Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Dec. 5, 2012): At its regular meeting last Wednesday, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education passed a strongly-worded resolution opposing current education legislation under consideration by the state legislature, and arguing for adequate state funding of public education.
The resolution was written by trustee Christine Stead, and targets a handful of state senate and house bills, as well as the governor’s proposed rewrite of the School Aid Act.
On a long list of statements objecting to various pieces of legislation is one opposing ”the lack of local funding control so that communities might be able to break free from the state’s efforts to demolish public education …”
At the meeting, the board also approved an upgrade to the Argus/IMRA planetarium theater system, the appointment of Cameron Frost to the Recreation Advisory Commission (RAC), two sets of grants, and a set of financial reports brought as second briefing items.
As part of a comprehensive schedule of regular reports to the board, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green also asked three top members of her staff to report on enrollment, facilities, and all-day kindergarten.
The board held brief discussions on each topic following the presentations.
Resolution on Education Legislation and School Funding
Board president Deb Mexicotte introduced this topic by saying that during the state’s current lame duck legislative session, bills have been put forward with many negative and long-range implications. She said AAPS trustees have been working with the Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE) to advocate for the best possible outcomes for AAPS as well as for all districts throughout the state. Mexicotte said that Christine Stead had drafted a resolution for trustees to consider to show the board’s opposition to the set of state education bills as well as to advocate for stable funding for public schools. She then asked Stead to outline the resolution. [.pdf of resolution text]
Stead explained that the state legislature has been trying to catch people off-guard, but that WAE and other advocacy groups have been able to respond strongly. She commended the leaders of WAE for organizing so quickly, including getting a letter signed by leaders across the state and sent to President Obama.
Stead said the resolution speaks against a set of bills, including one that is trying to codify the powers of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), an entity which began managing 15 schools that were formerly part of the Detroit Public Schools just this fall. She noted that the EAA’s approach had failed completely in Kansas City, where it caused a sharp decrease in student performance. [For an op/ed on the EAA, see "In it for the Money: Letters and Wish Lists"]
The other anticipated bills addressed by the resolution, Stead said, essentially create a “super-voucher” system by allowing any entity to become a school – a municipality, an employer, or a for-profit company, and allow student funding to follow students fluidly through the system. She argued that the GOP plan is meant to encourage for-profit companies to run these new educational enterprises, and said the resolution outlines many layers of concern with the structure and funding models being considered.
Each of the other trustees then weighed in on the resolution.
Trustee Andy Thomas noted that Green had provided testimony to the state against the proposals – and that in his role as board secretary, he has been responding to communications he’s received questioning the appropriateness of Green responding to the legislation. He said he has been replying to those communications by saying that as the chief administrator of the district, Green has the responsibility to share with the public her view of threats to the AAPS, and has been sharing her opinion that this legislation would have a harmful effect on students. The board supports Green in sharing her opinion and offering testimony, Thomas said.
Trustee Irene Patalan reported that she went to a meeting in Lansing on Monday, which highlighted how this approach was a rushed plan, and that it was experimenting on Michigan’s children. She said it typically takes five years to see substantive change if it’s done correctly, and argued that the state should be working through the state board of education if it wants to implement changes.
Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Glenn Nelson added that they strongly supported the resolution. Lightfoot said she is glad AAPS has “join[ed] the political table,” and that, “We like to be polite, but the fight in Lansing really requires a war mentality.”
Mexicotte said that when the state legislature started trying to “squeak past” a flurry of legislation despite the electorate’s input, she was struck by the fact that the legislative activity was unfolding happening at the time time a popular parenting magazine had listed AAPS has one of the top ten districts in the country. She stated that she was still very optimistic that AAPS would get past this, but then pointed out that the current dismantling of public education started with the passage of Proposal A, then unfunded mandates, then “blowing the cap off of untested cyberschools and charters.” Finally, she asked, “Are we going to let them destroy public education in Michigan?”
Regarding the “super-voucher” program, Mexicotte pointed out that the citizens of Michigan have rejected a voucher system multiple times. She called the current legislation “the most sinister way of approaching a voucher system,” saying that “they have made the student the voucher … not only can anyone be a school now, but the entity that transports [funding] is the actual student.”
Stead acknowledged the leadership of John Austin, president of the state board of education, for fighting hard for students, and read the resolution in its entirety. Trustee Susan Baskett said she had expected more from the state board of education, “They should be leading us.”
Trustees suggested a few small changes, including: adding a “whereas” section about how duly elected boards of education and their constituents have been entirely marginalized in the creation of these bills; removing the word “reform” from the title of the resolution (originally, a resolution on “education reform legislation”), because the board in no way sees this legislation as reformative; and adding a clause that sends the resolution to newly elected school board members and state representatives.
