The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Jennifer Coffman it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AAPS Mulls Redistricting to Save Costs Sat, 22 Dec 2012 18:50:27 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Dec. 19, 2012): The board opened its final meeting of 2012 with a reflection offered by board president Deb Mexicotte on the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a moment of silence to honor the families and community affected by that tragedy.

Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools

Before the meeting started, Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools, distributed spiral bound copies of the report from a transportation working group.

The board received two informational reports — one from a cross-governmental working group charged with assessing the viability of continuing to provide non-mandated school transportation, and another one on the district’s partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC).

The transportation report generated significant discussion, as the board examined the working group’s recommendations and considered the impact of making significant reductions to transportation. Even if the district were to eliminate all except mandated transportation for students, that would save only about $5.5 million of the roughly $17 million gap projected in next year’s budget.

A key element of the transportation discussion was a suggestion to consider redistricting – that is, reassigning some students to different school buildings based on where they live. Trustees discussed redistricting in the context of possible steps like eliminating some or all busing and closing schools.

The board directed administration to begin looking into a redistricting process.

Transportation Working Group Report and Discussion

AAPS Superintendent Patricia Green introduced the transportation report by saying that the working group was formed as a result of a significant fiscal crisis. She described it as a broad-based group including representatives from the city government, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), AAPS administration, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and community activists. She said it had been a huge undertaking, and that the group had done a lot of research and information-gathering in a short amount of time.

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen presented a summary of the working group’s conclusions, and noted that a full report of their work had also been presented in spiral-bound form to each board member, including maps of each bus route by school and the set of laws applicable to transportation. [.pdf of working group report] Allen said the overall goal of the working group was to study and report on the financial sustainability of student transportation. The group’s objectives were to identify and analyze the options.

Allen reported that total transportation costs for the district are $6.96 million. But that amount falls to $5.59 million after subsidies for special education are applied. He noted that the law requires AAPS to transport special education students as well as homeless students.

Allen reported that the working group had evaluated nine main options:

  1. contracting or privatizing transportation;
  2. improving pedestrian infrastructure;
  3. re-routing;
  4. changing school start times to consolidate levels on buses;
  5. using more common stops;
  6. using more AATA routes;
  7. increasing walk zones;
  8. eliminating all choice busing;
  9. eliminating all transportation except that which is legally required.

Allen reported that the group had concluded that privatization would not save much – because contract rates are rising, as more and more districts outsource transportation services.  Walk zones could not be increased due to state law, Allen said.

But parts of all other options were recommended, except for complete elimination of all busing, an option the working group recommended keeping open for the next five years.

Transportation: Working Group Recommendations

Ultimately, Allen reported, the transportation working group suggested the following:

  • Requesting that the city improve sidewalks, and place additional crossing guards in order to reduce required safety busing of students who live within the 1.5-mile walk zones;
  • Re-routing buses, possibly as part of increased common stops;
  • Increasing use of AATA bus routes;
  • Eliminating all 60 routes of choice busing, including those for Ann Arbor Open, Skyline lottery students, and Roberto Clemente.

Allen added that other options that had been reviewed but considered not feasible were: using University of Michigan buses (would not match with student needs); creating vanpools (would not be less expensive); and facilitating subscriptions for private transportation services (would need to be organized by parents, since the district is legally prohibited from charging for transportation).

Finally, Allen closed the presentation of the working group’s recommendations by noting that the working group members felt that substantial savings could not be gained by eliminating just pieces of the school transportation system, but that transportation in its entirety may need to be gradually eliminated. At the same time, they acknowledged that eliminating transportation is not good for education, and could increase the achievement gap. They also felt the process would require open communication with the community regardless of what the board decided.

Transportation: Clarifying Questions

Trustee Irene Patalan asked whether the committee had considered combining students from different levels (elementary, middle, and high school) on the same bus. Allen explained that the working group had not considered that, because it would require purchasing more buses. Lightfoot added that the committee also considered the safety issues that might arise if six-year-olds and 16-year-olds rode the same bus. Lightfoot also mentioned as a concern the reduction in the number of hours driven per day, saying it would affect the quality of the available drivers, because a schedule with fewer working hours provides lower benefits.

Allen noted that an important factor to consider – for any reduction in transportation service – is the possibility the district would lose students to other schools. The district would lose the state funding associated with those students, so it’s important to weigh the costs savings in transportation against the potential loss in revenue.

AAPS trustee Simone Lightfoot

AAPS trustee Simone Lightfoot

The board requested more information on how the elimination of busing could impact student achievement and attendance. Trustees asked what the experience of other districts had been. Trustees also asked if AAPS had studied the effect of the transportation changes the district had implemented two years ago (such as enforcing walk zones, increasing common stops, etc.).

Allen explained that other districts reviewed by the working group had reversed their decisions to eliminate transportation. Green added that in other jurisdictions where a private group had tried to contract buses, the approach didn’t tend to be feasible in the end, and also raised equity issues regarding affordability of the service.

Lightfoot questioned whether buildings in AAPS had adequate infrastructure to handle additional traffic if busing in the district is eliminated.

Transportation: Board Discussion — Redistricting

Baskett asked if the working group had considered redistricting, which means changing the schools to which some students are assigned. She noted that children from west of Clark road are bused past four closer elementary schools to attend Burns Park elementary. She suggested that redistricting could increase efficiency, and thereby decrease costs.

Allen said that redistricting was outside the purview of the working group. But Green responded that the topic was “skirted all around as a reasonable option” and that “the words rerouting and redistricting were being used somewhat interchangeably.” Green said redistricting would need to be approached with caution. She noted the importance of looking at the history of past choices about how school boundaries have been set. She said any redistricting would need to be done in a committee specifically charged with that purpose, and would need much longer than the six months the transportation group had taken to do its work.

Nelson and Lightfoot, who had served on the transportation working group, weighed in with their opinions on the working group’s view of redistricting. Nelson said, “If the committee had gone into redistricting, it might have been a case of the tail wagging the dog.” Lightfoot stated: “There was a willingness to look at redistricting on the committee.” Baskett responded that she was pleased to have the route maps provided, and that there was no loud opposition to redistricting.

Mexicotte asked if redistricting would be done for transportation savings, or for other goals as well. Green responded that school closures and transportation could both be part of the redistricting process, and that she recommended the board look at opening a discussion on redistricting sooner rather than later.

Transportation: Board Discussion — General

Allen thanked the trustees who were part of the working group — Nelson and Lightfoot. Nelson thanked the other participants, and encouraged everyone to look at the appendices of the full report, which he said contained a lot of useful information that could inform the trade-offs between different options. Lightfoot said the process of working with the group had been phenomenal. She noted that this process could be used to engage community members on other issues as well.

Board vice president Christine Stead responded to the idea that eliminating transportation is not consistent with the district’s educational goals. She pointed out that none of the cuts the district has had to make are consistent with educational goals. That’s because education in the state of Michigan is not viable right now, she said. “We have been talking about this item [transportation] for three years, not because we want to, but because we have really horrible tradeoffs that we have to make,” she said.

Trustee Andy Thomas expressed his appreciation to the committee for their hard work, but also indicated lack of complete satisfaction with the results. He stated two concerns. First, he said that the recommendations were not very creative, and seemed to dismiss some items he saw as worthy of more consideration (i.e. contractual busing and vanpools). Second, the report does not address the primary question of whether transportation is financially sustainable. Thomas asked, “Are we saying we would rather spend $5 million on transportation rather than have 50 teachers?”

Nelson took issue with the question, saying that it was not within the scope of the working group to compare transportation to other budget elements. Nelson said the question of which jurisdiction pays for crossing guards came up during the working group meetings. Currently, the city does, but they would like to move it out of their budget, he said.

Lightfoot stressed how the working group’s conversation about sidewalk improvements was a great example of working cross-governmentally for solutions.

A few board members expressed interest in the idea that the AAPS Educational Foundation could be used as an entity to help secure funding for transportation. Allen responded that he would consult with AAPS deputy superintendent for human resources and legal services Dave Comsa regarding the possibility of working through the foundation on transportation.

Mexicotte asked, “What if we just decide to do something that violates state law because we think it’s best for kids?” She expressed frustration at the legal constraints that would prevent the district from charging for transportation offset by a scholarship fund, or from providing transportation only to areas of the district most in need. Thomas responded that he assumed Mexicotte had “her tongue at least partially in her cheek,” and pointed out that being sued by even one parent would cost the district too much in legal fees.

Transportation: Next Steps

Board members wondered what next steps they should take and what the timeframe for those steps should be. Thomas told his board colleagues that his interpretation of the report is that the board basically needs to choose between the status quo and eliminating all transportation. Nelson disagreed, saying that there were intermediate steps that could be taken to save the district significant chunks of money – such as eliminating choice busing and working with the city to reduce the need for safety busing. Mexicotte suggested bringing a list of necessary sidewalk replacements and locations for crossing guards to the transportation safety committee, a joint committee of school and city officials that already meets quarterly.

Mexicotte pointed out that everything is interconnected — high school transportation, choice busing, redistricting — and that everything is on the table as the board moves to plug the $17 million budget deficit it faces for next year. She suggested that the administration should come up with their best thinking on the issues and questions raised by trustees during this discussion by mid-winter, including the redistricting possibility.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green

Green agreed that AAPS administration should continue internally the research of the larger working group, so that the board’s remaining questions could be answered, but noted that “this is only one piece of a jigsaw.”

Redistricting, Green said, will take time — at least a year, if not more — to do it justice. That would include outsourcing a feasibility and demography study to a third party, and ensuring significant community involvement. Though the recommendation for how to redistrict can come quickly, she said, it’s a hugely emotional issue for those who are affected. To illustrate her point, Green noted how many people had addressed the board regarding the possible movement of the Roberto Clemente program into another building last year. “The community has to come along with it — it cannot just be by fiat,” she said.

Stead argued that the fiscal realities facing AAPS might mean the district has to make decisions about redistricting faster than it would like. Mexicotte agreed that many of the budget decisions will need to be made quicker than the board feels comfortable with, but that redistricting cannot be rushed. “I would like to see us do this, but we are looking at a year and a half cycle,” she said. “It can’t be done for fall 2013.”

Stead countered that allowing the redistricting process to take a year and a half would cause unappealing consequences. Doing it faster, she said, could help save class sizes and programs. Mexicotte pointed out that the question is ancillary costs. For example, she said, “If we stop transportation to an area, do we lose enrollment? … There are things we can do, but thinking of the unforeseen costs is also very important.”

Mexicotte closed the discussion by thanking the transportation working group for putting the presentation together, saying it had given the board a lot to think about.

UM Depression Center Partnership Report and Discussion

Green introduced this report, by saying that AAPS has a very significant partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC) that helps with recognizing depression in adolescents.

Trustees Susan Baskett and Andy Thomas share a laugh before the meeting started.

Trustees Susan Baskett and Andy Thomas share a laugh before the meeting started.

Assistant superintendent for secondary education Robyne Thompson reviewed the history and scope of the partnership, explaining that it began in 2007 to provide training systematically to AAPS administration and staff  –  to raise awareness of depression and prevent suicide among adolescents. Since the program’s inception, Thompson said, over 750 administration and staff members have been trained, and 150 students have become peer-to-peer mentors.

Thompson explained that the peer-to-peer work focuses on students referring peers to school counselors, not providing any sort of counseling themselves. She reviewed some of the slogans used in anti-depression campaigns at each of the high schools, and introduced three students who had worked as peer mentors in the program to speak. The students who addressed the board shared how their focus is to reduce the stigma of depression, educate their peers, and be a resource to peers in need.

Trish Meier of the UMDC then thanked the board for the district’s continued support. After this first five years of successful training, she said the partnership is now looking at how to improve in the future.

Trustee Andy Thomas thanked the presenters, and the peer-to-peer mentors especially, saying their role was very valuable in the schools. He also noted how the presentation was very timely given the recent events in Sandy Hook, which have created an awareness and concern about how mental health is handled in our schools. He asked how the district is ensuring that students identified by the program as possibly experiencing depression are connected with appropriate resources, and what follow up there is to be sure they are receiving the services they need. Thompson told Thomas that longitudinal tracking of students’ interactions with school counselors is done in Power School, a student information management computer software system.

Nelson noted that the UMDC programs are important to families as well as students.

Patalan asked how the peer-to-peer element of the program keeps going. The students explained that their health teacher was the staff person who coordinated it, and that so far, peer mentors have simply volunteered.

Mexicotte asked the students what they have learned by volunteering as peer-to-peer mentors. They said they have learned about depression, and have found a way to give back for the help they have received in their own lives. Mexicotte thanked them for stepping up to the plate and for the work they have done in their schools.

Sound Field Purchase

AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent presented a proposal to purchase 35 mobile sound field amplification systems through REMC, a regional purchasing consortium. The total cost of the purchase would be $27,405, just over the limit requiring board approval, Trent explained. He added that these systems will replace systems purchased as part of the 2004 Comprehensive School Improvement Program, which are now failing to maintain their battery charge. Sound amplification, Trent said, helps teachers not to lose their voices, and allows any child in the room to hear in the same way.

Baskett requested to see the REMC bid as part of the second briefing. Thomas asked how the systems that would be purchased differ from those used by teachers in the classroom, and what the expected life of the equipment would be. Trent clarified that these systems would be mobile rather than having speakers in the ceiling, and could be expected to last from three to five years, depending on the battery life.

The purchase of the sound systems will be brought back to the board for a second briefing and vote at the board’s next regular meeting.

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings

Mexicotte began by saying that there are no words that will adequately address the Sandy Hook shootings, but that the incident deserves reflection.

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte

On behalf of the district, she expressed deep and abiding sorrow for the loss of the 20 young students and six dedicated educators, and said that none of us will ever be the same. Mexicotte then said when hearing the news coming out of Connecticut, she was struck by the stories of bravery among teachers and first responders. “The teacher-student bond is foundation to who we are as a people and as a species,” she said. “I want to thank those teachers who lost their lives protecting their students … Their heroism is an affirmation of what we know in our hearts — every one of our teachers would do the same … It is my hope that they will never have to.”

During her superintendent’s report, Green also reflected on the Sandy Hook shootings, saying it was hard to witness, but also acknowledging the acts of bravery during the crisis by fellow educators and first responders. Green said she also wanted to acknowledge the very dedicated staff here in Ann Arbor, who supported AAPS students as they came back to school on Monday while grappling with their own emotions about the tragedy. She also expressed gratitude to Ann Arbor’s police chief John Seto for reaching out to her and meeting with the AAPS cabinet to continue planning jointly for the safety and security of all AAPS schools.

During the agenda planning section of the Dec. 19 meeting, Christine Stead requested a review of the district’s emergency plans. Green said that she has already embarked on that process, and that Seto had been involved. Green explained that the plans have been reviewed and practiced, and that some amendments were made. She invited Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications and head of the district’s crisis team, to speak to the issue.

Margolis explained that the AAPS had secured two REMS (Readiness Emergency Management for Schools) grants over the past ten years, allowing the district to perform risk assessments of all buildings, and train hundreds of staff. She expressed confidence in the district’s preparedness, but said there are always ways to improve. Stead asked if the district should consider video surveillance or keeping the front doors of all buildings locked. Green indicated that AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent has already been authorized to study the cost of such improvements. She also said that there are opportunities being considered for additional AAPS staff to be trained in incident management systems. Seto had pointed out that having everyone using the same terminology is very helpful.

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: Celebration of Excellence

The board honored Katie Lewit, a physical education teacher at Allen Elementary School.

Katie Lewitt, AAPS celebration of excellence

Katie Lewit received an award for her work as  a physical education teacher at Allen Elementary School.

Trustee Irene Patalan introduced the award, noting that Lewit had been nominated by one of Patalan’s own former students, Shawn Ricoy, who is now a district parent herself. Ricoy and her husband Mark nominated Lewit for her significant influence on the development of Allen Elementary students’ physical, emotional, and social well-being.

Lewit thanked the Ricoy family, her nephews, and her students, for making every day special. She also expressed appreciation for her former principal Jeanette Jackson and her current principal Joan Fitzgibbon, who she said have been amazingly helpful in steering her to be the best teacher she can be.

Comm/Comm: Association Report – AAPAC

The board invites regular reports from a set of community and school groups, but only one was present to speak to the board at the Dec 19 meeting. The co-chair of the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee (AAPAC) read a statement written by an AAPAC member who could not attend the meeting. The statement spoke to the transition from preschool to kindergarten for special education students, and suggested that parents could benefit from receiving more information about elementary school options for their students. The letter also thanked Green and her cabinet for the time they have spent addressing special education issues. Finally, the report asked that the district educate the public regarding the budget offsets to special education made by the federal government and the county, as well as publishing the actual number of students who receive special education services rather than the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) calculation often presented in budget documents.

Comm/Comm: Superintendent’s Report

In addition to her comments on the Sandy Hook shootings noted above, Green’s superintendent report included several examples of successes achieved by students, staff, and schools across the district.

She included accolades for students who received perfect ACT scores, successful music programs, Skyline High School’s design, technology, and environmental planning magnet program, the student building industries program, Forsythe’s knowledge master open participants, and various elementary programs and fundraisers.

Comm/Comm: Board President’s Report

Mexicotte reviewed the board’s work at its recent committee of the whole meeting. She noted the board’s discussion about potential budget reductions, community outreach, and a series of items unique to the high school environment. She said that the board would continue dialogue on these issues. About the board’s goals, Mexicotte said the trustees have been moving forward on their financial goal. But for its trust-building goal, the board is still looking for avenues other than a facilitated dialogue to achieve better trust among board members. Finally, she noted that the board’s next meeting on Jan. 16 would be its organizational meeting, and will be used to set up the board’s work for the next year.

Comm/Comm: Consent Agenda and Canvassing Votes Approved

With no discussion, trustees unanimously approved conference reimbursements, meeting minutes, and donations. The board also voted unanimously to accept the board of canvassers report of the Nov. 6, 2012 election, certifying that Deb Mexicotte won re-election to the board.

Comm/Comm: Agenda Planning

Glenn Nelson requested trustees’ input on topics that he and Christine Stead should take to the Washtenaw Alliance for Education to consider. He suggested the School Aid Act rewrite and preschool programming throughout the county as possible topics for countywide networking. Trustees suggested superintendent evaluation, teacher evaluation, transportation, and upcoming legislation as well as the ramifications of what gets signed into law as possible topics for the WAE to address. Nelson added that at recent WAE meetings, Stead was mentioned explicitly as someone who has provided very constructive leadership, and the entire county was very grateful for the that work.

Comm/Comm: Items from the Board

Stead thanked her colleagues from across the county who worked with AAPS during the lame duck session to advocate against the expansion of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). She complimented the hard work that people did to review materials and put their name on them quickly, and said she anticipated the WAE would continue to build on that.

Lightfoot thanked Nelson and Stead for their leadership on the advocacy work being done, and added that it has been challenging to separate her hats as a trustee from someone who does public policy. She urged her colleagues to be ready to “hit the ground running back up to Lansing as soon as the school year begins again.”

Patalan said she hoped district families would take the winter break as an opportunity to slow down, take a breath, and connect with each other.

Nelson and Baskett complimented the teachers’ union on holding a very nice holiday luncheon. Baskett also reported on her recent trip to a rap session at Roberto Clemente Student Development Center about student profiles. She said Clemente principal Ben Edmondson “really gave it to students” about how these profiles were a reflection of who they are, and staff talked about what it meant to earn high school and college degrees. Baskett called her visit to Clemente “food for the soul,” and noted how all Clemente students have all their teachers’ phone numbers in case they have a stressful period over the holidays.

Thomas thanked Governor Snyder for doing the right thing and vetoing the law passed by Michigan legislators last week which would have allowed concealed weapons to be carried in schools, among other currently prohibited locations. Thomas said the veto required “a good deal of courage and integrity to go against the mainstream of [the Republican] party in doing that.” He also thanked the thousands of people across the state who let the governor know what they thought.

Mexicotte closed the meeting by wishing the AAPS community a happy, healthy, and safe holiday. She also thanked voters again for her re-election to the board.

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

Absent: None.

Next meeting (the AAPS board’s annual organizational meeting): Jan. 16, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the fourth-floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

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AAPS Sets Stage for Budget Talks Wed, 19 Dec 2012 18:13:10 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole meeting (Dec. 12, 2012): Faced with another looming budget deficit, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board used their committee of the whole meeting to review a list of potential budget reductions.  The board tried to get a handle on the estimated savings that each reduction would bring the district.

Ann Arbor Public School trustees, Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett. (Photo by the writer.)

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green stressed that the list brought by administration for review was in no way a list of recommendations – it was just a list of savings estimates, which trustees had requested at a previous meeting. The estimates totaled nearly $26 million in potential reductions. They included: reducing teaching staff; reorganizing human resources; eliminating funding for some extracurricular activities; and closing buildings.

As part of the budget discussion, trustees also reviewed their plans to begin a series of one-on-one and small group meetings with key community leaders, school groups, and other partners. Trustee Glenn Nelson described the plans as first sharing information about the funding situation currently faced by AAPS, and then engaging in an open discussion with a lot of listening. Trustees then plan to bring back the information gleaned from their discussions, and use it, as trustee Andy Thomas put it, “to put together a message and a campaign on how to keep these schools excellent – a message that will resonate with people … and will respond to their hopes and their fears.”

The bulk of the Dec. 12 meeting was spent discussing some preliminary recommendations on high school start times. The recommendations were made to the board by an administrative committee charged originally to look at that issue. Green explained how the scope of the committee had broadened beyond start times to include review of high school scheduling. The committee had also looked at the possibility of opening up the district’s comprehensive high schools (Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline) to in-district transfers and school-of-choice students.

The board also weighed the issue of semesters versus trimesters at Skyline High School, and seemed favorably inclined to consider a shift to semesters. No decision was made at the meeting on that topic.

Cost Estimates of Potential Budget Reductions

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen introduced a list of potential budget reductions to the board, highlighting the cost savings the district could reap from each one, if it were enacted. He stressed that this was not a list of recommendations, but simply a list of cost estimates for the board’s review.

On the list provided, Allen said, the items are mutually exclusive – meaning that each estimate can stand alone, and is not dependent on any other estimate. The presentation included an estimate of the number of staff reductions that would accompany each reduction, and a short description of the implications associated with that reduction. The bulk of the reductions discussed by the board were potential cuts to instructional services and staff wages and benefits.

Cost Estimates: Instructional Services

Of the items presented as potential cuts to instructional services, the board engaged in the most discussion over the possible reduction of 32 FTEs (full-time equivalent) of teaching staff for a savings of $3.2 million. Allen noted that reducing teachers by 32 FTEs would equate to essentially one teacher per building, and would cause class sizes to increase.

Trustee Christine Stead and board president Deb Mexicotte each expressed concern about the idea that staff reductions, if any, would be implemented in an across-the-board approach such as one per building. Instead they indicated that they would be in favor of delivering instruction differently. Mexicotte suggested that some classes could have larger enrollments – as many as 70 students – or that Skype could be used to connect students and teachers across locations. Stead said she was looking for a “substantive overhaul” that allowed AAPS to compete on choice and innovation.

Board members didn’t understand specifically how some of the items on Allen’s list would save money. They questioned how moving Roberto Clemente program into Pioneer High School (savings: $200,000), or closing individual school buildings (savings: $500,000 to $3 million per building) would result in the projected savings. Allen explained that in all cases of building closures, the savings comes from a reduction in utilities costs and building personnel – such as principals, custodians, and secretaries. Allen also clarified that closing a building takes more than a year – in order to re-configure the attendance boundaries and communicate the change to the public.

About the list item for principal-sharing at the elementary level (savings: $1 million), Nelson pointed out that the idea had not gone over well with the community when it’s been suggested previously. He suggested going the opposite route – by assigning some administrative tasks to building principals at lower attendance buildings.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked how teaching staff or principals would be reduced. Allen explained that there is contract language that determines how reductions are made. Mexicotte added that while AAPS has generally been a district that does not lay off staff, the board could choose to do so. “The strategy for getting there [to the target number of reductions] could be multi-level,” Mexicotte said.

Thomas suggested that two of the suggested cuts on the list of possibilities – suspending the purchase of library materials (savings: $100,000) and eliminating fifth grade instrumental music (savings: $500,000) – could be offset by community donations made via the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation (AAPSEF). Green added that AAPS fine arts coordinator Robin Bailey had just been selected to be on an advisory committee at the Kennedy Center. Green reiterated that the cost estimates on the list were not recommendations, and that the impact of making those reductions would need to be studied.

Several board members pointed out that suggested reductions to high school theatre (savings: $200,000) and athletics (savings: $1 million) could hurt the AAPS brand. Stead argued that preserving arts and athletics makes AAPS unique when families are comparing AAPS to “a charter school in a box or just a computer.”

For any reductions that might be made, trustees noted the importance of factoring in the impact of potential student loss in response to the changes. Allen added that while AAPS currently receives just over $9,000 per student in state funding per year, that could change if a re-write of the School Aid Act being considered by the state were to pass. That re-write would allow funding to “follow” students in and out of AAPS on a monthly basis.

Cost Estimates: Wages and Benefits

Baskett questioned asked if the administration had priced out moving to a four-day week with longer school days. Allen said the financial impact had not been calculated, but indicated it would yield savings in transportation and utilities. But Green noted that shutting down all buildings one day a week would reduce the availability of space for extracurricular activities run by the Rec & Ed department. AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld added that the district would be prohibited from moving to a four-day week because the minimum number of school days allowed is 170. AAPS has offered about 175 days of instruction each year, she said.

Thomas asked about the difference between making across-the-board salary reductions and requiring furlough days. Allen stressed that any changes to wages or benefits would need to be collectively bargained. He noted that requiring furlough days would not change the base pay of staff members, which is one factor in calculating retirement pay. Allen clarified that the furlough days could occur at times of the year that would have the least impact on students, such as on snow days or professional development days.

Some trustees expressed interest in having more details provided about the cost estimates. Mexicotte added that the line-item budget being currently developed by the administration could reap savings. She also asked the administration to add more information to the chart that had been provided, such as the percentage of the total that each proposed reduction represents, as well as more specific impacts of each cut. For example, she asked: What would be the practical effect of cutting $1 million from athletics – would it mean cutting football or figure skating?

Community Outreach

The board revisited plans it had discussed at an earlier meeting to engage in more extensive community outreach as part of the budgeting process. Nelson offered to coordinate the trustees’ individual efforts to connect with community leaders. Thomas suggested that trustees also attend PTO/PTSO meetings, and booster club meetings for theater, music, and athletics groups. Other board members were amenable to both suggestions.

Nelson suggested that information gleaned from the meetings with community members would be shared by each trustee with the whole board, and could be used to create a marketing campaign to preserve the excellence of the public schools. Trustee Simone Lightfoot expressed concern that the input of each trustee is not given equal weight in board discussions. Nelson responded that if there is conflict over how to proceed after the information is gathered, the board might need to take formal votes on issues, even though he indicated it would be possible to take a more informal approach.

