AAPS Weighs Future Cuts, $2.5M Gap Now

Also: board hears reports on high school scheduling, capital funding; authorizes purchases of laptops, AstroTurf; gets briefing on copiers, projectors

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Feb. 27, 2013): At a meeting that lasted until 3 a.m., the Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) school board covered a variety of topics, including: an extensive report on high school issues; budget shortfalls; and budget reductions.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations delivered a second quarter financial report that showed the district is nearly $2.5 million over budget.

A report on high school scheduling got a mixed reaction from the board. While many trustees appreciated the work that went into the report, there was disappointment that no hard recommendations were made by the committee. No decisions were made on the issue of moving high school start times or moving Skyline High School from a trimester to a semester schedule.

And Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations, left the board reeling when he reported the district was just under $2.5 million over budget and needed to adjust the 2012-2013 budget. The discrepancy resulted from staffing adjustments and changes in funding from the state of Michigan.

Having been directed by the board at a previous meeting to explain better the implications of each item cut, Allen again reviewed some budget reduction options for the coming year.

The board was also briefed on the condition of physical properties and updated on the capital funding plan. Executive director of physical properties Randy Trent suggested the possibility of placing a combined bond and sinking fund millage on the ballot, instead of asking for a simple renewal of the sinking fund millage, levied currently at 1 mill. The idea would be to ask voters for the same amount – to cover the combined proposal – with the advantage that the bond revenues can be spent more flexibly.

The board was briefed on major purchases for projectors and copiers and voted to approve some purchases on which they’d already been briefed a their previous meeting – for AstroTurf and laptop computers.

The board also voted to place a discussion of a resolution on its agenda for March 13, which would express the board’s support for three district high school students who now face criminal charges as a result of a brawl at the conclusion of a football game last year. 

High School Issues

District superintendent Patricia Green gave a brief introduction to the follow-up report to a previous presentation on high school issues.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green

High School Issues: Start TimesThe preliminary report was brought to trustees at their Dec. 12, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, the trustees asked for further exploration and recommendations. The goal for this presentation was to provide comprehensive information as a follow-up to their earlier discussion.

Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent of instruction, reported on the results of the district-wide survey on school start times. Given the current three-tiered bussing system, the district could not change high school start times without impacting middle and elementary school schedules. The survey was designed to gauge community interest and impact if high school start times were shifted by 15 minutes.

The committee ultimately recommended making no change to either elementary or middle school start times. If  high school start times could be shifted 15 minutes later in a cost-neutral way, the committee would recommend doing that.

Trustees seemed unimpressed by the survey and the recommendation. Susan Baskett said she found the survey confusing and suggested the committee reach out to experts when crafting future surveys. Simone Lightfoot’s concern was that the survey centered just around a 15-minute later start time. As a parent, she said, 15 minutes doesn’t make that much of a difference. The gain of such a small amount of time did not seem to outweigh the effort it would take to make happen.

Baskett agreed, saying it didn’t make sense to unravel everything for just 15 minutes. She was frustrated the committee spent so much time only talking about a 15-minute adjustment.

Flye responded by saying they had extensive conversations in the committee regarding the benefits of 15 minutes. While some of the committee members preferred a longer late start, such as 30 or 60 minutes, high school parents said that even 15 minutes would make a difference.

Saying it could be very helpful and informative if the board knew that research supported a 15-minute start time delay, Stead asked if research showed a meaningful impact on student performance. Flye replied that the research was mixed. Some studies show positive outcomes, while others show no significant difference.

Simone Lightfoot

AAPS trustee Simone Lightfoot

Glenn Nelson wondered if the committee had a scenario for adjusting high school start times in a cost-neutral way. Flye replied there were several options they were costing out for transportation.

Baskett wondered why they needed to be tied to the three-tiered transportation system. Board president Deb Mexicotte noted that one of the challenges was that there were so many things that were interconnected.

High School Issues: Enrollment

Flye gave an update on the response seen after the district opened up 25 spaces each at both Huron and Pioneer high schools for in-district transfers. The openings were a result of decisions made at the Dec. 12, 2012 board meeting. Before that, only transfers at the elementary and middle school levels had been allowed.

A total of 81 requests were received: 31 requests for Huron [23 from Skyline, 8 from Pioneer] and 50 for Pioneer [25 from Huron, 25 from Skyline]. A lottery was held for the 50 spots available, and a waiting list was created.

Baskett was concerned that some parents might not understand that the in-district transfer wait list was not carried forward like it was at Community High. Director of student accounting and research services Jane Landefeld said they for in-district high school transfers, staff had followed the same process used at the other levels. She noted that staff had called the family of each student who didn’t get in, to talk with them about the lottery.

After seeing the results of the in-district transfers, the committee determined it would be problematic to open schools of choice (SOC) enrollment at the high school level. They have not been able to meet the demand for the internal requests in the district, so they don’t want to open their doors to students outside the district. Increasing the number of in-district slots beyond 50 may require additional staffing costs. It is not currently in the plan to do so.

Trustee Christine Stead said the district needed to think systematically. The intent of allowing in-district transfers, she said, was to “satisfy our own families first.” If students were indicating they wanted to go to another high school, she would choose to keep them in AAPS every time. They’ve got to take care of the people who live within the district first.

High School Issues: Semester/Trimester Scheduling

Flye walked the trustees though a presentation that outlined the pros and cons of moving Skyline to a semester schedule. The impact across the district and across the curriculum of having two different schedule systems was detailed, as well. The cost savings of moving to a semester schedule was approximately $300,000.

Currently, they were getting good results from both scheduling systems. But the reason they began looking at this, Flye said, was for the cost savings. While educational findings indicated both scheduling structures can exist side by side, there are logistical challenges for operating two different academic schedules within one school district.

The committee did not make a formal recommendation. They offered the following for consideration instead: review ways to achieve the cost savings within the trimester structure; look for cost savings in non-core areas; and prioritize cuts and look at other options, such as working with the community to raise funds, looking at spilt enrollment costs, and transportation costs.

