Education Section

In it for the Money: Letters And Wish Lists

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes, like this month, he’ll deviate from that schedule – because he had something super-important to tell you right now. Nelson is sort of a long-winded son-of-a-gun. If you want to read very short things by Nelson, more frequently than once a month, you can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @SquiDaveo

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

It’s the letter writing season.

I’d like you to add at least one more letter to your list: I need you to drop a line to your state reps, senators, and the governor telling them that you’re opposed to any expansion of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority during the current lame duck session.

You’ll want to tell these folks to oppose or veto House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 (which expand the Education Achievement Authority) and House Bill 5923 (allowing for the unlimited formation of new publicly-funded charter and cyber schools).

More than that, though, I want you to activate your whole network – that Facebook thing you do, that Twitter thing and even LinkedIn. Because I bet you have friends, family members and colleagues who live in Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Bad Ax or wherever else in Michigan, who you can move to action by nudging them with social media. What we want to do here is activate the entire state.

Below the fold is a template you can crib from – and feel free to omit the link to this column, if you so choose; my self-promotion is, as a policy, utterly shameless. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Starts 2013-14 Budget Discussion

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.  [Full Story]

Ann Arbor School Board OKs Tech Upgrades

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Oct. 24, 2012): In its main business of the meeting, the board approved a $5,192,872 purchase for the district-wide replacement of the computer network and wireless infrastructure. Several central administrators noted that the infrastructure improvement is a cornerstone of the district’s technology plan.

David Comsa

Deputy superintendent for human resources and general counsel for the district David Comsa, and assistant director of human resource services Stephani Field. A report from HR was delivered to the board at its Oct. 24 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

And in keeping with superintendent Patricia Green’s desire to give annual updates to the board on a variety of topics, the AAPS board of trustees heard presentations from the human resources (HR) and informational technology (IT) departments.

Highlights from the human resources report were statistics showing that percentage-wise, more cuts have been made in the last few years to administrative positions than to teaching positions. Trustees also focused on recruitment of teachers that would reflect the same demographic profile as the student population.

Trustees were also given a report on the 2013-2015 technology plan.

In addition to the informational reports, the board was briefed on a partnership between AAPS and Toyota International. The district has been selected by Toyota as the sole participant in a pilot teaching program that will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. The partnership will bring the methods of Singapore, described as a leading country in STEM innovation, to AAPS.

Also at the meeting, a recommendation to rename the Argus Planetarium – to acknowledge the $100,000 donation to the facility made by IMRA America – was met with enthusiasm by trustees. They also welcomed another naming proposal – to name the Pioneer High School tennis courts after long-time tennis coach Tom “Brick” Pullen. Votes on the naming proposals will come at the next meeting of the board. [Full Story]

Column: Thoughts on Pioneer-Huron Melee

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School football team went across town to play long-time rival Ann Arbor Huron. It wasn’t the players’ performance during the game that made news, however, but the coaches’ behavior afterward. And the news wasn’t good.

Pioneer came into the annual rivalry with Huron sporting a solid 4-3 record and a good chance to make the playoffs. Huron hadn’t won a game all year, and was simply playing out the season. The only stakes were bragging rights – and even those weren’t much in question.

With a minute left, Pioneer enjoyed an impressive 35-6 lead. At that point, it’s customary for the winning coach to tell his team to run out the clock by taking a knee, instead of trying to score again. But Pioneer threw a pass, and then another, and then another – one of them to the endzone – in a clear display of poor sportsmanship. That was the night’s first mistake. [Full Story]

AAPS Focus: Achievement, Labor Contracts

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Oct. 10, 2012): Student achievement and labor contracts were the main topics of discussion for the AAPS board of trustees.

MEAP scores, Ann Arbor Public Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools Grade 5 Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores for reading (left) and math (right). The green trend lines indicated African American student achievement under the old cut scores. Brown trend lines indicate achievement of caucasians.  The gap between the achievement has been amplified by new cut scores, which are indicated by blue and purple trend lines for African American and caucasian students, respectively.