Outcome: The resolution was unanimously approved as an action item during the Dec. 5 board meeting.
Argus/IMRA Planetarium Theater System Upgrade
AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis introduced a proposal to fund a new theater system for the district’s newly renamed Argus/IMRA planetarium at Pioneer High School. She explained that the upgrade to the Digistar 5 theater system would cost $65,000 and would be fully funded by the recent donation by IMRA to the AAPS Educational Foundation. Margolis also noted that IMRA is eager to see the upgrades.
Basket asked if the upgrades would require additional purchases in future years, and Margolis explained the new system may require new lighting in the second year. Additional grant funds could also be used to increase the planetarium’s hours, she said.
Lightfoot asked what IMRA stands for, and Margolis explained that it is a Japanese company that does laser research, and is dedicated to public school funding. Lightfoot said that this donation is a good example of AAPS reaching out to businesses that might be willing to provide funding for specific projects. Margolis noted that the AAPS business partnership coordinator had worked with the AAPSEF to secure the IMRA funding. Lightfoot suggested IMRA might also be open to providing internships for students.
Outcome: The Argus/IMRA planetarium theater upgrade was approved as a special briefing item as part of the Dec. 5 consent agenda.
AAPS Educational Foundation 2012-13 Grant Awards
Helen Starman represented the AAPS Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) in putting a series of grants before the board totaling $271,323. She noted that the grants affect students at all levels – elementary, middle school, and high school. Some grants are district-wide, and others are classroom-specific. Starman highlighted the pass-through grant made this year by IMRA corporation to sustain the district’s planetarium, as well as the middle school 4 p.m. bus grant, which was a collaboration between the AAPSEF and the AAPS PTO Thrift Shop.
Trustee Glenn Nelson praised the AAPSEF, saying that there is no question of the usefulness of the foundation, particular its matchmaking ability. Starman said the foundation is just beginning to realize its full potential.
Outcome: The AAPSEF 2012-13 grant awards were converted to a special briefing item and approved as part of the Dec. 5, 2012 consent agenda.
Recreation Advisory Commission Appointment
Jenna Bacolor, AAPS director of community education and recreation (Rec & Ed), presented her recommendation to the board for an appointment to the recreation advisory commission (RAC). The 12-member RAC, Bacolor explained, provides a forum for formal communication between the school board and the city council about recreation, with six appointments made by each entity. The RAC meets quarterly at the Rec & Ed offices. Bacolor noted that Nelson’s role as an ex-officio member is greatly valued, and that his opinions are very useful.
She then explained that the current RAC opening is for a spot appointed by the school district. She recommended Cameron Frost, currently a Rec & Ed field hockey coach, for the position. She noted that a RAC subcommittee had reveiwed four applications for the opening, and the committee felt that Frost will make a significant contribution to the RAC.
Nelson thanked Bacolor for the kind words, and said he takes great pleasure in being the board liaison to the RAC. He added that the RAC is “a really useful institution to all of us.”
Mexicotte thanked Bacolor for her recommendation, and suggested that the board waive a second briefing on this issue, as there is no controversy about it or additional things to be learned. The board supported her suggestion.
Outcome: The board waived a second briefing on this issue, and approved the appointment of Cameron Frost to a three-year term on the RAC as part of the Dec. 5 consent agenda.
Reports to the Board
The board received three major reports – on enrollment, facilities and all-day kindergarten.
Reports to the Board: Enrollment
AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld and AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent presented a two-part report on enrollment and facilities. [.pdf of enrollment and facilities report]
Landfeld began by stating that the district’s total headcount has stayed constant (16,637 in the fall of 2011, and 16634 in the fall of 2012). She then shared counts by school over time, highlighting that some of the elementary populations have shifted due to offering full-day kindergarten, or shifts in the population in some neighborhoods. Middle school enrollment has decreased slightly, and high school enrollment has increased slightly.
Landefeld noted that high school enrollment is slightly uneven, with Huron and Pioneer at 1,611 and 1,651 students, respectively, and Skyline at 1,501 students. She said the lower Skyline number was likely due to the transportation time required to get there – which limits some students’ abilities to participate in the lottery. She noted Skyline’s capacity is 1,600 students. Finally, she noted that another 127 AAPS students participate via the Early College Alliance (44 students), Widening Advancement for Youth (51 students), and Washtenaw International High School (32 students) programs.
