pioneer’s administration said would be a good change for the school, Flye added.
At Huron, the available space would be an isolated area with eight classrooms would be on the third floor of the arch, Trent explained, noting that students would have to walk through the entire building to reach the space. Flye allowed that world language and language arts classes would be impacted by the classroom shift at Huron. However, she reported that Huron’s administrative team had indicated it would not be a problem to relocate those classes and provide office space to accommodate the Clemente program.
Stead questioned how much would be saved by relocating the program intact under (option 1) or (option 3) versus blending the program with A2 Tech under (option 2) or integrating Clemente students in to the comprehensive high schools under (option 4). Allen answered that only the blended program in (option 2) would save the targeted $400,000. The other three options would save around $200,000 – because those options preserve Clemente’s administrative costs.
Lightfoot asked if there had been any consideration of ways that $200,000 could be saved while leaving the Clemente family as it is – like marketing the program to bring in more School of Choice students, or opening it up to more 8th graders. No, Flye answered. Lightfoot asked when such alternatives would be considered. Mexicotte responded to Lightfoot by saying that the board would use the meeting to decide whether to move forward with one of the options presented by administration, or make no change to the program.
Flye presented the board with data on Clemente’s student achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing levels, and course offerings, and comparative data on student achievement, graduation rates, and cost per student for all six AAPS high schools.
AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld said that it was challenging to determine the degree of student academic growth at Clemente, because students enter the program at all times of year and stay for different lengths of time. Landefeld said she had reviewed the transcripts at the end of the second trimester for each of the 87 Clemente students enrolled at that time, and determined that 39 of the 87 (45%) then had higher GPAs than they had had when entering the program. However, she also noted that many of Clemente’s classes are slower-paced, and so “it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges in terms of which classes they are taking.”
Trustee Andy Thomas questioned the relevance of graduation rates – because the goal of Clemente is to return students to their home school for 11th and 12th grades. Landefeld confirmed that students do not graduate from Clemente because “Clemente is a program, not a school.” She explained, however, that “somewhere along the way, the state listed it as a school, so if a student ends at Clemente, they are considered graduating from Clemente.” Stead suggested that AAPS should communicate to the state that Clemente has been misclassified as a school.
Nelson asked about the capacity of Clemente’s building. Trent explained that the building has 18 classrooms, which can fit up to 15 students each, with some larger rooms as well. Nelson noted that many classes at Clemente have fewer than 15 students. Flye added that Clemente strives to keep class sizes averaging 10-12 students. Landefeld stressed that Clemente gains students throughout the year, so the number of students fluctuates. There are currently 104 students in the Clemente program, according to the analysis of student growth presented by Landefeld.
Mexicotte said that when she was first elected to the board, Clemente’s enrollment was around 170 students. She pointed out that for the purposes of current discussion, the board has been using a population of 100 students.
Clemente: Long-Term Focus
In the long term, Flye said, Clemente and other alternative programs in AAPS could be redesigned to offer expanded distance learning opportunities made possible through digital technology, and additional course offerings. The administration could also continue to explore the implementation of a middle college concept, and more flexible day and evening schedules. Flye concluded by saying that AAPS will continue to develop early interventions for at-risk students.
Clemente: Board Discussion
Baskett asked if there was any discussion of team-building – in a scenario where Clemente students are moved back into the comprehensive high schools in any way. Flye said the schools would welcome them, and that team-building with staff and students was acknowledged to be a very important part of the process.
Thomas said he had a number of concerns, beginning with the fact that decisions about Clemente should take program effectiveness into account, as well as potential cost savings. Regarding the student achievement data presented, Thomas said that on one hand, the fact that 0% of Clemente students are proficient in writing [See Chart 2] seems like “a pretty strong indictment of the Clemente program.” However, he said, the real question is, “At what level are students when they enter the program, and where are they at the end of one year, two years?” Thomas said that student growth is not being clearly measured except by GPA, which he argued was an “imperfect” measure.