Deputy superintendent of instructional services Alesia Flye and director of student accounting and research services Jane Landefeld, presented a comprehensive report on student achievement. While the trustees were pleased and excited to have such a detailed report, and there were several positive points in the data, they also expressed significant frustration at the disparity between the achievement of various subgroups. African American students in the district showed significantly lower achievement on standardized tests than students in other ethnic groups. Trustee Simone Lightfoot described herself as “fire mad” about some of the results in the report.

The conversation ranged from results and highlights to the challenges the district faces. Flye and her team indicated that the district would continued to work with this data and to implement the district’s established plans to address the achievement gap. But the presentation was a point of information only. [.pdf of AAPS achievement slide presentation with graphs and tables]

Also at the meeting, a proposal for a technology upgrade to the network infrastructure prompted a conversation about labor contracts. The network upgrade was a first briefing item on which the board did not vote. But conversation about labor contracts continued as trustees heard a second briefing about outsourcing the noon hour supervisor positions. In a 4-3 decision, the board did not approve the a contract with PCMI, which had bid to provide noon hour supervisors at a 24.83% administrative cost. [Full Story]

Leslie, Mexicotte Contest School Board Seat

Voters on Nov. 6 will need to decide one seat on the seven-member board of trustees for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The two candidates – incumbent Deb Mexicotte, first elected to the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education in 2002, and Dale Leslie, former local businessman – appeared at an Oct. 9 forum organized by the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area.

Dale Leslie and Deb Mexicotte

Dale Leslie and Deb Mexicotte (Photos by M. Morgan)

Leslie is concerned with the leadership on the board and believes his business experience he brings would be a great asset to the board. He worries that today’s teenagers are born in the 21st century, while the people leading them were born in the previous century.

Mexicotte, a three-time board of education president and trustee since 2003, pointed to her track record of leadership and dedication to the students of the district. She highlighted the achievements of the district, while acknowledging she would like to continue with the work of focusing on student achievement.

The candidates answered eight questions selected by a league committee from a pool of questions submitted by league members and the general public. Topics included the role of technology in the classroom, the importance of class size, and customer service. The forum was moderated by Rosemary Austgen, a league officer.

Information about both Leslie and Mexicotte, including brief answers to six questions about their background and approach to the job, can be found on the League of Women Voters Vote 411 website. Both candidates also have campaign websites – and The school board trustee is elected to a four-year term to serve on the board, which sets policies, adopts district budgets, and approves large expenditures.

The Oct. 9 candidate forum was held at the studios of Community Television Network, and will be available online via CTN’s video-on-demand service. The full schedule of candidate forums this week is on the league’s website. The forums are broadcast live on CTN’s Channel 19 starting at 7 p.m.

Information on local elections can be found on the Washtenaw County clerk’s elections division website. To see a sample ballot for your precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s website. The league’s website also includes a range of information on national, state and local candidates and ballot issues, and a “build my ballot” feature. [Full Story]

School Board Mulls Millage, Proposal A

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole meeting (Oct. 3, 2012): Trustees focused their committee meeting on the possibility of changing the district’s overall structural financial picture. They took care to contrast that effort with a different kind of discussion – about the budget. The topic of improving larger financial picture had been identified as one of the two goals for trustees at their August retreat. The other top goal was strengthening trust and building relationships among the board members.

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte. (Photos by the writer.)

The board’s committee discussion centered on four main topics: vision; revenue enhancement; action needed by the state legislature; and communication.

Discussion of revenue enhancement was highlighted by the possibility of asking voters to approve an enhancement millage through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District – which would entail a countywide vote. Voters in 2009 rejected such a proposal, which would have resulted in a 2 mill tax for five years, starting in 2010. It was projected to raise $30 million annually, to be divided among the 10 school districts in Washtenaw County. The AAPS share would have been a bit over $11 million. Board discussion at the Oct. 3 committee meeting acknowledged the need to generate support for such a proposal in other districts in the county besides AAPS.

Discussion of possible lobbying efforts directed at the state legislature was highlighted by the possibility of amending Proposal A, passed in 1994, which limits the ability of local communities to levy increased taxes to support schools. [Full Story]

District Weighs Options on Noon Hours

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Sept. 19, 2012): The board of trustees was briefed on three items they’ll have to vote on at their next meeting: a proposal for contracting out noon hour supervisor positions; some sexual heath program and curriculum recommendations; and an application for seat time waivers.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green listens to reports from some of the district associations.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green listens to reports from some of the district associations.