A few trustees noted the board should still provide traditional community forums for people in the community who would prefer to attend those. Stead said, “What we are really trying to do is create ongoing relationships with our community that say: We value education.”

Trustee Irene Patalan suggested having a liaison from each school meet regularly as a group to discuss the budget, but Mexicotte suggested waiting on that approach. Baskett suggested that trustees should take administrators with them to their assigned community meetings. Mexicotte suggested that everyone should send Nelson a list of those key community leaders with whom they planned to meet. She also requested that the administration also send Nelson a list of those people with whom they feel trustees should meet.

High School Start Times

Green introduced an extensive presentation brought to the board by an ad-hoc administrative committee. She explained that the committee had originally been charged with studying high school start times, but that its scope had been expanded to include a review of high school scheduling options, as well as high school enrollment processes.

AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye reported that research is mixed on whether there’s a positive academic impact that comes from a later start to the high school day. She noted conflicts with athletics, additional transportation costs, and child care issues are possible arguments against moving to a later start time.

The board spent some time discussing the effect of later high school start times on transportation costs. For almost all scenarios where all schools district-wide started 15 minutes later, there was an increase in transportation costs. The board was not supportive of shifting all school start times by 15 minutes.

Given that the committee did not see any compelling research that said it makes a big difference in academic outcomes to have a later start time, Flye said, making the huge adjustment to start times does not seem warranted. She suggested that the district include questions about high school start times in its annual climate survey of students and families. Thomas agreed, pointing out that families’ responses may be affected by the possible reduction or elimination of district-provided transportation. Green noted that any surveys on this issue should include families with students in all levels of instruction, because shifting high school times could affect the other levels.

Lightfoot stated, “We tend to talk about evidence a lot when we agree with it, but find fault with it when we don’t. I believe that evidence is circumspect either way.” She suggested that the high school start times question was important enough to warrant its own survey. Baskett suggested having high schoolers manage the survey as a school project.

The board in general was not inclined to support a survey focused just on high school start times, and ultimately directed administration not to spend the extra resources to do so. Start time preferences will be gathered from families as part of the annual climate survey.

High School Scheduling

The public commentary at the Dec. 12 committee meeting was focused on the issue of trimester scheduling. Four parents spoke, all of whom argued that Skyline was doing students a disservice by operating on a trimester schedule, instead of semesters like the other two comprehensive high schools. In particular, the parents expressed concern about math and foreign language – because students do not receive continuous instruction in these areas all three trimesters of the school year. For some students, the parents pointed out, this means they could go six or even nine months in a row with no math class.

Flye reviewed the scheduling used at each of the high schools: Huron and Pioneer have traditional semester schedules with a 7th hour; Community uses semesters, but has alternate-day block scheduling; A2Tech has semesters with evening class offerings; and Skyline and Clemente run on trimesters.

AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld explained the costs of each scheduling set-up: Teaching 1,600 students in a trimester system requires 80 FTEs, she said, compared to 76.8 FTEs in a semester system, a difference of 3.2 FTEs. However, offering the additional 7th hour class at Pioneer and Huron requires 4.4 FTEs, making the cost difference closer. Finally, Flye summarized pros and cons of semesters versus trimesters, gleaned from the committee’s conversations. She noted that only two other school districts in Washtenaw County  (Chelsea and Saline) use trimesters, whereas two others (Dexter and Whitmore Lake) had previously used trimesters but returned to semester scheduling this school year.

Ultimately, Flye said, the committee’s recommendation was to develop an action plan to move Skyline to a semester schedule.

Trustees who were not members of the AAPS board during the planning and creation of Skyline asked their colleagues to give some insight into the reasons Skyline was set up on a trimester system in the first place.

Mexicotte listed several reasons as keys to the decision to make Skyline a trimester school: cost savings; more elective class options; more flexibility for block scheduling for the magnet programs; and better math remediation. She also noted that when Skyline was conceived, trimesters were seen as the “wave of the future,” and that Skyline was seen as a pilot, which could lead to all district high schools adopting a trimester system.

Nelson echoed the idea that having more flexible scheduling at Skyline was “modern, and fits the 21st century.” He suggested that Skyline’s smaller learning communities and focus on mastery learning were aided by trimester scheduling. Patalan stressed that the set-up of Skyline was aided by the best data available at the time, including extensive community meetings and professional consulting. She also noted that trimester scheduling is not the same thing as block scheduling. Baskett added that the district had been counting on Pioneer and Huron to rework their structures as well, perhaps adding magnets such as humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, which did not happen.

Several board members asked whether a review of academic outcomes had been undertaken, now that Skyline has had its first graduating class. Board members were told that had not been part of the committee’s review.

Lightfoot noted that trimester-format classes are not readily available during summer school. Stead said she was “happy to be convinced” that trimesters were better. But it did not make intuitive sense to Stead that students didn’t have instruction in math for a period of nine months. Thomas suggested that what he was hearing was, “We’re going to be different because we want to be different,” even though there were no metrics that proved trimesters were better in any way.

Nelson and Patalan took exception to Thomas’ “tone” in expressing his thoughts, and Thomas later offered an apology for his tone of voice. “It was not my intention to denigrate the work that went into planning Skyline. My frustration that resulted from that tone has to do with the fact that … I can’t see anything that we definitely accomplished. We have received a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that [trimester scheduling] is not working to the advantage of the students.”

Lightfoot asked if the board had a set of metrics it had planned to use to evaluate Skyline’s scheduling. Nelson said that board wanted to see if the magnets led to better career development, as well as higher achievement and lower dropout rates. Mexicotte noted that the district also has climate survey data.

Stead said she would like to hear from people who do believe trimesters are great, stressing. “We can’t just be different; we have to be different and better.” She suggested that the board adopt the recommendation to move Skyline to semesters by March or April so there would be time to plan for the shift. Patalan said she wanted to be sure any planning to shift Skyline to semesters was done respectfully and in a way that continues to honor Skyline’s uniqueness. Mexicotte and Nelson agreed that Skyline should not have to be the same as the other comprehensive high schools just to be the same.

Thomas asked administration if March or April was enough time to plan for a shift to semesters at Skyline, and Green responded that she would not want to wait that long. The data the board had asked for during the course of this discussion – comparative achievement, discipline, and attendance data, she said, is readily available, and could be brought back to the board soon for its review.

High School Enrollment

Flye suggested that the board open up an in-district transfer option as well as school-of-choice (SOC) enrollment at the high school level. Landefeld added that up to now the district has only allowed in-district transfers and SOC students at the elementary and middle school levels. But Landefeld thought allowing a minimal number of transfers at the high school level would be a good idea, perhaps just 25 students.

Trustees expressed universal support for these recommendations. Thomas pointed out that with the possibility of losing transportation at the high school level, this would offer additional flexibility for families. Nelson said he would be in favor of opening enrollment by up to 30 students, but not many more than that, say as many as 75.

Baskett asked about the rules that would be put in place for lotteries at different schools. Landefeld responded by saying she would follow the same process as in-district transfers and SOC enrollment at the other levels. Landefeld said the new slots would only be available to ninth graders.

Board members expressed some concern with “personalized redistricting” that could result from allowing more in-district transfers. But they acknowledged that this is essentially what is allowed at the elementary and middle school levels already.

Stead said that she thinks opening the high schools to a limited number of SOC students is necessary to meet the district’s revenue expectations. Nelson and Patalan agreed that AAPS should start small.

Mexicotte said that she was eager to allow SOC enrollment earlier than before, and said she has been concerned that the SOC window has been too late to capture the number of students intended. Green said she agreed that the timeline needed to move quickly, and Flye said administration could now draft a timeline according to the board’s recommendations.

Mexicotte said she was thrilled to have had this in-depth conversation about these high school issues, and that the board “considers our high schools to be the crown jewels of our district.”

Board Goals Update

Mexicotte led the board in a brief discussion on the board’s stated goal of engaging in professional development to increase trust among board members. She reported that she had priced out facilitation from the Michigan Association of School Boards. It would cost roughly $3,000 per month for as many months as trustees wanted to work on this issue, she said.

Thomas said he would not support pursuing that kind of professional development for three reasons: (1) time would be better spent on interacting with the community about budget issues; (2) this is not a good use of limited funds; and (3) he is not convinced such work would have a significant positive effect on board interactions.

Stead, Nelson, and Patalan agreed with Thomas. Baskett and Lightfoot disagreed. Baskett suggested that as the board embarks on budgeting, it will do a better job if there’s trust among the board members. Although Lightfoot felt challenged by the cost, the issue was “beyond a top priority” for her, and she wished the board could find a lower-cost alternative. Mexicotte said that the cost pays for neutrality – and without the cost, it was more difficult for her to see how to work on the trust issue.

Thomas said that the trustees are who they are, and reiterated that facilitated discussions would not likely lead to any changes in their interactions. Lightfoot countered that she was more hopeful about the possible effect of facilitated discussions, and said she still found lack of trust to be a barrier to maximizing board effectiveness. “We’ll do the work,” she said, “but under what challenges, conditions, frustrations?”

Patalan felt that the community engagement the board is starting during this budgeting cycle could manifest itself in helpful ways.

Nelson said that “sometimes the best plan is to have important work to do together.” Just doing the work of the board could improve board relations, he felt, rather than “sitting around and talking about it in the abstract.” Stead said she has seen progress in small groups of trustees working on issues, and agreed with Nelson, calling a facilitated discussion to build trust a “forced situation.” Baskett cautioned that she did not think trust would be built naturally, and that although “people like to diminish it … the touchy-feely stuff is really important.”

Mexicotte closed the discussion, confirming that the majority of board members sounded like they want to set aside the possibility of a facilitated discussion for now. “I will continue to think about how we can do this in a cost-neutral way,” Mexicotte said, “and in the meantime, we can see what happens as we continue to work with each other organically.”

Agenda Planning

Mexicotte noted that the board’s January meeting will be the annual organizational meeting, during which the board will vote on officer positions, and can discuss changes to the organization of meetings or board committees. She also announced her desire to serve as board president again; and she invited any other trustees interested in the position to approach her for a collegial conversation.

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. [Check Chronicle event listings to verify time and place.]

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AAPS Board Lambastes Education Legislation Mon, 10 Dec 2012 12:55:17 +0000 Jennifer Coffman 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.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

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]

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AAPS Board Starts 2013-14 Budget Discussion Mon, 12 Nov 2012 14:18:40 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education’s Nov. 7 meeting contained significant discussion of the district’s finances, straddling three fiscal years – past, present, and future.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen.

Before receiving an “unqualified opinion” on the district’s 2011-12 audit and reviewing the first quarter financials from 2012-13, the board took a first pass at framing the discussion surrounding the development of the district’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year – a step the board has not typically taken as early as November.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the renaming of two facilities at Pioneer High School – the tennis courts and the planetarium. The tennis courts are being renamed for long-time tennis coach Tom “Brick” Pullen. And the planetarium is being co-named in regnition of a $100,000 gift from the IMRA America company.

The board also recognized Huron High School cross-country runner Allie Cell, for an extraordinary display of sportsmanship during a recent meet. 

Budget Discussion

Saying that November had been set as the target time for beginning budget discussions, board president Deb Mexicotte noted that the board had recently received information on budget considerations. The budget would be a main agenda item on next week’s board committee-of-the-whole meeting, she said. Superintendent Patricia Green noted that AAPS administration had taken the lead as requested by the board, and provided a three-year glance at upcoming budgets, saying, “There are big-ticket items that might be painful [to cut] out there. My preference is to try to preserve as much in the classroom as we possibly can. That’s where the very difficult decisions will have to be made down the road.”

Though this item was listed as an information item on the agenda, Mexicotte opened up essentially a free-flowing discussion about what trustees would like to see included in the district’s 2013-14 budget, and what process they would like to follow to set that budget. Trustees offered their thoughts on various aspects of the budget: long-term vision; possible spending cuts and revenue enhancements; political and legislative implications; and the timeline for budget development.

2013-14 Budget: Long-Term Vision

Trustee Christine Stead argued that, after making approximately $70 million of budget reductions from the general fund in the past five years, the district needs to create a longer-term vision for making bigger changes. She said necessary changes could involve large parts of the district and could require two or three years of planning.

Mexicotte said that the district’s transportation working group will make a report to the board in December, and noted that this group represents “one of those long-term planning pieces around sustainability” that will inform the conversation. She suggested that the board may want to consider creating similar working groups around other pieces of the budget that might need similar attention, such as redistricting. “It’s like trying to think about what those big items are, not that we will necessarily do anything with them, but we need to know what those could mean.”

Mexicotte also noted that the district is moving to a zero-based budgeting (ZBB) system. Green added that ZBB is a complex process involving linkages between all departments, including finance, instruction, operations, and human resources, and the reworking of existing budget items into line-by-line templates. She noted that the organizational shift to ZBB is a long-term process, and that it will not impact the 2013-14 budget.  But ZBB will be in place for the development of the 2014-15 budget.

2013-14 Budget: Possible Cuts/New Revenue

Trustee Irene Patalan said her “guiding light” is to keeps cuts away from the classroom, and that she is very interested in keeping the community in the conversation.

Trustee Andy Thomas said the budget reductions required to pass a balanced budget next year could range from $8 million to $20 million – and any way you look at it, it’s a big number. He reminded the public that the district used $4.5 million of fund equity last year to stave off deeper cuts. But it’s extremely unlikely the district would be able to do that again, he said. Thomas suggested looking at renegotiating employee contracts; reducing or eliminating transportation; closing buildings; enhancing marketing efforts; and revisiting the School of Choice option to determine net gain in enrollment.

Later in the meeting, during items from the board, Stead added that the WISD transportation review committee had also just met, and had enumerated the savings AAPS had gleaned from participating in the WISD transportation consortium. She reported that it was suggested at the review committee meeting that other districts may now be interested in joining the consortium, if the WISD continued to offer transportation services.

Mexicotte suggested that the board needs to focus more aggressively on increasing revenue as part of the budget process, giving examples such as: campaigning for a countywide educational enhancement millage in 2014; possibly selling or leasing real estate holdings; and lobbying the legislature to restore local levy authority.

2013-14 Budget: Political and Legislative Implications

Stead pointed out that the district’s 2013-14 budget could be impacted by a multitude of developments at the state and federal level, including the “lame duck” session currently playing out in the Michigan legislature. She is following HB 5923, which if passed “basically says ‘any entity can be a school,’” and said she is concerned that an active lame duck session could cause incremental financial obligations for which AAPS would need to put contingencies in place. Stead also noted that the FY 2014 budget put forth by Gov. Rick Snyder last year did not include a best practices incentive, which netted AAPS $4.4 million in 2012-13.

During items from the board, Stead complimented John Austin, president of the state board of education, for his advocacy against HB 5923 among other efforts, and said it’s been a privilege to work with him. She also noted that she, Green, and Nelson successfully worked with the finance committee of the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) at a recent meeting to add the the list of MASB’s legislative priorities by including the exploration of local levy authority and long-term changes to Proposal A.

As part of the budget discussion, trustee Glenn Nelson said the board should be prepared to pass a resolution as a special briefing item at their upcoming committee-of-the-whole meeting. If the board recommends a position on certain legislative issues, that would provide leadership to the community, so that citizens could contact their legislators quickly. Green stated that AAPS has to “keep an eye on Lansing,” and be willing to “get into vehicles and go to Lansing to be part of the conversations happening rapidly.”

Both Green and AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen expressed concern about the possible reduction in grant funding at the federal level, as the nation approaches the “fiscal cliff” which will cause automatic reductions at significant levels unless a budget compromise is reached before the new year. “There are no sacred cows … We have already seen a reduction in Title I funding that we were not expecting,” Green said. Allen added that in some areas, “no increase” can add up to a decrease, for example with funds that have run out from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Nelson suggested that AAPS should “broaden the scope of its budgeting exercise” to include planning for changes to grant funding at the state and federal level. Usually, the main focus of the budget has been specifically the general fund, but Nelson argued that the board should adopt an approach that looks at a “combined general fund,” which would include grant funding.

Mexicotte indicated that some good might be fund in the prevailing negative climate, and suggested the board discuss contacting the two new state representatives representing portions of Washtenaw County – Gretchen Driskell (District 52) and Adam Zemke (District 55). Later in the meeting during the items from the board section of the agenda, Stead also congratulated the new representatives, saying she thought they would be receptive to working with the district.

Stead asserted that while people talk about keeping cuts out of the classroom, the situation has moved past that as a possible solution. “We need to change our funding situation, period,” she said. “That’s the only thing that will substantially change things. Communities in this state have to have a way to prioritize education in the democracy we think we live in. We will fight for a different answer for Ann Arbor, and we will get a different answer. Our students deserve better and we will get them better.”

2013-14 Budget: Timeline

Whatever decisions are made, Thomas said the district will require lead time and planning. For example, he said, the district had difficulty in the past communicating transportation changes over the summer – when cuts were made too late in the budget cycle. Thomas highlighted his hope that starting budget planning in November would not mean the board would be “arguing about the cuts for eight months rather than three months,” but rather that the decisions will be made earlier to allow for the development of a thoughtful implementation plan.

Mexicotte referred to a comment made by Thomas before the meeting started, saying that Thomas had suggested the budget be framed out by the end of January. At that point it could be brought to the public with answers about what the board plans to adjust or reduce. She suggested the trustees could go review a list of possible budget reductions and decide where they have agreement and what needs more conversation.

For example, Mexicotte said, if the board decides it does not want to touch transportation, transportation reductions would get “moved to the anathema page.” She described such an exercise as “triaging what’s on the list so we start to articulate to the public what our thinking is and how we go about prioritizing our pieces.”

Stead said that taking what the board knows now and going through that process today might not be as useful as doing so in January, when any substantive changes in funding at the state or federal level will have occurred. She asked administration to share any information they have about anticipated changes in revenue or expenses tonight.

2012-13 Fall Grant Awards

Linda Doernte, AAPS director of purchasing, walked the board through a brief review of 2012-13 grants awarded to the district, noting that grants brought in around the same amount of money as last year – roughly $4.8 million. She noted that the Head Start grant has not had any increase for two to three years, which means that rising retirement costs for the employees funded by that grant have been absorbed by the district. She also noted that Title 1 funding decreased by $300,000 because the state has the same amount budgeted for Title I, but charter schools are now requesting funding from that same “pot of money.” Allen added that the “flat grants” are causing decreased funding to other programs as salary and benefit costs rise.

The good news, Doernte said, comes at the local level, with the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) bringing in new grants totaling $115,000, and the Ann Arbor PTO thrift shop offering a total of more than $144,000 for transportation. Of the AAPSEF funding, $7,000 comes from the Greek Orthodox Women’s Philoptochos Society for the purchase of software to help autistic students.

Doertne also noted that the current grant totals do not include the Perkins grant, which will be presented in the spring.

Nelson noted the grassroots commitment evident in these grants, and urged national legislators to rationally resolve the budget crisis and avoid the “fiscal cliff,” as the federal funds represented by the largest of these grants re substantially at risk.

Thomas asked about the number of students served by Title I funding. AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye responded that the number of students who are eligible to receive Title I services has increased, based on the rate of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Thomas said he was upset by the fact that charter schools are partially to blame for there being less Title I money available to serve a growing number of eligible students.

Patalan said that while she knows federal funds are important, she wanted to acknowledge the modest but extremely appreciated grant made to AAPS by the Greek Orthodox women’s group. She suggested even more effort should be made to solicit local funding, saying, “It’s time to look everywhere.”

Stead said she looks forward to Allen being able to deliver the board positive information on the budget someday. Allen replied that nobody is looking more forward to that than he is.

Outcome: The 2012-13 fall grant awards will come back to the board at the next regular meeting for second briefing and approval.

2011-12 Audit Report

The district’s auditors, from Plante Moran, made a formal presentation to the board summarizing the 2011-12 audit results. The auditors noted that a set of audits on various aspects of the district’s finances is required by both state and federal law, and that the district has received an unqualified opinion on all fronts – that is “clean, without exception.” They compared the audits results to having attended class all year, done all the homework, and earning an “A” on the final exam. Noting that not every district receives an unqualified opinion, the auditors encouraged AAPS to take pride in these results.

Audit: Presentation

The auditors reviewed a summary of the highlights of the audit, noting that overall, the expenditures and revenue numbers were very close to what had been budgeted. They noted that the one-time use of the fund balance will need to be replaced as the district moves in to the future, and discussed that several school districts they work with have discussed ways to find new revenue sources. They listed increasing retirement costs, and other budget constraints as challenges, as well as future uncertainties regarding state and federal funding.

Thomas asked if the budget figures in the audit document were the numbers approved in June, 2011 or the numbers after amendments were made throughout the year. Auditors indicated the numbers were the amended figures. [.pdf of AAPS audit for FY 2012]

Audit: Board Discussion

Thomas pointed out that using the original budget – instead of the amended budget – in the audit would not result in a close a match between planned and actual performance. He said he understood why the budget had to be amended during the year, but said it would be much more valuable as a planning tool to know how closely the district had been able to adhere to its original budget. Mexicotte pointed out that that the comment applied more to AAPS administration than to the auditor.

Nelson also questioned where actual budget numbers show up in the audit, and the auditors pointed them out [on page 33]. The audit also shows the numbers as a combined general fund, which includes grants. Nelson contended that showing the general fund as combined with grants for the audit – when the general fund is presented to the public, as part of the district’s budgeting process, as separate from grants – makes the budget less transparent.

Allen responded that the budget book contains the general fund and the athletic fund, and that grants have typically been reported in the fall, as they were that evening. He said there is a good basis for making a grants estimate and including it in the budget book, along with the general and athletics funds, and agreed it would make it easier to “follow the numbers back when they are combined in audit reporting.”

Stead complimented the auditors for a fine job, and agreed with Nelson’s recommendation to administration that grants funding be estimated when setting the budget. “We definitely need to deal with the impact of grant funding shifts next time around. We need to understand this at a deeper level than we ever had before, because there is no room to make a mistake.” Patalan agreed, saying she would like to have administration help the board to understand all the money included.

The auditors said they appreciated the fervor with which the board examines these issues and commended them for making a strategy that allows them to manage better into the future.

Outcome: The audit report will come back to the board at the next regular meeting for second briefing and approval.

First Quarter Financial Report

AAPS director of finance Nancy Hoover briefly presented the financial report from the first quarter, noting that it was being brought to the board earlier than usual, and that it contained no adjustments to revenue or expenditures.

Stead questioned why the adjustments made to fund equity just mentioned in the audit report were not being corrected now, and suggested doing so before any budget numbers are shared with the public going forward.

Allen responded that there are a number of anticipated adjustments for the second quarter. Those included a seven FTE increase in staffing, primarily because of the reclassification of special education teachers – who had been funded with federal dollars – back to the general fund, and three teacher assistants who were hired to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adjustments also included: a decrease in available fund equity; adjustments to the MPSERS retirement rate, which went from 27% to 24%, and then back up to 25%; an 80-count decrease in student enrollment; and an anticipated gain in special education funding.

Thomas said he was alarmed by what sounded like a set of negative adjustments totalling $1.5 million. Allen said some adjustments will be one-time, while others will be ongoing – but that adjustments are not made for non-recurring items. He also pointed out that the reduction in the MPSERS rate is roughly a $2 million positive adjustment, and that the additional special education reimbursement will also be positive.

Nelson reiterated the importance of keeping a comprehensive view of the general fund in mind, and not narrowly defining it. Stead agreed, saying that the board needed to see both a comprehensive view of the budget, including grants funding, but also needed to have the same level of detail as it currently had. Allen said the data can be presented in a format that can reflect both funds – separately, but also together.

Stead reflected on all the financial data presented at the meeting, saying that the net impact was worse than anticipated, even though the district thought it had budgeted conservatively. Saying the district needed an “all hands on deck” effort, she argued, “We need to do everything we can to increase enrollment, and improve our customer service, but also think differently about programs and services and budgeting moving forward.”

Green added that part of what is being developed as part of the ZBB, is the ability to better track spending from year to year within specific line items.

Outcome: The first quarter financial report will come back to the board at the next regular meeting for second briefing and approval.

Renaming of Facilties

The board considered renaming of two facilities at its Nov. 7 meeting, both at Pioneer High School – the tennis courts and the planetarium. Reasons for the naming of facilities were to honor service to the school district and monetary contributions, both of which are possible reasons for naming under the district’s policy. [.pdf of AAPS naming policy]

Renaming: Tennis Courts

The proposal considered for final approval by the board was to name the tennis courts after Tom “Brick” Pullen – who coached the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams at Pioneer High School for more than two decades. The district’s director of communications, Liz Margolis, reminded the trustees that they’d been briefed at the previous meeting on the item. She noted that previously, testimony had been provided that made clear that Pullen meets the extraordinary service criterion of the districts naming policy. She introduced a few additional people.

Sandy Lymburner, whose daughter Courtney Lymburner now plays tennis at the University of California Santa Cruz, was the one who had the idea to name the courts after Pullen, addressed the board. She read aloud part of an essay that Courtney wrote as part of a college application. “Today he [Pullen] is, second only to my parents, a major figure in my life … He taught me my forehand grip, a new serve, but he also taught me how to never give up on my dreams and to persevere.”

District parent Frank Rampton also spoke in support of naming of the tennis courts after Pullen. He told the board he had a who daughter played for Pullen for four years. Tennis had been her first love as a kid – but his own aspirations for her were to follow in her older sister’s footsteps with crew. But when his daughter was in 5th grade she would tell him about this coach would come around and say, Hey, Julia, if you keep out this up you might be on the varsity by the time you’re in 9th grade! The word Rampton gave to describe Pullen was “tireless.” Pullen wasn’t tireless just on the tennis court, but also in his attitude towards the kids – in-season and off-season. He drew a comparison between Pullen and Bo Schembechler – inasmuch as Schembechler was never gone from the players’ lives.  His daughter learned a lot of life lessons from Pullen, and considers him a second father, he concluded.

Trustees took turns offering their own praise of Pullen.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to name the Pioneer tennis courts after Pullen.

Renaming: Planetarium

In her introductory remarks Superintendent Patricia Green noted that the generous gift of $100,000 from IMRA America  had been made through the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation. She stressed that the second briefing was an opportunity to acknowledge the generosity and the appreciation of the district for the gift. The planetarium would have closed eventually, she said, because the cost of keeping it operational was exorbitant.

The district had never expected that one generous donor would come forward. Because of that, the district felt that it deserved recognition of a co-naming of the planetarium. District director of communications Liz Margolis reviewed how the planetarium was originally gifted to the district by the Argus Camera Company back in 1956. The district now looks forward to students in the future also receiving the benefit of the continued existence of the planetarium, she said. The projector system would be upgraded, which would allow expansion of the curriculum.

