Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education (Aug. 15, 2012): In a meeting notable for its brevity – under an hour – trustees gave final approval to adoption of a new biology text book, and to a contract for therapy services.
The biology textbook adoption for the district’s high schools was priced at $117,441. The district expects 1,391 students to be enrolled in biology courses this fall – in five different high schools. The purchase includes bound copies of traditional textbooks, as well as an interactive reader and access to an online edition.
A contract for physical, occupational therapy services – provided to Ann Arbor Public School district students with disabilities – was also given approval by the trustees. The contract is with Pediatric Therapy Associates and totals $528,360 for the 2012-2013 year. It includes 120 hours weekly for physical therapy and 135 hours weekly for occupational therapy, at an hourly rate of pay of $56.
The board was also briefed on the selection of an auditor for the coming year and the financial institutions that the district can do business with.
Public commentary included a call to leave three police liaison positions unfunded. They were left unfunded in this year’s budget, and the call was to leave those positions out of the budget in future years as well. The argument for that was based on the idea of better learning in environments without police presence.
The board was asked to approve “Biology” by Stephen Nowicki as the new biology textbook for Ann Arbor high school students. Cost of the textbooks is $117,441 for the 1,391 students who will be enrolled in biology courses this fall – in five different high schools. The purchase includes bound copies of traditional textbooks as well as an interactive reader and access to an online edition.
Reasons for adopting a new textbook include the fact that the current textbook has been in use for the past 11 years. Content on biotechnology and genetics is outdated, and the text does not address the essential content on stem cells and differentiation. The current text also lacks online materials, text access, and virtual labs and simulations that are currently available with many textbook programs. In addition, the current text is written at a lexile level that is more consistent with the reading skills of most 10th grade students – and the AAPS district teaches biology in the 9th grade.
Outcome: The board approved the new biology text book as a part of the consent agenda, without further discussion – having already discussed the item when it was briefed at the Aug. 1, 2012 board meeting.
Pediatric Therapy Contract
The board was asked to approve a contract for physical, occupational therapy services – provided to Ann Arbor Public School district students with disabilities. The contract is with Pediatric Therapy Associates and totals $528,360 for the coming year – 2012-13. It includes 120 hours weekly for physical therapy and 135 hours weekly for occupational therapy, at an hourly rate of pay of $56.
Compared to the cost of hiring therapists to work as AAPS employees, the district’s analysis is that it would cost at least $724,757 (if therapists were hired in at the lowest step of the teachers contract) including fringe benefits or as much as $1,300,915 (if therapists were hired in at step 10 of the master level)
At the board’s first briefing on the item, given at its Aug. 1 meeting, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green noted that for the upcoming year, AAPS no longer must use 15% of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Flowthrough Grant to support significant disproportionality. Therefore, the grant money allocations have been revised to pay for the total amount of the Pediatric Therapy contract, instead of having to support the contract from general budget funds.
Funds under the IDEA are provided to school districts on an entitlement basis for services to children with disabilities.
Outcome: The board approved the contract for physical and occupational therapists as a part of the consent agenda, without further discussion– having already discussed the item when it was briefed at the Aug. 1, 2012
The board was briefed on two areas of finance at the meeting – the appointment of an auditor for the fiscal year 2011-12 and the list of qualified financial institutions for fiscal year 2012-13.
Financial Topics: Auditor Selection
The board was presented with the recommendation to approve the designation of the auditor Plante & Moran to conduct the district’s financial audit for the previous fiscal year – 2011-12. The district’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. Auditors would begin their work in September 2012 and conclude by mid-October 2012. The board would receive the auditor’s report in early November.
The audit will cost about $53,800 plus reasonable expenses. Last year, the base fee was $58,100. The district will be looking to bid out the auditing work again after this year’s audit is complete. Deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen indicated that the goal of bidding out the auditing work some time during the fiscal year 2011-12, before this year’s contract award, had not been met.
When trustee Susan Baskett asked why the fee had dropped from last year, Allen stated that he had negotiated for a better rate.
Outcome: This was a first briefing item. It will be returned to the board for additional review and comment before being voted on at the next regular meeting.