Thomas also expressed concern about the timeline of implementing any changes in the Clemente program by fall 2012, and said that the district needs more time to prepare. He suggested that AAPS keep Clemente intact for one year, during which it completes a comprehensive evaluation of the program based on data, not anecdotal evidence. “And if that costs $200,000 or $400,000 plus transportation costs, that’s the price that we pay for not dealing with this earlier in the year,” Thomas said.
Stead said her thoughts on Clemente were similar. She said she was willing to trade off all transportation to preserve education as the district’s primary mission. She said she could support a change to Clemente that is led by a focus on the program, and would be discussed for a year by the principal, parents, families, and students involved. She felt like the district is now “trying to retrofit” a solution.
Directing her comments to two Clemente students still in attendance at the meeting [at 12:30 a.m.], Stead called the Clemente achievement data “extremely concerning,” and said, “You can roll your eyes and say it’s not important, but I can tell you – these numbers are important.” She agreed that Clemente warrants further review and discussion, and that while there is not time to fix it this year, “We need to do right by these students.”
Lightfoot said that she believes Clemente has done a “great job,” and that she is interested in the district considering better marketing of the program so that perhaps AAPS can “get it up to capacity” and bring in new revenue.
Nelson said that how he will vote on preserving Clemente will come down to where the money comes from, saying, “If it comes from the 32 [teaching positions districtwide], I just can’t go there. I really believe in those 32 [teaching positions].” If the money for Clemente would be taken from fund equity, Nelson said, he would “want to be convinced by the evaluation people that in fact there is reason to think there is something different we are going to know eight months from now because I find the achievement data very disturbing.”
Responding to Lightfoot directly, Nelson questioned how AAPS could effectively market this program when the test scores at Clemente are so much worse than at the comprehensive high schools. Nelson questioned whether performance at Clemente was actually decreasing the achievement gap and asserted, “The averages for African-Americans would go up if you took these students out of the mix.”
Lightfoot said that she was also upset by the data, but noted that African-Americans’ scores are low throughout the district, not only at Clemente. She asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”
Trustee Irene Patalan said the test scores as well as the money do concern her, noting that the per-student cost at Clemente is closer to $19,000 than $18,000. She said she feels an urgency to help the students at Clemente be successful as soon as possible, and that she would like a recommendation from the AAPS administration about which option to take.
Patalan also mentioned that her children had been in alternative programs within AAPS, and that she was very much an alternative school supporter. She shared some of the history of the district’s “Middle Years Alternative” program that was housed within Forsythe but had almost complete autonomy. Patalan said she is not afraid of “putting programs together and sharing spaces.”
Baskett said that she was tired and would refrain from commenting. But Mexicotte asked her to please share her thinking now. Baskett obliged, saying that if the district moves to change the status of Clemente now, it will not be done right. “The driver will be money, and not the quality of education for all our children,” she said, “I think, Irene, you are wrong on this one.”
Thanking the administration for the presentation, Baskett suggested that an evaluation of Clemente should include a qualitative element, saying, “When you talk about measuring climate, we need to capture that as well.”
Mexicotte began by clarifying that the comments ascribed to her during public commentary were things that she had reported having heard over the years about Clemente, not comments that she had made personally.
She continued by saying that while she appreciates that Clemente students have positive feelings about their school, the achievement data have troubled her for many years. “Are we going to say that these data points are not going to be what we are judging our achievement gap on across the district?” she asked. Mexicotte said that if the district wanted to decide not to judge “growth to proficiency” with test score data, then it would need to decide what else to use as metrics.
Mexicotte suggested the district needs to set expectations about test scores, and what kind of cost per student figures it would like to see. She suggested that the district study Clemente over a two-year time frame to determine if it should be marketed, moved, or adjusted in some other way, and noted, “If the program is really something we want for our students, we shouldn’t be gatekeeping as hard as we are.” Mexicotte also suggested that art and music should be brought back to Clemente in its current location.