Stead said she was confused about the work of the committee. She said she thought they were looking into trimester versus semester scheduling because some parents had brought concerns about the kinds of gaps that occur in the core subjects. There was no data on the impact of the magnet programs. If magnet programs were so important and valuable, the board needed to see that data. If this was only about the budget, then the report that had been submitted was fine. But if they were trying to figure out which model was best, and if they had substantive data that showed the trimester model worked better for students, then they should move all of the comprehensive high schools to trimesters.

The trustees took issue with the way the charts broke down the additional costs associated with Skyline. Thomas said he had assumed that the higher cost of Skyline could be attributed to the trimester system, but based on the information presented, nothing showed that it was more expensive to run trimesters than semesters with a seventh hour. The increased cost of Skyline came from its lower enrollment number and its student-to-teacher ratio.

Nelson said using the actual enrollment and the actual FTEs obscures the analysis rather than helps it.

High School Issues: Skyline Enrollment

Some discussion unfolded about the issue of declining enrollment at Skyline. Forty-eight of the 81 requests to transfer came from students who were within Skyline’s boundaries. Flye said they needed to closely examine the trend of declining enrollment at Skyline. Not all of it was attributable to the changes in availability of transportation in the past year, she said.

Trustee Andy Thomas said he understood the concern about balancing the enrollment at each of the three comprehensive high schools. He asked how many Huron and Pioneer students had applied to Skyline – either for the magnet program or in general.

The committee said it was important to carefully weigh the implications of only opening one of the comprehensive high schools as an SOC. Given that Skyline had declining enrollment, the trustees couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to open Skyline as an SOC. When SOC was first offered at the middle school level, it was initially offered only at Scarlett Middle School, so there was a precedent for offering SOC at only one school at a given level.

Thomas asked if they wanted to have a school district where each of the high schools have their own character, or if they wanted a more uniform experience across the three comprehensive high schools. Skyline was created with the idea that it was going to be different. They built into the expectation that they were going to draw enrollment from across the district. However, people were “voting with their feet” and choosing to go elsewhere.

High School Issues: Board Discussion

Several of the trustees thanked the committee for the “prodigious amount” of work that went into compiling the information. Mexicotte noted the board appreciated being able to look at that kind of information as they balance the budget.

While Lightfoot appreciated the work, she was concerned that “the folks on the front line” haven’t really provided the board with solid recommendations. She acknowledged that the trustees weren’t experts and relied on the professionals to offer recommendations steeped in the reality of the situation.

Stead had some sharp words for the committee. She said  four members of the committee wrote to the board to ask to have their names removed from the report, saying the report does not represent their opinions. She argued the report did not represent the collective work of all members of the committee. No magnet teachers were included on the committee, and meetings were not scheduled so all members of the committee could attend. That caused the results of the report on trimester scheduling to be suspect, Stead concluded.

Susan Baskett

AAPS trustee Susan Baskett

Baskett concurred, saying they have had some serious concerns raised by committee members. She said the board didn’t want to be accused of having the committee members be their “paper dolls.”

Flye responded by saying that the scope of the committee changed as the board charged it with additional topics – and a different level of commitment was required from members of the committee. Some of those members joined believing the work would focus only on high school start times.

Trustee Irene Patalan said she recognized the board asked for a lot of information. And trustees needed to take some of the responsibility for the change in scope of the committee work, she allowed. As the district has to do more with less money, there is even greater pressure.

Stead again expressed her frustration that for families who want to follow the trimester scheduling debate, it had been included under “high school start times.” They did families a disservice in packaging those together – because in no way ever would she guess that they were remotely related.

Mexicotte wrapped up the discussion, saying the report raises an number of additional questions. If they need additional data, they will put out a request.

Green complimented Flye and the committee members who were present at the meeting. Not only did the members stay at the board meeting past midnight, but they were doing it on a snow day from school. She appreciated that they gave up their time to be on the committee and that they were there that evening. She also thanked the district chairpeople who were “experimenting” with them on the newly formed curriculum senate.

Outcome: This was an information item. No board action was required.

High School Issues: Public Comment

During public commentary, Stewart Gordon said the Skyline bond issue was sold to him and the people of Ann Arbor on the basis of things like mastery learning, trimester scheduling, and integrated technology in the classroom. The teachers and Skyline administration have done a “sterling job” of delivering on what was promised. It would be a betrayal of voters like him, Gordon said, to hamstring the successful programs at Skyline, especially the trimester scheduling. The other comprehensive high schools should emulate the success and the successful model of Skyline, he said.

Budget Reductions Update

Green was clear when she introduced AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen’s presentation on potential budget reductions that they were bringing forward a list of cost estimates, not recommendations. After six or seven years of continual reductions of over $60 million, she said, everything that is left to cut is “going to create controversy” because it cuts “so deep into the bone.” She wanted to bring forward actual budget recommendations in April, which is earlier than usual for the district.

Allen’s presentation built upon the previous presentation he made to the board at the Dec. 12, 2012 COTW meeting. At that meeting, the board directed him to add the percentage of the total each proposed reduction represents, as well as more specific impacts of each cut, to the charts. This time, the charts included the percentage of reductions, in addition to service alternatives. [.pdf of budget reductions]

Allen said the items he was presenting were mutually exclusive – meaning that each item can stand alone and is not dependent on any other estimate. The presentation again covered an estimate of the number of staff reductions that would accompany each reduction, a short description of the implications associated with that reduction, the percentage of reductions, and the way the district would fill in the gaps of the reductions.

Reductions: Instructional Services

Despite the fact that Allen had added service alternatives to the charts, the trustees did not quite feel that adequately addressed the impact. Stead asked for a “sense of participation” – how many students will be impacted by each decision. Mexicotte said that while “service alternatives” addressed was how the gap would be filled, it did not describe what that would look like.

Several trustees asked about how various aspects of the district experience would be impacted by reductions. Lightfoot asked what a $1 million cut from athletics would look like. Allen said that a third of athletic funding would be cut, and they would need to look at options such as Rec & Ed to fill that gap.