Financial Topics: Financial Institutions Approval
A list of a dozen different financial institutions for fiscal year 2012-13 was presented to the trustees as compliant with the district’s investment policies.
Those institutions are Bank of America (Troy), Bank of Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor), Citizens Bank (Ann Arbor), Comerica Bank (Ann Arbor), Fifth Third Bank (Southfield), Flagstar Bank (Troy), JP Morgan Chase (Ann Arbor), MBIA of Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor), Michigan Commerce Bank (Ann Arbor), Michigan Liquid Asset Fund (Ronkonkoma, New York) TCF Bank (Ann Arbor) United Bank & Trust (Ann Arbor).
Deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen stated that all 12 financial institutions have provided the requested information the district requires, in accordance with board policy and the accompanying regulations. They have passed the district’s qualifications.
Pointing out that there were 13 institutions on the list last year, while this year there were only 12, Allen explained that Key Bank chose not to be added to the list. Key Bank cited the small amount of business it had received from the district as the reason for not being included this year. Allen clarified, saying that even when banks are approved and are on the list, it doesn’t mean they will get the district’s business. And Key Bank hadn’t gotten much business from AAPS. He explained that Key Bank can reapply next year, if it chooses to do that.
Trustee Glenn Nelson asked if an institution that is not included on the list but that wants to do business with the district could still submit the documentation to be approved. Baskett expounded on that, asking if, after the board approves the list, any financial institution not on the list will need to wait another year before applying.
Allen said it was not a unique situation for school districts to offer a defined timeline for businesses to be added to approved lists. He said he will check to see if there is any information on the district website for businesses wanting to get on approved vendor lists.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot asked if there were partnerships, scholarships, or internships for students that can be explored with the financial institutions, particularly given the influx of new technology bond money. Allen asserted that when the district puts out a new request for proposals (RFP), such possibilities will be included. He said most banks were willing to talk to students about being financially astute, but few were willing to put financial resources into the schools.
Outcome: This was a first briefing item. It will be returned to the board for additional review and comment before being voted on at the next regular meeting.
Consent Agenda: Vendor Gifts, Donations
Approval of minutes and a $2,500 donation and vendor gifts from Big Lots to Lawton Elementary School were also included on the consent agenda.
Lightfoot asked how Big Lots determined which school received the donation. Baskett replied that, according to Big Lots’s regional manager, a stealth team was sent into the Ann Arbor area, and that team determined the school based on need. Trustee Christine Stead noted there were several Lawton teachers present at the Grand Opening ceremony.
Outcome: The consent agenda was approved unanimously.
Communications and Comment
Board meetings include a number of agenda slots where trustees can daylight issues that they feel are important, including “items from the board” and “agenda planning.” And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the formal agenda.
Comm/Comm: Police Presence
During public commentary Scott Farrell introduced himself to the board as the parent of a student at Ann Arbor Open and a 10th grader who just left the Ann Arbor schools for the technical middle college program. He noted that the board had eliminated funding in this year’s budget for three police liaison positions.
[These positions are staffed by the Ann Arbor police department. So the AAPS decision to eliminate funding has an impact on the ability of the city of Ann Arbor to maintain its current number of sworn officers, even if the officers in those positions can be kept on, as other officers retire – as two did last week. ] Farrell made a number of arguments based largely on national trends: Violent crime in schools is down 69%, Farrell told the board, despite a 10% reduction in police presence.
Farrell also suggested that a police presence in schools creates a way to funnel kids into the juvenile criminal justice system, which increases their likelihood of dropping out of school, even if they’re not convicted. Children in school also don’t know their rights with respect to law enforcement officers, he said. They don’t realize that they need not answer an officer’s questions without a lawyer present and may not realize something they’re telling an officer as a friendly confidant could be used against them.
The environment created by police in schools can be a fearful one, he said, giving rise to the kind of anxiety we feel when a police car pulls up behind us when we’re stopped at a traffic light. And a fearful environment isn’t conducive to learning, he said.
He asked the board to put any additional funding into those efforts that would reduce class size, allow hiring of counselors, provide conflict resolution training – not restoring the police liaison positions.