Outcome: The board agreed to leave the Clemente program intact for at least one year while assessing its educational effectiveness. Stead suggested that in terms of the targeted savings in alternative high school programming, AAPS administration should have a conversation with A2 Tech one more time to see if any savings can be found in that program.
Clemente: Summer School
Green explained that the impetus behind moving Clemente’s summer school is to have all the secondary summer school programs located at one site – Pioneer High School.
Baskett noted that part of the transition to Clemente is the summer school program, which is not just academic. Allen said that not all Clemente students attend summer school, and that $20,000 out of the $100,000 Clemente summer school program can be preserved to add services to the traditional summer school program, which focuses on credit recovery. Flye reported that Clemente principal Ben Edmondson has said that Clemente summer school students are also working primarily on credit recovery, and that summer school helps to provide a consistent routine for them.
Thomas said moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer is an opportunity to achieve some efficiency. Flye noted that moving the program would also give students more opportunities in terms of course selection. Green added that the board should decide as soon as possible what the location will be – because Clemente needs to start preparing its summer program.
Trustees asked for clarification on the costs related to summer school. Landefeld explained that there are only fees for courses that are taken for extra enrichment, as opposed to courses taken for credit recovery, and that scholarships are available. Baskett asked if there is busing for summer school. Allen said there is no busing for summer school in general, but that Clemente students would be transported, and that it would likely cost less to bus them to Pioneer than to the Clemente building.
Outcome: The board agreed to move the Clemente summer school program into Pioneer High School to achieve an $80,000 budget reduction.
Teaching Staff Reductions
The administrative budget proposal includes the elimination of 32 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) in teaching staff in Plan A, 48 FTEs in Plan B, and 64 FTEs in Plan C. Trustees were in agreement that they are not interested in cutting any teaching positions.
Nelson suggested retaining the number of teachers, but hiring new teachers to replace those who are retiring. He asked for confirmation on comparative salaries, and Allen confirmed that there is roughly a $30,000 spread between retiring teachers (whose salaries and benefits cost nearly $100,000 each) and new teachers (whose total cost to the district is roughly $70,000). Nelson suggested that 32 FTEs at $70,000 would be $2.24 million, which means that if the number of positions were preserved, but less expensive teachers were hired, the district could save $960,000.
Stead, Thomas, Patalan and Mexicotte all agreed about the importance of retaining teachers. Stead said this is one area where the primary mission of the district is clear, and that she could not justify cutting one more teacher. Thomas said he is willing to compromise on everything else, but that cutting teaching positions would be unacceptable, even if it means dipping into fund equity.
Trustees considered a variety of cost-saving measures in transportation services. There was disagreement among trustees about how much transportation they were interested in cutting this coming year – from none to all of it. Two people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of transportation.
Transportation: Public Commentary on Busing to Ann Arbor Open
Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC) co-chair Sascha Matish passed out a set of handouts to the board outlining the impact of eliminating busing to Ann Arbor Open on subgroups of the school’s population. She noted that busing is used by 95% of the school’s 22 African-American students, and 68% of the school’s 57 economically disadvantaged students (who receive free or reduced-price lunch). Matish also passed out an aerial map of the Ann Arbor Open area, and requested that the board view a video created by the AAOCC of morning traffic near the school to give trustees a sense of the traffic back-ups already facing families on a daily basis. Again, Matish suggested that cutting busing would severely compromise student safety.
The other co-chair of the Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC), Jill Zimmerman, also addressed the board. Referring to a set of bar graphs distributed to trustees, she noted that Ann Arbor Open’s MEAP scores are higher than the district averages in math and reading. She also pointed out that districtwide, the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 8th grade is lower than the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 3rd grade. However, the gap between 3rd-grade achievement and 8th-grade achievement is smaller among Ann Arbor Open students than it is across the district. “When we are talking about equity and closing the achievement gap, what Ann Arbor Open does matters,” Zimmerman asserted. “Our kids are doing better, and we think it’s because of what we are doing.”
Zimmerman also briefly reviewed an alternate busing proposal created by the AAOCC, which was sent to board members and AAPS administration before the meeting. The alternative proposal relies on common stops at middle schools and would more than halve the cost of busing to Ann Arbor Open.