Board members gave mixed reactions to a proposal from Professional Contract Management, Inc. (PCMI) to provide outsourced noon hour supervision. PCMI’s proposal, made in response to an Aug. 8, 2012 RFP, was the only one received by the district.

PCMI’s bid is to charge the district 25.83% of the gross wages to be paid to the supervisors themselves. According to deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen, that’s roughly 7% higher than bids the district has seen for similar services in the past. AAPS has used PCMI for substitutes and coaches in the past. Compared to current costs, which depend on hiring AAPS employees to supervise noon hours, the PCMI proposal offers savings of $55,000, or about 6% over the cost currently paid by the district. Deb Mexicotte, board president, was skeptical of the administrative fee PCMI would be charging the district.

A sexual health program for preschool through 2nd graders and a 15-minute video about puberty for 5th graders were the subjects of a first briefing given by the Sexual Health Education Advisory Committee (SHEAC). Any materials or curriculum must be vetted by that committee and be presented to the board. The first of two public hearings on the matter was held at the meeting. No member of the public spoke at the first one.

And students enrolled in a sufficient number of online classes in the Ann Arbor Public Schools will likely again be eligible this year to be counted as part of a school’s enrollment for the official count of students. Local districts receive an allocation from the state each year based on the number of students attending class on designated count days.

The AAPS board of trustees was briefed on the issue at its Sept. 18 meeting because the district is required to re-apply for its “seat time waiver” program by the Michigan Department of Education and must now have board approval. All districts with such programs were required to re-apply by Sept. 15, 2012 in order to receive full funding for eligible students. AAPS has operated its seat time waiver program since 2007.

Two informational presentations were also given to the board – an annual presentation on the physical properties department and an update on the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative with the University of Michigan.

Public commentary at the meeting included criticism from a Pioneer High School teacher that a hire for the principal’s job at that high school had not yet been announced, despite the fact that a committee had forwarded three recommended finalists to the superintendent some time ago.  [Full Story]

In it for the Money: School Transportation

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes it’s later, like this month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Over the last couple years school busing has been drastically altered in most Michigan districts. As a consequence most schools – including my son’s school, Bryant Elementary, which is only K-2nd grade – expanded their “walking zone” (kids that get no busing) to 1.5 miles. Do you know how long it takes a five-year-old to walk 1.5 miles? [1]

If you live at the far edge of the “walking zone,” you aren’t going to be walking – especially once our autumn rains arrive – you’ll be driving your kid to school.

Spoiler alert: Bryant Elementary was built in 1972 and renovated in 1983. So it’s not designed to have dozens of cars drop off individual children each morning – it’s designed for all of the kids to arrive at once in four big buses. An efficient set of buses has been converted to a frustrating, time-gobbling traffic jam. [Full Story]

AAPS OKs Technology Upgrades

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): Trustees were briefed on two proposals for technology improvements – a purchase of 30 laptops with the new Macintosh Mountain Lion operating system and a contract for network infrastructure equipment and installation. Both proposals were approved by the board.

Randy Trent

Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties. (Photos by the writer.)

The Ann Arbor Public Schools technology bond professional team asked that the board of trustees appropriate $54,540 to purchase 30 MacBook Pro laptop computers, in order to train and test on the new Mac operating system, Mountain Lion. The point of the testing is to check compatibility with the district’s current software applications as the district moves to replace all of its computers.

A $76,463 contract with Sentinel Technologies, Inc. for purchase and installation of computer network equipment was presented to the trustees. The new network equipment is supposed to make the district’s network and firewall more secure and reliable. The upgrade is also supposed to provide more internal and external bandwidth, and allow for increases in the future. The network equipment would be funded from the district’s technology bond.

Before hearing the briefings, the trustees were asked to consider them as special briefings, which meant they would be voted on at that same meeting. The change was driven by a decision the board made to alter its September meeting schedule.