Patalan asked:  If district funding for theater were eliminated (savings: $200,000), would drama classes continue with no district financial support of productions? Any classes available for credit would still be supported, said Allen, but drama productions would not be supported with district funds.

Stead wanted to know how each building could operate with a reduction of 12 media specialists (savings: $1.2 million) and still give students a rich, meaningful experience. The trustees also asked for a more transparent percentage reduction for media specialists: How does a reduction of media by 12 FTEs translate percentage-wise? The chart lists it as 1%, which only reflects the cut from total FTEs.

Thomas wasn’t sure the savings matched up with the categories. For instance, they had talked in depth about moving Skyline to the semester system (savings: $300,000), but the savings doesn’t come from the trimester versus semester instructional issue. The savings come from fewer FTEs being needed at Skyline in a semester system. He ventured they could reduce the overall teaching staff at Skyline and still keep the trimester system.

Eliminating 5th grade music (savings: $500,000) and reading intervention teachers (savings: $1 million), said Thomas, makes him sick. He asked if it were not possible to come up with a different, less “draconian” approach. For example, instead of reducing the teacher assistant work year by one week (savings: $160,000), he suggested they could look at reducing overall professional development in the district by a certain percentage.

Green replied one of the reasons they were moving to a line-by-line budgeting accountability was to see exactly what was spent where. This would allow for more precision with the budget. Nancy Hoover, director of finance, is in the final stages of that transition, said Green.

Stead said they needed to “try harder” to keep the cuts out of programs and classrooms. She could not cut 32 teachers and halve the number of elementary principals without looking at other options. She suggested reducing the number of assistant principals at the high school level, reducing the secretarial staff, and looking into the finance and IT departments for possible reductions.

Reductions: Operations

After Allen walked through the reductions in operations, much of which focused on reductions in transportation, Lightfoot asked about the possibility of redoing the transportation contract with WISD. Allen said that in the first year of the consortium, there were cost reductions because of contract changes. Moving forward, the ways to achieve cost savings is to look at more efficiencies, such as consolidating routes.

Lightfoot also wondered if there was a greater possibility of other districts joining the transportation consortium now that Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts have consolidated. Allen said that other districts were looking to join. He said that consolidating special education transportation would probably have the most traction.

Reductions: Moving Forward

Mexicotte reiterated that the presentation was only an update. They were going to continue adding to the list of potential cuts as they move towards the recommended budget draft, scheduled to come in April.

Lightfoot encouraged her colleagues to consider forming subcommittees to look closer at issues of transportation, safety, maintenance, media, and athletics. Those subcommittees, she hoped, would be able to take closer looks at how cuts would actually impact those areas.

Outcome: This was an information presentation. No board action was required.

Reductions: Budget Forum Process

During agenda planning, Nelson proposed a series of budget conversations with the public. He envisioned an informal setting where two or three trustees would be available to hear from members of the community. This would differ from the traditional larger forums the district has held in the past. He believed a format like that would be a way to seek “substantive input and demonstrate through action” that they were really looking for people’s ideas.

Thomas clarified that the budget forums would take place the last two weeks of March in order to accommodate the board’s desire to have these conversations before budget recommendations are made. Stead said that it would be important to develop the schedule with the full availability of the trustees.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to place on the March 13 agenda a discussion on the budget forum framework.

Finances: Budget Shortfall

Allen was joined by Hoover in presenting the second quarter financial report. Hoover, along with Trent, is taking over Allen’s responsibilities in the wake of Allen’s  resignation, announced it February. He will be leaving to take a job in North Carolina at a school now run by former AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts. His last official day will be March 22. While there are no plans to fill the vacant position, Hoover will be working to get the budget out in time.

Nancy Hoover and Robert Allen

AAPS director of finance Nancy Hoover talks with deputy superintendent for operations, Robert Allen. Hoover will take a portion of Allen’s responsibilities after Allen leaves the district. His last day is March 22, 2013.

The board was upset to learn that the district was nearly $2.5 million over budget for FY 2013 and needed to adjust the original budget. An additional 24 teacher assistants (TA) and five additional teachers were not included in the initial staffing budgeting for an additional cost of $1.39 million. And a change in Gov. Rick Snyder’s “best practice” funding left a $1.1 million decrease in projected revenue.

The trustees were baffled about the discrepancy between staffing projections and the actual numbers – given that enrollment in the district stayed flat. Allen explained that by the terms of the teacher contract, if the district exceeds a target class size, teachers have the option of either getting a TA or being paid extra. The district has seen an increase in number of teachers requesting TAs instead of the payout. This year eight TAs were requested. The remaining 16 TAs were brought in to match the needs of students with individualized education programs (IEPs).

Thomas argued that if the district had budgeted properly based on the previous year’s numbers, they would have had enough staff. It bothers him that they would underestimate their needs by that much. Allen said that while enrollment numbers stayed the same from last year, the distribution from room to room could result in overages. While an increase in two or three students could produce an overage – and the option for a TA – a decrease of two or three students wouldn’t result in a decrease in FTEs.

Lightfoot asked if it would be possible to renegotiate with the unions to change the number of students in a classroom that triggers an overage. If teachers begin to  exercise the right to a TA more often, the cost increase would be dramatic. Allen said that if there were an opportunity, the district would look to having that conversation with the unions.

In terms of TAs being added because of IEPs, Allen explained that IEPs are developed for students throughout the year. While they work against adding additional TAs, once an IEP is written, the services must be provided.

Nelson said that the explanations given by Allen would be more convincing if this hadn’t been a pattern over the past several years. He was bothered that they couldn’t control the expenditure side, because that part is in their purview. He asked how the projections could be so wrong.

Allen replied that in the past, the district had built in more or a cushion in the budget to allow for these kind of overages. Now that the budget is tightened up, there is less room. He said they were looking at historical data to see if there are trends. Allen also said they needed to anticipate the number of special-ed students better, because an additional cost comes with providing the kinds of services those students need.