Transportation: 4 p.m. Middle School Bus
Nelson said that he has consistently heard from middle school parents about the value of the after-school middle school program. Thomas suggested that the middle school principals could use some of their discretionary funds to keep the 4 p.m. bus if they wished.
Stead reiterated her theme that she does “not see transportation as being more important than education.” She noted that transportation is not required, not funded, and is not more valuable than a teacher. She argued that the community could come together and provide transportation, but could not come together and provide teaching. Baskett argued that there are many people in the community who would not be able to come together to provide transportation, saying, “You can call a carpool on your iPhone. Other families do not have phones.”
Mexicotte said she was inclined to leave the 4 p.m. middle school bus in place for another year, because a few years ago the district completely restructured middle school and lost a lot of extras and opportunities.
Transportation: Mid-day Shuttles to/from Community High School
Mexicotte noted that students get themselves to Community High School, and Baskett asked how many students this affected. Stead asked if AATA could be approached to provide shuttles, and Margolis answered that AATA buses don’t run often enough to make it work. Stead asked if Community students could Skype into classes at the comprehensive high schools. Allen allowed that yes, that would be possible.
Thomas said he was in favor of this reduction, and noted that Community shuttles are a “big-ticket item.”
Transportation: Busing to Choice Programs – Ann Arbor Open, Skyline Magnets, Roberto Clemente
Green presented a proposal crafted in the previous week by her staff that offered a cost-neutral alternative to continuing Ann Arbor Open busing – by consolidating routes at middle school common stops. Lightfoot expressed frustration that a new proposal was drafted for the Ann Arbor Open portion of the transportation cuts only, and said that she wants to be sure the district is doing the same for everyone, not just “the squeaky wheel.” Baskett commented that the administration’s proposal was very similar to one crafted by Ann Arbor Open parents and presented by them to the district.
Several trustees expressed discomfort about eliminating busing at Ann Arbor Open – because of the inequity of that would arise from offering busing to all other students of the same grade levels (K-8). Nelson disagreed, saying that he was fine with cutting Ann Arbor Open busing to reach the cost savings goals.
Regarding transportation to Clemente, Thomas said he believes AAPS will have to maintain transportation to the building if it stays open – because there is no other way to get there.
Baskett said that providing busing to the magnet programs that are part of Skyline High School was a promise that the district made to the community, and was meant to ensure better diversity in the magnet programs. Baskett asked how many students in the magnet programs rely on transportation provided by AAPS. Landefeld explained that about 30% of Skyline students are bused, roughly 100 per grade level on average. Thomas said he’d consider eliminating magnet transportation before eliminating all high school busing. Mexicotte pointed out that not everybody who takes a bus to Skyline is in a magnet program, and suggested that the district should keep transportation for the magnet programs for now, but consider phasing it out.
Lightfoot said the she feels like she’s “operating in the dark” when it comes to transportation choices, like she has to “choose now and see the fallout later.”
Transportation: Skyline Starting/Ending Times
Lightfoot said she did not like moving Skyline’s start time up by 15 minutes, because she has a concern about the earliness of high school days in general. Baskett said that as the district makes use of its newly forming, community-wide committee on transportation, the decision about Skyline’s starting and ending times could be revisited and reversed. A change to Skyline’s starting and ending times would require a memorandum of understanding with the teachers’ union, as noted earlier by Allen.
Transportation: High School Busing/All Busing
Almost all the trustees expressed general concern that there was not enough advance time this year to eliminate high school busing or all busing in a responsible way. Stead disagreed, and continued to push for the elimination of all busing as a way to leave more money in the district’s fund balance.
Stead said she would be more inclined to work on creating an entirely new program for transportation, and to begin concerted conversations with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to work on that as soon as possible. She added that she wanted to remind the board the district had a “horrible experience” with transportation this year. The district had to adjust transportation spending by $800,000 mid-year, while maintaining a “fragmented” system with “little bits of transportation here and there,” she said.