The board also heard extensive public commentary at the start of the meeting on the issue of class sizes as the school year opened. Parents of Haisley Elementary School students asked the board for help in rectifying a situation they described as not viable – 32 students per class in 3rd and 4th grade classrooms. [Full Story]

AAPS Admin Hosts Board Candidates

Both candidates running for the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools met with top district administrators for an informal question-and-answer session held at the the Balas administration building on Aug. 28, 2012. This kind of information session is regularly hosted by the district before each school board election. This year, Dale Leslie and incumbent Deb Mexicotte will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

After brief introductions, Leslie and Mexicotte were given a chance to ask the administrators any questions they had about the district and its operations.

Leslie took advantage of the occasion to talk about his campaign. He said he is familiar with the district, and made several criticisms – about the quality of instructional materials, the elimination of police liaisons in the high schools, and board’s goal setting.

Mexicotte responded to Leslie’s critique of the board by contrasting the goals that the board had set for itself internally with those it set for the district as a whole. Mexicotte had no informational questions of the administrators. She was first elected to the board in 2003 and currently serves as president of the board. Most recently, she was re-elected in 2010.

This year, the board seat that Leslie and Mexicotte are seeking will be for a four-year term ending in December 2016. The other six members of the AAPS board, whose terms continue at least through 2014, are Susan Baskett, Andy Thomas, Simone Lightfoot, Christine Stead, Glenn Nelson, and Irene Patalan. [Full Story]

AAPS Board OKs Biology Books, Therapists

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education (Aug. 15, 2012): In a meeting notable for its brevity – under an hour – trustees gave final approval to adoption of a new biology text book, and to a contract for therapy services.

Glenn Nelson

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustee Glenn Nelson. (Photos by the writer.)

The biology textbook adoption for the district’s high schools was priced at $117,441. The district expects 1,391 students to be enrolled in biology courses this fall – in five different high schools. The purchase includes bound copies of traditional textbooks, as well as an interactive reader and access to an online edition.

A contract for physical, occupational therapy services – provided to Ann Arbor Public School district students with disabilities – was also given approval by the trustees. The contract is with Pediatric Therapy Associates and totals $528,360 for the 2012-2013 year. It includes 120 hours weekly for physical therapy and 135 hours weekly for occupational therapy, at an hourly rate of pay of $56.

The board was also briefed on the selection of an auditor for the coming year and the financial institutions that the district can do business with.

Public commentary included a call to leave three police liaison positions unfunded. They were left unfunded in this year’s budget, and the call was to leave those positions out of the budget in future years as well. The argument for that was based on the idea of better learning in environments without police presence. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Classroom Sales

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes it’s earlier, like this month. Columns for the two previous months were “In it for the Money: E Pluribus Progress” and “In it for the Money: Getting Schooled.”

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

I spent the last two columns talking about what we should be teaching in our schools [1]. As we teeter on the brink of another school year, I want to take a second to talk about how to best teach these things. And, fair warning, my suggestion – as a former teacher and school administrator, not just a current chattering gadfly – is one you’ve already heard a thousand times: small class sizes.

But in the next twelve minutes I’m going to give you a way to argue for small class sizes in a patois that business folks can get behind.

As I’ve mentioned before, the vogue among conservative politicians – both at the state and national level – is to argue that their business acumen makes them uniquely well-suited to govern in our economically troubled times. I don’t reject this claim out of hand, because I agree that there are many business practices that adapt well to the public sector.

The problem, to my eye, is that the practices these erstwhile businessmen want to import to the public sector are largely from the management offices, rather than the sales floor. [Full Story]

AAPS Retreat: Trusting Each Other Essential

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting/retreat (Aug. 1, 2012): The AAPS school board met Wednesday last week at Skyline High School to take care of some regular business and to conduct its annual retreat. The retreat included board self-evaluation and goal-setting for the coming year.

After a sometimes contentious discussion about the priorities of the board, trustees decided their main focus should be on building trust and relationships among the trustees. Board trustees determined that they needed to build on their trust of each other, in order to address the strategic plan and needs of the district.

Financial goals were also a prominent theme of the board’s discussion of priorities. While there was minimal talk of zero-based budgeting – a goal set forth at their previous regular meeting – trustees spoke of improving their forecasting and having a stronger role in advocating for structural financial change.