Saying they needed to be “laser focused” on what kinds of resources they want to provide students, Stead asked if there could be more oversight introduced into the IEP writing process – to make sure that extra TAs are really what’s needed. Mexicotte cautioned that the IEP writing process, which is a team process, cannot be trumped by outside pressures.

Stead noted that she has heard from families who have moved into the district that AAPS writes “very rich IEPs.” There had to be a balance between the Cadillac version and the least amount of services, she ventured.

Lightfoot said she was concerned about managing the cost of special education services, given that the district was a magnet for many with special needs. Mexicotte confirmed with Allen that the district gets a 67% reimbursement from the state for special education services.

Stead and Thomas both pointed out that the 2012-2013 budget was designed to account for an increase in enrollment. The budgeted personnel was for a higher number of students, but they “missed our budget in FTEs in the opposite direction.” It was unacceptable to Thomas that they didn’t learn about this until end of February. While changes at the state level were out of the district’s hands, AAPS needed to do a better job of managing their expenses and FTEs, he said.

Nelson agreed and said a more transparent way is needed of monitoring FTEs in the district, because “we have a significant problem now.” Green mentioned that she had talked with Nelson, as board treasurer, and Hoover about that.

Outcome: This was a first briefing item. After a second briefing at the next regular meeting, the trustees will be asked to pass a resolution to amend the general appropriations in the budget to consider a decrease in revenue of $1.1 million and an increase in expenses of $1.39 million.

Capital Funding Plan

Green introduced the report on the district’s capital funding plan, saying it was one in a series of reports to the board to bring items into the archival record. She had charged Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties, with putting together a physical properties report, as well as an argument for the renewal of the sinking fund millage, which will expire at the end of 2014.

Capital Funding: Sinking Fund Overview

Trent first outlined the differences between a bond issue and a sinking fund millage. A bond issue, such as the technology bond passed May 2012, is a lump sum dollar amount that the district borrows through the sale of bonds in order to fund capital projects – such as building construction, district wide technology, and furniture. Taxpayers pay the money back over a period of years, with interest. He likened it to a home mortgage.

A sinking fund millage is a limited property tax for addressing building remodeling projects. It’s considered a pay-as-you-go method. State law allows a district to levy up to 5 mills of property tax, for a period no longer than 20 years. There are legal requirements, restrictions, and guidelines for public school districts that plan to fund capital enhancements or facility repairs through sinking fund millage levies.

The district currently levies a 1 mill sinking fund that expires at the end of 2014. That 1 mill tax means the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 pays $100 annually. Trent stressed that taxes will not increase if the sinking fund millage is renewed – because it would just maintain the 1 mill that was renewed in 2008. He said the sinking fund is a critical component of how capital needs of the district are funded.

Trent suggested asking voters to approve a bond and sinking fund combination for the same taxable value of 1 mill for the renewal in 2014. The combination of the two – in place of the straight-up 1-mill sinking bond renewal – would give the district more flexibility to spend the funds without increasing the taxpayer’s burden. Because of legal restrictions, a sinking fund cannot be used to purchase any items that can be moved from building to building, such as classroom furniture. The district is currently looking at furniture replacement needs totaling around $5 million. Without a combination bond/sinking fund, the money for that replacement would have to come from the operating budget.

Monies from sinking funds and bond proposals can only be used to fund capital improvements, not any operating expenses. So sinking funds and bonds cannot be used for teacher salaries and benefits. While AAPS can itself place capital improvement initiatives on the ballot, any kind of general operating expense millage must be placed on the ballot through the WISD, and include all schools in the county. The last time such a county-wide millage increase was placed on the ballot was in 2009, and it failed.

Irene Patalan

AAPS trustee Irene Patalan

To make a point about the kinds of items that can be paid from a sinking fund, Patalan said that as buildings age, they need to be repaired. That kind of building repair work can be paid for with the sinking fund. But salaries for the teachers who staff those buildings must come from the operating budget.

The 2010 sinking fund has been used district-wide for mechanical and electrical upgrades, key card access system for security, roof replacements, parking lot replacements, and ADA site improvements, among other things.

The balance in the sinking fund as of Dec. 12, 2012 was $1,843,636. That money is currently allocated for purchasing buses. But depending on what is decided by the trustees about transportation for the 2013-14 budget, that money may or may not be used for that purchase. All other projects have been completed.

Capital Funds: Technology Bond Update

Trent also gave an overview of the technology bond. The first year’s expenditures have focused primarily on infrastructure upgrades to accommodate future growth needs. A major infusion of technology will begin in the second year for classroom and teacher technologies.

In year one of the tech bond, the district WiFi will be reconfigured to have multi-tier access. In year two, there will be a complete WiFi reconfiguration, and the district will upgrade to the latest wireless protocol. They will also be increasing access point density and expanding coverage.

Trent emphasized that they are working to inform the community about what is being done with the tech bond money. A tech newsletter is accessible on the district website and goes out to individuals in the district.

Capital Funding: Physical Properties Report

The trustees were provided with a comprehensive physical properties report that detailed out the capital needs of each building owned by the district, along with some basic information about the buildings. All work that has been completed at each school was also listed out in the report.

Trent noted that one of the things they were trying to do by pulling out all this information was to evaluate what their facility options in the future could be. He also noted that the Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center and the Freeman School building [which is leased to Go Like the Wind Montessori] were not included in the building catalog. Responding to a question from Lightfoot, Trent noted that at Freeman, while the district takes care of things like utilities, the renters have made large contributions and have paid most of the capital expenses. It was ultimately a revenue generator for the district, he said.

Several trustees asked how building needs were determined. Trent said they evaluate the district building-by-building to determine basic five-year needs. His department also works with each of the building administrators to determine needs. These needs were evaluated frequently, he said.

Capital Funding: Board Response

The report was met with praise from the board. Lightfoot thanked Trent and Green both for the “phenomenal” report. Patalan said she saluted Trent for how “on top of things you are.” Nelson said that the report showed they were good stewards of taxpayer’s money and demonstrates there is a thoughtful plan of how the district is using its dollars.