Executive Vice President of IMRA America Makoto Yoshida and  board president Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation Omari Rush were on hand to deliver some remarks. Yoshida told the board he was grateful to the district for its support in the education of the children of the company’s employees. IMRA is a research company, he noted.  To recruit people to come work for the company, he always emphasizes that Ann Arbor is a really good place to live – because the education system is the best, with a reasonable cost. As a high-tech company, he said, IMRA recognizes the value in encouraging interest in science at an early age. This is where our future scientists are created, he noted. Science and technology is IMRA’s passion, he said, and they would continue funding through through the district’s educational foundation – as long as the company can still make a reasonable profit, he quipped. He called the donation an investment in the future for all of us.

Trustees in turn expressed their appreciation for the gift from IMRA.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approved the co-naming of the Pioneer High School planetarian in recognition of IMRA America’s gift.

Sportsmanship Recognized

Superintendent Patricia Green announced the special recognition. She said it was very important that students be commended for things that they do that are so noteworthy, and selfless in their contribution to others that it rises to the level that it needs to be brought before the public and the board of education.

She invited Huron High School athletic director Dottie Davis to come to the podium to recognize one of the district’s athletes – a student from Huron High School who excelled in making certain that she had given back to others – Allie Cell. She thanked Amy Cell, Allie’s mother, for raising a wonderful daughter and putting the values into her that the district so much appreciated. [Cell is granddaughter of Ingrid Sheldon, former mayor of the city of Ann Arbor, who was on hand for the recognition of Allie's sportsmanship.] Tony Mifsud, coach from the opposing team from Dearborn Divine Child High School was also on hand. Davis describe the athlete from Divine Child whom Cell had helped as having a body type more like that of Davis – like that of a discus thrower.  [Mariah Fuqua, the Divine Child athlete, is accomplished as a discus thrower and shot putter.]

Fuqua, had never run 5K [3.1 miles] in her life, Davis explained. Her coaches prepared her so that in the first couple of weeks of the season she was able to run a mile and then she would stop. The second couple of weeks she was able to run two miles. On that particular day in question, on an up-and-down winding course, Fuqua was about to quit at the halfway mark. Allie had already run the course, and finished the race among the top runners. As she saw Fuqua struggling up a hill, Cell went back and encouraged her and and wound up running step for step with her all the way to the finish line. When they crossed the finish line, Davis reported, “Tears just exploded from everybody’s face.”

Trustees in turn heaped praise on Cell and noted the importance of athletics in education.

Communication and Comment

Board meetings include a number of agenda slots when trustees can highlight issues they feel are important, including “items from the board” and “agenda planning.” 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 this meeting, the board heard from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the AAEA.

Youth senators Xuerui Fa and Seunghyun Lee, both sophomores from Pioneer, asserted that the policy of having “split lunch,” or two lunch periods, should be abolished. They noted that the transfer of students from Pioneer to Skyline has reduced the number of Pioneer students sufficiently to allow for all students to have lunch at one time. Arguments the the two made for one common lunch included: access by students to all teachers during lunch time, and better access to more club and activity meetings, which often occur during lunch hours. Fa and Lee also noted that a large number of students support their recommendation to abolish the split lunch policy.

AAPAC’s Melanie Robault congratulated Mexicotte on her re-election, and noted that the AAPAC was looking forward to working with Mexicotte for years to come. She also thanked the administration for recently presenting information at AAPAC meetings. Robault also invited the public to a free workshop entitled “The Contents of an IEP [individualized education plan],” to be held on Nov. 27 at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District from 7-9 p.m.

The AAEA’s representative reported that she had attended a professional development session at Pioneer High School the previous day during which staff had created lists of things of which they were proud. The representative shared a sampling of the items she had seen on the lists, including: Special Olympics, peer mentoring, guest speakers, peer mediation, revamping of the media center web page, open communication with students, rising AP scores, and participation in the Midwest music conference.

Nelson also spoke as the board liaison to the developing Arab-American Parent Support Group (AAPSG), which he noted was formed approximately one year ago. He invited the public to the first community-wide meeting of the AAPSG, to be held on Sunday, Nov. 11 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. in the third floor meeting room, also called the “free space,” of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Comm/Comm: Superintendent’s Report

Green enumerated recent awards and accolades received by the AAPS community, including: Community high school’s invitation to participate at a statewide conference to share strategies for improving student achievement for all students; the NAACP’s honoring of 112 students at its annual Freedom Fund dinner; Tappan music students’ invitation to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech; and the success of the Dicken Dash, a new PTO fundraiser in which 367 students raised over $15,000 to support field trips and develop an outdoor classroom.

Comm/Comm: Action Items

The board passed a consent agenda containing minutes approvals and gift offers, and also approved a motion to hold an executive session on Dec. 5 for the purpose of negotiations.

Comm/Comm: Items from the Board

Thomas noted he had the privilege of making a number of “great idea” grant awards on behalf of Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation’s (AAPSEF) Karen Thomas Memorial fund, which Thomas founded to honor his late wife. The grant awards were matched with PTO funds and used to purchase Nook e-Readers to promote reading and writing among fifth grader students. Thomas also noted that his monthly coffee would be held next Tues, Nov. 13 at 9a a.m. at the Sweetwaters on Washington.

Nelson reiterated his appreciation for the awards received by the AAPSEF and the PTO thrift store, and also expressed thanks to the Center for Independent Living and the NAACP for the their work in promoting the educational development of young people.

Patalan noted that this meeting highlighted both the successes in the district, and well as the challenges the district faces “with people who are not on the same page with funding public education.”

Mexicotte noted that trustee Susan Baskett was ill and that therefore Nelson would need to attend an upcoming meeting in her place, as was an alternate delegate for that meeting. She also offered encouragement to the boards in Ypsilanti and Willow Run, noting that both of their communities agreed to a consolidation plan and to add an operating millage to support the newly created district. Mexicotte said she wanted to congratulate them on these plans and extended the support of AAPS to help them during the transition. She also noted AAPS may partner with them on a possibly upcoming educational enhancement millage.

Comm/Comm: Re-election of Deb Mexicotte

Also during items from the board, each of the trustees congratulated Mexicotte on her successful bid to remain on the board of education for another term. [Mexicotte received 31,436 (63.19%) votes to 17,758 (35.69%) for Dale Leslie.] Thomas pointed out that Mexicotte had garnered over 31,000 votes, which he believed sets a record for the highest number of votes any AAPS school board member has ever received. Green also expressed congratulations to Mexicotte during her superintendent’s report.

Mexicotte began by acknowledging the passion and interest of her opponent, Dale Leslie, thanking him for putting himself out there to the community and being willing to serve on the board. She then thanked the her fellow board members for their support, and then closed the meeting with a statement acknowledging and thanking the community for their extensive support of AAPS students and of the board of education.

Mexicotte said running for re-election during a fall presidential race was more difficult than in June, noting it was more expensive, a little more partisan, and harder to reach voters. However, she said it was really gratifying and humbling to hear how much the community supports the work of the board. “Even when they disagreed,” she said, “they were still so positive about the district. The community respects our service.” She noted the support of many of the district’s community partners support students in a meaningful way, saying “This community serves our students – they give their time, their money, their volunteerism, their verbal support … Thank you to the community for all they do, and for returning me to do my very small piece.”

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustee Glenn Nelson.

Absent: Trustees Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 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]

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AAPS Retreat Aug. 1: Evaluation, Budgeting Sun, 22 Jul 2012 15:44:01 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting/committee-of-the-whole (July 18, 2012): The AAPS school board met Wednesday to plan its annual retreat, and to take care of a small amount of business. The board will meet on Aug. 1 from 3-9 p.m. at a location yet to be determined – to evaluate its own processes, and set goals for the 2012-13 school year.

In planning for the retreat, the board discussed its support for moving the district to a zero-based budgeting system, a goal of AAPS superintendent Patricia Green. Trustees also suggested discussing student performance measures, as related to both superintendent evaluation and the possible restructuring of teachers’ compensation to include merit pay.

The one item of regular business conducted at the July 18 meeting was to renew the district’s membership in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).

Board chair Deb Mexicotte also confirmed at the meeting that she’ll be seeking re-election in November. Dale Leslie, a former local businessman, has also filed for election to that seat – the only one open this cycle on the seven-member board.

Retreat Planning

Mexicotte opened a discussion on the board’s upcoming retreat, usually held in the summer. She noted that the board has typically met annually to evaluate its effectiveness, set goals for the year, and keep the board and superintendent’s work in alignment. The board goals then become regularly updated items on the board’s agenda over the year, she noted.

Retreat Planning: Agenda

At the July 18 meeting, Mexicotte led the board through a discussion to set the agenda for this year’s retreat. She suggested the board should conduct its annual self-evaluation using a survey tool that has already been distributed to board members. She told her board colleagues that the tool is the same one trustees used at the end of the superintendent search last year. “We should have the results of both surveys in front of us on August 1,” she said, “and we can talk about how this last year has gone.”

Out of the board’s 2011 retreat had come the idea of creating a “committee of the whole” to replace two previous committees consisting of three trustees each.  Those were the planning and performance committees. The board met for the first time as a single committee of the whole on Nov 2, 2011, and voted officially on Nov. 16, 2011 to continue the new committee structure by amending board policy.  The board has been operating with the single committee of the whole since that time.

Mexicotte said she would like the board to discuss the timing of the retreat, and whether an outside consultant should be hired to facilitate it which has been typical in the past. She invited board members to suggest additional topics for discussion at the retreat – beyond the board evaluation and goal-setting pieces already on the agenda.

Retreat Planning: More Topics

Trustees offered a range of additional topics they would like to have discussed at the August 1 retreat: the budget process and financial planning; superintendent evaluation and data management; incentive alignment around student performance [aka "merit pay"]; and their agenda-setting process.

Retreat Planning: Topics – Zero-Based Budgeting

Trustee Andy Thomas suggested that the board should use the retreat as an opportunity to figure out exactly which discussions need to begin in September to get “an earlier jump on the budget process.” He argued that the district gets “too hung up” on getting revenue numbers from the state before proceeding with budget planning. He said that the district knows it will be short at least $12.5 million next year already – $4.5 million of fund equity that was used for the 2012-13 budget, and a built-in structural deficit of at least $8 million.

Trustee Irene Patalan said she is optimistic that the district will weather the legislative challenges coming out of Lansing. But she ventured that it might be an interesting exercise to try to have a working budget for FY 2013-14 in place by the end of December 2012. Mexicotte noted that tension always exists in the timing for crafting the AAPS budget – between waiting for the information to come out of the state’s spring budget conferences versus the putting together the budget ahead of those conferences. She pointed to the risk of needing to retract proposed budget reductions if they end up not being necessary. She added that rebuilding the budget to use zero-based budgeting – one of Green’s goals when she was hired into the district last year – will “change the dynamic” even more.

By way of a simplified overview, zero-based budgeting contrasts with an incremental approach. Taking an incremental approach assumes the previous year’s budgeted expenditures for some activity as a base for evaluating how much to budget for the coming year – and requires evaluation of the change from that base, up or down, for the planned budget. A zero-based approach takes zero as the reference point, not what has been budgeted historically.

Green said she has known of “compliance budgets” in districts that are required to pass a budget by the end of the calendar year, but said that such budgets were “basically bogus … because they had to include everything but the kitchen sink.” Regarding zero-based budgeting, Green said it will take most of the year for AAPS to plan for it, and stated, “It’s not as easy as you think.”

Green contended that zero-based budgeting will give the district much better control of its resources. She estimated that AAPS could save $2 million this year just by implementing this method. Calling the process a “cultural shift,” Green said that zero-based budgeting must be strategic, and requires the use of technology. It also requires maintaining the same line-items year to year – not adding, deleting, or changing them – in order to better track actual spending. She added that zero-based budgeting allows the comparison of “actuals to actuals” not “budgeted to budgeted,” and significantly cuts down on transfers from accounts. Trustee Christine Stead added that the new process will also cause building administrators to shift from asking “What have I budgeted?” to “What do I need to run this building?”

There was some discussion of the appropriate timing of implementing zero-based budgeting. Trustees generally expressed their interest in Green taking her time to get it right. But they acknowledged that the savings Green predicts would be welcome as soon as possible. Thomas said, “This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time – if you can come up with a column labeled “actual,” I would be so happy.”

Trustee Glenn Nelson pointed out that the board does review the actual spending via the annual audit, but Thomas countered that the audit comes out too late to be useful to budget planning and said the board should review actual spending at least quarterly. Green said that she gets a monthly report called the “recapitulation, or ‘recap’” that does just that. She noted that variances begin to become apparent around January.

Stead argued for increasing the scale of the financial planning the district does. She would like to see a three-year view – to be better positioned if the pattern of state cuts over the past five years continues. Nelson said if the district gets “ahead of data,” it will affect the quality of decisions. “It’s like deciding today whether or not you will take an umbrella with you next Tuesday,” he said. Stead responded by saying that Nelson’s illustration was not a good comparison. On an individual level, she said, the kind of planning for which she is advocating would not answer the question, “Will I need an umbrella on Tuesday?” but “How do I position myself to be able to buy a house?”

Nelson said that any long-term planning should include a review of the district goals in the strategic plan, the achievement gap elimination plan, and the discipline gap elimination plan. Trustee Simone Ligthfoot noted that the district transportation committee has begun meeting, and that it is using a three-year timeframe for planning, so that AAPS planning three years out would be helpful to the charge of that committee.

Stead said she is not interested in staff bringing the board a list of proposed FY 2013-14 cuts in December, but that she would like to see a working committee with board and staff take a long-term view to restructure the district so it continues to be financially sustainable within the macro trends that are anticipated.

Retreat Planning: Topics – Superintendent, Student Evaluation

Stead suggested that the board should use the retreat to nail down which student performance measures should be used to inform the superintendent’s evaluation. The state now requires student academic growth to be a factor in the evaluation of all education professionals, including administrators. Stead explained that the board needs to decide which student performance measures to “roll up” to the level of the superintendent for evaluation purposes – individual student test scores, scores by building, by teacher, or by other aggregate measures, for example.

Green added that the state has not come to consensus about which measures of student growth would prove most effective in evaluating superintendents. Stead agreed there is flexibility in the choice of scores. Stead suggested that the board identify four or five measures to “roll up” this year, and then have a touchpoint in the middle of the year to see which measures make the most sense. Mexicotte felt the student growth data should include Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores.

Nelson suggested that the issue of performance measures goes beyond those used in the superintendent evaluation. He reminded the board of the questions that surfaced when it was considering restructuring Roberto Clemente Student Development Center earlier this year. “This is a big, substantive piece,” Nelson said, “We need to have consensus on what we are measuring.” He added that student performance should inform the “personalized learning plans” (PLPs) touted in the district’s strategic plan. Thomas later asserted that the board should decide whether PLPs were something the district could realistically achieve.

Green explained that the MEAP does not measure student growth; however, the recently-implemented Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA’s) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment does measure growth. Green called the NWEA assessment “extremely critical” and pointed out how the assessment can measure the change in cohorts of students over time. In contrast, Green said, the MEAP cut scores have shifted and changed. She also responded to board members’ concerns about the PLPs, saying that the PLPs will “kick in” as the district’s technology becomes fully developed.

The district has already committed to some data collection and management processes to meet requirements on inclusion of student growth data in performance evaluations. And several board members expressed concern about the district’s capacity to expand those processes even further. Thomas questioned what resources AAPS really needs to get what it wants from its data. Green noted that she would like a stronger linkage to exist between the student accounting and information technology departments – but said that “the manpower is just not there.”

Stead and Lightfoot suggested that AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld and AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen be present at the retreat. Green added that AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye should also be included.

Retreat Planning: Topics – Merit Pay

Stead also suggested that the retreat include a board discussion on incentive alignment around student performance. She said AAPS should be able to reward teachers who are positively impacting student growth, and noted the parallels to private industry and recent tenure reform legislation. Stead argued that AAPS should encourage a culture in which high performers are rewarded, and in which “teachers want to be really effective, not just avoid being fired.”

Mexicotte said that the board has not developed any strategy regarding merit pay, and noted that in past discussions, board opinion on the issue has been mixed. She also referred to negative feedback the board has received for the amount paid to current administrators. Mexicotte also noted “it’s a political thing” to reward anyone in this difficult financial climate.

Stead clarified that the net amount of money paid to teachers does not have to change, but that it could be redistributed. “We have demonstrated as a board that it’s important to reward high performers and leaders,” she said.

Patalan said that she’s observed that if the culture focuses on excellence, it encourages everyone to “rise to the level of those who are doing top-notch work.”

Green suggested that rewards also do not have to be monetary, and that gifted educators want to do well.

Mexicotte said that incentives about student performance should focus on quality not quantity. Lightfoot added that the retreat is an opportunity for the board to re-affirm core commitments – on this and other value-laden items, such as recruiting historically-underutilized businesses to bid on capital improvement projects.

Retreat Planning: Topics – Agenda Setting Process

Nelson suggested that the board reconsider how agenda items are prioritized. Mexicotte said that the board could consider creating a rubric to determine a proposed agenda item’s placement. The rubric, she said, could include staff and board capacity, time for development, consistency with the strategic plan, etc. She quipped that she and Green, who are tasked with agenda setting as part of the new board committee structure, could also just “throw darts” to decide what gets on the agenda.

Nelson said he feels the board has lost a sense of high-priority things over the past 18-24 months, and that by March each of year, there  have still been 30 items to get through on that year’s agenda.

Mexicotte said that if the retreat works, the board should come out of it with a list of priority issues against which to judge new items.

Green argued that administration and board capacity must be linked. She cautioned against just being a “good” district by keeping staff and board member energy a mile wide and not very deep. Green said that she would like to see a cycle developed for bringing administrative reports to the board. The recommendations in those reports would be used as benchmarks against new priorities the following year. As examples, Green said there should be a regular review of curriculum, and an update for the board on all-day kindergarten.

Mexicotte said she heard Nelson’s comment as a request that that board try to discipline itself a little more. She added that the last two years have been a time of rebuilding and adjustment. Some of the board members who have been serving a long time have been frustrated by newer board members who have wanted their concerns addressed immediately, she said. Longer-serving board members, she continued, “have been wanting things for ten years.” Thomas noted that there is only one board seat up for election this November, which means that the board will remain relatively stable, and should be able to maintain such discipline. [The open seat is Mexicotte's and she's seeking re-election.]

Lightfoot said she likes the idea of a regular administrative reporting cycle, as long as room is left on the agenda for things that are not currently on the radar. “We don’t want to stifle [innovative] ideas coming out of the box,” she said.

Mexicotte said that being more structured about what is on the agenda will be helpful, and allow the board to actually be able to pay attention to unexpected items.

Retreat Planning: Logistics

Mexicotte asked board members about the work remaining on the summer agenda, and the board agreed to cancel its July 25 meeting. She then suggested that incentive alignment around student performance might be too big of an issue for the retreat, and that perhaps it should be the topic of the September committee-of-the-whole meeting.

She requested that board members weigh in about whether to have a facilitator at the retreat, and received comments pro and con, with several trustees saying they did not have a strong opinion.

Pros included: Mexicotte could participate in the retreat more easily if she were not facilitating the discussion; the retreats have usually had outside facilitation; and getting an outside perspective on board functioning can be helpful. Cons included: an outside facilitator costs money; the current board has been together long enough that it doesn’t need a facilitator; and there is no specific role the board needs a facilitator to play at this time.

Lightfoot asked how much a facilitator would cost. Mexicotte estimated it could be from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on who it is. Nelson suggested hiring a facilitator only for the board evaluation section of the retreat, but not for the goal-setting portion.

Trustees expressed general agreement on the idea of starting the retreat earlier in the day. After checking specific schedules for August 1, they agreed that they would begin meeting at 3 p.m., work through dinner around 5:30 p.m., and then continue meeting until roughly 9:00 p.m. Mexicotte also noted that some portion of that time would also be devoted to holding a short regular board meeting to handle some small items of business.

Mexicotte said she would work with board secretary Amy Osinksi to find a facilitator and to secure a location for the board to meet on August 1, beginning at 3:00 p.m.

Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Renewal

The one item of regular meeting business conducted at the July 18 meeting was to renew the district’s membership in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA). AAPS superintendent Patricia Green briefly introduced the item. She explained that MHSAA membership is necessary for AAPS high school athletes to compete in statewide tournaments, and noted that no cost is associated with it. She also noted that MHSAA membership requires adherence to a broad range of rules for all schools to follow, and that annual renewal is required.

Lightfoot asked if the MHSAA was the only organization of its type, and Green said it was. Stead added that every state has something like it.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked if this item could be placed on the board’s agenda earlier in the year – because it occurs annually. Osinski said it was her fault the item had not been placed on the agenda sooner, and that it will come sooner in the future.

Outcome: The renewal of the district’s membership in the MHSAA was approved unanimously.

Agenda Planning

The board generally sets its meeting dates and other calendar items at its annual organizational meeting, typically held in January of each year, which is also when any new board members elected the previous November would be sworn into office and begin to serve. But Mexicotte noted that Osinski had already put together a proposed board calendar for the 2012-13 school year. She ventured that the board could vote on it sooner – because the maximum change to the board’s make-up after the November 2012 election would be one person.

Mexicotte then announced that she has officially decided to run for re-election to the school board this fall, and that she has one challenger  at this point. [Dale Leslie is listed on the Washtenaw County clerk's webpage as a candidate, along with Mexicotte.]

Regarding the early passage of a calendar, Mexicotte noted that Green would like a calendar that covers the school year. Osinski distributed a draft calendar for the 2012-13 school year and pointed out that she had tried not to schedule any meetings on holidays. She noted that in the past some meetings have conflicted with Rosh Hashanah   and Yom Kippur.

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, August 15, 2012, at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

This is the final AAPS board meeting report to be filed by Jennifer Coffman. She has covered AAPS board meetings and AAPS-related topics since January 2010. In that time, she’s written 83 reports. This fall she’ll be returning to a full-time teaching position in a neighboring school district. Monet Tiedemann will continue The Chronicle’s coverage of AAPS starting in August. 

The Chronicle could not pay free-lance writers like Coffman and Tiedemann to cover public bodies like the Ann Arbor Public School Board without regular voluntary subscriptions. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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AAPS Board Praises Superintendent Thu, 28 Jun 2012 16:35:40 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (June 27, 2012): After recessing to a five-hour closed session to conduct its first formal evaluation of AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, the board reconvened its regular meeting and unanimously voted to release a statement summarizing Green’s successes as she completes her first year with the district.

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green.

The board’s evaluation was uniformly positive, and counted among her successes the filling of vacant cabinet positions, dealing with funding cuts, helping to get the technology millage passed, and developing a strategy to address the “achievement gap.”

Green’s evaluation had included input from a set of roughly 70 community members suggested by board trustees. See previous coverage by The Chronicle on the evaluation’s structure and process: ”AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation.”

Green joined the district July 1, 2011, and is working under a five-year contract.

Also at their meeting, the board heard public commentary on two topics: second grade class sizes at Lawton elementary; and teacher release time used to support Skyline’s theatre program.

Superintendent Evaluation

When the board emerged from its closed session, board president Deb Mexicotte stated simply, “We have completed our work and we have a statement.” Board vice-president Christine Stead moved that the statement be accepted by the board, and read it aloud:

Dr. Patricia Green joined the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) as Superintendent at the start of the academic year 2011-2012. Upon Dr. Green’s arrival, there were several open positions in the Executive Cabinet and direct reports thereof; creating both a challenge and an opportunity for Dr. Green to bring in new talent and leadership as part of her first year with the AAPS. Dr. Green has demonstrated excellent judgment in her ability to attract and retain a very capable leadership team for the AAPS.

At the same time, Dr. Green was faced with the second year of the most drastic cuts in education funding that the AAPS has experienced. The funding crisis established by the state exacerbated an already difficult decade of declining funds for the AAPS. Dr. Green demonstrated an ability to make recommendations to the Board that allowed the AAPS to preserve our core educational mission while addressing significant funding issues. Dr. Green was also successful in breathing new life and accountability into our systems, policies and procedures; using our strategic plan as a guidepost.

Dr. Green was personally and significantly involved in the successful passage of the Technology Millage from early due diligence to providing advocacy to our community on the district’s behalf. Dr. Green reinvigorated efforts to address the AAPS achievement gap, including a substantive effort on the role that discipline and behavior play in addressing this issue. Dr. Green has engaged in significant change management activities throughout her first year; an area of great interest to the Board.

We appreciate Dr. Green’s extensive work with groups within the community in her first year, and we support and endorse her continued commitment to visible leadership throughout the district in the future. These accomplishments are highlights, among many, from her first year of service.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education looks forward to continuing to work with Dr. Green in advancing the success of the AAPS for all students in the years to come and congratulates her on a very successful first year in the AAPS in a very challenging environment.

Trustee Irene Patalan seconded the statement, and it was approved unanimously by the board.

Trustee Glenn Nelson then added that that during its discussion, the board had also thanked Stead for her efforts to coordinate the evaluation, and for leading the board through the process. “Managing this process is not a simple thing, and she did it well,” Nelson said. [That process included surveying about 70 community members: .pdf of survey form contents]

Green then thanked the board for the “tremendous support” she felt from them throughout the school year, and said she looks forward to a “very close affiliation in the future.”

Public Commentary and Board Clarification

Under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, closed sessions must be conducted in the context of an open meeting, which must include an opportunity for members of the public to address the public body. Two topics were addressed at public commentary at the June 27 meeting:  second grade class sizes at Lawton elementary; and teacher release time used to support Skyline’s theatre program. The board chose to respond to constituents regarding both matters at this meeting, as described below.

Public Comment: Lawton’s Second Grade Class Size

Anne Ristich, a parent of two second graders at Lawton, addressed the board. She argued that the increase in class sizes at Lawton is undermining parents’ trust of the district, and threatening students’ success. “If a solitary second grade teacher is expected to maintain a class of 27-32 students on his/her own, the functional system once designed for these students to flourish is now damaged and only exists to be endured,” Ristich said. She shared quotes from a stack of letters written by Lawton parents that asserted the larger class sizes will make students less globally competitive, and prevent them from reaching their full potential as “their eagerness to learn will be replaced with an eagerness to escape the mob.”

Ristich acknowledged that the exact class size numbers for the fall have not yet been determined, but noted that as recently as two years ago,  first and second grade classrooms averaged only 21 to 23 students. She closed by asked the board to reflect on whether these children should be made to endure instead of flourish, and to share their rationale behind setting the class size targets they do. In addition to a set of letters from parents, Ristich gave the board an article from the Michigan Department of Education website supporting the effectiveness of smaller class sizes.

Timothy Wilhelm also addressed the board about the sizes of Lawton’s second grade classes. He said the trend of increasing class sizes is detrimental to children’s education, and noted that research has shown that smaller class sizes have a measurable effect on effective education. Wilhelm said that Lawton parents are asking the board to allocate resources for a third second-grade class to be put in place at Lawton in the fall. He said his numbers indicate there will be roughly 60 students attending second grade at Lawton next year, and that “we think 30 students in a class is too large, and that it is contrary to the district’s goals.”