Setting a limit on the length of future board meetings was identified as a goal, despite some initial opposition. To limit the meeting time, trustees will set parameters for presentations and discussion periods – parameters that will be discussed at their next committee of the whole (COTW) meeting.

During the regular meeting, the board was presented a biology textbook adoption plan. The board also approved the purchase of computers and scanners as a part of the district’s effort to capture test scores and analyze them quickly at the building level, and tailor instruction to students based on those test scores. [Full Story]

AAPS Retreat Aug. 1: Evaluation, Budgeting

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. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Praises Superintendent

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. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Passes 2012-13 Budget

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. [Full Story]

School Board to Use Savings to Bridge Deficit

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.   [Full Story]

AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation

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. [Full Story]

AAPS 2012-13 Budget Begins to Take Shape

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. [Full Story]

AAPS Budget Forum: Class Size, Equity

AAPS Community Budget Forum (May 14, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board continues to solicit community input, as trustees plan for the approval of the district’s fiscal year 2012-13 budget by June 30. The district is facing a $17.8 million deficit, and is considering cuts to teaching staff, busing, music camp supports, and high school programming, among other areas.

Small group work made up a portion of the May 14 budget forum.

Small group work made up a portion of the May 14 budget forum. (Photo by the writer.)

Attendance at the second community budget forum held Monday at Huron high school was lighter than at the first one, held a week earlier. Still, almost 40 community members and about a dozen staff members participated.

The two main themes that came out of the second forum were: (1) a desire to keep the cuts away from the classrooms (i.e. not cutting teaching staff or increasing class sizes); and (2) a concern that the cuts as proposed would disproportionately affect the most educationally vulnerable segments of the district’s population. Many participants also expressed concern that the timing of the proposed budget reductions would not allow for transition planning this late in the year, and that the district was not being sufficiently forthcoming with detailed budget information.

Trustees Glenn Nelson, Irene Patalan, and Christine Stead attended the May 14 budget forum. The board will hold a discussion on the budget during their next committee of the whole meeting to be held on Wednesday, May 16 beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Balas administration building’s main conference room. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Mitt and Me

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Mitt Romney and I went to the same high school – three decades apart. This would be immaterial, except the Washington Post just published a fascinating 5,500-word remembrance of Mitt Romney’s hijinks at Cranbrook, a high-pressure prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

I attended this same school in the 1990s; it’s an architectural gem, the staff is excellent, the program an academic crucible. Later, as a University of Michigan student, I shared a broken-down house with three fellow Cranbrook alums. One was in a sociology class, and we were delighted when he revealed that his textbook listed Cranbrook as “one of the last vestiges of American aristocracy.”

Because Mitt and I attended Cranbrook exactly 30 years apart, we ended up standing back-to-back on a balmy June evening in 2005 – the same year Mitt received the school’s 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award. The governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and I stood together at the lip of a deep, inset fountain, which gurgled contentedly, almost as though it was whispering ♪♫Daaaaave, I would be an excellent place for a GOP splaaashdown!♫ [Full Story]

AAPS Budget: Public Critical; Board Fretting

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education (May 9, 2012): One of the major tasks of the board of education is setting the budget, the other is setting policy. The May 9 agenda was primarily policy-focused, but discussion on the budget found its way into most sections of the meeting.


Supporters of the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center filled the board room for the May 9 meeting. (Photos by Monet Tiedemann.)

Sentiments expressed during a heated public commentary section were later echoed during agenda planning, as two of the board trustees questioned administrative work being done behind the scenes to prepare for possible budget reductions. The budget does not need to be approved by the board until June 30. A second public forum on the budget will be held on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Huron High School cafeteria.

Several speakers at the May 9 meeting thanked the community for passage of the technology bond millage two days earlier.

Also at the May 9 meeting, trustees considered approving two new easements with the city of Ann Arbor, and awarded a set of bids for physical properties work. They also took a first look at the district’s new anti-bullying policy, as well as a set of other policy updates presented by AAPS administration.