Noting the quality of classroom furniture, Lightfoot asked if the district was stretching the life of items as much as they stretched out the life of computers. Trent responded by saying there were purchases they would like to make, but have had to delay because they don’t have the funding. While they have been able to make improvements through bonds, there is “still a lot out there” to improve. He cited cafeteria tables in some of the buildings that were over 50 years old.

Lightfoot asked if there was a way to get a better deal on items by purchasing through WISD or with other districts. Trent confirmed that AAPS does purchase within a consortium – either with RESA or through the state purchasing consortium. Another way the district has kept costs down, he said, was by holding vendors to bids that were four or five years old.

Thomas and Patalan both noted they had concerns that building priorities change over five years. Lightfoot asked if there was a mechanism in place to get a report from the principals and building maintenance staff to assess the needs of the buildings on an annual basis. Thomas suggested discussing at a future COTW how they would expect the administrative team to bring things forward and establish those priorities. Trent replied that staff were managing the priorities “every day, every moment,” and those priorities come from the meetings he has with building principals. He also cited efforts the district has made to reduce costs by becoming more energy efficient.

Stead pushed Trent to give a deadline for a sidewalk in front of Wines Elementary along on Newport Road. She said that having a completed sidewalk there would help students get to Wines and Forsythe. Trent acknowledged the district has been working to do their share of the project, and noted the community support for the project. Because Newport Road runs over M-14, the district must work with the city of Ann Arbor and the state on such a project. Lightfoot asked, along with Nelson, to be kept in the loop about any sidewalk conversations, because the two trustees are members of the transportation safety committee. Trent mentioned that the committee’s talks with the Ann Arbor city council seem to be positive – because he’s seen more movement forward lately.

Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas

Nelson emphasized the fact that sinking funds cannot be used for salaries. And, he noted, if the sinking fund is not renewed, any building repairs will need to come from the general fund. That would impact the district’s ability to pay for teachers. He was intrigued by the idea of a blended bond/sinking fund to allow more flexibility.

When Nelson asked how flexible the remaining money in the sinking fund balance was, which is currently earmarked for buses, Trent explained there were some restrictions on it. But the money it didn’t have to be spent on buses if the district’s busing needs changed.

Nelson also encouraged the district to strengthen preschool programming because there’s a renewed focus on early childhood education on a federal and state level.

Green noted that one of the things they did last summer was to move Rec & Ed into the instructional division to be able to “connect the dots in a much more strategic way.” She said Dawn Linden, assistant superintendent for elementary education, and Jenna Bacolor, director of community education and recreation, have been talking about ways to enhance and further expand preschool experiences in the district.

Linden said she has been working with Bacolor to increase enrollment in the preschool programs in a cost-neutral way. They have been under-enrolled for a second year in a row. Because there were trends at the state and federal level to increase availability of preschool, the district wants to be poised to have that capability.

Outcome: This was an informational report. No board action was required.

Auditor Recommendation

According to Green, best practices dictate putting up audit services for review every five years. As the district has used Plante Moran for the last six years, an audit services request for proposal (RFP) was issued in December 2012.

Three bids were received. After reviewing the bids, Plante Moran and Yeo & Yeo were invited to make a presentation to the committee tasked with the audit services bid. The committee unanimously recommended Plante Moran because of their extensive experience in K-12 education market, the detailed and clear audit process outlined by the firm, and its local presence – with an office in Ann Arbor. The recommendation was to award Plante Moran the district’s financial audit contract for a cost of $161,000 over three years, with the potential for two one-year renewals.

Plante Moran was not the lowest bidder. While Yeo & Yeo’s bid came in at $156,000, Allen explained that with a new firm, there were usually some additional costs not included, such as inputting the district’s general ledger into their program.

Saying that he had great respect for Plante Moran and was comfortable with the recommendation, Nelson was concerned that an auditor should not be “too familiar with us.” He said he was happy to vote yes for Plante Moran, but he strongly endorsed the idea of asking for a different audit team than the one they currently had.

Outcome: This was a first briefing. The board will vote on the contract at its next regular meeting.


The board was briefed on two large purchase authorizations – one for copiers and another for projectors. The board was also asked to vote on some purchases – Apple computers and AstroTurf.

Purchases: Copiers

Linda Dorente, director of purchasing and business services, recommended replacing 103 district copiers at a cost of $385,242 for a 39-month lease. The recommended copiers have been tested in several district offices for performance, durability, functionality, and easy of use. While the primary functionality of the new machines is comparable to the current machines, the interface is easier to use and should reduce the amount of paper used.

With this purchase, the district would be consolidating copier, printer, and risograph service providers into one: Toshiba Business Solutions.

Because the district made the choice to delay the five-year replacement schedule until the spring of 2013, maintenance costs have increased.

In the past, the lease and corresponding maintenance cost for copiers have been funded with the general fund. Allen recommended that the district fund the purchase of the copiers through the tech bond in order to reduce some of the burden on the general fund. It has been verified with the district’s bond counsel that this would be an allowable expense for the bond. Allen said this could save $130,000 per year over three years. He suggested using that savings to pay for the additional software costs that will be incurred when the district purchases the new iMacs and MacBooks.

Nelson appreciated Allen’s recommendation to use money from the tech bond, instead of money from the general fund. To him, it meant better technology in the buildings and money freed up from the operational budget to pay teachers and other instructional costs.

Outcome: This was a first briefing. The board will vote on the purchase at its next regular meeting.

Purchases: Projectors

As part of the technology upgrade, Trent recommended a district-wide replacement of classroom projectors, approximately 200 sound amplification systems, and supporting electrical equipment. The money for this purchase would come from the tech bond approved in May 2012.

A request for bids on the project was issued on Jan. 10, 2013. Bids were received and publicly opened on Feb. 5, 2013. After various companies were interviewed by the district’s technology bond professional team, the team recommended the following contract awards: Great Lakes Power and Lighting ($393,000 for electrical work); The Professional Group ($1,879,619 for audiovisual equipment); and to AVI-SPL ($183,168 for the sound amplification systems). Each were the lowest qualified bidder for each category.