Regarding the ethnic makeup of the district, Landefeld noted that there have been some shifts since fall 2001. At that time, the student population was 61% Caucasian, 16% African-American, and 3% multi-ethnic, with other ethnicities making up the rest of it. This year, the Caucasian and African-American student populations have dropped to 51% and 14%, respectively, and the multi-ethnic designation has risen to 11%.
Higher grade levels have larger numbers of students receiving special education services, Landefeld pointed out, but overall, the total percentage of special education student has decreased. Currently, 9.7% of students (1,618) have an individualized education plan (IEP). Overall, 24.6% of students (4,068) qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL), for a total for 4,068 students. This has increased by 5% in the past five years, though there are still fewer high school students receiving FRL than the number who qualify, as they are less likely to apply.
802 students are English Language Learners (ELL), and speak 49 different languages. Of these, 29.8% speak Spanish, 14.5% speak Japanese, 13.7 speak Chinese, 11.1% speak Korean, and 10% speak Arabic, with all other languages groups having fewer speakers.
Landefeld then reported numbers on Schools of Choice students, highlighting that about the same number of students leave the district each year as enter it. She noted that students come and go from charter schools, private schools, other public schools, and homeschooling situations – and that the numbers are generally similar in both directions. She noted that Honey Creek is one charter school that is growing at a faster rate, but that overall AAPS is doing well maintaining its student population compared to other districts across the state.
The board thanked Landefeld for her report. Thomas asked whether AAPS had lost students whose parents did not want all-day kindergarten. But AAPS assistant superintendent for elementary education Dawn Linden said she had heard only of a handful of cases in which parents had made that choice. Nelson noted that recent data from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) projects lowering school-age populations, and that enrollment will continue to be challenging, as school districts compete for a shrinking number of students.
Reports to the Board: Facilities
Trent then segued into his facilities report, saying that it had been nice to work with Landefeld pulling the reports together: “I like numbers,” Trent quipped, “She loves numbers!”
Trent then showed a slide on elementary room capacity, and pointed out that the district has some flexibility with capacity because so-called “reserved rooms” can help AAPS shift rooms around the district depending on enrollment in different neighborhoods. Reserved rooms include rooms used for special education, Title I services, childcare, music, computer labs, occupation and physical therapy, and other special uses. He also noted that the preschool building has about 20 rooms, but about half of that building is allocated to specific outside programs. The state expects a utilization rate of 85% in middle and high schools, because not every classroom is used every hour.
Trent reviewed the replacement costs for all buildings in the district. Elementary buildings are worth $164 million, and all other buildings in total are worth $353.8 million, for a grand total of $0.5 billion in property value. He noted that AAPS is renting one elementary building in Superior township, Freeman Elementary, to Go Like the Wind Montessori. Trent said that AAPS is keeping the 40-acre property as a potential future building site, and noted that with only 12 classrooms, Freeman Elementary would not fit any of the district’s current programs.
Finally, Trent pointed out that that district also owns 165 acres of property in Missaukee County, Michigan, in the center of the lower peninsula. He said the district took field trips there in the past, but that the distance has become prohibitive, so such trips have stopped years ago. The Missaukee County property has been for sale for several years, Trent noted. It’s the last of many properties the district previously held up north and in Canada.
Nelson commented that at the current class sizes, there is some excess capacity in the elementary buildings, but not much. “If we closed a building, we would be right up against the edge of capacity in the remaining buildings,” he noted. Trent responded that such a statement would be true if you looked strictly at the numbers, but reiterated that reserved rooms can be realigned with necessary use.
Reports to the Board: All-Day Kindergarten
Green introduced the all-day kindergarten report to the board, saying she thought it would be a good time to update the board on how the newly-expanded program is going. Linden began by saying that the project has been “near and dear to our elementary hearts” and is going really well. [.pdf of all-day kindergarten report]
She outlined the work of the five subcommittees led by central office staff that managed the transition to all-day kindergarten district-wide.
The curriculum committee, Linden said, revamped the pacing guide for monthly lesson design, building in a four-week assessment cycle. She noted that developing a model daily schedule was exciting. It includes: morning meeting and calendar, literacy (phonics mini-lesson, literacy centers, writing workshop), snack, math (mini lesson, followed by math centers and games), lunch/recess, science, free choice centers, read aloud/snack, specials, social studies, and clean-up.
The instructional materials committee was charged with figuring out how classrooms should be outfitted. The committee thought through what was needed for choice time, transitions, and social and emotional developmental needs. The committee recommended $30,000 worth of purchases, including leveled readers, phonics lesson guides, benchmarks assessments, Everyday Math kits, teacher resources, classroom calculators, social studies digital subscriptions, science early explorations modules, and health teacher resources. They also recommended spending $10,000 on classroom tools such as listening centers, headphones, blocks, and whiteboards, and $38,000 on furniture.