Comm/Comm: BoardDocs, Meeting Length
The board went paperless for the first time ever, having completed the switch to BoardDocs, an electronic document management system. The board had unanimously approved its adoption at the Feb. 8 board meeting. All materials provided ahead of time to the board are now available on a centralized BoardDocs website. Any confidential board packets will still be printed and delivered to the trustees.
As the meeting opened, several trustees and Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations, apologized if that meant they were looking at their laptops more often than usual. When looking at the agenda planner, board president Deb Mexicotte noted that, as it was a public document, it was possible to see how many people were looking at the document at any given time.
Mexicotte, executive secretary to the board of education Amy Osinski, and Superintendent Patricia Green all acknowledged that BoardDocs worked towards helping the board be more transparent to the public, which is part of the district’s strategic plan [Strategic Plan Goal #6].
The Aug. 15 meeting lasted under an hour – which is significant in light of the board’s discussion at its Aug. 1, 2012 about limiting the length of its meetings.
Over the last year, some of the board’s meetings lasted into the early morning hours, and the consensus at the retreat was to adopt the goal of limiting meeting times – possibly by setting parameters for staff presentations.
Comm/Comm: Financial Goals on Agenda?
During “agenda planning” Christine Stead asked why the calendar was not filled in very much. Green replied that as her staff coordinates when various presentations will be given, the calendar will be filled in. She cited people being on vacation during the summer months as a reason why there hadn’t been a more comprehensive calendar yet.
Osinski said that items won’t be put in to the agenda planner until they have been approved to be on the schedule, noting that some standard items still needed to be included.
Mexicotte noted that at the Aug. 1 retreat, the board set two goals – building trust among the trustees and financial goals. She reported that she had spoken to each trustee individually about the goals. At the next Committee of the Whole (COTW) meeting, she said, they will work on addressing the components of the financial goals the board wants to address.
Mexicotte mentioned several of the suggestions that came out of the retreat: “camping out” in Lansing to draw attention to their issues; working towards enhancement millages; and developing relationships with donors through the AAPS Educational Foundation. They will be taking a look at legislative actions, and working them through their agenda throughout the year.
Referring to the trust building goal, Mexicotte said the plans for how to proceed were still in development and will be shared as they are determined.
Comm/Comm: Washtenaw Alliance for Education
During the “items from the board” part of the agenda, Christine Stead mentioned she and Nelson attended a recent retreat for the Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE), a consortium of school districts in Washtenaw County focusing on legislative issues.
Noting that state board of education president John Austin facilitated the discussion, Stead said the members talked over common goals and were working on defining a vision to guide the group. Since there has been an increase in legislation in K-12 education over the past few years, she said, the WAE was looking at increasing their impact in Lansing as a unified county.
Allen, who also attended the retreat, added that some of the items discussed were early childhood and secondary programs – in addition to articulating a vision. He said the group was working to have “clear, concise messages” in their advocacy missions.
Stead said the group talked about other communities across the country that have done work that the WAE hopes to do. She cited both Kalamazoo County’s education initiatives over the past several years and South Carolina’s Colleton County’s work on closing the achievement gap as examples of initiatives that could be focused on by the WAE.
Comm/Comm: Cabinet Intros – Thompson, Hunter
Two new members of the executive cabinet were formally introduced by Green. Both were welcomed by the trustees.
Robyne Thompson joins the district as the assistant superintendent for secondary education, following the retirement of longtime AAPS teacher and administrator, Joyce Hunter. Thompson gave a brief synopsis of her experience, highlighting her time as a middle school principal in the Utica Community Public Schools and her experience in corporate America. She mentioned the district’s work towards closing the achievement gap as an impetus for her move to AAPS. The board approved Thompson’s contract at the June 13, 2012 meeting.
Jenna Bacolor is the new director of community education and recreation, replacing Sara Aeschbach, who retired after 31 years with the district. Bacolor briefly highlighted her previous experience at Washtenaw County Public Health, where she oversaw health programming throughout the county. Green noted the department of community education and recreation will be moving into the instructional services department to offer a more “comprehensive and integrated” approach to Rec and Ed.
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Glenn Nelson.
Absent: Secretary Andy Thomas.
Next regular meeting: Wednesday, September 5, 2012, at 7 p.m. at the fourth-floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, 343 S. Fifth Ave.