Wilhelm pointed out that the incoming second graders at Lawton are unusual in that they are a slightly smaller group than the group of incoming third graders above them or the group of incoming first graders below them. He said he knows there are budget cuts, that the information parents have may not be complete or accurate, and that the actual number of teachers may not be allocated until the later in the summer. But, Wilhelm continued, parents are looking for transparency and reassurance that the quality of students’ education is placed first and foremost in decision-making, and said that if approaching the board was not the correct process to use to be heard, to please let him know.

During the clarification section following public comments, Green said the class size numbers are “very fluid” right now and that the “data is still in transit” from individual schools. She said that no decisions have been made yet about the situation, and said that AAPS director of elementary education Dawn Linden has been in touch with Lawton’s principal about the concerns. Green commended the small set of parents present for caring so much about their children. “We feel your pain, and it’s important that you know that,” she said. “We want to be transparent with you … I cannot give you an answer right now.”

Mexicotte added that the best point of contact for parents to follow up on this issue would be their building principal, saying that advocacy regarding class sizes is done through the principal to central administration. Wilhelm said he has questions about the scope of the principal’s authority in the situation, and Mexicotte suggested he direct his questions to Linden.

Stead added that class sizes always fluctuate over the summer, and that the district tries its best to anticipate expected attendance by class and grade level. She said that she has experienced the same questions noted by Lawton parents when her own two AAPS students have been in larger classes. Wilhelm said that as a group, Lawton parents have discussed the options available, such as getting a teacher’s aide or having a split class, and they would love to have that dialogue.

Mexicotte reiterated that such dialogue should be at the school level at this point, and that it was premature, given that numbers are not set yet for the fall.

Another Lawton parent said that she had not signed up to speak but wanted to add that class sizes having seemed to creep up every year, and that parents do not want this to go on every year until fifth grade. “That’s why we’re here,” she said.

Mexicotte responded that the board also feels class sizes should be low, and pointed out that no cuts to teaching positions were made as part of the 2012-13 budget. “We are trying to hold the line,” she said.

Public Comment: Teacher Release Time, Skyline Theatre

Skyline student Seth Bear spoke to the board about the release time of Ann Marie Roberts, Skyline’s performing arts teacher and theater director. Bear noted that he was speaking on behalf of a group of Skyline students who were attending the meeting, all wearing light blue “SAVE SKYLINE THEATRE” T-shirts.

Skyline High School student Seth Bear addressed the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees at their June 27, 2012 meeting.

Skyline High School student Seth Bear addressed the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees at their June 27, 2012 meeting.

He explained that Roberts uses her two prep hours to work on various components for Skyline theater productions that take place after school. However, in this coming year the district does not want to allow Roberts to have the second prep, but instead will assign her to teach another class during that time. Bear argued that taking this second prep away from Roberts would jeopardize the theater program, and cause students to lose “the most important part of our lives.”

Bear then read a list of awards and accolades received by the Skyline theater program and some of its individual students, including high academic achievement. He also shared quotes from some of the students in the theater program who said that being in theater has: led to other good experiences; been their passion; helped them to grow as human beings; and shown them what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves.

During clarification on public comment, Green said she had been baffled when she had received e-mails about what Bear had just described, and said that she is still trying to get to the bottom of it. The best she can say right now, she said, is that there is a contract with the teachers’ union that covers release time and that the decisions about release time are made at the building level.

Green added that the teachers’ union contract gives school principals discretion about how to allocate 70 days of release time among all department chairs, and that Roberts is the department chair for arts, music, and theater. She told the students that Skyline principal Sulura Jackson was the person to whom they should address their concerns.

Bear said that it was his understanding that Jackson no longer had the authority to grant Roberts the second prep period. Green said she does not have all the details, and that Jackson and other Skyline administrators are all currently unreachable as they are away at a conference. Green also pointed out that a memorandum of understanding between the teachers’ union and the district states the release time granted in the past is being phased out, and replaced with the 70 days of time to be used at the principal’s discretion.

Baskett asked how much release time was given to all high schools this year, and Green said she did not know. Baskett asked the students if they had spoken to Roberts and Jackson, and they said they had. Then Baskett clarified with the students that they had come to the board because they were under the impression that Jackson is no longer in charge of the decision.

Bear thanked the board for taking the issue seriously, and said “We are not done fighting …We did not come here trying to attack anybody. We are just trying to defend what we love.” Mexicotte responded that both of her degrees are in theater, so she is very sympathetic, but that the outcome will depend on what the contract actually says.

Bear asked if the board could keep the students updated via e-mail about how the situation is resolved, and Mexicotte said she would. She asked Bear to send the board an e-mail with a person the board could use as a point of contact. Green added that a lot of people are going to be away on vacation for the next several weeks, so if the students don’t hear from the board right away, “don’t think we forgot about you.”

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, July 25, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. in fourth-floor conference room of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

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 encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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AAPS Board Passes 2012-13 Budget Thu, 21 Jun 2012 02:07:31 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (June 13, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education passed a $188.96 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, which begins July 1.

AAPS school board at its June 15, 2012 meeting.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools board at its June 15, 2012 meeting.

That budget reflects roughly $4 million in spending cuts compared to last year’s budget, and reflects the elimination or restructuring of some transportation services, a reduction in the budget for substitute teachers, and the consolidation of high school summer school programs.

The approved budget also calls for using $6.54 million, or about one-third, of the district’s current fund equity, which caused trustee Christine Stead to cast her vote against the budget. Stead expressed strong concern that the budget neither allows for incremental expenditure shifts, nor sets the district up for successfully weathering the 2013-14 budget cycle and beyond. “I want us to use our past year’s experience as a data point,” she said, “… [T]o act like we are, with the information we have, is difficult for me to support.”

The June 13 meeting also saw the approval of three special briefing items – a renewal of the district’s food service contract with Chartwells, a resolution to upgrade human resources and finance software, and a set of policy revisions. Special briefing items are reviewed and voted on by the board in a single meeting instead of being entertained as first and second briefing items at two consecutive regular meetings.

Finally, the board approved the contract of Robyne Thompson as the new assistant superintendent of secondary education, and extended the contract held with AFSCME Local 1182, which primarily represents custodians and maintenance workers in the district.

2012-13 Budget

The formal adoption of the 2012-13 budget  was the main item on the board’s agenda.

Budget: Public Commentary

There were eight speakers during public commentary. Seven spoke about the district’s current plan to keep Roberto Clemente Student Development Center open for the next year, but to evaluate its effectiveness (as the board had previously weighed the option of consolidating or closing alternative high schools, including Clemente) and one spoke about busing reductions at Bryant and Pattengill.

Barbara Malcolm asked: “How do we citizens hold the school board accountable?” She argued that the board is “allowing those with no vested interest in this community come in and make you appear incompetent.” She called the arrogance displayed by the school board deplorable and questioned whether the board was so disconnected that it does not know what is going on in the community. “We have to get those who are not truly concerned about education for all students out of here,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm pointed out that the cost savings for closing the Clemente summer school might be lower than hoped – given that Clemente summer school staff members were hired by the district-wide summer school program at Pioneer High School instead of absorbing the Clemente students into the district-wide program without any adding additional staff.  She also noted that the board still has to pay for busing to the program. She also contended that a partnership with Ypsilanti has led Clemente to add $150,000 in revenues to the district, which the AAPS board has not acknowledged, she said. Malcolm noted that Green had attended the recent African-American festival, saying, “We are happy you came…, but don’t just come for the fun stuff – that’s a slap in the face.” Finally, she asserted that it seems like some board members are supporting personal agendas in their board work.

Clemente parent Kathleen Ardon disputed a contention that there had not been an evaluation done of Clemente earlier, saying an evaluation had been done under former AAPS superintendent Richard Benjamin in the 1980s, and the program had been deemed exemplary. Ardon said it bothers her that the board does not want to consider the GPA of Clemente students as a measure of success, and also noted Clemente was not “given credit” the money it brings in by enrolling students from Ypsilanti. She thanked the board for waiting to restructure Clemente, but said it was too little too late, and contended that the board has alienated Clemente principal Ben Edmondson.

Clemente graduate Nicholas Morton said he will be proud to come back to talk to the students at Clemente after attending college. He recited the Clemente creed, and noted how Edmondson holds all students to his high expectations. “There is a school for everyone, Morton argued, and [Clemente] is the school for us.”

Charlae Davis said she sat and cringed at the last board meeting when the Clemente summer school was presented as an orientation program. She said the program is 110% academically rigorous, and addresses what scholars say will diminish the achievement gap. As an educator, Davis said, she does not understand why the summer school program would be consolidated with the district-wide summer school at Pioneer. She called it a “lose-lose” situation for students who have to choose between attending summer school at Pioneer or not attending at all.

Like others, Davis noted that Clemente brings in over $150,000 in School of Choice revenue from Ypsilanti students, and questioned why that was not included in the cost savings calculations. Davis continued, saying that, “…power, oppression, intimidation, and professional bullying have no place in the school board, or superintendent’s cabinet. Please stop trying to push your own agendas – you have already received your education.”

Tia Jones said she is truly bothered that Clemente does not have a summer school program for the first time since 1974. It is not orientation, she said, but a “home” for students over the summer. “We want to be with our family and not with some strangers,” Jones asserted.

Jeanne Rivers, daughter of former U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Rivers and Clemente graduate from 1998, noted that she actually graduated early because of the summer school program at Clemente. She said it’s sad that Clemente could be closed. “We [in Ann Arbor] claim we’re not racist,” Rivers said. “I just don’t see how we are going to succeed as a city if we allow this one little school to just be dismissed and dismembered,” noting that Clemente students are not welcome in the comprehensive high schools. “Please don’t take this away from these kids,” she urged the board. “This is some of these kids’ only chance.”

Monique Hardeman urged the board to remember that we were all children at one time, and pointed out that different children have different needs. She noted that AAPS has had three alternative high schools for her whole life—A2Tech (formerly Stone School), Community, and Clemente, and that they are all part of the Ann Arbor community, and serve different groups of students. She pointed out that Clemente is not just a school for African-Americans, but that she has noticed students of many different cultures there. “Everybody there is loving and getting along well,” Hardeman said. “Before you cut any school, think about how it will affect those children.”

Patty Kracht addressed the board regarding busing changes at Bryant and Pattengill. She noted that the board has said Bryant-Pattengill parents have requested this change, but in fact, parents feel “like we have been steamrolled with this plan.” She noted that the combination of routes between the two schools will cause some of the district’s youngest students to be on a bus for 45-50 minutes at the end of the day. Two hundred four to seven-year-olds at Bryant will be “corralled in a gym” for 18 minutes before school with only two to four teaching assistants looking after them, Kracht pointed out. She added that she was disheartened by her experience on the newly formed committee on this issue, and that it was obvious that parents’ ideas and information would be dismissed.

Superintendent Patricia Green introduced the second and final briefing of the 2012-13 budget proposal by saying that the creation of the budget had been a long process, and that the administration knew it was going to be a very difficult cycle. The budget reductions that are part of the proposal are designed to keep the cuts out of classroom as much as possible, Green said, but she acknowledged the “great losses” experienced by the AAPS community as the district goes through its sixth year of significant budget reductions. “There is not a person who works for this school district who feels good about what we are about to request this evening, but we still need to be responsible in this decision-making,” she said.

Budget: Base Expenditure and Revenue Projections

Deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen reported that since the board’s May 23, 2012 meeting, he had made a $1 million adjustment to projected base expenditures based on additional cost savings from the district’s self-insured portion of health insurance offerings. Allen explained that fewer employees are now on the self-insured plan, so the risk is lower than in past years. He pointed out that this will mean the 2012-13 budget as presented will use $6 million of fund equity, not the $7 million discussed at the previous meeting.

Trustee Glenn Nelson said he is very pleased with the hard work that led to the $1 million savings in health care, but questioned the district’s assumptions about the amount AAPS would receive from the state’s School Aid Fund now that the state had passed the 2012-13 school aid bill. Nelson said that if the house fiscal agency is correct, AAPS will receive $700,000 less than the district projected.

Allen responded that based on the latest information, the MPSERS (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System) offset will be $2.2 million, the best practices incentive will be $900,000, the performance incentive dropped to $700,000, and School of Choice revenue stayed constant at $1.2 million. He agreed with Nelson’s assessment that the district will receive less in school aid than anticipated, but said he did not adjust the budget to reflect that because of other factors that could affect the budget positively, such as the state’s proposed retirement reform legislation, and the excess TIF capture by the Scio Township Downtown Development Authority (DDA). [The Ann Arbor DDA does not capture any of the AAPS millage; however the Scio DDA does. And each year, the Scio DDA returns to taxing jurisdictions – like the AAPS – whatever amount it does not use in the service of its TIF plan.]

Stead added that the MPSERS rate will likely increase, but Allen pointed out that some versions of the retirement reform legislation cap the rate, and would the state picking up the remainder of the cost.

The bulk of the board’s discussion on the budget centered on the use of the $1 million base adjustment made by Allen since the first briefing, and the public hearing on the budget, held at the board’s May 23 meeting.

Budget: Use of the $1 Million Base Adjustment

Thomas suggested revisiting the cuts to four FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) in counseling staff. As of the first briefing on the budget, Thomas pointed out, the board was prepared to spend $7 million in fund equity, but now must tap the fund reserves for $6 million. He asked Green what her priority would be if she had a magic wand, and could resurrect one item from being cut.

Green responded that if there were additional funds available, she would assign the highest priority to three items: counseling staff; the departmental budgets; and the school improvement funds. She noted that these three items directly impact the work on social and emotional learning that she is spearheading in the district.

Nelson, Lightfoot, and Patalan supported Thomas’ suggestion to restore the counseling positions.

Nelson argued that there was urgency to restoring funding for the counseling positions due to the timing of the hiring process. Green agreed, but said that while she stands by her administration’s budget recommendation, she also feel strongly about the role of counselors as critical to the work of the district going forward. Nelson also suggested that if the board agreed to renew more funding than the amount needed for the counseling positions, the administration could split it between reinstating the departmental budgets which are used to deliver professional development and giving money back to the school improvement teams.

Lightfoot said she was amenable to reconsidering the counseling cuts, and that she had several concerns, including how the placement of the remaining counselors would be made by human resources, and how the counseling reductions would impact the neediest students.

Patalan said restoring the school improvement team funding resonated with her, and that the departmental budgets are used to improve what goes on in the classroom for kids. Counseling also affects large numbers of students, she said, and is really very important. Patalan said that while she is nervous about the future of state funding, she is supportive and appreciative of the hard work that Green and her administration have done, and that she is “intrigued” by the possibility of using some of the “found chunk of money” to restore Green’s priority items, and saving some of it. She pointed out that three weeks ago, the board was ready to spend all of this money out of fund equity.

Stead said this discussion made her think of the budgeting experience the district had last year, when not all of the approved reductions could be implemented. She expected the district to face the same situation this year. She said budgeting was not a “perfect science,” but expressed concern that the board was not allowing for some opportunity to experience incremental increased costs. She pointed out that AAPS will not likely be adding much to fund equity in coming years, school aid fund revenue could decrease, fund equity needs to be maintained to manage summer payroll, and special education funding is expected to decrease by almost $3 million.

Stead encouraged the public to “employ common sense” when reading about the district’s budget, and noted that “one of the things [she] saw in anonymous comments on a local media site” is an argument that AAPS is projecting a 5% revenue increase. She pointed out that, in fact, revenue is projected to decrease, and added that the district’s per-pupil funding would be more than $12,000 per student if it had kept up with inflation. [The district’s current per-pupil allocation is $9,020.] Stead said she would be inclined to support putting anything back on the table if the district were in a different situation. “I want us to use our past year’s experience as a data point,” she said, “…[T]o act like we are, with the information we have, is difficult for me to support.”

Mexicotte took issue with the use of the term “found money,” which she said “makes it sound like it fell out of the sky.” She argued that it was due to the conservative work of AAPS administration that it was not included at first, and said that adjustments are to be expected. “What we think will work best, not what we want to do, is here on the table,” she said.

Referring to public commentary made at the beginning of the meeting which argued that board members were motivated by personal agendas, Mexicotte also asserted that “there are no personal agenda around these budget items. The agenda is to try to maintain public education in Ann Arbor. We disagree on how to get there… The only thing that is personal is how painful it is.”

Mexicotte said she agreed that the board has to look forward, but argued that putting some money back into the budget will “neither save us nor doom us,” but may allow some of the critical changes proposed by Green to “see some momentum.” Mexicotte later proposed a friendly amendment which restored $500,000 of funding for use by Green to fund some portion of her priority items – counseling staff, departmental budgets, and school improvement team budgets – at Green’s discretion.

Intermediate outcome: The board accepted Mexicotte’s amendment as “friendly” – that is, without requiring a separate vote on the amendment – to restore $500,000 of funding for Green’s priority items. That resulted in a planned use of $6.5 million from the fund balance reserve, instead of $6 million as the budget was previously briefed.

Budget: 4 p.m. Middle School Busing

Nelson asked for an update on the current status of the late bus serving the district’s five middle schools. Green said the budget still includes a reduction to eliminate those buses, but that the district has asked two organizations to help with funding them. At this time, Green said, the PTO Thrift Shop has agreed to pay for half of the cost to keep those buses running, and the AAPS educational foundation (AAPSEF) has been approached to ask if they would consider funding the othe half.

Patalan said that she is absolutely grateful that the PTO thrift shop and the AAPSEF might be able to help with middle school busing costs, and said it speaks to the “fabulous community we are all a part of.” Green added that she, along with Nelson, sits on the board of the AAPSEF, and that she would be remiss if she didn’t remind people that the AAPSEF is in the midst of its Million Reasons campaign.

Intermediate outcome: The late bus discussion did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Budget Bryant-Pattengill Busing

Thomas asked for an update on the Bryant-Pattengill busing plan. Green said that combining routes to the two schools will eliminate the need for some runs, and will allow students from the same family to take the same bus. She said the goal was to eliminate as many stops as possible, accepting the fact that adding more students to each bus at the remaining stops means the busses will fill up faster. Green also said that AAPS requested WISD transportation services to do some dry runs to see how the proposed times line up with actual times needed to complete each route. Green reported that the dry run times were within a minute or two of the projected times.

Allen added that the numbers used in the proposal are for current riders, but pointed out that 5-10% of the routes are usually adjusted every year when current ridership numbers are established.

Thomas pointed out that the board’s budget vote does not commit the administration to specific plans for enacting each and every one of the reductions the budget contains, and that the transportation plan may end up different from what has been presented so far.

Intermediate outcome: The discussion of Bryant-Pattengill busing did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Middle School Athletics

Regarding the proposed $37,000 reduction of middle school athletic directors, Allen said that alternative approaches to reaching the same cost savings in middle school athletics are still being considered, but at this time no changes to the proposed reduction have been agreed on. Green added that the proposal crafted by the middle school athletics directors could have “ripple effects” on another group, and that it would need to be fleshed out it more detail to be approved. “There is the beginning of the workings of possibly being close to that,” she said.

Intermediate outcome: The discussion of middle school athletics did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Lightfoot said she was encouraged that staff had been enlisted to help shape the budget, and that she would like to see more of that. Stead said she had faith in the administration that the details would get hammered out. Green responded that she has asked her executive cabinet to develop preliminary action plans for enacting the budget so that those plans are ready to be vetted by the full cabinet as soon as the budget is approved by the board.

Outcome on budget: The budget as amended ($500,000 restored, using fund balance) was passed by a vote of 5 to 1. Mexicotte, Nelson, Patalan, Thomas, and Lightfoot voted yes. Stead voted no. Baskett was not present at the June 13 meeting. The millage resolution supporting the budget was also approved at the June 13 meeting; this includes four millages – a homestead millage at 4.7084 mills, a non-homestead millage at 18 mills, a debt service millage at 2.45 mills, and a sinking fund millage at 1 mill.

Food Service Contract Renewal

Green introduced the contract renewal to the board, saying that this was an opportunity for them to ask questions about the program, now in its third year in the district. AAPS director of purchasing, grants, and business support services Linda Doernte said that this was the third renewal of a five-year contract, and that the contract has not changed much. Doernte did note that Chartwells’ administration and management fees have increased based on the consumer price index. She also said AAPS has been receiving checks from Chartwells honoring the guaranteed minimum $500,000 that is owed to AAPS, regardless of the revenue that the program generates.

Chartwells new district manager Ann Smith and new food service director Heather Holland introduced themselves to the board, and gave a brief presentation on the food service provided this year. Holland said Chartwells has seen a 3% increase in lunches served in the district this year, and attributed that success to the introduction of new programs, and to creating an environment in which students enjoy the dining experience. She also noted the success of Chef Neil going to all the middle schools and teaching students how to create yogurt parfaits.

Holland said that students have been excited by the improved look of the service area, and the transformation of the food service setting from an “institutional look” to more of a “restaurant look.” She also noted that fresh fruits and vegetables are served at all schools four days a week from September through November, and that the overall menu is phasing out trans fats, decreasing sodium, and increasing whole grains.

Holland also reported that, effective 2012-13, the USDA will require that students select a fruit or vegetable for their meal to be reimbursable through the federal school lunch program (for students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program), or for students to qualify for the lower “meal rate.” Students who do not select a fruit or vegetable with their meal will be charged a la carte for their items, which is generally higher than the “meal rate.”

Thomas questioned the process for ensuring that students choose a fruit or vegetable, and Smith said that cashiers are trained to ring up the selections properly. She also said the district is considering creating a “share table,” where students can leave food they do not want for other students. Thomas said the idea of charging students more money if they do not select a fruit or vegetable “seems a bit intrusive” but that the district would “roll with it.”

Smith noted that in kindergarten through 8th grade, students can be served a fruit or vegetable, but that in 9th through 12th grades, “we can only offer, not put it on their plate.” She said while she looking forward to the fact that students are being encouraged to make healthier choices, she’d be lying if she said she did not have the same concerns as the board about this new mandate.

Lightfoot asked if the increases in the Chartwells contract come automatically, and Doerte explained that yes, the management and administrative fees have increased every year due to the CPI. Lightfoot also verified that the district receives $500,000 no matter what – so that if the net income from the program is only $300,000, Chartwells will write AAPS a check for $200,000, and Doernte said that is correct. Allen pointed out that food service money is a separate fund that can only be applied to certain expenditures.

Finally, Lightfoot asked how the district tells the difference between legitimate and non-legitimate complaints about the food. Allen said that he and Doernte will sometimes arrive unannounced at the schools and eat the food being offered to the students. Smith suggested that the district could do student surveys. Holland said the trustees were welcome to eat in any of the district’s 33 lunchrooms anytime.

Nelson encouraged the sharing table, and Patalan said she is happy with the food education that is going on.

Outcome: The food service contract renewal was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

Administrative Software Upgrade

Green explained that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is considering having a uniform software platform for human resources and finance across the county. She said a recommendation for New World Systems Logos.NET for K-12 has been made after a year-long study. Green thanked Allen, Comsa, and director of human resources Cynthia Ryan for their work with the WISD selection process, noting that AAPS wanted to select software that would be fully vetted to work on both Apple and PC machines – because AAPS is an Apple district.

Green noted that the board would need to approve the purchase of this software by the end of June for the current pricing to be guaranteed. Allen drew the board’s attention to the cost summary in the board packet, pointing out that the cost would be $468,000 over the first five years, which would be entirely covered by the recently approved tech bond. In year six, Allen said, the district would have to bear the software support cost, which is estimated to be $51,000 annually. Due to the ongoing costs just in the finance department related to the current software report generation costs, Allen said the new software would not cause additional expenses, but rather would shift current costs.

Thomas confirmed with Allen that the district is positioning itself to take advantage of the scale effects – to be realized if AAPS offers its services in finance and human resources to other districts – and that would eventually drive down costs.

Stead said she was concerned about switching to a PC-based system, even though the software is supposed to work on both platforms. She asked what the cost will be if in the end, if not all the other districts in Washtenaw county sign up. Stead noted that the original WISD transportation consolidation was supposed to include all ten districts as well. Green said it was her understanding that the other districts are also in the process of  approving the platform. But Stead questioned how other districts will pay for it – because they have not all just passed technology bonds. “I think good will is good, but we have been here before,” she said.

Nelson asked if the district was pleased with its current human resources and finance software. Allen told him AAPS was not pleased with the current software. Allen explained that support has been dwindling over the years, and that AAPS often has to pay extra for a software developer to write code to generate reports that are not part of the package. Allen added that the new software will be web-based, and have drop-down menus that allow users to create reports. “From an efficiency standpoint, we have to make a change,” he argued, adding that it would cost AAPS much more to purchase new software outside of the group rate being offered as part of the WISD. Nelson pointed out that the cost of this upgrade would have needed to come out of the general fund, if the community had not passed the tech bond.

Stead said she was in favor of the software purchase, calling it “directionally correct,” but said that she would have liked to see a business case made for how much AAPS can potentially gain, depending on the number of districts that actually sign up.

Lightfoot asked if more districts in the county are likely to participate in transportation if they are first participating in this shared software purchase. Allen responded by saying there is still talk of consolidating special education transportation services.

Mexicotte suggested a friendly amendment to remove the word “irrevocably” from the resolution to approve the resolution, since nothing can prevent a future board from making different choices. There could be circumstances that the board can not anticipate which would make AAPS want to revisit this choice.

Green added that she would like the district to move toward zero-based budgeting, and that such a move would be difficult with the current software. She pointed out that zero-based budgeting allows for more transparency, and Allen added that it can also allow for more precise budget projections, because the majority of the district’s costs are in human resources.

Stead asked how friendly the user interface is, and Allen said it is very easy to use. Green added that the ease of use can make it more helpful at the school level too. Stead said she liked the fact that the software will allow more staff to meet more reporting requirements as those requirements continue to increase.

Outcome: The administrative software upgrade was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

AAPS Policy Review

Mexicotte noted that the policies being reviewed that night were being treated as special briefing item – in the hope that the board could cancel the June 27 regular board meeting. [The board will be meeting in executive session at 5:30 p.m. on June 27 to evaluate Green formally in a closed session. Around 70 members of the community have been surveyed for the purposes of the evaluation: .pdf of survey form contents. For Chronicle coverage, see "AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation."]

Mexicotte reviewed the eight policies being presented – the entire 7000 series, regarding communication and community relations – most of them with no changes. The policies were reviewed only because they were nearing expiration. She noted the few minor changes being presented, and asked trustees asked a few clarifying questions.

The board made a few small wording suggestions to clarify meaning in the set of policies without much discussion.

Outcome: Policies in the 7000 series were approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda, which – in addition to the items above included the third quarter financial report, and donations.

Board Action Items – Contracts

The board took action at this meeting to renew a contract with one of its bargaining units, and to ratify the employment contract of a new administrator.

Contracts: AFSCME Extension

AAPS deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel Dave Comsa recommended that the board approve a contract extension with AFSCME Local 1182, which primarily represents the district’s custodial and maintenance staff. Comsa added that AFSCME members have already ratified the contract.

Outcome: An extension of the AFSCME contract was approved unanimously.