On behalf of students at Clague Middle School, Lightfoot asked if the sound field amplifiers worn by teachers will be modernized. She noted there were some concerns with the battery life. Trent assured her sound field amps would be part of the replacements made if the board voted to approve the soundfield projectors.

During public commentary, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 252 Ron Motsinger spoke to the board on behalf of over 800 IBEW electricians, 200 of whom he said were currently unemployed. He took issue with the recommendation to award a contract to Great Lakes Power and Lighting (GLPL) for electrical work. He contended the contractor Trent was recommending had a long history of not using licensed apprentices, as well as multiple violations on prevailing wages. He asked that the GLPL bid be dismissed because it’s “suspect and unreliable.” Motsinger also recommended awarding the work to Sound Engineering, a local company that bid on the audiovisual contract.

Trent said he wanted to make it clear the GLPL has entered a response for most of the issues addressed by Motsinger. He also noted that David Comsa, deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel, was looking into the assertions made by Motsinger. A response to those concerns will be delivered to the board before the next regular board meeting.

Purchases: Projectors – Board Response

Baskett asked how familiar Trent was with the issues brought up by Motsinger. Trent said that Barton Malow – the district’s general contractor for this work – has had dealings with GLPL and recommended the company for the job.

Lightfoot pointed out the some of the concerns were as recent as five years ago, and said these complaints were of concern to her. Noting that Plante Moran was not the lowest bid for auditor, she questioned why the district had to award the projector work to the lowest qualified bidder. Money isn’t everything, she said, especially when looking at the kinds of conduct GLPL was accused of. Baskett was also concerned that there was a blemish on GLPL’s record. She wondered if the board would have known about the issues, if Motsinger hadn’t attended the board that evening.

Thomas noted that the GLPL bid is more than $200,000 lower than the competing bids, “not a trivial amount.” He asked why there was such a discrepancy between their bid and the other bids received. Trent replied that the actual electrician rate for union workers was $95 per hour, compared to $62 per hour for a non-union shop. Baskett asked to see the actual bids so they could compare rates.

In her president’s report, Mexicotte noted a subcommittee had been formed to put together recommendations for the board about contracting policies – based on the board’s conversation at the Jan. 23, 2013 COTW meeting. The subcommittee is working with Green to meet with community members and other members of the staff to help with the effort. Both Lightfoot and Baskett said they were excited about the work they had been doing. Lightfoot said the committee will work to make sure the policies reflect the current situation in the economy and the community. Baskett said they had talked about the history of contracting policies in the district and where they can go. She looked forward to inviting more people to the table.

Outcome: This was a first briefing. There will be a vote after a second briefing at the next meeting.

Purchases: Apple Computers

Having had an initial briefing at the Feb. 13, 2013 meeting, the trustees approved the purchase of new Apple computers. The district will use money from the technology bond to purchase the 1,900 iMac 21-inch desktop computers and the 400 MacBook Pro 13-inch laptops for a total cost of $2,431,700 – $1,974,100 for the iMacs; $457,600 for the MacBooks.

The iMacs will replace the eMac computers currently in use in computer labs district-wide. They will be used for Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing next fall. The MacBooks will replace the older laptops in one computer cart at each elementary school. The older computer cart laptops will then be used to replace other failing laptops.

Apple, Inc. had initially offered the standard 7% educational discount plus 13%. On Feb. 11, the company approved a larger discount to AAPS, which translates to an amount between 15 and 25% off the list price. The new discount is reflected in the total purchase amounts.

The software upgrade that will be needed as a result of the computer purchase will be most likely be paid for with the savings that result from the use of the technology bond to purchase new copying machines.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the purchase.

Purchases: Skyline Turf

Without any discussion, the board approved a contract to AstroTurf in the amount of $858,056 for a synthetic turf field at Skyline High School. The purchase had already been discussed in depth at the Feb. 13, 2013 meeting.

AstroTurf was the lowest bidder out of the four bids received. AstroTurf was recommended not only because it was the lowest bidder, but also because it is the only field that has an antimicrobial product applied at the factory as a standard. The district would not need to apply an antimicrobial every year, as with other field surfaces.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to approve the purchase.

Insurance Renewal

For the past couple of months, the district’s insurance agent, The Hyland Group, has been bidding out the district’s liability insurance in anticipation of a Feb. 1, 2013 renewal. Several insurance carriers for property and casualty were contacted and responded, but the district’s best option for renewal was to stay with its current carriers. Those carriers include: Affiliated FM for buildings and property; Zurich for general liability, crime, auto; Ace for lawyers liability; and Selective for flood insurance.

The district’s final liability insurance premium will be $716,476. The renewal premium reflects an overall increase of 5.9%, which is less than current market conditions. The increase does not reflect the district’s loss history this past year, which has been favorable.

A National Flood Insurance Policy (NFIP) was purchased this year because Affiliated FM identified eight buildings located in a low hazard flood zone as locations that are “at risk.” Affiliated FM would insure those buildings only with a $5 million limit and a $1 million deductible. As this was a large deductible that could potentially put the district at financial risk, the additional NFIP from Selective Insurance was purchased to cover the gap, which would insure the buildings up to $1 million with a $1,000 deductible. The NFIP coverage goes into effect March 6, 2013 and costs an additional $30,732.

Outcome: All policies except the NFIP coverage went into effect Feb. 1, 2013 and will expire on Feb. 1, 2014. 

Pioneer Huron Football Brawl

Three Pioneer students are currently facing felony charges as a result of the brawl that occurred at the Pioneer-Huron football game in October 2012.

Pioneer Huron Football Brawl: Public Commentary

Four members of the public spoke in support of the three Pioneer students.

Ruth Zweifler likened the situation to the 1979 case of Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children et al. v. Ann Arbor School District, which was brought on behalf of poor black students at the school. The current situation was again focusing on the chronically underserved African American population, she maintained. She drew attention to the fact that it was three black students who are being charged – when it was the white adult coaches who “behaved deplorably.” Only those three students face the consequences, despite the fact that it was a “melée.” She asked why the district has not come forward to defend the young people in its card, saying, “The shame is ours as a community. The shame is borne by those students alone.”