Finally the board reviewed the proposed 2012-13 budget of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), and shared its concerns about it. Local school boards are required by law to review the WISD’s budget, but have no vote in its actual approval. [Full Story]

AAPS Budget Forum Highlights Concerns

Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Budget Forum (May 7, 2012): Concern about the possible closure of Roberto Clemente Student Development Center dominated the discussion portion of the district’s first community budget forum, held Monday evening at Pioneer High School.

AAPS budget forum

The AAPS budget forum was held at Pioneer High School. (Photos by the writer.)

Community members who attended the presentation heard a presentation of the full budget proposal almost identical to the one presented to school board members last month.

Highlights of that presentation included a core budget proposal that calls for a reduction in staff by 32 full-time positions, the elimination of some busing services, and the closure or merging of one of the district’s alternative high schools. Roberto Clemente Student Development Center is one of the district’s alternative high schools.

Community members at Monday’s forum were asked to break out into small groups to discuss their concerns with the potential budget reductions and brainstorm additional revenue enhancement ideas.

In addition to concerns about Clemente’s possible closure, community members also expressed concern about the rise in class sizes that would be associated with the elimination of 32-64 teaching positions, the elimination of funding for music camps, and the proposed cuts to transportation services.

The district will host a second budget forum Monday, May 14, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Huron High School. The board is not required to approve the budget until June 30. [Full Story]

AAPS Hears from Community: Keep Clemente

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (April 25, 2012): The board received a formal presentation of the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. The board is not required to approve the budget until June 30.

At the meeting, 33 parents, students, and staff responded to proposed budget cuts that would affect transportation, Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, and music camps. The total time allotted for public commentary by the AAPS board is 45 minutes. So speakers wanting to address the school board at public commentary at the April 25 AAPS school board meeting were limited to 1 minute and 22 seconds, which was rounded up to a minute and a half.

Brian Marcel and Scott Wenzel, giving the WISD transportation update

Brian Marcel and Scott Menzel gave the AAPS board an update on the transportation services provided by WISD to the district as part of a consortium of other districts.

After hearing the budget presentation, board members shared some of their individual thinking on how best to address the projected $17.8 million deficit facing the district next year. AAPS is sponsoring two community budget forums to get additional feedback on the budget proposal. Both start at 6:30 p.m. The first will be held on May 7 at the Pioneer High School Cafeteria Annex and the second one a week later on May 14 at the Huron High School Cafeteria.

Support of the upcoming technology bond millage came up multiple times at the meeting as one way local residents could have an impact on the funding crisis facing local schools. AAPS district voters will decide that issue on May 8.

Also at this meeting, longtime environmental educator Bill Browning was honored by the board for his years of dedication to the district, as well as his recent $30,000 donation to the AAPS Science and Environmental Education Endowment Fund. [Full Story]

AAPS Weighs Cuts to Staff, Buses, Programs

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education Regular Meeting/Committee of the Whole (April 18, 2012): After quickly approving two items in a regular meeting, the AAPS school board recessed to a committee meeting to discuss informally proposed reductions to the fiscal year 2012-13 budget. The district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the coming year.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations (Photos by Monet Tiedemann)

Trustees discussed possible staffing cuts, reductions to transportation services and discretionary budgets, the restructuring of alternative high school programs, and the elimination of some extracurricular funding. AAPS administration is currently relying on $6 million worth of projected revenue enhancements to cover a chunk of the deficit. The remaining deficit is proposed to be covered through a combination of cuts and use of fund balance – summarized in three different plans: A, B and C.

Plan A has the least amount of cuts and the most use of fund balance, but still calls for a reduction in staff by 32 full-time positions, the elimination of some busing services, and the closure or merging of one of the district’s alternative high schools. Plans B and C have progressively greater cuts and less use of fund balance.

A formal presentation will be made on proposed budget reductions at the next regular board meeting, this Wednesday, April 25, with community forums and public hearings to follow in May. Board president Deb Mexicotte said at the meeting that the board will pass a finalized FY 2012-13 budget in June.

After the jump, the specifics of Plans A, B and C are laid out it detail. [Full Story]

AAPS Pitches Case for Tech Improvements

Ann Arbor Public Schools Technology Bond Forum (April 16, 2012):  At a sparsely attended forum on Monday evening, Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) district administrators reviewed their reasoning behind asking district voters to fund a $45.8 million technology bond, and fielded questions from the community members who attended. On May 8, voters will be asked to approve a 0.5 mill tax to support the bond.