Contracts: Asst. Superintendent – Robyne Thompson

Green requested that the board approve a contract which had been extended to Robyne Thompson. Thompson will be joining the district in the role of assistant superintendent for secondary education following the retirement of longtime AAPS teacher and administrator Joyce Hunter, who currently holds that position. Green read a statement about Thompson, highlighting her work with social and emotional learning, her doctorate degree, and her extensive professional experience. Thompson is currently a middle school principal in the Utica Community Schools district.

Lightfoot asked if Thompson had signed the employment contract yet. Green reported that Thompson has signed it, but Green has not signed it and would not do so until after the board approved the contract. Green also noted that Thompson would be paid the same rate as Hunter, and that Thompson would be taking a pay cut to join AAPS. Lightfoot also asked if Thompson was planning to move to Ann Arbor to take this position, but Green said she did not know, and that AAPS did not have a residency requirement for staff members.

Stead asked about a phrase in the contract that ensured Thompson’s salary would not decrease, and asked how that could be affected by future administrative salary budget reductions. Mexicotte added that there have been periods in the district where cabinet members have agreed to “share the pain” of budget reductions.

Comsa said the contract is a two-year agreement, which is standard for Class 1 personnel. He said lowering Thompson’s salary before the contract expires would require the district to enter into negotiations with her, and Lightfoot pointed out that that would be the case for all Class 1 employees. Comsa agreed, and said it would be true for employees covered by union contracts as well.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the proposed contract with Robyne Thompson.

Mexicotte stated that she was happy to be among the first people to welcome Thompson to the district.

Association 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 this meeting, the board heard only from the Youth Senate. Priyanka Menon said students receive a world class education in AAPS, and that being at Skyline has been “phenomenal.” She said as long as every voice is heard, there is no problem the district cannot solve, and said she hopes AAPS continues to maintain high standards. Blaire Crockett called AAPS a “close-knit community” that she has been grateful to be a part of. She noted that AAPS cares for its students, and is loyal to them.

Awards and Accolades

Numerous individuals and groups were praised for their accomplishments at the June 13 meeting, including the 2012 graduates, individual students, and two retiring members of the superintendent’s cabinet.

Awards/Accolades: Graduations

The meeting began with a graduation video montage celebrating the successes of graduating seniors at Community, Skyline, Huron, Pioneer, and Ann Arbor Technological high schools. Multiple trustees pointed out that this was the first time there were five different graduation ceremonies in the district, and congratulated Skyline for graduating its first class. During the “items from the board,” section of the agenda, Stead pointed out that Skyline did a great job of highlighting the comprehensive experience students have there, as well as “establishing their legacy.”

Awards/Accolades: Envision Michigan

Two AAPS seniors– Priya Menon and Aoxue Tang– were awarded $500 Envision Michigan scholarships by state senator Rebekah Warren. Warren staffer P.J. Petitpren was on hand to present the awards, and noted that the application for the scholarship was simple, requiring only a 750-word essay on the topic, “If you were governor, what would you do?”

Calling Menon “a woman ready to go forward,” Petitpren noted Menon will attend Harvard in the fall to pursue her interest in law and politics. Petitpren noted that Tang, was unable to attend because she has gone to China with her family for the summer, will be attending Stanford in the fall.

Mexicotte said she was pleased to have Petitpren come and present these awards.

Awards/Accolades: Jay Jondro

Green introduced longtime AAPS staff member and master plumber Jay Jondro, who on two occasions has saved the lives of others. Saying that Jondro has been a role model for students, and has distinguished himself as an asset to AAPS, Green said he was being presented with a special recognition for acts of heroism and acts of service to the community and the district. Jondro thanked the board for its recognition, but said it was part of his duty.

Green also thanked AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent for bringing to the board’s recognition that one of his employees was deserving of this special recognition.

Awards/Accolades: Retirements

Green recognized two members of her cabinet who were retiring – director of community education and recreation Sara Aeschbach and assistant superintendent of secondary education Joyce Hunter.

Green praised Aeschbach for having transformed the Rec & Ed department into becoming self-sustaining, and noted her long tenure with the district. Aeschbach has worked for AAPS since 1981. Lightfoot added that Aeschbach was very gracious to her when she became a trustee, and said she was inviting, informative, and passionate about her work. Mexicotte extended her appreciation to Aeschbach as well, as did Patalan, who said that Aeschbach was “calm, funny, personable, kind ,and a treasure” and that she was happy to have had the chance to work with her.

Green said that Hunter has had an illustrious career in AAPS beginning as a teacher in 1974. She became class chair, then a principal, before moving to central administration, Green said, and has been instrumental in the career and technical education program, which allows students to receive on-the-job training while still in high school. She noted Hunter’s graciousness, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Green also noted Hunter’s many activities beyond her work in the district, and said, “You are a significant leader, and I know that we will still be seeing you in the district, and in the community.”

Mexicotte also extended her appreciation to Hunter, who was present at the meeting and enjoyed a standing ovation from the entire room. Lightfoot added that she loved Hunter in many capacities, and called her a “saving grace” for many students at Huron in the 1980s, including Lightfoot herself. “I’m glad you’re still so young and pretty that you can get out and do your thing… I’m looking forward to what you’re going to be doing with that museum,” she said. [Hunter is a founding member of the African-American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.] Finally, Patalan also praised Hunter, saying she was happy to have been able to work with her, and that she goes back the longest with Hunter compared to anyone else in the room, having served with her on a high school review committee in the mid-1990s.

Awards/Accolades: Superintendent’s Report

In addition to some of the items listed above, Green praised the students who participated in the Special Olympics games, saying it was a wonderful achievement, and noting they brought home many medals. She also expressed thanked the staff, the community, and the board for supporting students this year, and her staff who helped her go through her first year in AAPS.

Agenda Planning

Stead requested that the board discuss Skyline’s trimester system, and said that some parents are concerned that their students do not have the flexibility they expected regarding the ability to dual-enroll in Skyline and Community high schools – because the two schools are on different schedules. Mexicotte asked Green how she would recommend approaching this issue, and Green said this is a topic that is already under discussion. She suggested that the board take up the discussion at a future committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Lightfoot said that she, too, was looking forward to hearing about the trimester issue, and noted that she loves it for the mastery approach it fosters. “Because [students] have so much room in their schedule, they are able to catch up,” she asserted.

Lightfoot said she also wants to be sure that summer school meets the district’s needs as it moves to close the achievement gap, and that Green has led her to believe that summer school is being evaluated that way. She questioned why students who have not actually failed, but have received a D- for example, are not included in summer school.

Nelson said he misses the old days where the board sat down with everything in front of it and set priorities. He said that every time there is a board meeting, one to four ideas come out, and all of them take up significant staff time. “I want this great professional staff that we have to be focusing on really important things,” Nelson said.

Mexicotte said the board is looking to have a retreat about superintendent and board goals in August, and that such a retreat might be the time for “setting those broader directions.” She said she was considering flipping the committee-of-the-whole and regular meetings in August, so that the August 1 meeting would include retreat-type activities, and the August 15 meeting could address business that comes up just before school begins for the next year. Mexicotte closed by agreeing that that board does not yet have the committee-of-the-whole process streamlined, but that the board will keep working on it.

Items from the Board

Thomas said he had attended a concert put on by the community outreach music program, which is sponsored by the Ann Arbor School of Performing Arts in cooperation with the district. The program allows students who would not normally be able to have private music lessons to take them at a greatly reduced cost, Thomas said. He recognized the contributions of AAPS staff members Robin Bailey, Fred Smith, and Abby Alwin for their role in the program.

Thomas also encouraged everyone to participate in the AAPS Educational Foundation’s Million Reasons campaign.

Nelson said that he was pleased to say he’s the proud owner of a medal from Northside Elementary, as he was the honorary starter of a 5K race at the school.

Lightfoot shared that she was invited by the Wayne State Board of Governors to join an oversight board there, and pointed out that higher education is facing some of the same challenges as K-12 education. She also said she has been in contact with many of the community assistants in the high schools about how they see their role changing with the reduction of the three dedicated police officers. And, finally, Lightfoot congratulated the Logan 5th graders, and thanked all the schools for holding “phenomenal” graduation ceremonies.

Patalan said that as she was reflecting on the graduations held throughout the district last week, she had to pause and think, “What a fabulous group of young people who are now our future.” She said she was so proud of AAPS, and noted that each graduation had its own “flavor, and was fabulous, and beautiful, and delightful in its own way.”

Patalan said that while the board has been hearing a lot in the past 60 days from people who are upset or concerned, the district really is doing a good job. Patalan asserted, “There is nothing like education – it is worth putting all of our time and energy into.”

Stead quipped that there would be a “little jog through town on Sunday,” referring to Ann Arbor’s inaugural marathon. She said it primarily benefits AAPS through the AAPS education foundation, and said that if people are not running themselves, she hoped they would come out and support it. [Stead ran the marathon herself, and finished in 7th place among female participants, with a time of 3:40.]

Mexicotte reported that her son participated in the recent Special Olympics on a team sent by Pioneer, and thanked the parents and staff who supported that effort.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot (arrived at 7:50 p.m.) and Glenn Nelson.

Absent: Trustee Susan Baskett.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

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School Board to Use Savings to Bridge Deficit Tue, 05 Jun 2012 02:11:40 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (May 23, 2012): The majority of AAPS trustees have agreed to spend down roughly $7 million in fund equity to meet projected expenditures for fiscal year 2012-13, beginning July 1, 2012. That decision came after suggestions by trustees Glenn Nelson and Christine Stead to restructure Roberto Clemente Student Development Center and to fully eliminate transportation, respectively, again went nowhere. The May 23 meeting included much discussion about the effect that spending down fund equity this year could have on the district’s ability to weather another projected deficit of $14 million to $18 million in FY 2013-14.

The board is expected to vote on the FY 2012-13 budget at its June 13 meeting.

In addition to the budget discussion, trustees moved quickly through a number of other items of business at the May 23 meeting: (1) directing administration to create a transportation committee; (2) approving the sale of tech bonds; (3) supporting the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget with some suggested reporting improvements; (4) the approval of two property easements with the city of Ann Arbor; and (5) the approval of a number of policies, including an anti-bullying policy as newly mandated by state law.

Trustees also heard from 20 people, most of them speaking during general public commentary in support of the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, which had originally been proposed to be closed or restructured as part of the budget. Many thanked the board for taking Clemente “off the chopping block” for this coming year, but expressed concerns about the board’s process, the district-wide achievement gap faced by African-American students, and the board’s “lack of respect” for Clemente students.  

2012-13 Budget

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green introduced the first formal briefing on the AAPS proposed 2012-13 budget by asserting, “The district is hemorrhaging… The pain is real.” She reiterated the position shared at earlier meetings, saying that her administration does not want to make any of these cuts at all, and that what has been in the budget is valued and has made the district great.

The budget elements of the May 23 meeting are reported below. First, there was a presentation by AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen on the background and assumptions informing the proposed budget; a review by Allen of the suggested budget reductions; board discussion on the proposed budget; and a public hearing on the proposed budget. Public commentary, as well as this meeting’s student report, are described following these items, as they were each primarily related to the proposed budget reductions.

2012-13 Budget: Background and Assumptions

Robert Allen said that his PowerPoint presentation was “pretty much the same” as the board had already seen multiple times. He reviewed it again briefly, stressing how rising pension costs are not under the control of local districts.

Trustee Christine Stead asked what the foundation allowance would be if adjusted for inflation, and Allen said he did not know, but as far as he had heard, there was no plan to increase the $9,020 per pupil allowance. Board president Deb Mexicotte said that the figure she had seen before, if the foundation allowance had risen only by the rate of inflation, was near $11,000, and Allen said that sounded right.

Allen said the projected deficit for 2012-13 was $17.8 million, which includes the shift to providing all-day kindergarten. He also said that he feels fairly confident that the projected deficit can be lowered $1 million due to health care cost savings, but that he has not yet incorporated that into the plan.

Allen described the health care cost savings in more detail, explaining that the benefits of offering a self-funded health care plan to employees is starting to pay off, but that he is still being conservative in estimating the savings to the district. As more employees move to the self-funded plan, those savings continue to increase, Allen said. He noted that a health care consultant paid for by the health care corporations had advised him regarding making a $1.7 million budget adjustment to the base expenditures. Trustee Glenn Nelson, who had asked about the shift in base expenditure numbers at the last meeting, said he appreciated the way Allen keeps the board well-informed.

Allen then put up a slide with three-year projections, which shows that if the district does nothing to reduce expenditures, the fund balance will be depleted within two years. Stead expressed concern that with the special education reimbursement rate decreasing, the mandated retirement contribution rate increasing, and less guarantee of state offsets and incentives, the cuts that AAPS will need to make for 2013-14 will be even higher than this year.

Trustee Andy Thomas disagreed, saying that the state offsets are likely to continue, and that the board isn’t going to “sit on our hands and do nothing.” He noted that the $4 million in reductions the board is planning to pass will be put into the base expenditures for 2013-14 and for subsequent years. He suggested that the future projections are not representative of what is likely to occur.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan

At the May 23 meeting, Allen reviewed the proposed budget reductions by category. See The Chronicle’s coverage of the board’s May 16 committee of the whole meeting for more discussion of the proposed reductions.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Instructional Services

Allen reviewed that the consolidation of the Clemente summer school into the district-wide Pioneer High program would save $80,000, but Green said Clemente has asked the board to reconsider this piece. She said that much of what Clemente is doing is more like orientation than credit recovery, and that they feel the structure is important to their entire program.

Stead said she could argue against every single one of these cuts, and asked where the $80,000 would come from if the Clemente summer school program were to stay intact. Green said her administration is still looking into it, and that for now, the reduction is still on the list.

Allen also noted that the site-based budgets, which fund individual building’s school improvement plans, will be eliminated for $250,750, and that a reduction of four FTEs (full-time equivalents) in counseling positions will save $400,000.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Operations

Allen reiterated the list of transportation cuts included in the plan, and commented on them:

  • Changing the Skyline High start time by 15 minutes, which would entail a memorandum of agreement with the teachers’ union ($266,400);
  • Eliminating midday shuttles at Community High ($230,184);
  • Reducing costs for transportation to Ann Arbor Open by using middle school common stops ($98,800);
  • Eliminating the 4 p.m. middle school bus, which significantly impacts after-school programs ($85,284);
  • Combining the bus routes of Bryant-Pattengill elementary schools($16,560).

Regarding the 4 p.m. middle school bus, Allen said the district is looking at other ways to be able to fund that.

Regarding the combining of bus routes to Bryant and Pattengill, Allen noted that it could impact start times at those schools, which would lead to another memorandum of agreement with the teachers’ union. He said the idea of combining these routes has been discussed for a couple of years, and that Pattengill’s start time might have to shift by 15 minutes because there will be fewer stops. Allen said the consolidation could allow for the elimination of up to two of the nine busses that are dedicated to those schools’ routes. The worst case scenario, he said, would be the addition of 10 minutes to the length of some students’ bus rides.

Andy Thomas clarified that a student going to Bryant would not experience any additional time in the morning, but would in the afternoon because the driving time from Bryant to Pattengill in the morning or from Pattengill to Bryant in the afternoon would add 10 minutes. Allen said yes, 10 minutes would be the maximum addition.

Allen listed three additional reductions in operations: ITD (information technology department) restructuring ($200,000); the elimination of the early notification incentive ($40,000); and energy savings ($500,000 in 2012-13, and $700,000 in the future).

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – District-wide Reductions

Allen reviewed the following district-wide reductions that are proposed:

  • Moving the Rec & Ed director and support staff positions to the Rec & Ed budget ($205,000);
  • Reducing districtwide departmental budgets by 10% ($500,000);
  • Reducing healthcare costs ($100,000);
  • Eliminating police liaisons ($350,000);
  • Outsourcing noon-hour supervisors ($75,000);
  • Eliminating the district contribution to music camps ($60,000);
  • Reducing the budget for substitute teachers by placing the management of substitute budgets in the schools ($200,000);
  • Reducing middle school athletics ($37,500);
  • Eliminating funding for athletic entry fees ($58,000);
  • Moving lacrosse to a club sport ($93,000);
  • Replacing 32 FTEs of instructional staff (retirements) with less expensive staff ($900,000).

Regarding the police liaisons, Allen said he had talked with the Ann Arbor Police Department and confirmed that reducing the liaisons would not mean a loss of employment for any of the officers. The biggest thing AAPS will lose, Allen said, is the relationships it has with these particular officers. Christine Stead asked how they could be absorbed by the city if there was no budget for them, and Allen said there are retirements that would allow the shifts to occur. Allen also noted that AAPS will still contract with the AAPD for extra-curricular events such as football games.

Andy Thomas asked for clarification on what the $60,000 of music camp funding represents. Allen explained that it is entirely supplemental teacher pay, including fringes. The district will adjust its supplemental pay amount by $60,000, and that is a hard number, Allen said, even though the exact amount spent on this pay may be higher or lower in a given year. He also noted that there is an option to fundraise the $60,000 outside of the district budget, and that the band directors are working with the central office on this issue.

The Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) – the teachers’ union –has asked for two weeks to look at the entire middle school budget, Allen said, to see if there is a way to keep the middle school athletic directors but still reduce the overall middle school athletics budget by $37,500. He said there have been conversations about how Rec & Ed provides the same functions, and that perhaps middle school athletics could be done more efficiently.

Stead asked how confident Allen was about the savings anticipated by hiring less expensive teachers, and asked him to walk through the logic one more time. Allen said the district is currently expecting 24 retirements, and that retiring teachers are more than likely at the top of the pay scale. If you bring in new teachers to replace the retiring ones, he said, there is about a $25,000 to $30,000 differential in pay. Allen pointed out that there is a risk the savings will be lower if the district does not have additional retirements. Thomas said that if there are only 24 retirements, the savings will be $720,000 instead of $900,000.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Revenue Enhancement

Allen reviewed the four sources of revenue enhancement that are part of this budget: (1) School of Choice students ($1 million); (2) Medicaid reimbursement ($500,000); (3) best practices funding ($2.6 million); and (4) MPSERS offset ($1.8 million). MPSERS is the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

Allen noted that there are currently state Senate and House bills being entertained on MPSERS reform, and that it is not known at this time how the outcome of those discussions will affect the MPSERS offset in the future. Stead asked if the projected 31.2% employer contribution rate would increase if there were substantial layoffs across the state for FY 2012-13. Allen said he did not think AAPS would be adversely affected by the MPSERS reform bills.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Fund Equity

Allen then summarized that AAPS needs $10.7 million of reductions after the revenue enhancements are applied, but that at this point, the district will need to use $ 7 million of fund equity to reach that target. He added that the $7 million figure does not include the additional $1 million adjustment in health care savings he reported that night, so it’s really more like using $6 million of fund equity.

Stead asked if Allen anticipated an additional deficit in the fourth quarter, and Allen said very conservatively, he would estimate an additional deficit of $500,000, depending on what happens with additional retirements. Nelson said he usually thinks of increased retirements as saving money, and asked, “Why would something that accelerates retirements hurt the budget?” Allen answered that some retirees qualify for a payout bonus based on their number of years of service. AAPS, he explained, keeps those payouts held in the balance sheet, and the expense of distributing them has to be recognized in the year during which they are actually paid out.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion

Board discussion on the proposed budget is grouped here into the following categories: administrative process, Roberto Clemente, busing, police liaisons, other cuts, fund equity, and revenue enhancement. The budget was brought to the May 23 meeting as a first briefing item. The final 2012-13 budget will be approved at the next regular board meeting on June 13.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Administrative Process

Trustee Glenn Nelson complimented the administration and board president Deb Mexicotte for guiding the board through the budget process over the last few months, saying he “appreciated the spirit” with which the board whittled down an $18 million deficit to what he called “a budget which I can live with – it’s painful, but it’s a rational kind of thing.”

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she liked that the middle school administration was weighing in on how to best cut middle school athletics, and asked “How much of that do we do?” Robert Allen replied that there are always ways to improve the process, and that input from all stakeholders is a good thing. “We do present these proposed reductions to our administration, and each year we ask for suggestions when we start the process,” he said, pointing out that some of the district-wide cuts proposed this year came from building administrators’ suggestions.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Roberto Clemente

Lightfoot asked how many students attend Roberto Clemente’s summer school program, and noted that she has received many e-mails about the hardships those students will face if the summer school program is merged with the district-wide summer school held at Pioneer. Allen said the Clemente summer school program could be as many as 80 or 90 students, and Thomas pointed out that absorbing the Clemente students into the main summer school program will increase summer school class sizes.

Trustee Irene Patalan asked how many students who begin the school year at Clemente are still there at the end of the year. Jane Landefeld, AAPS director of student accounting, answered that 15 students left between October and February this school year. Nelson asked if the 15 who left Clemente returned to other AAPS schools. Landefeld said some left AAPS to attend other schools out of the district, some transferred to other AAPS schools, and some dropped out of school entirely.

Thomas asked where exactly the projected $80,000 in savings from consolidating Clemente’s summer school program would come from. Mostly from staffing costs, Allen replied. Trustee Susan Baskett suggested breaking out the cost of the transition/orientation part of the Clemente summer school program from the classes part.

Mexicotte said she wants the academic focus to be the driver of summer school programming, and that summer school has always been about closing gaps and academic recovery. She argued that the orientation pieces need to be accomplished during the regular school year – individually or in cohorts.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Busing

Lightfoot asked if there was any concern about the mixing of ages of students on the Bryant and Pattengill buses, if they are consolidated. No, Allen said – all of the other elementary school buses mixed children from grades K-5.

Trustee Irene Patalan noted that there are a group of students who primarily attend classes at the comprehensive high schools but who come to Community High for part of the day – for those students, eliminating the mid-day shuttles will hurt. These students do not have organized advocacy, she said, but they do believe that coming to Community each day keeps their day intact as they are given support, self-esteem, or other help there.

Nelson said he would like reassurance at the second briefing that funding for the 4 p.m. middle school bus will be replaced, as it adds enough to the educational experience for enough students to be worth it. If at the second briefing on the budget on June 13, the board cannot be assured the money will be coming from elsewhere, Nelson said, he would like to explore not cutting the 4 p.m. middle school bus.

Stead requested data on high school bus ridership, particularly if there were changes to ridership this year.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Other Cuts

Lightfoot asked if, in light of the cuts to police liaisons, there was a way to have some sort of arrangement with the city so that the city could be sensitive to the idea of sending AAPS officers who are already familiar with the district. Allen said he could have that discussion with the acting chief [John Seto], who has been very responsive. Lightfoot also asked what the cost is for AAPD coverage at individual, separate events, and Allen said that in the past it has been treated as overtime pay for the three dedicated officers. If those positions are no longer funded by AAPS, the AAPD would be paid an hourly rate for event coverage, said Allen. Baskett said, “AAPD are a good police force, but they are not cheap.” She asked Allen to look for other ways of providing security at events, or work to negotiate a lower rate with AAPD.

Mexicotte noted that cutting 4 FTEs from counseling staff concerns her because of the effect it could have on the district’s work closing the achievement and discipline gaps. “While it is an attractive cut because it’s large, and because it’s based on attrition, this is an area of particular distress for me,” she said. Mexicotte also noted that she had been sitting next to AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Alesia Flye at the May 16 committee meeting, and that she wanted to acknowledge Flye’s distress at the reduction in departmental budgets. “[Flye] said, very professionally under her breath,” Mexicotte reported, ” ‘Ouch – that’s really going to hurt our professional development.’”

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Fund Equity

Nelson said he was concerned about losing teachers in 2013-14 if the district digs too deep into fund equity this year to cover projected expenditures. He suggested bringing the idea of moving Clemente this year back to the table for discussion. “As we talk about the expenses related to [Clemente], and the performance as we know it, … I am not completely sure that investment is worth it,” Nelson argued.

Nelson said that for every teacher cut, roughly 300 students are affected by larger class sizes. By this logic, he explained, the $200,000 that would be saved by moving Clemente this year would save three teachers in 2013-14, affecting 900 students directly. “I am hoping we look really hard at this program because I think we need to,” Nelson said.

Stead responded that shifting academic programs warrants more planning time, and that she sees looking at effective program supports and results as the work of next year. “This is not about a move – this is about a thorough review from a program perspective,” she argued. She also pointed out that the achievement gap and discipline gap are not just Clemente problems, but district-wide issues, and that the program review needs to be comprehensive.

Stead explained her fear that without deeper cuts this year, AAPS could face the situation of not having enough fund equity to make payroll next summer, when the state aid payments are suspended. She noted that her concerns are based on the fact that the district ended up using $2.3 million out of fund equity this year to cover unanticipated spending, and that the MPSERS offset and best practices funding are not guaranteed to continue.

Stead said she is very concerned that using $8 million of fund equity this year does not position the district for financial sustainability next year, and suggested again that the board consider cutting all transportation out of the 2012-13 budget for a savings of $3.5 million. She argued that cutting transportation will require a “concerted effort from the entire community, city, carpools, everything you can think of,” but that so far, efforts at working on transportation have been “piecemeal.”

Thomas disagreed, pointing out that for the last three years, AAPS has been spending down fund equity at the rate of only $1.7 million a year, and that using $7 million this year is a reasonable and conservative way to address the current deficit. He said he had been present at the last AAPS Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) meeting, and that there was some discussion there of how the AAPSEF could offset some of the cuts. He also noted that the PTO thrift shop might be willing to make some kind of contribution, and that University Bank has come forward with $5,000 to help with the music camps. “What this illustrates,” Thomas said, “is that there is some willingness in the community to use private funding to help offset some of these cuts.”

Thomas said he would like to be able to sit down in October (2012), not April (2013) and hear the administration’s plan to eliminate another $14 to $18 million in 2013-14. He said he’d like to hear the plan in detail, similar to what was presented at this first formal budget briefing. It’s important to start the conversation in October [of 2012, for planning the 2013-14 budget], he said, because “we don’t have very many bullets left in our gun. What we are left with for next year is transportation as a whole, our contracts with bargaining units, reducing teachers by a truly drastic number, closing schools, and redistricting. And, closing schools has a ripple effect on transportation. These will all require a great deal of thought.”

Mexicotte asked Allen how much the district needed to keep in fund equity to be able to make payroll over the summer, and Allen said $9 million. “Then that’s the magical number – $9 million,” Mexicotte said. “It is the number after which we give money to the state to lend us money they should be giving us in the first place.” She argued that the difference between leaving $9 million, $10 million, or $11 million in fund equity “hardly makes a difference” because the district is facing $14 million more in cuts next year.

Mexicotte said that one of the visions she has kept in her mind all these years as a trustee is to keep AAPS above the line of solvency, and that she is comfortable spending $6-$7 million from fund equity this year.

Lightfoot agreed that she is comfortable with spending $6 million from fund equity if “we do nothing next year but plan, plan, plan.”