Outcome: Trustees agreed to maintain busing to Clemente and to the Skyline magnet programs. Busing to Ann Arbor Open will likely continue under a modified plan, which will save the district $98,000. The board plans to cut the 4 p.m. middle school bus ($85,284) and mid-day shuttles to and from Community high ($230,184), as well as achieve $266,400 in savings by moving the Skyline starting and ending times up by 15 minutes.
Other District-Wide Cuts
The board also agreed to cuts to police liaisons, site-based budgets, and district-wide discretionary budgets.
Other District-Wide Cuts: Police Liaisons
Stead suggested that removing the police liaisons would cause increase safety issues. She cited five bomb threats at Forsythe Middle School and two bomb threats at Skyline High School as evidence. Baskett pointed out that the bomb threats were unsubstantiated. But Stead argued that students are staying home from school and getting physically sick with worry because of them.
Thomas said that it is not clear to him that having police liaisons is having any effect on the bomb threats in any way whatsoever. Stead countered that when she has talked to principals, they believe that the sheer presence of the officers helps to reduce disciplinary issues. Nelson stated that he believes five teachers will have a greater impact than three police liaisons for the same cost.
Stead argued that the city will not hire these police officers if AAPS releases them, and that the robberies in her area have gone up as police numbers across Ann Arbor would be decreasing.
Baskett pointed out that overall, crime in Ann Arbor has actually decreased, and that these three police liaisons have seniority in the Ann Arbor police department and would be reassigned within the community. She said that a police officer could arrive any building in the district in less than 10 minutes, and that she would rather have teachers than police officers. Patalan said she agreed with Baskett, Nelson, and Thomas.
Discussion: District-wide Discretionary Budgets
Mexicotte reviewed the administration’s proposal on discretionary budgets. She said that a 5% cut to these budgets – which cover building-level costs such as professional development, paper, and supplies – would save $250,000. A 10% cut would save $500,000. Thomas suggested “bumping that up” to possibly as much as a 15% cut. However, Allen and Flye suggested that would have a dramatic effect on the ability of a building to function effectively.
This was one area in which the board included a reduction from Plan B of the suggested reductions – Plan A of the budget proposal had suggested cutting discretionary budgets by 5%, and Plan B took the reductions to 10%.
Discussion: Site-Based Budgets
Site-based budgets in AAPS fund have been available to school improvement teams (SITs) to use as they see fit. Patalan said that while it was a small amount of money, she appreciated that each SIT was able to decide how to best use it to serve that school locally. Still, she said, she understands the need to cut it.
Outcome: The board agreed to eliminate police liaisons ($350,000) and site-based budgets ($250,750). They agreed to cut district-wide discretionary budgets by 10%, saving $500,000.
FY 2012-13 Budget – Next Steps
After the board worked through the list of possible reductions for the third time, Mexicotte tallied up the cuts tentatively agreed to by the board. The cuts totaled $4,805,678, leaving a $7 million of deficit [$17.8 million deficit, minus $4.8 million in cuts, minus $6 million in revenue enhancements]. She asked the board if they would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity to balance the budget. Their responses were mixed.
Part of the board’s decision about how much fund equity to use will be based on projections of school funding – this year and into the future. One person addressed the board at public commentary on the topic of school funding.
Next Steps: Public Commentary on School Funding
Steve Norton reported that the state of Michigan is currently projecting funding for the School Aid Fund (SAF) to increase, but cautioned that the board should not assume this unexpected revenue will accrue to benefit local districts. Norton pointed out that the state may choose to save the extra SAF funding to reduce the pressure on the state’s general fund, which is forecasted to be lower than expected this year and next.
Norton also suggested that the community begin a conversation about private giving to support schools. He noted that the East Grand Rapids public schools educational foundation has raised $350,000 in one year to offset the budget cuts facing their district. Norton said it’s hard to get people to dig deep, but that “we are at a point that if we can’t get the rest of our citizens to move forward with a countywide enhancement, and can’t convince legislators [to provide adequate school funding], maybe we should move forward to do something ourselves.” Norton suggested as an example that the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation could launch a campaign to cover the cost of transportation.