Linden reported that in rolling out the program, consistency across the district was a big concern. So the professional development committee worked to create staff learning opportunities that would achieve consistency without costing any money. They used a Professional Learning Community (PLC) model which allows kindergarten teachers to share with each other in smaller group-learning teams, with the focus on curriculum implementation, data-driven instruction, and the sharing of effective practices, creating a year-long support system to keep teachers connected all year.
The technology committee assessed current software and hardware needs, and found significant inconsistencies in the number of classroom computers, which was remedied. Math and literacy support software was purchased, which is used as a learning center.
As the final note on the implementation committee work, Linden noted that the communication committee created a brochure and a short video, which she shared with the board.
Linden reported that she had also worked with elementary principals to standardize kindergarten round-ups. All round ups now need to take place in February, Linden said, and should showcase the district’s world-class program and the typical kindergarten experience. They are now all required to welcome children, engage families in kindergarten-style activities, and offer a tour of the building. The biggest change from before is that some buildings had not invited children to kindergarten round-up. “We wanted to send a message that we are child-centered and that your children are welcomed,” Linden said. “We wanted kids to come of the kindergarten round-up being excited to come to school.”
The kindergarten pre-assessment process is still being reveiwed, Linden continued. Some buildings are pre-screening students, and the district is looking at providing a standard tool for that purpose, which would connect readiness measures to elements of the district’s kindergarten curriculum. That way, she said, gaps could be addressed quickly, and parents could help students prepare over the summer.
Linden also noted that a new bill passed in June 2012 progressively alters the age that children must be in order to enter kindergarten in the state of Michigan. Currently, the requirement is that students must be five years old by Dec. 1 to enter kindergarten in that year. Next year, the date will be Nov. 1, then Oct 1 in 2014-15, and Sept 1 in 2015-16. This is the traditional cut-off in many other states, Linden noted. She said that AAPS will continue to examine the impact on enrollment. Some trustees questioned the state’s motivation, and Stead pointed out that this is a cost-saving measure at the state level.
Linden closed by summarizing that total implementation costs for all-day kindergarten were $750,000, including the supplies, curriculum, and furniture outlined above, along with the increased staffing costs.
Trustees commended Linden on her first solo report to the board since being hired last year.
Communication and Comment
Board meetings include a number of agenda slots when trustees can highlight issues they feel are important. Every meeting also invites public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the formal agenda or that are not covered elsewhere in The Chronicle’s meeting report.
Comm/Comm: Association and Student Reports
Five associations are invited to make regular reports to the school board: the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent Teacher Organization Council (PTOC), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). The Youth Senate is also invited to speak once a month, as are representatives from each of the high schools.
At the Dec. 5, 2012 meeting, the board heard from Skyline High School representatives, the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the AAEA.
Skyline students Jeremy Glick and Emilie Weisberg described the function and organization of Skyline’s Student Action Senate (SAS), of which they are members. Their report highlighted the work of the four SAS committees – rights, voice, and responsibilities; teaching and learning; school spirit; and activism. Trustees asked clarifying questions about the organization of Skyline into Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs). Students explained that SLCs are multi-year groupings within the school, and have a set of adult advisers. Lightfoot asked why students do not make use of lockers, and Glick and Wiesberg said there was not enough time to do that between classes. Mexicotte asked about the location of a possible Skyline school garden, which had been mentioned as part of the SAS committee work, and Weisberg described it as by the front sign.
Youth senator Nicholas Liu suggested that the board allocate ongoing funding to support the Argus/IMRA planetarium instead of relying on grant funding. He argued that the district should cover maintenance costs, as well as adding public viewing hours and new classes. Public events could also charge admission, Liu said, which would defray the costs, and new high school astronomy classes would also make better use of this resource. Liu closed with a plea that the board ensures the planetarium gets the ongoing attention it deserves.
AAPAC’s representative to the board argued that Michigan is undergoing “turbulent times,” and that the district needs to protect its children from businesses who would like to profit off education. “We arefirst and foremost, our brothers’ keepers,” she said. She said it was exciting to open up a report card that had such high expectations, and look forward to continuing to be invited to give feedback on academics for special needs students. She also highlighted the success of the disability awareness workshops held recently at a number of AAPS elementary schools this fall.
The AAEA’s representative, Linda Carter, reported on a long and active day spent at the state capital lobbying against Right to Work legislation. She noted that 70% of Michiganders support collective bargaining, including more than half of those who voted against Proposal 2. She quoted several studies that expressed concern about Right to Work legislation and its negative effect on children in the state.