Patalan said that over the past six years, AAPS has made approximately $70 million in reductions – that’s just huge. “Of course, we’re all feeling fairly depressed,” she said. She added it also frightens her to allow fund equity to get so low, and that doing so was “truly a gamble. … You almost feel naked without something [to protect] against the future, and what the future could be.” The district’s ending fund equity balance for the current fiscal year is projected to be $18.73 million.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Revenue Enhancement

Nelson said the community does have other options – one is to keep pushing for legislative change at the state level, and another is to try again to pass a countywide schools enhancement millage. Passing such a millage, Nelson said, will require a very strong effort by citizens who care about education, “but one doesn’t get it done without starting. I urge the citizens out there who feel that education of the children in Washtenaw County is being threatened to not be as excellent as they deserve and need for the world they are going to live in, that we start talking about the enhancement millage.” [A countywide enhancement millage was on the November 2009 ballot and defeated, with 57.4% of voters voting against it, though it was supported by a majority of Ann Arbor voters.]

Stead said passing a revenue enhancement millage at the county level would be difficult, and that while she would support such efforts, AAPS also needs to keep working for a statewide solution. “There is a real structural issue,” she said. “Education should not be so subject to partisan politics that we compromise our entire future as a result… I would hope people would work with us… to focus on revoking Proposal A.” [Passed in 1994, Proposal A was a ballot initiative that aimed to create more equitable funding across all districts and to keep property taxes from escalating dramatically. Proposal A took away, to a significant degree, local control over school funding, though districts can still request voter approval to levy local millages for building construction, repairs, and maintenance.]

This was the first briefing on the 2012-13 budget. The budget will come before the board again for a second briefing and vote at the next regular board meeting on June 13.

2012-13 Budget: Public Hearing

Deb Mexicotte noted that the proposed budget has been posted on the district’s website, and invited anyone in the room to speak on the budget.

A parent in the Georgetown neighborhood spoke about the suggested consolidation of bus runs to Bryant and Pattengill schools. She pointed out that while adding 10 minutes to a bus route does not seem that long, it makes the run 40 minutes long at the end of the day for a 6-year-old. She also noted that the buses currently serving the students in her neighborhood are really full, and that it might not be realistic to think about eliminating a bus when you factor in fifth grade instruments needing space too.

A Clemente parent offered some perspective on the Clemente summer school program. She said that when Clemente first started in 1974, it was a 12-month program, and that the Clemente philosophy addresses the belief that students lose a lot over the summer. Students do take academic classes, and Clemente does offer Read 180 and credit recovery, she said, but it also orients students to the way classes will be conducted in the fall. Incoming 9th graders are offered an “intro to biology” class to prepare them to take biology in the fall and be successful. Also, students are given help with basic math, she said, to prepare them for the concepts they will be learning in the regular school year.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary

Eighteen people addressed the board during the regular public commentary period at the beginning of the meeting. Sixteen discussed Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, which had originally been proposed to be closed or restructured as part of the budget. Two other speakers discussed transportation services, which are slated for further reduction under the proposed budget as well.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary – Roberto Clemente

Members of the Clemente community thanked the board for taking Clemente “off the chopping block” for this coming year, but expressed concerns about board process, the district-wide achievement gap faced by African-American students, and the board’s “lack of respect” for Clemente students. Many students gave testimonials about how Clemente had changed their lives, and how it was stressful to live with the fear that their school would be taken away in the future.

Kathleen Ardon said she has not felt the board was listening during public commentary. She cited sidebar conversations, superintendent Patricia Green getting up to talk to another administrator, and the limited speaking time allowed. She suggested to trustees that they “try limiting your comments to 90 seconds each, as we have been made to do.” Lexanna Marie Lyons echoed Ardon, noting that at the May 9 board meeting, “a young white girl got to speak about her experiences at A2 Tech and read a letter.” Lyons noted that while that girl got to speak as long as she wanted, Clemente students were limited to a minute and a half each, and “they did not receive the praise this white girl received.”

Lyons said that as an African-American female, she has experienced many forms of racism and that she feels racism right now. Student Corey McDonald added, “Why set a time limit for speech when you stay here for…I don’t know how [long], but… a very long time.”

Student Mackenzie Caddell said she was “terribly embarrassed” and “mortified” when she saw the Clemente achievement data shared at the May 16 board committee meeting. However, Caddell continued, after reviewing data on African-American achievement district-wide, she “concluded that AAPS is only exceptional for students that are not of color…It isn’t black students’ failure – it’s a shared failure.” She noted that the positive impact that Clemente has had on students’ attitudes and behavior “cannot be seen on paper.”

Clemente teacher Mike Smith also addressed the achievement data discussed on May 16, and presented comparable data for African-American students at the three comprehensive high schools. Saying that he agreed that Clemente’s test scores were “abominable” and “damnable,” he noted that the achievement data for African-Americans students are very concerning across the district. Smith noted that only 53% of African-American 11th graders at the comprehensive high schools scored proficient in reading on the Michigan Merit Exam (MME), compared to 88% of their Caucasian counterparts. In math, the MME proficiency numbers are similar – Caucasian 86%, African-American 43%, Smith said.

Cierra Reese asserted that the achievement gap starts in elementary school, and Charlae Davis added that closing the achievement gap requires looking at “the big picture,” including the study of qualitative data, such as the information presented by students and their families.

Regarding a perceived lack of respect, parent Tara Cole referenced how a board member said she had felt threatened at the last meeting and that there had been a lack of respect shown for the board. Cole said the Clemente community feels the same way. Cassandra Parks said she is not convinced the board is concerned about these students, and reminded the students gathered, “You have to exercise our right and make sure the people in power really care about us.” After finishing her own comments, Parks also interrupted public commentary later in the meeting to call out teachers’ union president Brit Satchwell for distracting the board by typing loudly while people were speaking. Mexicotte asked Parks to be seated. Satchwell apologized for the perceived disrespect and closed his laptop.

Student Tyler Sheldon said students “feel that we have been kicked aside as lower-income minorities, so unfortunately, it makes us wonder, if we came from upper middle class two-parent households, would this have been considered?”

Public commentary on Clemente at the May 23 meeting also offered many examples of the qualitative data noted by Davis. Tia Jones and Alexandra Botello argued that the cost of educating Clemente students should not be relevant. Jones said she is finally getting the education she deserves and has been wanting her whole life, and Botello noted that the bullying and assault she faced in other AAPS schools was not present at Clemente.

Harmony Redding, Jermia Castion, and Caleb LeHuray noted the positive effect that Clemente has on students who have struggled elsewhere. “Roberto Clemente has been a gateway to education for many students,” LeHuray asserted. “You need to leave it alone as it is so the future students can see the value of their education and be successful later on.”

David Bullard and Corey McDonald warned that closing or consolidating Clemente will cause many students to drop out or return to their old bad habits. McDonald also pointed out that Clemente students will be looked at as “lower class” by students at other schools if the program is consolidated.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary – Busing

Jill Zimmerman thanked the board for allowing modified busing to continue to Ann Arbor Open, and said it will “make a huge difference in the lives of many families.” She also noted that it seems like eliminating busing district-wide is a “very real possibility” in the coming year. She encouraged the board to continue discussion with the community as this is considered. Zimmerman said the budget process in general should start sooner in order to realize the most savings with the least negative impact on families.

Patty Kracht urged the board to keep building administrators involved in the budget planning as it affects individual schools. She noted that when she heard about the consolidation of Bryant and Pattengill busing routes, she called the principal of her child’s school to ask if start times would be staggered. The principal did not know the answer and had not been included in the re-routing planning. “Please,” Kracht said, “if you’re not going to involve parents, at least involve administration.”

2012-13 Budget: Clarification on Public Commentary

Trustee Christine Stead spoke about the board process and structure surrounding public input. She noted that 45 minutes of public commentary is allotted at every meeting, and that the time is divided among all those who sign up to speak. [Each speaker is allotted 4 minutes. In the event that more than 11 people sign up to speak, the 45 minutes is divided equally among all speakers.] Stead also noted that student reports, given on a rotational basis by representatives from each of the high schools, are intended to be more in-depth reports, and that Clemente was on the schedule for the May 23 meeting. “Tonight, that person can take as much time as they would like,” she said, stressing that the trustees “absolutely want to hear students’ voices.”

Board president Deb Mexicotte offered clarification on the building of Skyline High School. She said the $92 million that paid for Skyline was part of a $240 million bond allocated by taxpayers to provide improvements to every building in the district, as well as to build the new school. Mexicotte explained that bond funds cannot be used for operating expenses. She said the district would love to be able to raise operating dollars from its taxpayers, but is legally prohibited from doing so.

Regarding disproportionality in discipline referrals, superintendent Patricia Green said she agrees there are disparities that parallel national trends, but said that it is being addressed. She noted that AAPS has instituted a multi-year plan to eliminate both the achievement and discipline gaps across the district.

2012-13 Budget: Roberto Clemente Student Report

Tia Jones volunteered to give the student report for Clemente, and started by simply saying, “We have said all we have had to say,” and reminding trustees that they are all invited to come see the school. Deb Mexicotte noted the concern expressed during public commentary that Clemente students have not had unlimited time to address the board, and explained that the student report is untimed. Jones asked if other students would also be given a turn to speak, and was told no.

Jones then shared some of her own story, saying that before Clemente, she had attended Dicken for all of elementary, then Slauson, Scarlett, and Eastern Washtenaw Multicultural Academy (a local charter school) for middle school, and finally Huron for 9th grade. “I remember teachers telling me never to try, that I would never be anyone,” Jones said. She said that in 6th grade, she did not know the Pledge of Allegiance, and that she felt out of place during her 8th grade year at EWMA, since the majority of students were of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, Jones recounted, “At Huron, I felt really bad due to an issue outside of school. Counselors did not know what to do with me.”

When she got to Clemente, Jones said, “Dr. E [Clemente principal Ben Edmondson] did not allow [me] to fail.” She told trustees that when the cuts to Clemente were proposed, it got to her because she knows what the school has offered her and her peers. “It shelters us, nurtures us. We spend most of our time at school.”

Board President’s Report

Deb Mexicotte reported on the board’s May 16 committee of the whole. In addition to going through a facilitated discussion to direct administration about board priorities during this trying time, she said, other topics discussed at the meeting were: how personalized learning is approached in AAPS; the possible creation of a transportation working group; and the superintendent evaluation timeline.

For full coverage of the non-budget May 16 committee of the whole agenda items, see Chronicle coverage: ”AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation.”

Transportation Study Committee

At the May 16 committee of the whole meeting, trustee Simone Lightfoot had suggested that the board convene a working group to study transportation sustainability in the district. After some discussion, trustees agreed to direct administration to convene such a group, and Deb Mexicotte said she would write up a request to do so, since the board does not take official action during committee meetings.

Transportation Study Committee: Formal Request to Administration

During the information section of the May 23 meeting, Mexicotte read a draft of the administrative request that she had written based on her notes from the May 16 committee meeting. Trustees subsequently approved the creation of an administrative working group “for the purpose of studying and reporting on the sustainability of school bus transportation for AAPS students.”

Mexicotte read the entire formal request into the record of the meeting. In summary, it outlined the board’s reasons for wanting to charge administration with convening such a group, saying it seems “prudent” to study the “short-term and long-term funding, support, partnerships, and solutions for school transportation” in order to understand AAPS’ role in the system, now and in the future.

In the request, the board charged the committee with examining three questions:

(1) Can we create a district-wide plan which includes short-term and long-term strategies, and that maintains district-funded transportation for students in AAPS? If so, under what circumstances (time, partnerships, delivery models, targeted student populations, funding strategies)?

(2) If not, what are the alternatives that might be considered or implemented (partial or complete elimination, privatization, partnerships, needs-based grants or services)? and

(3) What are the general and specific impacts on changing, reducing, or eliminating district-funded transportation as it relates to our strategic and educational outcomes and goals?

The request also asked the superintendent to be sure to include a diverse group of stakeholders on the committee, including administrators, representatives of other public and governmental entities, parents, students, and board members. It also said specifically that the working group could be made up entirely of members from an already existing committee, such as the Transportation Safety Committee or the City/Schools committee, or could be a newly created group, at the superintendent’s discretion.

Finally, it was requested that the board hear progress updates from the group on a regular basis, and that the process of completing the study and offering recommendations come back to the board by January 2013, in time to inform the FY 2013-14 AAPS budget.

Transportation Study Committee: Board Discussion

All of the trustees except for Christine Stead were immediately supportive of the creation of such a committee as outlined by Mexicotte. Stead suggested instead that perhaps a long-term financial planning group be assembled, and said that regarding transportation, she would rather have the district leverage the structure already in place rather than make a new committee. She also questioned the utility of having the committee vet the sustainability of school bus transportation without complete funding information, and asked, “Where does this tie into our strategic plan?”

Andy Thomas said there are specific issues regarding transportation that the board and the district need to address, which would make such a committee useful. He named the following as examples: “What is the impact of any reduction or the complete elimination of transportation to the district – which population will be affected? What is the impact on neighborhoods where schools are located? Will there be a huge increase in auto traffic? What are the environmental safety ramifications of this? What are the ramifications on specific programs; for example, what good does it do to keep Clemente open if there is not transportation to get to that location?”

Irene Patalan said the timeline piece was important to her, so that the committee can offer the board recommendations for the next budget cycle. Simone Lightfoot said it was important to her that the committee includes more than the “same people as usual,” and Susan Baskett added that committee members should feel free to bring their thoughts, comments, and questions without reservation. To Stead, Baskett answered that forming a transportation committee falls under strategic goal number six of the district’s strategic plan, which has to do with earning the public’s trust.

Multiple trustees and superintendent Patricia Green commended Mexicotte for the wording of her request, which noted the flexibility of the committee to define “sustainability” and other metrics. Green said, since she would be leading this effort, that she would “like to go at this not with a road map, but with a compass… All the stakeholders will develop the road map, while the compass sets the direction and keeps [the work] going in that direction.”

Mexicotte wondered whether the questions raised by Thomas would be addressed by the committee within the three study questions she had listed (see above) to define its work. Thomas said he did not think the request needed to be amended, but that it’s important not to lose sight of the interrelationship between transportation and other issues. For example, he said, “If we find that we find it necessary to close one or more buildings, students will be expected to travel longer distances to get to their schools. Are we going to still cut transportation? It’s hard to look at one piece of this without looking at the whole blob.”

Stead said she would like to see this group convene very quickly and meet a couple of times this summer, with the community, city, and police involved. Green said she would also like to move this very quickly, and is planning to dovetail with meetings that AAPS already has on the calendar with the city and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority because “once school ends, the momentum is lost.”

Mexicotte asked the board if it was amenable to placing the creation of this administrative transportation study committee on the consent agenda, and the board agreed. Mexicotte said she appreciated Green’s enthusiasm to move forward quickly, and also that she liked the template she created for making a nice, clear request to administration. “I like how it clarified my thinking when I wrote this up, and if we can do this in the future, that would be great,” she said.

Outcome: The creation of an administrative transportation study committee was approved unanimously by the board as a special briefing item on the May 23 consent agenda.

Sale of Technology Bonds

Superintendent Patricia Green thanked the public again for the passage of the tech bond millage and said the district is now moving on directly to the sale of the bonds.

By way of background, voters approved the millage at a May 8, 2012 election. The technology bond proposal is for AAPS to issue a total of $45,855,000 general obligation bonds to pay for acquiring and installing instructional technology and technology infrastructure. The estimated tax rate that would be required to service the debt on the bonds is 0.48 mill (or $0.48 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.) The estimated annual average millage rate required to retire the bonds of this issue is 0.51 mills.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent of operations, said that the administration recommends using the same bond counsel, financial advisor, and underwriters as used for the recent 2012 bond refinancing, and noted that the tech bonds need to be sold before July 1. He said the district would like to get started this summer on the work approved by voters with the passage of the bond, and asked the board to consider approving the resolution for the sale of the bonds as a special briefing item.

Trustee Andy Thomas asked what the maturity date was for the first group of bonds. Allen replied that it varied among the $27 million in bonds in the first phase. Thomas also asked if Allen knew what the interest rate would be, and Allen said he did not know, but that market conditions are still good and he expects a favorable rate.

Christine Stead thanked Allen and his team for getting this put together so quickly and having this prepared for the board.

Outcome: The sale of the technology bonds was approved unanimously as a special briefing item as part of the May 23 consent agenda.

Anti-Bullying Policy

Dave Comsa, AAPS deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel, responded to questions the board had asked during the May 9 first briefing of the district’s new anti-bullying policy.

Regarding the assurance of confidentiality in the bullying investigation, Comsa pointed to regulation 4.4, which indicates that confidentiality will be maintained to the highest degree possible. He noted also that retaliation against a “whistleblower” is explicitly prohibited by the policy, and is also addressed in regulations 4.2 to 4.22.

Regarding training for staff, Comsa noted that regulation 2.2 states there will be such training. He also said the policy would be published beyond the Rights and Responsibilities handbook, as requested by the board.

Comsa reported that in response to a request for a timeline for investigations, regulation 5.4.1 states that the goal will be to complete all bullying investigations within five school days of receiving a complaint.

He noted that cyber-bullying is covered by this policy too, as the definition of bullying it uses includes the phrase “any electronic communication.” And finally, Comsa said that the policy applies to everyone listed under “organizational units affected,” and that it does include parents.

Andy Thomas said he was not completely satisfied that a question he asked at the last meeting had been sufficiently addressed – how far does the policy go when the bullying is off school property? Comsa said that the key point to consider is whether there is a nexus in the school. He noted that “our control only extends so far,” but if the incident substantially impacts or interferes with the operation of the school, it would be covered by the policy. Deb Mexicotte added that if a fight between students outside of school causes intimidation in school, it would fall under the anti-bullying policy.

Thomas confirmed, “So there does have to be some kind of connection with the school?” And Comsa replied, “Yes, we are not a policing force for the entire community.”

Mexicotte opened up a public hearing on the anti-bullying policy but no one spoke to the board on this issue.

Outcome: Policy 5800, Anti-Bullying was approved unanimously as part of the May 23 consent agenda.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Budget

Christine Stead reported that she had asked the board’s questions from the first briefing on the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget, and WISD officials had sent a reply. Items included: a list of what is contained in “central services;” the AAPS portion of the transportation budget, totaling $6.9 million; a line-by-line breakdown of all budgets; a 3-year rolling budget table, noting the shift next year from a 67% to a 56% reimbursement rate for special education services; a list of local school improvement expenses; and a copy of their 2009-10 annual services report, which reviews the services they provide by region.

Deb Mexicotte referred to a binder that had been provided to each trustee, and pointed out that Tab 6 lists the teaching and learning initiatives of the WISD and indicates whether AAPS is involved in each one.

Glenn Nelson said that regarding the future, he would like to see the WISD budget provide more detail, particularly as it affects AAPS, and that the board members would like to be informed constituents of the WISD. In the resolution supporting the WISD budget, Nelson suggested adding an amendment to be sure his suggestions were addressed. He noted that the one-time provision of information since the first briefing on May 9 had mostly addressed his concerns for this time, but that he would like to see such information provided regularly in the future as well.

Nelson’s amendment was included in the final resolution, and Mexicotte asked board secretary Amy Osinski to include the amended language in a color other than black and to make the WISD aware of the amendment.

Simone Lightfoot lauded the WISD for providing a detailed breakdown of transportation costs, and Christine Stead added that getting this amount of data together in a week was appreciated.

Outcome: The WISD budget was supported by a resolution included on the May 23 consent agenda.

Consent Agenda

In addition to the items noted above as being contained in the consent agenda (transportation committee formation, sale of tech bonds, anti-bullying policy, and WISD budget), the consent agenda also contained a set of policies, and requests from the city of Ann Arbor for two property easements for the replacement, maintenance, and repair of water mains.

There was virtually no discussion on the easements, or on policies 5160 (Student Classification and Retention), 5170 (Elementary Reclassification and Acceleration), 6120/6100 (Pilot Projects/Curriculum Development), 7800/5200 (Parental Involvement/Progress Reporting), 7810 (Parental Involvement Title I), 5300 (field trips), and 7400 (donations).

Deb Mexicotte thanked superintendent Patricia Green and her administration for looking hard at the policies and said she appreciated in particular the “reinvention” of the Pilot Projects policy in the manner presented. Simone Lightfoot said she had raised concerns about student transportation in the field trip policy, and deputy superintendent Robert Allen said that was addressed in the policy’s regulations.

Outcome: The May 23 consent agenda, including the above-noted items, along with minutes approval, passed unanimously.

First Briefing: Millage Resolution and 3rd Quarter Financial Report

AAPS director of finance Nancy Hoover presented the millage resolution that will allow the district to levy taxes on the AAPS district area property owners. She noted that for the third year in a row, there was no Headlee rollback, so the millage rates will be as follows: homestead – 4.7084 mills; non-homestead – 18 mills; debt service – 2.45 mills; and sinking fund – 1 mill.

Andy Thomas asked how the refinancing of the district’s debt instruments affected the debt service millage. Hoover answered that the district’s debt service millage was $15.8 million before the refinancing, decreased to $15.3 million after refinancing, and then increased to $18.2 million after the recent passage of the tech bond. She stressed that the tech bond affects only the debt service millage, not the other three millages.

Hoover then continued, presenting the board with the third quarter financial report, which showed an overall decrease in expected revenues of $280,000 due primarily to changes in special education reimbursement. Allen added that the staffing and expenditure summaries were similar to last year at this time, and said the revenue adjustment would be made through the use of fund equity. Therefore, the district’s ending fund equity balance for the current fiscal year is projected to be $18.45 million.

Outcome: These items were brought to the board at first briefing, and will be voted on during the next regular meeting on June 13.

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 this meeting, the board heard from a student representative from Roberto Clemente Student Development Center (see budget section above), as well as the AAPAC, PTOC, and AAAA.

Association and Student Reports: AAPAC

Scott White reported for the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC). As the district looks into staffing for next year, he asked that it considers hiring additional Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) to provide support for students with autism and other behavioral issues. He argued that behavioral expertise is integral to implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) for students with autism. White also noted that with the passage of autism insurance coverage in Michigan, AAPS might be able to seek reimbursement for the BCBA services.

Association and Student Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera reported that the Parent Teacher Organization Council held its last meeting of the year, and had a great celebration. She noted that a larger number of schools have attended PTOC meetings this year, and said the new slate of executive board members reflects a wider representation as well. Pachera also gave “kudos” to all citizens who voted yes on the recent tech bond millage.

Association and Student Reports: AAAA

Haisley Elementary School principal Kathy Scarnecchia reported for the Ann Arbor Administrators Association. She said that as a unit, AAAA members rely significantly on the police liaisons, who support the administrators in many different roles. The liaisons visit homes; talk with younger students about behavior and safety; help at athletic events; and watch over parking lots, among other things, Scarnecchia said. To make up the budget difference of retaining the police liaison positions, Scarnecchia suggested considering refiguring the truant officer, homeless liaison or other community service positions.

Superintendent’s Report

Patricia Green’s report highlighted a documentary she had recently seen: ”Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.” She said it was “timely and poignant” and that she would like each AAPS high school to show it to students before the end of the year. Green said the film depicts the story of a football game between Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan in 1934 when star UM player Willis Ward was benched, and his best friend and then-future president Gerald Ford took a stand against that decision. Green said the movie was a very powerful demonstration of what character is, and of the longstanding impact people can have on society.

For the remainder of Green’s report, she offered numerous commendations of students, staff, and schools across the district, noting that “our students really distinguish themselves.” She noted the dedication of the Pioneer track to two longtime staff members – Don Sleeman and Bryan Westfield – and thanked the supporters who came to honor these educators, noting that “people came from generations.”

Agenda Planning

Andy Thomas suggested that the budget reduction plan for the 2013-14 school year should be brought forward to the board in October of 2012, with as much detail as is possible at that time. Christine Stead also suggested shifting to a longer-term approach to budgeting, and Deb Mexicotte said perhaps the board should discuss it at a committee of the whole. The board’s next committee of the whole meeting is scheduled for July 18.

Susan Baskett said she would like to hear about how possibly redistricting would impact transportation. She also reported hearing concerns about the new graduation requirements disproportionately impacting certain subsets of the AAPS population, especially special education students, and asked how that is being addressed. Mexicotte noted that the possibility of crafting a personal curriculum exists, but Baskett said her concern was that children are not coming out with a diploma at all.

Items from the Board

Simone Lightfoot said she was late to the meeting due to attending her daughter’s spring concert at Skyline High, and she thanked the orchestra director there for a job well done. She also thanked Scarlett Middle School principal Gerald Vasquez for inviting her to participate in Portfolio Day at Scarlett, saying it was nice to interview young people and to “have the opportunity to work with them on firm handshakes and lowering their hemlines.” She also noted that Scarlett had done a good job of calling on retired staff to participate in Portfolio Day, and she urged the district to look into “ways to tap into our retirees.”

Glenn Nelson said he also attended and very much enjoyed Scarlett’s portfolio day. He also noted the AAPS student art exhibit at the University of Michigan Slusser art gallery, and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce’s honoring of two AAPS teachers. Finally, Nelson lauded the homebuilding program, which just purchased 12 new lots for the next 12 houses to be built. He noted that the program’s 2012 house has already sold, and thanked the staff and advisory board who support this program.

Susan Baskett said she can’t believe it’s graduation time – she congratulated all the graduates, especially those at Skyline High, who will graduate its first class this year. “Have fun, but be safe,” Baskett said.

Andy Thomas called attention to the upcoming Ann Arbor Marathon on June 17, as well as to Mainstreet Ventures’ “marathon meal” offer: For $26 from now through race day, you can purchase a marathon meal at Real Seafood, Gratzi, Palio, and a number of other restaurants and $5 of the price of that meal is contributed to the AAPS Educational Foundation.

Deb Mexicotte said graduation season was a “thrilling and joyous” time and that she was looking forward to seeing her fellow trustees at the five graduation ceremonies this year. She also said she had the pleasure of accepting an award on behalf of Baskett from the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), certifying Baskett as “a master board member in the state of Michigan for continuing to educate herself around boardsmanship.”

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot (arrived at 8 p.m.), and Glenn Nelson.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 13, 2012, at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

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AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation Tue, 22 May 2012 19:41:13 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole meeting (May 16, 2012) Part 2:  Besides the budget, the AAPS board discussed several other issues at its committee meeting.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green at a fall 2011 meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

The board is beginning its first evaluation of the one employee for whom it is directly responsible – superintendent Patricia Green. Green joined the district on July 1, 2011, and will undergo her first formal evaluation by the board during an executive session scheduled for June 20, 2102.

At the May 16 board meeting, trustees agreed to a process for soliciting input on Green from members of the AAPS community, including parents, principals, staff, board associations, bargaining groups, and specific people invited by trustees to participate.

The board also tentatively agreed to direct the AAPS administration to form a committee representing a wide range of stakeholders to study the sustainability of transportation services in the district. And board members affirmed the “differentiated instruction” approach to teaching used throughout the district, in lieu of maintaining a separate “gifted and talented” program.

This report covers the non-budget portions of the May 16 school board committee of the whole meeting. The budget discussion during this meeting was covered in an earlier report.