Next Steps: Fund Equity
Mexicotte said that Norton had made a very good point during public commentary, and that there is no guarantee based on past history that the SAF would see any increase. At this point, she said, if the board does not give different direction to AAPS administration, a balanced budget would be achieved by taking $7 million coming out of the fund balance.
Thomas said he would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity, but Stead was adamant she would not be. When pressed, Stead said she might find it acceptable to use up to $5 million, and added that it was “poor planning to sit here for six, seven, eight hours.”
At 1:15 a.m., as the board appeared unable to make further progress, Mexicotte responded, “If this is as far as we can get now, it’s as far as we can get.” She explained that the administration would take the board’s input from the meeting, and present a final budget on May 23. After that, she said, the board can have additional discussion and move forward.
Nelson said that starting from a $17.8 million deficit and getting to within $2 million of addressing it is not bad for one evening. He thanked Mexicotte for her facilitation, and said that he was open to staying longer to continue discussion, but also fine with waiting to continue discussion on May 23. “Then the administration can come back and give us … an option with $7 million use of fund equity, and then those of us who want to can argue for $5 million.”
Nelson also noted that Senate Bill 1040 – a retirement reform bill which as of May 17 was passed by Michigan state senators and is moving on to consideration by the state House of Representatives –could be helpful in resolving the budget. “There is a chance that more than $2 million could come out of it, and with luck, we could be done,” Nelson said.
Stead disagreed, saying that part of what’s driving up the mandated employer contribution rate to the state retirement system is that many districts are laying off staff. She said she is very concerned about how things will look a year from now, because current layoffs are not part of the figures being considered.
Lightfoot said that while she would prefer not to use $7 million of fund equity, she could support it if the district committed to make the next year be strictly focused on planning to be more prepared to make cuts in the future.
Next Steps: Advertising
Just before the meeting wrapped up, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green said she had one quick question for trustees, and asked if they would give her and her staff direction on the revenue enhancement ideas that administration had previously presented.
AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis reviewed the suggested advertising possibilities – digital billboards, scoreboard advertising, and website banners. She said she felt the trustees had given clear direction against pursuing the creation of billboards on the properties of Wines, Pioneer, and Huron, but reiterated the suggestion for allowing banner ads across the top of the AAPS website.
Margolis said that the company AAPS would work with has worked with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS), and when Margolis had talked to the Plymouth-Canton director of community relations, they spoke positively of the partnership. The first-year revenue from allowing banner advertising would be at least $22,500, said Margolis, and would be projected to increase to $250,000 by the third year. She noted that Plymouth-Canton’s revenue has increased by 30% every month, and that the terms of the agreement will be shifting from a 60/40 revenue share with the advertising company [in favor of AAPS] to a 50/50 split if the district does not commit soon.
Maintaining a commitment to local advertisers had been a concern expressed by trustees at their March 21 meeting, when the advertising proposal had been presented to the board. Margolis said that it would cost about $500 a month for a rotating ad, which would price it equal to what it costs to run ads locally in other venues. This would give local advertisers another daily advertising spot, she said, and the ad company would also bring in regional and national ads to the AAPS website. Finally, Margolis noted that many community members have suggested the district engage in website advertising, and added that AAPS would have full discretion to have any objectionable ads removed immediately.
Margolis also sought approval to begin the process of re-equipping the high schools with new scoreboards, which would be paid for by an advertising company and would show ads during sporting events. She said the high schools would be eager to receive the new scoreboards. In a follow-up discussion after the meeting, Margolis explained to The Chronicle that the scoreboard equipment, valued at $270,000, would come at no cost to the district. After enough ad revenue is earned to pay back the cost of the equipment, future ad revenue will be split 50/50 between the district and the advertising company, she said.
Outcome: The trustees agreed to pursue website banner ads and the scoreboard advertising.
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Glenn Nelson.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104. [confirm date]
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