Lefiest Galimore

Lefiest Galimore

Lefiest Galimore asked what the board was doing to assist the three young men charged. He noted that one of the students – who was 18 years old – was being charged as an adult, which meant the felony charge will stay on his record. This incident, he said, occurred only because two adults “who were supposed to be serving as role models” could not restrain themselves. He argued the school board has a responsibility to support the individuals, because schools should protect and care for their students.

Shirley Beckley, a district alum, said she did not understand how the incident moved out of the school’s jurisdiction into the court’s purview. If charges were going to be made, she asked, why not charge the whole team, including the coaches? The coaches set a bad example because they got into a shoving match, and “of course, their teams were going to come to their defense.” She said there was a community of people who were concerned about this, and they were not going to let this go: “We’re going to be peaceful;  we’re not raising hell or anything. But we’re not going to sit here and watch our young men get treated like this.” Beckley asked that Green meet with them, to determine what could be done together to help the three students. She also said she hoped the school board would do something.

Pioneer football parent Sioban Harlow spoke in favor of the young men, saying the incident was started by adult poor behavior. It was a school issue, she said, and it was handled by the school in a way that led many in the community to be satisfied with the results. Boys on both teams reached out to try to heal after the incident. The escalation of the incident to the criminal justice system has caused considerable alarm in the community, and more than 70 parents attended recent meeting about the incident. Harlow said they were at risk of creating divisions in the community and causing risk to the livelihoods of three young African American men. She called ironic the selection of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” as this year’s book for Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads. She declared, “We must say, ‘Not in our community. Not in Ann Arbor.’” She asked Green to meet with Washtenaw County prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie to ask him to drop the charges.

Pioneer Huron Football Brawl: Board Response

In response to the public commentary, Lightfoot said that work has continued by some of the trustees both behind the scenes and on public record. She said they continue to be concerned and vigilant. She was happy to see the community continue to follow this case because it was a “miscarriage of justice for these young men.” She committed to having conversations about the topic as trustees and as a board as a whole.

During agenda planning, Baskett made a motion to include a discussion regarding the issue on the board’s schedule.

Thomas said that while he listened to the concerns brought up with an open mind, he also had some concerns about what the district can and should prudently do – as far as getting involved with criminal proceedings. Because he wouldn’t feel comfortable having such a discussion without getting an opinion from the district’s legal counsel, he requested a brief on “any possible ramifications” of getting involved. He worried about the precedent any board involvement would set for future cases where students were charges with crimes.

Green said that she had had a preliminary conversation with Comsa to ask if there was anything the district could do. While it was not a written opinion, one of the things he said the board could do was pass a resolution. She noted that they would want him to put something in writing before actually moving on it, however.

Mexicotte said that was her general understanding, as well. The board could suggest or influence or make a proclamation. But the question trustees needed to discuss is: Does the board choose to do so?

Because they wanted to have the conversation before the first teen’s pretrial date on March 15, 2013, the board voted to place the agenda item on the March 13, 2013 meeting. Mexicotte asked Baskett with preparing a resolution beforehand, so the board would have something on which to base their conversation.

Outcome: Trustees voted to place a discussion of a resolution on the boards’s March 13, 2013 meeting in support of the students who’ve been criminally charged. Thomas and Patalan dissented.

Best Practices Incentive Resolution

In June of 2012, the Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation under Section 22f of the State School Act that appropriates $80 million – to provide $52 per pupil allocations for the FY 2012/13 school year to school districts meeting seven of eight financial best practices. The money that’s allocated represents a portion of the year-end state school aid fund balance for 2011/12.

Because AAPS has met eight of eight of the required best practices, the district will receive a one-time incentive payment of approximately $860,000. In order to apply for the funds, the district must submit a board of education resolution that certifies the district’s compliance with the required best practices.

As it was nearing 3 a.m., the board very nearly put off the vote to certify the resolution until their next meeting. Nelson, however, said it was a “sizable amount of money” and the sooner they applied for the funds, they sooner they would get a check from the state.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to certify the resolution.

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 Feb. 27, 2012 meeting, the board heard from the Youth Senate and AAPAC.

Kathy Zager-Doxey, the AAPAC representative, thanked Elaine Brown, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services (SISS) and the SISS team for continued involvement with the AAPAC board. AAPAC, however, was dismayed that the SISS review to the board has been postponed, because this is when IEP teams are exploring options for next year [The update is scheduled for the March 13, 2103 board meeting]. AAPAC encourages the board to seek parental input before implementing any proposed changes to the special education program. Because a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) has not yet been hired, it was suggested the district find other ways to provide behavioral support for students.

Youth Senate representative, Milan Patel, argued for maintaining the 5th grade instrumental program. He argued that the effects of losing a year of learning for music students could possibly cause a drop in quality of musicianship in Ann Arbor. If the district wanted to continue being known for its excellence in the arts, cuts to vital programs such as 5th grade instrumental must not be made.

Comm/Comm: Superintendent Evaluation Timeline

Stead urged the board to add an informal superintendent evaluation to their agenda.

After some schedule wrangling, the trustees decided to add an executive session prior to their committee of the whole (COTW) meeting on March 20. The executive session will start at 5:30 p.m., recessing at 7 p.m. for the start of the COTW meeting. If more time is needed, the board will resume the executive session after the COTW.

Lightfoot asked that the board look at the process of the evaluation. She said she was concerned about the lack of consistency and about who gets to weigh in on the evaluation.

Comm/Comm: State Board of Ed Forum

Stead invited the community to attend a panel forum featuring the State Board of Education (SBE) president, John Austin, and SBE member Eileen Weiser on March 11, 2013 from 6:00-8:00 PM at Pioneer’s Little Theater. The panel will be sharing upcoming education reform legislation initiatives and taking questions and comments from the audience.