Comm/Comm: Public Commentary
One person offered public comment at the Dec. 5 board meeting. Karen Baker, a parent of two AAPS students, spoke on behalf of her 10th grade daughter, who she said was being continually bullied by another student at Huron High School. Baker gave several examples of the bullying, saying her daughter was being followed home, and being threatened in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and on the bus. Baker argued that although AAPS policy on bullying is very clear, the district has not responded appropriately to the situation. She requested that her daughter be transferred to another school.
Comm/Comm: Board President’s Report
Mexicotte summarized the board’s November committee of the whole (COTW) meeting, saying there were three major items on the agenda. First, she said, the board was updated on the hiring of athletic coaches, and how the systems that govern athletics and employee discipline intersect. Then, the board held its first round of discussion on the budget process, and expects to follow up on this item at the next COTW meeting. Finally, the board checked its progress on board goals, but ran out of time to complete that agenda item, Mexicotte said.
Comm/Comm: New Pioneer Principal
Green introduced new Pioneer high school principal Cindy Leaman, who stood and was recognized by the board. Green reviewed Leaman’s career history, and noted that she has been involved in numerous district-level efforts, including training other administrators in response to intervention (RTI) strategies, chairing a committee on teacher evaluations, and participating as a member of the district’s strategic planning committee. Leaman is currently the principal of Clague middle school, and will transition to Pioneer after winter break.
Baskett welcomed Leaman in to her new position, noting that she will be Pioneer’s first female principal. The board also recognized the AAEA’s Linda Carter to speak on behalf of Leaman. Carter said that Leaman is “fun, fair, and a lot of energy. Pioneer is getting the best!”
On behalf of the board, Mexicotte also welcomed Leaman to her new position saying, “We know it will be a very successful tenure.”
Comm/Comm: Superintendent’s Report
AAPS superintendent Patricia Green highlighted major activities and accolades received by staff and students, including a major win by the Huron High School chess team, student musicians selected to perform the upcoming Michigan Music Conference, and a student who appeared on TV in Korea. She also noted that Clague Middle School had celebrated 40 years of excellence. Green said there are many students and staff members who give to families in our community, noting among others the “service squads” of various schools. Green also recognized deputy superintendent for human resources and legal services Dave Comsa, who was recently elected to an executive council of school attorneys.
Green also took the opportunity during her report to highlight the new community builders program she initiated in the district. The program brings together student leaders at the elementary level around the theme of creating caring communities. Schools will be given a flag to fly whenever they have a caring and respectful day without incident, and schools with the most caring days will be recognized. Green said she has been “thrilled and delighted” to see the program come to life, and thanked deputy superintendent for instruction Alesia Flye and Linden for their roles in the program.
Comm/Comm: Thurston 5th Grade Choir
At the opening of its Dec. 5 meeting, the board entertained a performance of three selections by the 5th grade choir of Thurston elementary, directed by Yael Rothfeld. Rothfeld said the choir gives interested students a chance to participate in formal choir. She explained that it is a non-audition, volunteer choir, and that students meet once a week during lunch to learn and rehearse the music. The board expressed support and appreciation for the students and their families for the performance.
Comm/Comm: Consent Agenda
The board passed a consent agenda containing three second briefing items on which there was no additional discussion at the Dec. 5 meeting – the financial audit report, the first quarter financial report, and the AAPS grant award. Minutes approvals and gift offers were also included on the Dec. 5 consent agenda and approved.
Comm/Comm: Agenda Planning
Lightfoot suggested the board hear an update on the process followed during and after the fight at an AAPS football game this fall – now that the formal investigation of the incident has concluded. She suggested that the board may need to review its policies and procedures to be sure they will fit any similar situation in the future. She also said she would like the board to discuss both the student and adult roles in the incident.
Mexicotte responded to Lightfoot’s remarks by saying that superintendent Patricia Green and the district’s legal counsel Dave Comsa have already invited any trustees who are interested to meet with them to review the videos of the incident. Andy Thomas suggested that perhaps requesting that administration provide the board with a written update would be sufficient. He also noted that the board had already discussed the incident at a previous committee of the whole meeting, and made suggestions to administration regarding policy regulations. Patalan also supported a written report.
Lightfoot said she was “disheartened” by the board’s response to her agenda suggestions. Mexicotte suggested perhaps holding a discussion about the student discipline policy during the board’s January committee of the whole meeting.
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, Dec. 19, 2012, at 7 p.m. at the fourth-floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor public school board. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please educate your friends, neighbors and colleagues about the importance of helping to support The Chronicle, too!