Superintendent Evaluation Process

As vice president of the board, trustee Christine Stead is charged with coordinating the annual evaluation of the superintendent. At the May 16 meeting, Stead presented the board with an evaluation rubric for their consideration, and led trustees through a discussion about including other members of the AAPS community in the evaluation process via a survey instrument.

Superintendent Evaluation: Survey Instrument

The rubric Stead presented was developed by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), and contains suggestions for rating superintendents as ineffective, minimally effective, effective, or highly effective in 11 categories: relationship with the board; community relations; staff relationships; business and finance; educational leadership; personal qualities; evaluation; progress toward the school improvement plan; student attendance; student/parent/teacher feedback; and student growth and achievement.

Stead pointed out that the MASB tool is incomplete, because the state has not yet determined metrics it will require for measuring student growth and achievement. She suggested that the board should use the MASB tool to think about which categories are most important, and how the board wants to measure them as the state clarifies its requirements. For now, however, Stead suggested that the board should use the same tool it has used for superintendent evaluations in the past. She requested that board secretary Amy Osinski send a copy of the old tool to trustees, and that trustees return it to Osinski with any suggested modifications within seven days.

Superintendent Evaluation: Community Feedback

Stead asked her board colleagues if they would like to include an element of community feedback in Green’s evaluation, and they expressed general agreement that they would. Stead explained that the methodology used in the past invited a selected group of AAPS community members to complete the same survey instrument used by the board.

Trustee Susan Baskett pointed out that not many districts are doing “360-degree evaluations,” but said that the AAPS has always valued input from the community. [This type of evaluation involves a broader range of feedback, rather than just input from an employee's supervisors. For example, it can include input from people who are managed by the person being evaluated.] Trustee Glenn Nelson said that people write to the board all the time asking for that evaluation instrument.

Board president Deb Mexicotte reviewed how the collection of community feedback has been done in the past. First, board members, including the superintendent, make a list of people they would like to survey, which is intended to reflect a broad range of people in the district. Surveys are then sent to those people confidentially, along with representatives from a set of “standard stakeholders,” Mexicotte said, including bargaining units, principals, staff members, board associations, and parents. All the input that comes in is then aggregated by the board secretary and presented to the board during a closed session. “We struck a compromise between something information-seeking, but not ‘FOIA-able,’” Mexicotte said, referring to disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said the process seems “secretive and not inclusive,” and suggested that the board seek broader input, such as a survey of all parents. However, several trustees weighed in against this approach.

Andy Thomas said that opening up the survey very broadly would produce negatively-skewed responses, because those responding would not necessarily be representative. Lightfoot argued that the current approach of selecting who gets to fill out a survey is skewed as well. Baskett pointed out that opening the survey up to everyone could mean that the board would get opinions from people who have never met Green, and that would not be fair. Lightfoot asked, “Will it be a requirement that [survey respondents] have met Green?”

Irene Patalan said she was very interested in the opinions of people who have had “professional encounters” with Green, such as meetings, interactions, planning, or other discussions. Lightfoot said she is also interested in hearing from the “not so well-placed and those that are moderately to minimally knowledgeable.” Mexicotte said, “If there are people you want heard, you can put them on the list.” Lightfoot replied that she did not have a list of people in mind, but would like instead to make the process available to everyone.

There are some people in the community who might not have had the opportunity to work with Green, Baskett said, but the board should hear from them, too. She suggested, “The broader community will know that we are doing this evaluation and will have the opportunity to reach out to us as public servants, and we can decide if we want to take their input or not.”

Stead stated that if you have not met a person, you cannot give feedback on that person. She said it would not be constructive to solicit input from everyone in the district, and that seeking “favorability ratings” would not be a good use of public funds. “I’m very interested in [the opinions of] people who have met with and worked with our superintendent enough,” Stead said. “I am less interested in [the opinions of] people who have only read articles in”

Mexicotte, Thomas, and Nelson each spoke about the fact that evaluating the superintendent is a primary task of the board itself, and that while the board can certainly choose to solicit public comments – and indeed will very likely get e-mails related to this – trustees ultimately have to make the decisions themselves.

Lightfoot argued that the board owes it to people to solicit broader input, and that the board should be less concerned with controlling what people say and more concerned with evaluating their comments. “We want all the taxpayers to give us $45 million [a reference to the technology millage that voters approved on May 8], but we only want those who have met the superintendent to weigh in,” she said.

“If we are getting complaints that people do not have access to the superintendent, then it’s a double-edged sword to say we cannot allow input if they haven’t met her,” Lightfoot added.  “…I want the public to write me.”

Superintendent Evaluation: Next Steps

Baskett suggested that it has always bothered her that the board secretary has been the person to aggregate the public comments while keeping them all confidential. She recommended getting someone from outside of the current administration to do that task. She noted that her suggestion was “nothing personal” against board secretary Amy Osinski, “who we know and love.” Baskett suggested that former deputy superintendent of instruction Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley – or someone else nearby, retired, and familiar with the district – could objectively collect the data.

Stead asked if the board wanted to do a favorability poll, and trustees indicated they did not. She then asked if the trustees wanted to create a list of people to survey, consistent with past practice, and they indicated that they did. Stead asked for suggestions about how many people each trustee could add to the list. Mexicotte suggested five to seven, but added that there should be no official limit.

Osinski said the board has usually sent out about 70 surveys, and 50-60 are typically returned.

Stead then charged Mexicotte with identifying people who could be the collection point for community feedback. Mexicotte said she would identify someone within 48 hours. Patalan said that if there was not time to find an alternate person, Osinski could perform the task this year and that would be fine.

Mexicotte asked Green if she would like to say anything, and Green replied that she had enjoyed listening to the discussion.

Stead concluded that within seven days, a data collection person will have been identified, and the board will have provided feedback on the survey tool and lists of community members to survey. Then, she said, the tool can be sent out to the community members, who will have 1-2 weeks to respond. The board will then meet in executive session on June 20 to conduct the superintendent evaluation.

Transportation Committee

Deb Mexicotte invited Simone Lightfoot to speak about a subcommittee that Lightfoot has been interested in setting up. Lightfoot introduced the idea of creating a board subcommittee to look at sustainable solutions to the transportation issues facing the district, and suggested the group could include Ann Arbor city councilmembers, the mayor, students who ride the bus and their parents, and transportation experts from the University of Michigan. She added that the board should “hold harmless” transportation services while the committee worked on a sustainable plan.

Mexicotte said it is not required that the board both set up a committee to study this and hold transportation harmless – that is, not make cuts to the transportation budget – until the study is complete.

Andy Thomas questioned whether a board committee with community representatives and members of other organizations is really a “subcommittee” of the board. Mexicotte, Susan Baskett and Glenn Nelson cited examples of other committees that have included participation by outside organizations or community members. Mexicotte pointed out that the committee that was created to redraw attendance boundaries after Skyline High School was built was an administrative committee, not a board committee, and that it worked well because it had a specific task.

Baskett asked for clarification on the difference between an administrative committee and a board committee.

Mexicotte answered that the difference is who is charging the committee, and directing its work and reporting cycle. The advantage of creating a board committee on transportation is that the board would have complete control over the process, she said. The disadvantages of forming a board committee rather than an administrative one, she said, are that board members might not be the experts needed to do the work, and it’s more work for board members as “citizen-volunteers.” She suggested that the board could task a group with creating the best plan possible to transport students if high school busing is completely eliminated in 2013-14.

Christine Stead suggested that rather than form a new committee at all, the board could ask the existing transportation safety committee (TSC) to look into this. Mexicotte suggested also considering the city-schools committee.

Lightfoot said it’s not fair to talk about eliminating transportation until the impact is discussed. “It seems like we are going to vote on the budget and then look at all the detail. How can I reconcile that black, brown, and economically disadvantaged students will take the brunt of these cuts?” she asked. Responding to the suggestion to use the TSC, Lightfoot added, “I am not for reinventing wheels. I am for inventing wheels that need to be invented, though.” She said she liked the idea of cross-governmental units, like the city-schools committee, working together.

Baskett pointed out that in the past, she has known people to feel “used” on administrative committees that are “top-heavy,” and said she wants to be sure the board affords community residents a real voice. Mexicotte said that challenge would be the same whether the committee formed is led by the board or by the administration.

Nelson suggested that it would be appropriate to create an administrative committee to take up this issue, and Irene Patalan agreed. Lightfoot said she would be amenable to that. But Lightfoot wondered what would make the process any different than what is already in place. Mexicotte answered, “The reason it’s different than people sending us things is that there is a structure, an agenda, milestones, and an expectation of an outcome. That’s what different – even though at the beginning you have a million ideas on a table, there is a process to work through them.”

Stead and Thomas each pointed out that it’s not realistic to think about transportation as sustainable. Thomas said there are two points of view in this debate – one that views maintaining lower class sizes as the most important goal, and another that views offering transportation services as an issue of social equity – that is, that transportation must be preserved, even if it means lowering the quality of education for all.

Baskett said she would support the formation of an administrative committee on transportation as a way to engage the community in future planning, and pointed out that people might suggest options that the board has not considered. She added that members of both the city-schools and TSC committees could be invited to join the new committee.

Mexicotte indicated that she was of two minds. On the one hand, she said, the administration has already vetted this budget, and she questioned pulling out one topic for extra consideration. But on the other hand, she said she was open to forming a committee, if the board thinks it requires a different level of scrutiny.

Baskett said she does not feel assured that the administration has sufficiently studied every issue. She said she has felt uninformed of the administration’s work in determining the impacts of their budget recommendations. Responding to Baskett, Nelson noted the budget proposal did have a column that listed impacts.

Nelson then said that from his perspective, what differentiates transportation somewhat is that it’s inter-governmental. He said an internal transportation committee would not be as effective as one with representation from the schools, the city, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA). Mexicotte said she found Nelson’s argument compelling.

Patalan called on district parents to help get kids to school. She said she is very interested in working with different governmental entities with the expertise of different communities and different PTOs (parent-teacher organizations). Patalan also said she believes that when the administration makes suggestions, it means they have done their best.

Stead said she would also support an administrative committee on this issue, regardless of the budget. She noted that the district could use work on placing crossing guards, and working with the city on not ticketing parents for idling their cars during pick-up and drop-off if driving to school increases due to transportation cuts. [The city of Ann Arbor does not currently have an anti-idling ordinance, although the issue has been discussed.]

Mexicotte asked for agreement from the board would like to put together a framework for charging the administration to engage in a comprehensive assessment of the sustainability of transportation in this district, with a wide range of stakeholders. The group would report back to the board by December of 2012 or January of 2013 at the latest.

Stead responded by saying  she had a different view on the milestones of the committee, adding that if transportation is fully eliminated, “we want that group to be working hard over the summer.”

Mexicotte said the board could discuss the specific charge to the committee at the next regular board meeting on May 23.

Gifted and Talented Programming

In response to a request from Christine Stead, the AAPS administration brought a report to the board explaining why the district does not have a discrete gifted and talented program, but instead focuses on employing “differentiated instruction” in all classrooms. Superintendent Patricia Green said their report would give some background on how differentiation works in AAPS. Alesia Flye, AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction, added that she will also describe “differentiated instruction” and speak to how it is used to meet the needs of higher-achieving students, and how it relates to the district’s strategic plan.

Gifted and Talented Programming: Administrative Presentation

Differentiated instruction, Flye explained, is teaching in a way that meets the instructional needs and learning styles of all students in a classroom. It is instruction that is inquiry-based, open-ended, multi-faceted, concept-centered, interdisciplinary, interest-based, and student-selected. Flexible skill-grouping is also a major component of differentiated instruction.

Flye note that differentiated instruction is well-suited to meeting the needs of both gifted students and high achievers, and that AAPS will be providing professional development to strengthen the use of differentiated instruction throughout the district.

Flye then highlighted elements of differentiated instruction used in AAPS by core subject area, and noted that overall there is a “no ceiling” policy, meaning students can always achieve higher levels of learning. In English language arts, Flye said, elementary students receive small group instruction; middle school students use My Access software to reach writing instruction far above grade level; and high school students have access to accelerated and advanced placement (AP) classes. Glenn Nelson added that AAPS students also take courses at the University of Michigan and Washtenaw Community College.

Susan Baskett asked how small group instruction is implemented in elementary classrooms. Dawn Linden, AAPS assistant superintendent of elementary education, said that literacy class would begin with whole group instruction, and then students work in leveled reading groups, with the teacher rotating from group to group. In math, Linden said, the district is piloting a guided math program that is similar. Green added that this model very significantly does not create fixed groups of students, but flexible ones. “Without flexibility,” she said, “you are tracking students – this is not that.”

Science classes at the elementary level, Flye said, are taught with an inquiry-based approach and the program supports cross-curricular tie-ins. In middle and high schools, AP courses are offered, along with magnet programs, career and tech ed internships, and a variety of extracurricular options for enrichment, such as robotics and the Science Olympiad.

In social studies, Flye noted, secondary options include AP classes, an accelerated American studies course, humanities, magnet programs, community resource classes, and integrated/blended classes.

Linden connected differentiated learning to personalized learning plans, which are a key part of the district’s strategic plan. She explained that the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) test, parent conferences, and detailed report cards offer teachers tools to identify realistic goals for every student on a quarterly basis.

Flye said that AAPS has not been consistent about providing uninterrupted blocks of time for literacy and math instruction at the elementary level, but that her team is working closely with all the buildings to achieve this. Green noted that “what has traditionally been done is those master schedules are set around the specials [art, music, physical education, library, and humanities] and those become the drivers, but this will totally reverse that.” She said that standardizing instruction blocks will make better use of district resources, and be a step forward instructionally.

At the secondary level, Linden said, personalized learning plans bring in career development and contain both short and long-term goals.

Flye closed the presentation by summarizing the gifted and talented programming in two comparable districts – in Utica, Mich., and in Waterloo, Iowa. In Utica, she said, students are identified at the end of third grade and participate in enrichment activities led by teachers or parents outside of the school day, such as social studies olympiad, science olympiad, Lego robotics, and chess club. In Waterloo, Flye explained, the district pays for a special teacher who provides direct support to academically gifted and talented students in the classroom and offers them some extended activities.

In both cases, Flye said, formal identification of academically gifted and talented students leads to a program serving roughly 3% of the district’s students.

Gifted and Talented Programming: Board Discussion

The board expressed appreciation for the presentation, and support for the idea of focusing on differentiated instruction over creating a separate program for academically gifted and talented students. Their primary questions related to the testing necessary to support a differentiated instruction model.

Simone Lightfoot argued that the amount of testing is a concern, and asked if any more tests would be added. Flye said that no more tests would be added and that the district is “data rich.” Flye added the challenge is teaching teachers to use data to plan instructionally for each student, and noted that the NWEA test is a tool that provides immediate information – it really helps cater instruction to individual students.

Lightfoot asked whether any of the other tests being used can be replaced with the NWEA, and Flye said the district is looking into that. Green added that in both of the previous states where she had worked, districts she was in had done just that. “We cut back on testing that we did not feel was value-added.”

Deb Mexicotte said she agreed entirely that AAPS should be looking at its testing schedule, and ask whether “some tests that we know teachers are comfortable with are meeting our needs anymore.” She expressed skepticism that the redesigned state assessment would be rolled out on time and that it would be a good tool. She suggested that AAPS might be able to pursue a waiver if the NWEA test meets the state testing requirements. “I would rather we did the one that served our students best,” she said. Flye said a waiver might be an option.

Andy Thomas said he would like the district to continue doing differentiated learning in lieu of having a gifted and talented program. Flye agreed, and said that AAPS has not yet maximized its potential in terms of differentiated instruction. “We can get more out of our staff in terms of instructional delivery,” she said.

Christine Stead said she is worried about the effectiveness of differentiated learning in the district, and also about the awareness of differentiated instruction in the wider community. Saying that she worries about charter schools using the lure of a gifted and talented program to pull students away, Stead suggested that AAPS needs to figure out how to compete effectively by articulating how its top students are continuing to progress. She said she thinks the NWEA test will help show that, but that the story of how differentiated learning is happening needs to be captured and communicated.

Stead also suggested that tenure reform could allow the district to offer incentives to teachers to ensure that all students are progressing and not “capping out.” She said she would like to see that AAPS is able to reward teachers who can respond to differentiated groups.

Linden observed that consistency is the district’s biggest problem. Master teachers are differentiating on a daily basis, and AAPS needs to highlight what is being done. She also noted that some teachers are still uncomfortable with the NWEA tool.

Stead said that the NWEA should serve as the foundation for personalized learning plans at the elementary level, and that perhaps there should be additional parent conferences held midway through the school year. “We need to spend more time and energy packaging these things, showing the data,” she asserted.

Nelson said he likes the “no ceilings” approach, and does not like labeling kids. In addition to aggregate scores, he suggested that individual stories could illustrate the differentiated approach, such as a 10th grader taking a calculus class at the University of Michigan.

Baskett wanted more information about the opportunities to take college courses, and information about related costs. She said there are equity issues in terms of how such information is communicated in the district. Mexicotte asked the administration to send out those numbers to the board.

Flye said the district is creating a curriculum pathways document that will illustrate the complete path for elementary, middle school, and high school – all the AP classes, dual enrollment options, and all the routes through programs. Green said she is also trying to work differently with community centers and the NAACP to see if information can be disseminated through those organizations. Lightfoot urged the district to be sure the pathways document is simple to understand and not convoluted.

Irene Patalan said this approach really resonated with her as a parent and as a former teacher.

Mexicotte said it would be nice to have a phone number of someone who has complete understanding of the curriculum pathway, and that it opens doors to be able to have a conversation. She also said she really likes the idea of stories, and noted that as a special needs parent, differentiated instruction is “the word.”

Along with “no ceilings,” Mexicotte said she wants to ensure that there are “no floors and no doors, either.” For example, she said, placement testing is so rigid that it practically prevents students from being able to do it. Saying she appreciates differentiated instruction and wants the district to make it stronger and better, Mexicotte added that she also likes it because there is no gatekeeper. She also suggested that the district look into allowing accelerated students to take more than seven classes by expanding online learning options. Flye said that she was supportive of online options.

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

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at 7 p.m. in fourth-floor conference room of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

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AAPS 2012-13 Budget Begins to Take Shape Mon, 21 May 2012 14:45:09 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole (May 16, 2012): Although they showed mixed sentiment on some issues, trustees tentatively expressed agreement on a total of $4.8 million in budget cuts, and just over $6 million in revenue enhancements.

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte led the trustees in their budget discussion at the May 16 committee meeting. The formal budget presentation from the administration will come at the May 23 meeting.

That still leaves a $7 million gap to be addressed as the district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, which begins July 1. There was general agreement on the board to use some amount fund equity to meet the budget targets, but no agreement about how much to use. Hypothetically, the entire $17.8 million shortfall could be covered by drawing on the fund equity the district has to start FY 2013, which is $18.73 million.

But without some cuts and revenue enhancements, that fund equity would be close to just $1 million by the end of the year, which is a half percent of the district’s currently proposed  expenditure budget for FY 2013 – $194 million. In addition, it would leave insufficient reserves to manage cash flow through the summer. And by the end of the following year, fund equity would be projected to be negative $23.5 million.

At the May 16 meeting, most trustees expressed support for leaving Roberto Clemente Student Development Center in place in its current form for at least another year, while evaluating the program’s educational effectiveness. Much of the board sentiment on Clemente was reflected in an exchange between trustees Simone Lightfoot and Glenn Nelson near the end of the three and half hour budget discussion. Lightfoot asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”

The administration’s budget proposal called for the elimination of between 32 and 64 teaching positions, but trustees were in broad agreement that there should be no cuts to teaching positions, if at all possible. Nelson suggested that by hiring less-experienced new teachers to replace retiring teachers, the district would still be able to save roughly $960,000, without incurring any rise in class sizes. Trustees expressed support for that approach, which board president Deb Mexicotte dubbed the ”Nelson model.”

While trustees showed a consensus about maintaining teaching staff levels, they were divided on the issue of transportation. Lightfoot suggested a “hold harmless” approach to transportation this year – as the districts forms an administrative committee with broad stakeholder participation to develop a sustainable transportation plan. Taking almost an opposite view on transportation was trustee Christine Stead, who advocated several times during the meeting that all non-mandated busing should be cut. Based on the board discussion, busing for Ann Arbor Open will likely be preserved via a cost-neutral plan that relies primarily on common stops at the district’s five middle schools. Also likely is that the 4 p.m. middle school bus and the shuttles to and from Community High School will  be cut. Some board members also indicated an interest in “phasing out” busing to the magnet programs at Skyline High School.

The board took no formal votes during their committee-of-the-whole-meeting on May 16. However the board’s consensus on various issues, convey to the AAPS administration, will inform the final budget proposal. That final proposal comes to the board for a first briefing and public hearing on May 23.

In addition to the budget discussion, the May 16 committee meeting included four and a half additional hours of discussion on: discussing gifted and talented programming in the district; outlining the superintendent evaluation review process; and creating a framework for a broad-based committee to study the sustainability of transportation in the district.

Budget Discussion Process

Board president Deb Mexicotte began by outlining an approach to the budget discussion that would first identify areas of consensus on the proposed budget reductions. After that, it focused the board’s conversation on areas where opinions diverged. The idea was to determine “what [the board] will be able to tolerate” as it addresses the $17.8 million budget deficit. AAPS superintendent Patricia Green added that her administration had brought additional information to inform the discussion.

The board held three rounds of discussion. In round one, trustees briefly considered each of the 27 proposed reductions put forth in the administration’s budget proposal , and were encouraged to reach consensus on items that could be eliminated with very little or no discussion.  During this round trustees agreed on cuts to 13 budget items totaling $1.9 million.

In round two, trustees discussed each of the remaining 14 budget items in detail, but did not try to come to consensus about how to balance them against each other. This round ended with an administrative presentation and lengthy board discussion on the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.

In round three, trustees tried to reach consensus on a subset of the remaining suggested reductions – in the context of the required fund equity that would otherwise be needed to balance the FY 2012-13 budget. In the end, trustees were able to agree on another $2.8 million of cuts.  They disagreed on the question how much of the remaining $7 million deficit to address by using fund equity versus deepening the budget cuts. Almost all the consensus cuts came from the administration’s core budget proposal (Plan A). The exception was a 10% cut to the district-wide discretionary budgets, which was part of the suggested second-tier of additional cuts (Plan B).

The Chronicle has organized this report by first listing the cuts the board adopted with little or no discussion. After that, discussion and general agreement reached by the board on the remaining proposed reductions are grouped into the following categories: Clemente, transportation, teaching staff, and other district-wide cuts. The report concludes at the same point the trustees’ discussion ended – with a brief discussion of next steps in the process, and general agreement that AAPS should pursue revenue enhancement via advertising.

Line Item Cuts – Round One

The board’s first pass at line item reductions yielded $1.9 million in savings. Mexicotte led trustees through a comprehensive list of the 27 proposed budget reduction options one by one and asked if there was consensus to retain each item on the list of cuts. She started a list of any items on which the board wished to have more extensive discussion on chart paper set on an easel at the front of the room.

Via this method, the board agreed to the following 13 reductions with very little or no discussion:

  1. Eliminate four high school counselors ($400,000);
  2. Eliminate middle school athletic directors ($37,500);
  3. Eliminate funding for athletic entry fees ($58,000);
  4. Move lacrosse to club sport status ($93,000);
  5. Outsource noon-hour supervision ($75,000);
  6. Eliminate district subsidy for summer music camps ($60,000);
  7. Reduce budget for substitute teachers ($200,000);
  8. Combine bus runs for Bryant and Pattengill elementaries ($16,560);
  9. ITD restructuring ($200,000);
  10. Move Rec & Ed director and office professional positions to Rec & Ed budget ($205,000);
  11. Eliminate the early notification incentive for retiring staff ($40,000);
  12. Enact Phase V of energy savings capital improvements ($500,000); and
  13. Reduce health care costs ($100,000).

Regarding the reduction in counselors, Stead asked for clarification on whether the positions would come from attrition or retirements, and which schools would be affected. AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye said that three of the four positions would be reduced via retirements – one each at Forsythe and Scarlet middle schools, and Huron High School. Those three schools can reduce one counselor and still meet the contractual counselor-student ratio of 1:325, Flye said, but a staff reassignment would be needed to fill the position left by retirement at Scarlett. The fourth counseling position would be eliminated  at Pioneer High School – a suggestion that came from that school’s administration.

Trustee Susan Baskett questioned whether the reduction in counselors would have an effect on the district’s ability to enact the new counseling and guidance programming, which was presented at the February 2012 committee of the whole meeting.  Flye said it will be a challenge to deliver some of the new plan’s services, and that a reduced number of counselors at each building could be problematic down the road.

Trustees got clarification that the athletic entry fee was beyond the fees associated with regular conference participation for all sports. Baskett asked whether students would have less exposure to recruiters. AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen answered that recruiters would still be able to come to many events.

Mexicotte tallied up the total amount saved from the above cuts, and it came to $1,985,060. Trustees agreed to employ all four of the revenue enhancement suggestions proposed by the administration (Schools of Choice, Medicaid reimbursement, MPSERS offset, and best practices incentives), totaling $6 million.

That left $9,814,940 as the remaining amount the board was still looking to cut as it moved into the next phase of discussion.  [$17.8 million – $1,985,060 – $6 million = $9,814,940].

Roberto Clemente Student Development Center

At the May 16 meeting, four people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of the Roberto  Clemente Student Development Center. AAPS administration also presented a new set of information for board review, including a set of options for relocating or restructuring the school, and a large amount of data on achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing, course offerings, and cost comparisons between the six district high schools. Additional board discussion on Clemente, including its summer school program, followed the administrative presentation.

Allen introduced the proposed reduction to Clemente as potentially saving $400,000, which included savings related to the building, principal, office professional, custodian, and utility costs. Moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer would save another $80,000.

Clemente: Public Commentary

Barbara Malcolm, a community liaison at Clemente, asserted that the board members are no longer representing the community that elected them. She said she has been appalled by “actions, lies, and deceit” and that the school board has lost much of its credibility in the community. Malcolm said the district still faces the same level of attacks on blacks, poor people, and disenfranchised students as it did when she was a student at AAPS. She said it was shameful that Mexicotte has called Clemente “racist” and “a one-way street.” Calling superintendent Patricia Green an “outsider” who was “not part of the community, only paid by it,” Malcolm accused Green of dismantling a pillar of the community. Malcolm asked Green at least to “own” a statement Green had made at the beginning of her tenure as superintendent that Clemente was not on the chopping block. She argued that AAPS needs to educate all students, “not just those who do well on standardized, biased tests.”

Charlae Davis said that if the process is sloppy, the outcome will be sloppy, and said she had serious concerns with the budget proposal process. She argued that denying families and students a role in the planning process is a form of oppression and said the process has been “victim-blaming.” She asked board members to consider whether they would be satisfied with this process if their own children were at Clemente.