Comm/Comm: Huron Bel Canto Choir

The Huron Bel Canto Choir, led by Bonnie Kidd, performed two songs for the trustees.

Bel Conto Choir

The Huron High School  Bel Conto Choir performed at the board’s meeting.

The choir is heading to Rome the first week of March. Stead called the performance “amazing” and “beautiful” and asked the girls to do the district proud.

Comm/Comm: Accolades

In her superintendent report, Green commended fine arts programs around the district. She noted the successes experienced by chess teams at Huron High and many of the elementary and middle schools. She also commented that from now until June, Reichert Heath Center at St. Joseph Mercy will be displaying artwork from district elementary students.

Finally, she thanked Robin Bailey, district fine arts coordinator, for her work done in the fine arts. So many of the examples Green cited would not happen without her, Green said.

Nelson commented on how wonderful orchestra night was. He also put in a brief plug for the “Race: Are we so different?” exhibit at the UM Museum of Natural History.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Glenn Nelson, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Irene Patalan.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave.


  1. By A2person
    March 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm | permalink

    Thank you so much for sitting through these long BOE meetings and reporting so thoroughly. This is a great service to our community, and one of the main reasons I subscribe to the Chronicle. Now to go read!!

  2. March 10, 2013 at 11:55 pm | permalink

    3 a.m. ending time? Really? That can’t possibly be a good idea. I’d really encourage the board to look at either starting their meetings earlier, or shortening the presentations at the beginning of every meeting.

    Re: high school scheduling, and budgets

    1. “Four members of the committee wrote to the board to ask to have their names removed from the report.”–really? I’d like to know more about their reasons.

    2. Just to clarify–nobody gets into any of the Skyline magnet programs as a freshman, and whether you are in-district or applying through the in-district transfer program, you have no guarantee of getting into the magnet of your choice as a tenth-grader.

    3. Re: budgets and budget forums: “Thomas clarified that the budget forums would take place the last two weeks of March in order to accommodate the board’s desire to have these conversations before budget recommendations are made.”

    Originally the board said they would like this public process to happen earlier in the year. It hasn’t, and I’m not sure why, but I am pretty sure that: a) the dates for the forums have not yet been announced and in fact this report says they will be discussing the format at the March 13th meeting and b) the last week of March includes both Passover and Good Friday/Easter. Those two sets of holidays (all three-star holidays) take up most of the last week of March, and since the dates have not yet been announced that doesn’t give much time to promote forums that would then take place the third week of March. All of that is rather disappointing, in that it implies that the public will not have much time or notice to weigh in.

    4. “The trustees took issue with the way the charts broke down the additional costs associated with Skyline. Thomas said he had assumed that the higher cost of Skyline could be attributed to the trimester system, but based on the information presented, nothing showed that it was more expensive to run trimesters than semesters with a seventh hour. The increased cost of Skyline came from its lower enrollment number and its student-to-teacher ratio.”

    I really appreciate this commentary, and it is probably related as well to the reasons that supposedly Community moving away from block scheduling would “save” money. Would it really? [I personally think block scheduling at Community is a really good thing, but I'm more interested in making sure we are comparing apples to apples.]

    Speaking of apples. . . computers, that is. . . I really hope we’ll be using those brand new shiny computers for a lot better things than the NWEA test.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    March 11, 2013 at 1:20 am | permalink

    The board has absolutely no business to express support for students or anyone else charged with felonies.

    These matters are entrusted to the County Prosecutor, respective defense counsel, and the District and Circuit Court systems. Decisions on guilt or innocence are based upon evidence and the rule of law.

  4. By A2person
    March 11, 2013 at 9:44 am | permalink

    Amen on the NWEA comment, Ruth Kraut. Honestly, it makes me feel sick to my stomach that all that money and all those resources are being allocated for this controversial, mis-managed, ill-chosen testing battery that will be replaced in a year by changing state mandates. This test is NOT valid for teacher assessment, and has NEVER been shown to make one iota of difference in the achievement gap.

    It’s really, really difficult to accept cuts to programs, classrooms, staff, enrichment, etc, when we could cut this non-mandated test and save a bundle of money AND time for actual learning. Ugh. Priorities.

  5. By Britt
    March 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the detailed article! Appreciate the good information.

  6. March 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm | permalink

    Sulura Jackson, Skyline Principal, has announced her resignation with this letter to the Skyline community: [link]

  7. By John
    March 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm | permalink

    Next time, ask for a writing sample first.

  8. By Karen U.
    March 15, 2013 at 9:03 am | permalink

    I’d like to mention an issue that is getting little or no attention from anyone–the district-wide special education program review that was completed at the beginning of this year that was supposed to be presented to the board at Wednesday night’s BOE meeting.

    Thus far, there has been a deafening silence from SISS as to the specifics of proposed changes district-wide. There are no minutes posted to date for the meeting, and no other documentation of a presentation from SISS than the agenda line item, although there are documents available regarding the football brawl resolution and proposed budget cuts for next year.

    Ann Arbor.com has posted articles on the brawl resolution, Schools of Choice openings and an exhaustive piece on a 5-minute speech by Mike Madison of Quad-A. When I asked about special ed, I got a “sorry-busy news day” comment from the K-12 reporter. I was referred to you by another local journalist…and learned that the district is buying new copiers.

    I understand that all of this takes time, and it certainly isn’t the Chronicle’s fault that SISS is dragging its heels, so please know I am not trying to take my frustration out on you…I just want to know what the heck is going on. And my next correspondence will be to Dr. Brown of SISS. But meanwhile, I and many other special ed. parents would love to know what facilities are being proposed for our kids next year–so if the Chronicle knows anything, it’d be great if you would post it. Thanks for reading.

  9. By Monet Tiedemann
    March 15, 2013 at 11:07 am | permalink

    Hi Karen,

    The SISS review will be included in the Chronicle’s coverage of Wednesday’s meeting. Until then, the PowerPoint is available: [link]

  10. By Karen U.
    March 15, 2013 at 11:42 am | permalink

    Excellent. Thanks so much, Monet!!