Georgina LeHuray shared the story of her grandson’s switch to Clemente and the positive effect it has had on him. She argued that test scores are the wrong measurements to use in evaluating Clemente, and asked what will mean the most to these kids in 10 or 15 years – test scores or [the support] they get from these people at Clemente. LeHuray urged the board, “If you save one kid at Clemente, it’s worth every damn tax dollar we put on these kids … Do not fail these kids. Appreciate what you’ve got at Roberto Clemente.”

Clemente staff member Pat Morrow asserted that AAPS has failed the children who attend Clemente. She argued that achieving high test scores is not as relevant as getting a high school diploma, and said that sending Clemente students back to the comprehensive high schools would be setting them up to fail. “We can get kids into colleges, Morrow said, “and they can go onto be productive citizens.” She said the board needed to let the Clemente community know right now what its fate is.

Clemente: Short-Term Focus

Green said the presentation her team brought to share was developed in response to questions from the previous committee of the whole meeting about what the options the district had to make changes to Clemente. Lightfoot noted that she was not comfortable getting this information for the first time at 11:20 p.m.

Flye reviewed how Clemente is made up mostly of 9th and 10th graders, but includes some upperclassmen as well. The goal of the program, she said, is to help students return to their home school by making use of smaller learning environments, among other program features. Flye said that the administration’s short term goal was to maintain the philosophy, initiatives, and structure of the Clemente program, with the long-term of possibly redesigning the program.

Green added that the district has been talking about the possible redesign of alternative programs, and noted that A2 Tech’s name change came out of those talks. She noted that when she had been interviewing for the position in Ann Arbor, she heard that cutting alternative programs had come up during last year’s budget discussions. Green also addressed an accusation made repeatedly at recent board meeting public commentary sessions about a statement she made on Clemente’s future: “When I had visited over there early in the year, at the time I was asked, ‘Are you planning on closing the school?’ I said there had been no conversation about that – it was very early in September. None of these conversations had taken place.”

Clemente: Restructuring Options

Flye described four options for restructuring Clemente:

  1. Relocate Clemente to the A2Tech building and run both programs separately;
  2. Relocate Clemente to A2Tech and create a blended version of both programs;
  3. Relocate Clemente to a dedicated space in either Pioneer or Huron; or
  4. Integrate Clemente students into their home high schools, with the Clemente program principal coordinating support of Clemente students in the comprehensive schools.

Flye then explained why (option 1) and (option 2) were not seen as desirable. She briefly touched on how (option 4) was envisioned, and then went into detail about how (option 3) could work.

Flye noted that there might not be enough space to keep the programs fully separate in the same building (option 1). She also said that the principals of A2 Tech and Clemente had said it would not work well to blend the programs (option 2), because the two programs have such different areas of emphasis. Clemente targets mostly 9th and 10th grade students, Flye said, while A2 Tech targets older students.

If Clemente students were integrated into their home high schools (option 4), Flye said that some instruction could be delivered by Clemente staff, that some instruction could consist of “touchpoint” classes delivered with technological enhancements, and that” wraparound services” would be offered.

On the topic of relocating the Clemente program to Pioneer or Huron (option 3), Flye and Green suggested that modified schedules could be used to keep Clemente students totally separate from other students if that was desired. The modified schedules might include separate lunch periods, or alternative starting and ending times. At the comprehensive high schools, Clemente students would benefit from an enhanced set of opportunities, they said, including sports, arts, career and tech education and other electives, while maintaining Clemente’s mentoring approach and weekly “rap sessions.”

AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent led the administration in describing the spaces within Pioneer and Huron that could house Clemente. At Pioneer, he said, there are seven classrooms in the D wing that could be available, along with an eighth room upstairs that could be used if necessary, an administrative area, a separate entrance, and a large lecture facility that could be used for the weekly rap session. Clemente would displace math classes currently using the space, which Pioneer’s administration said would be a good change for the school, Flye added.

At Huron, the available space would be an isolated area with eight classrooms would be on the third floor of the arch, Trent explained, noting that students would have to walk through the entire building to reach the space. Flye allowed that world language and language arts classes would be impacted by the classroom shift at Huron. However, she reported that Huron’s administrative team had indicated it would not be a problem to relocate those classes and provide office space to accommodate the Clemente program.

Stead questioned how much would be saved by relocating the program intact under (option 1) or (option 3) versus blending the program with A2 Tech under (option 2) or integrating Clemente students in to the comprehensive high schools under (option 4). Allen answered that only the blended program in (option 2) would save the targeted $400,000. The other three options would save around $200,000 – because those options preserve Clemente’s administrative costs.

Lightfoot asked if there had been any consideration of ways that $200,000 could be saved while leaving the Clemente family as it is – like marketing the program to bring in more School of Choice students, or opening it up to more 8th graders. No, Flye answered. Lightfoot asked when such alternatives would be considered. Mexicotte responded to Lightfoot by saying that the board would use the meeting to decide whether to move forward with one of the options presented by administration, or make no change to the program.

Clemente: Data

Flye presented the board with data on Clemente’s student achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing levels, and course offerings, and comparative data on student achievement, graduation rates, and cost per student for all six AAPS high schools.

Cost per student at different AAPS high schools

Chart 1. Average cost per student at Ann Arbor Public School high schools. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld said that it was challenging to determine the degree of student academic growth at Clemente, because students enter the program at all times of year and stay for different lengths of time. Landefeld said she had reviewed the transcripts at the end of the second trimester for each of the 87 Clemente students enrolled at that time, and determined that 39 of the 87 (45%) then had higher GPAs than they had had when entering the program. However, she also noted that many of Clemente’s classes are slower-paced, and so “it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges in terms of which classes they are taking.”

Trustee Andy Thomas questioned the relevance of graduation rates – because the goal of Clemente is to return students to their home school for 11th and 12th grades. Landefeld confirmed that students do not graduate from Clemente because “Clemente is a program, not a school.” She explained, however, that “somewhere along the way, the state listed it as a school, so if a student ends at Clemente, they are considered graduating from Clemente.” Stead suggested that AAPS should communicate to the state that Clemente has been misclassified as a school.

AAPS proficiency by school

Chart 2. Michigan Merit Exam scores by subject by AAPS high school. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Nelson asked about the capacity of Clemente’s building. Trent explained that the building has 18 classrooms, which can fit up to 15 students each, with some larger rooms as well. Nelson noted that many classes at Clemente have fewer than 15 students. Flye added that Clemente strives to keep class sizes averaging 10-12 students. Landefeld stressed that Clemente gains students throughout the year, so the number of students fluctuates. There are  currently 104 students in the Clemente program, according to the analysis of student growth presented by Landefeld.

Mexicotte said that when she was first elected to the board, Clemente’s enrollment was around 170 students. She pointed out that for the purposes of current discussion, the board has been using a population of 100 students.

Clemente: Long-Term Focus

In the long term, Flye said, Clemente and other alternative programs in AAPS could be redesigned to offer expanded distance learning opportunities made possible through digital technology, and additional course offerings. The administration could also continue to explore the implementation of a middle college concept, and more flexible day and evening schedules. Flye concluded by saying that AAPS will continue to develop early interventions for at-risk students.

Clemente: Board Discussion

Baskett asked if there was any discussion of team-building – in a scenario where Clemente students are moved back into the comprehensive high schools in any way. Flye said the schools would welcome them, and that team-building with staff and students was acknowledged to be a very important part of the process.

Thomas said he had a number of concerns, beginning with the fact that decisions about Clemente should take program effectiveness into account, as well as potential cost savings. Regarding the student achievement data presented, Thomas said that on one hand, the fact that 0% of Clemente students are proficient in writing [See Chart 2] seems like “a pretty strong indictment of the Clemente program.” However, he said, the real question is, “At what level are students when they enter the program, and where are they at the end of one year, two years?” Thomas said that student growth is not being clearly measured except by GPA, which he argued was an “imperfect” measure.

Thomas also expressed concern about the timeline of implementing any changes in the Clemente program by fall 2012, and said that the district needs more time to prepare. He suggested that AAPS keep Clemente intact for one year, during which it completes a comprehensive evaluation of the program based on data, not anecdotal evidence. “And if that costs $200,000 or $400,000 plus transportation costs, that’s the price that we pay for not dealing with this earlier in the year,” Thomas said.

Stead said her thoughts on Clemente were similar. She said she was willing to trade off all transportation to preserve education as the district’s primary mission. She said she could support a change to Clemente that is led by a focus on the program, and would be discussed for a year by the principal, parents, families, and students involved. She felt like the district is now “trying to retrofit” a solution.

Directing her comments to two Clemente students still in attendance at the meeting [at 12:30 a.m.], Stead called the Clemente achievement data “extremely concerning,” and said, “You can roll your eyes and say it’s not important, but I can tell you – these numbers are important.” She agreed that Clemente warrants further review and discussion, and that while there is not time to fix it this year, “We need to do right by these students.”

Lightfoot said that she believes Clemente has done a “great job,” and that she is interested in the district considering better marketing of the program so that perhaps AAPS can “get it up to capacity” and bring in new revenue.

Nelson said that how he will vote on preserving Clemente will come down to where the money comes from, saying, “If it comes from the 32 [teaching positions districtwide], I just can’t go there. I really believe in those 32 [teaching positions].” If the money for Clemente would be taken from fund equity, Nelson said, he would “want to be convinced by the evaluation people that in fact there is reason to think there is something different we are going to know eight months from now because I find the achievement data very disturbing.”

Responding to Lightfoot directly, Nelson questioned how AAPS could effectively market this program when the test scores at Clemente are so much worse than at the comprehensive high schools. Nelson questioned whether performance at Clemente was actually decreasing the achievement gap and asserted, “The averages for African-Americans would go up if you took these students out of the mix.”

Lightfoot said that she was also upset by the data, but noted that African-Americans’ scores are low throughout the district, not only at Clemente. She asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”

Trustee Irene Patalan said the test scores as well as the money do concern her, noting that the per-student cost at Clemente is closer to $19,000 than $18,000. She said she feels an urgency to help the students at Clemente be successful as soon as possible, and that she would like a recommendation from the AAPS administration about which option to take.

Patalan also mentioned that her children had been in alternative programs within AAPS, and that she was very much an alternative school supporter. She shared some of the history of the district’s “Middle Years Alternative” program that was housed within Forsythe but had almost complete autonomy. Patalan said she is not afraid of “putting programs together and sharing spaces.”

Baskett said that she was tired and would refrain from commenting. But Mexicotte asked her to please share her thinking now. Baskett obliged, saying that if the district moves to change the status of Clemente now, it will not be done right. “The driver will be money, and not the quality of education for all our children,” she said, “I think, Irene, you are wrong on this one.”

Thanking the administration for the presentation, Baskett suggested that an evaluation of Clemente should include a qualitative element, saying, “When you talk about measuring climate, we need to capture that as well.”

Mexicotte began by clarifying that the comments ascribed to her during public commentary were things that she had reported having heard over the years about Clemente, not comments that she had made personally.

She continued by saying that while she appreciates that Clemente students have positive feelings about their school, the achievement data have troubled her for many years. “Are we going to say that these data points are not going to be what we are judging our achievement gap on across the district?” she asked. Mexicotte said that if the district wanted to decide not to judge “growth to proficiency” with test score data, then it would need to decide what else to use as metrics.

Mexicotte suggested the district needs to set expectations about test scores, and what kind of cost per student figures it would like to see. She suggested that the district study Clemente over a two-year time frame to determine if it should be marketed, moved, or adjusted in some other way, and noted, “If the program is really something we want for our students, we shouldn’t be gatekeeping as hard as we are.” Mexicotte also suggested that art and music should be brought back to Clemente in its current location.

Outcome: The board agreed to leave the Clemente program intact for at least one year while assessing its educational effectiveness. Stead suggested that in terms of the targeted savings in alternative high school programming, AAPS administration should have a conversation with A2 Tech one more time to see if any savings can be found in that program.

Clemente: Summer School

Green explained that the impetus behind moving Clemente’s summer school is to have all the secondary summer school programs located at one site – Pioneer High School.

Baskett noted that part of the transition to Clemente is the summer school program, which is not just academic. Allen said that not all Clemente students attend summer school, and that $20,000 out of the $100,000 Clemente summer school program can be preserved to add services to the traditional summer school program, which focuses on credit recovery. Flye reported that Clemente principal Ben Edmondson has said that Clemente summer school students are also working primarily on credit recovery, and that summer school helps to provide a consistent routine for them.

Thomas said moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer is an opportunity to achieve some efficiency. Flye noted that moving the program would also give students more opportunities in terms of course selection. Green added that the board should decide as soon as possible what the location will be – because Clemente needs to start preparing its summer program.

Trustees asked for clarification on the costs related to summer school. Landefeld explained that there are only fees for courses that are taken for extra enrichment, as opposed to courses taken for credit recovery, and that scholarships are available. Baskett asked if there is busing for summer school. Allen said there is no busing for summer school in general, but that Clemente students would be transported, and that it would likely cost less to bus them to Pioneer than to the Clemente building.

Outcome: The board agreed to move the Clemente summer school program into Pioneer High School to achieve an $80,000 budget reduction.

Teaching Staff Reductions

The administrative budget proposal includes the elimination of 32 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) in teaching staff in Plan A, 48 FTEs in Plan B, and 64 FTEs in Plan C. Trustees were in agreement that they are not interested in cutting any teaching positions.

Nelson suggested retaining the number of teachers, but hiring new teachers to replace those who are retiring. He asked for confirmation on comparative salaries, and Allen confirmed that there is roughly a $30,000 spread between retiring teachers (whose salaries and benefits cost nearly $100,000 each) and new teachers (whose total cost to the district is roughly $70,000).  Nelson suggested that 32 FTEs at $70,000 would be $2.24 million, which means that if the number of positions were preserved, but less expensive teachers were hired, the district could save $960,000.

Stead, Thomas, Patalan and Mexicotte all agreed about the importance of retaining teachers. Stead said this is one area where the primary mission of the district is clear, and that she could not justify cutting one more teacher. Thomas said he is willing to compromise on everything else, but that cutting teaching positions would be unacceptable, even if it means dipping into fund equity.


Trustees considered a variety of cost-saving measures in transportation services. There was disagreement among trustees about how much transportation they were interested in cutting this coming year – from none to all of it. Two people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of transportation.

Transportation: Public Commentary on Busing to Ann Arbor Open

Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC) co-chair Sascha Matish passed out a set of handouts to the board outlining the impact of eliminating busing to Ann Arbor Open on subgroups of the school’s population. She noted that busing is used by 95% of the school’s 22 African-American students, and 68% of the school’s 57 economically disadvantaged students (who receive free or reduced-price lunch). Matish also passed out an aerial map of the Ann Arbor Open area, and requested that the board view a video created by the AAOCC of morning traffic near the school to give trustees a sense of the traffic back-ups already facing families on a daily basis. Again, Matish suggested that cutting busing would severely compromise student safety.

The other co-chair of the Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC), Jill Zimmerman, also addressed the board. Referring to a set of bar graphs distributed to trustees, she noted that Ann Arbor Open’s MEAP scores are higher than the district averages in math and reading. She also pointed out that districtwide, the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 8th grade is lower than the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 3rd grade. However, the gap between 3rd-grade achievement and 8th-grade achievement is smaller among Ann Arbor Open students than it is across the district. “When we are talking about equity and closing the achievement gap, what Ann Arbor Open does matters,” Zimmerman asserted. “Our kids are doing better, and we think it’s because of what we are doing.”

Zimmerman also briefly reviewed an alternate busing proposal created by the AAOCC, which was sent to board members and AAPS administration before the meeting. The alternative proposal relies on common stops at middle schools and would more than halve the cost of busing to Ann Arbor Open.

Transportation: 4 p.m. Middle School Bus

Nelson said that he has consistently heard from middle school parents about the value of the after-school middle school program. Thomas suggested that the middle school principals could use some of their discretionary funds to keep the 4 p.m. bus if they wished.

Stead reiterated her theme that she does “not see transportation as being more important than education.” She noted that transportation is not required, not funded, and is not more valuable than a teacher. She argued that the community could come together and provide transportation, but could not come together and provide teaching. Baskett argued that there are many people in the community who would not be able to come together to provide transportation, saying, “You can call a carpool on your iPhone. Other families do not have phones.”

Mexicotte said she was inclined to leave the 4 p.m. middle school bus in place for another year, because a few years ago the district completely restructured middle school and lost a lot of extras and opportunities.

Transportation: Mid-day Shuttles to/from Community High School

Mexicotte noted that students get themselves to Community High School, and Baskett asked how many students this affected. Stead asked if AATA could be approached to provide shuttles, and Margolis answered that AATA buses don’t run often enough to make it work. Stead asked if Community students could Skype into classes at the comprehensive high schools. Allen allowed that yes, that would be possible.

Thomas said he was in favor of this reduction, and noted that Community shuttles are a “big-ticket item.”

Transportation: Busing to Choice Programs – Ann Arbor Open, Skyline Magnets, Roberto Clemente

Green presented a proposal crafted in the previous week by her staff that offered a cost-neutral alternative to continuing Ann Arbor Open busing – by consolidating routes at middle school common stops. Lightfoot expressed frustration that a new proposal was drafted for the Ann Arbor Open portion of the transportation cuts only, and said that she wants to be sure the district is doing the same for everyone, not just “the squeaky wheel.” Baskett commented that the administration’s proposal was very similar to one crafted by Ann Arbor Open parents and presented by them to the district.

Several trustees expressed discomfort about eliminating busing at Ann Arbor Open – because of the inequity of that would arise from offering busing to all other students of the same grade levels (K-8). Nelson disagreed, saying that he was fine with cutting Ann Arbor Open busing to reach the cost savings goals.

Regarding transportation to Clemente, Thomas said he believes AAPS will have to maintain transportation to the building if it stays open – because there is no other way to get there.

Baskett said that providing busing to the magnet programs that are part of Skyline High School was a promise that the district made to the community, and was meant to ensure better diversity in the magnet programs. Baskett asked how many students in the magnet programs rely on transportation provided by AAPS. Landefeld explained that about 30% of Skyline students are bused, roughly 100 per grade level on average. Thomas said he’d consider eliminating magnet transportation before eliminating all high school busing. Mexicotte pointed out that not everybody who takes a bus to Skyline is in a magnet program, and suggested that the district should keep transportation for the magnet programs for now, but consider phasing it out.

Lightfoot said the she feels like she’s “operating in the dark” when it comes to transportation choices, like she has to “choose now and see the fallout later.”

Transportation: Skyline Starting/Ending Times

Lightfoot said she did not like moving Skyline’s start time up by 15 minutes, because she has a concern about the earliness of high school days in general. Baskett said that as the district makes use of its newly forming, community-wide committee on transportation, the decision about Skyline’s starting and ending times could be revisited and reversed. A change to Skyline’s starting and ending times would require a memorandum of understanding with the teachers’ union, as noted earlier by Allen.

Transportation: High School Busing/All Busing

Almost all the trustees expressed general concern that there was not enough advance time this year to eliminate high school busing or all busing in a responsible way. Stead disagreed, and continued to push for the elimination of all busing as a way to leave more money in the district’s fund balance.

Stead said she would be more inclined to work on creating an entirely new program for transportation, and to begin concerted conversations with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to work on that as soon as possible. She added that she wanted to remind the board the district had a “horrible experience” with transportation this year. The district had to adjust transportation spending by $800,000 mid-year, while maintaining a “fragmented” system with “little bits of transportation here and there,” she said.

Outcome: Trustees agreed to maintain busing to Clemente and to the Skyline magnet programs. Busing to Ann Arbor Open will likely continue under a modified plan, which will save the district $98,000. The board plans to cut the 4 p.m. middle school bus ($85,284) and mid-day shuttles to and from Community high ($230,184), as well as achieve $266,400 in savings by moving the Skyline starting and ending times up by 15 minutes.

Other District-Wide Cuts

The board also agreed to cuts to police liaisons, site-based budgets, and district-wide discretionary budgets.

Other District-Wide Cuts: Police Liaisons

Stead suggested that removing the police liaisons would cause increase safety issues. She cited five bomb threats at Forsythe Middle School and two bomb threats at Skyline High School as evidence. Baskett pointed out that the bomb threats were unsubstantiated. But Stead argued that students are staying home from school and getting physically sick with worry because of them.

Thomas said that it is not clear to him that having police liaisons is having any effect on the bomb threats in any way whatsoever. Stead countered that when she has talked to principals, they believe that the sheer presence of the officers helps to reduce disciplinary issues. Nelson stated that he believes five teachers will have a greater impact than three police liaisons for the same cost.

Stead argued that the city will not hire these police officers if AAPS releases them, and that the robberies in her area have gone up as police numbers across Ann Arbor would be decreasing.

Baskett pointed out that overall, crime in Ann Arbor has actually decreased, and that these three police liaisons have seniority in the Ann Arbor police department and would be reassigned within the community. She said that a police officer could arrive any building in the district in less than 10 minutes, and that she would rather have teachers than police officers. Patalan said she agreed with Baskett, Nelson, and Thomas.

Discussion: District-wide Discretionary Budgets

Mexicotte reviewed the administration’s proposal on discretionary budgets. She said that a 5% cut to these budgets – which cover building-level costs such as professional development, paper, and supplies – would save $250,000. A 10% cut would save $500,000. Thomas suggested “bumping that up” to possibly as much as a 15% cut. However, Allen and Flye suggested that would have a dramatic effect on the ability of a building to function effectively.

This was one area in which the board included a reduction from Plan B of the suggested reductions – Plan A of the budget proposal had suggested cutting discretionary budgets by 5%, and Plan B took the reductions to 10%.

Discussion: Site-Based Budgets

Site-based budgets in AAPS fund have been available to school improvement teams (SITs) to use as they see fit. Patalan said that while it was a small amount of money, she appreciated that each SIT was able to decide how to best use it to serve that school locally. Still, she said, she understands the need to cut it.

Outcome: The board agreed to eliminate police liaisons ($350,000) and site-based budgets ($250,750). They agreed to cut district-wide discretionary budgets by 10%, saving $500,000.

FY 2012-13 Budget – Next Steps

After the board worked through the list of possible reductions for the third time, Mexicotte tallied up the cuts tentatively agreed to by the board. The cuts totaled $4,805,678, leaving a $7 million of deficit [$17.8 million deficit, minus $4.8 million in cuts, minus $6 million in revenue enhancements]. She asked the board if they would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity to balance the budget. Their responses were mixed.

Part of the board’s decision about how much fund equity to use will be based on projections of school funding – this year and into the future. One person addressed the board at public commentary on the topic of school funding.

Next Steps: Public Commentary on School Funding

Steve Norton reported that the state of Michigan is currently projecting funding for the School Aid Fund (SAF) to increase, but cautioned that the board should not assume this unexpected revenue will accrue to benefit local districts. Norton pointed out that the state may choose to save the extra SAF funding to reduce the pressure on the state’s general fund, which is forecasted to be lower than expected this year and next.

Norton also suggested that the community begin a conversation about private giving to support schools. He noted that the East Grand Rapids public schools educational foundation has raised $350,000 in one year to offset the budget cuts facing their district. Norton said it’s hard to get people to dig deep, but that “we are at a point that if we can’t get the rest of our citizens to move forward with a countywide enhancement, and can’t convince legislators [to provide adequate school funding], maybe we should move forward to do something ourselves.” Norton suggested as an example that the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation could launch a campaign to cover the cost of transportation.

Next Steps: Fund Equity

Mexicotte said that Norton had made a very good point during public commentary, and that there is no guarantee based on past history that the SAF would see any increase. At this point, she said, if the board does not give different direction to AAPS administration, a balanced budget would be achieved by taking $7 million coming out of the fund balance.

Thomas said he would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity, but Stead was adamant she would not be. When pressed, Stead said she might find it acceptable to use up to $5 million, and added that it was “poor planning to sit here for six, seven, eight hours.”

At 1:15 a.m., as the board appeared unable to make further progress, Mexicotte responded, “If this is as far as we can get now, it’s as far as we can get.” She explained that the administration would take the board’s input from the meeting, and present a final budget on May 23. After that, she said, the board can have additional discussion and move forward.

Nelson said that starting from a $17.8 million deficit and getting to within $2 million of addressing it is not bad for one evening. He thanked Mexicotte for her facilitation, and said that he was open to staying longer to continue discussion, but also fine with waiting to continue discussion on May 23. “Then the administration can come back and give us … an option with $7 million use of fund equity, and then those of us who want to can argue for $5 million.”

Nelson also noted that Senate Bill 1040 – a retirement reform bill which as of May 17 was passed by Michigan state senators and is moving on to consideration by the state House of Representatives –could be helpful in resolving the budget. “There is a chance that more than $2 million could come out of it, and with luck, we could be done,” Nelson said.

Stead disagreed, saying that part of what’s driving up the mandated employer contribution rate to the state retirement system is that many districts are laying off staff. She said she is very concerned about how things will look a year from now, because current layoffs are not part of the figures being considered.

Lightfoot said that while she would prefer not to use $7 million of fund equity, she could support it if the district committed to make the next year be strictly focused on planning to be more prepared to make cuts in the future.

Next Steps: Advertising

Just before the meeting wrapped up, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green said she had one quick question for trustees, and asked if they would give her and her staff direction on the revenue enhancement ideas that administration had previously presented.

AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis reviewed the suggested advertising possibilities – digital billboards, scoreboard advertising, and website banners. She said she felt the trustees had given clear direction against pursuing the creation of billboards on the properties of Wines, Pioneer, and Huron, but reiterated the suggestion for allowing banner ads across the top of the AAPS website.

Margolis said that the company AAPS would work with has worked with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS), and when Margolis had talked to the Plymouth-Canton director of community relations, they spoke positively of the partnership. The first-year revenue from allowing banner advertising would be at least $22,500, said Margolis, and would be projected to increase to $250,000 by the third year. She noted that Plymouth-Canton’s revenue has increased by 30% every month, and that the terms of the agreement will be shifting from a 60/40 revenue share with the advertising company [in favor of AAPS] to a 50/50 split if the district does not commit soon.

Maintaining a commitment to local advertisers had been a concern expressed by trustees at their March 21 meeting, when the advertising proposal had been presented to the board.  Margolis said that it would cost about $500 a month for a rotating ad, which would price it equal to what it costs to run ads locally in other venues. This would give local advertisers another daily advertising spot, she said, and the ad company would also bring in regional and national ads to the AAPS website. Finally, Margolis noted that many community members have suggested the district engage in website advertising, and added that AAPS would have full discretion to have any objectionable ads removed immediately.

Margolis also sought approval to begin the process of re-equipping the high schools with new scoreboards, which would be paid for by an advertising company and would show ads during sporting events. She said the high schools would be eager to receive the new scoreboards. In a follow-up discussion after the meeting, Margolis explained to The Chronicle that the scoreboard equipment, valued at $270,000, would come at no cost to the district. After enough ad revenue is earned to pay back the cost of the equipment, future ad revenue will be split 50/50 between the district and the advertising company, she said.

Outcome: The trustees agreed to pursue website banner ads and the scoreboard advertising.

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

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104. [confirm date]

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