Glenn Nelson Patricia Green AAPS

AAPS school board member Glenn Nelson and superintendent Patricia Green. The campaign signs were provided by the Citizens Millage Committee, not AAPS. (Photos by the writer.)

The forum was held at Pioneer High School.

District superintendent Patricia Green noted that AAPS administration has been giving its presentation to various school and community groups, and expressed cautious optimism that voters would support the bond, based on the initial response from these groups.

At Monday’s forum, community members questioned the scope and length of the proposed bond issue.  They also asked about contingency plans if the millage fails, the district’s loyalty to Apple as a technology vendor, what will happen to the district’s computers and other technology products as they become outdated, and exactly how technology is used in teaching and learning.

After moving the ballot question from the February election to May – to avoid the confusion of holding the tech bond vote in conjunction with a closed Republican primary – the district is funding a special election on Tuesday, May 8 to decide the issue. [Full Story]

UM Regents Split on State House Lawsuit

University of Michigan board of regents special meeting (April 2, 2012): At a special meeting held on Monday afternoon that lasted less than 30 minutes, the board passed a resolution directing UM administrators to file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Michigan House Democrats against the GOP majority. The lawsuit indirectly related to recent legislation regarding graduate student research assistants (GSRAs), which had been given “immediate effect” by a voice vote of the legislature.

Julia Darlow, Mary Sue Coleman

From left: University of Michigan regent Julia Darlow talks with UM president Mary Sue Coleman after the April 2 special meeting of the board. Darlow was the only regent physically present for the meeting. All other regents participated via conference call. (Photos by the writer.)

Dissenting in the 5-3 vote were the board’s two Republican regents – Andy Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – as well as Democrat Libby Maynard. Richner and Newman objected vigorously to the action. Richner said it was inappropriate to intervene in a “political spat,” and worried that the vote could have long-term implications that the regents may regret. Newman said the issue involved House procedural rules that Democrats and Republicans have both used in the past.

Denise Ilitch, who voted with the Democratic majority, said the view of Richner and Newman was hypocritical. She said that they had testified at legislative hearings in support of legislation that had the effect of preventing GSRAs from unionizing. Maynard said her opposition was for very different reasons than those given by Richner and Newman, and indicated that she wasn’t comfortable in general with the university filing amicus briefs.

Except for Julia Darlow, all other regents participated in the meeting via conference call.

A hearing on the lawsuit took place earlier in the day at Ingham County Circuit Court, where judge Clinton Canady III ruled in favor of the Democrats and issued a stay on legislation that had been given immediate effect, including the GSRA legislation. That law – which regents had voted to oppose at a Feb. 21 special meeting – made explicit that GSRAs are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947. There are more than 2,000 GSRAs at the university.

Republicans are expected to appeal Canady’s ruling. The motion that was passed by a majority of regents on Monday directed UM administrators to file an amicus “friend of the court” brief in any appeal as well. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor’s District 53, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. [Full Story]

AAPS Mulls Revenue Enhancement Proposals

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (March 21, 2012): At its Wednesday evening meeting, trustees of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) heard and discussed a variety of revenue enhancement proposals from the administration.

Christine Stead Ann Arbor Public Schools

Trustee Christine Stead directs a question to superintendent Patricia Green while trustee Glenn Nelson looks on. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposals ranged from digital billboards on district property to enrolling international students into the district. Board reaction to the proposals was mixed.

Trustee Christine Stead described the proposals as creative, but requested the opportunity to see “both sides of the ledger” – both revenue enhancements and cuts. Trustee Andy Thomas said he was “underwhelmed” by the revenue projections.

After a special briefing on a resolution to re-fund the 2004 Building and Sites Bond, the board unanimously approved the resolution. The re-fund, or “refinance,” of the bond would mean a slightly reduced millage rate for taxpayers. The re-funding will only go through if market conditions remain favorable. [Full Story]

Board Applauds AAPS Achievement Gap Plan

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education committee-of-the-whole meeting (March 14, 2012): AAPS trustees discussed the details of superintendent Patricia Green’s newly-minted Achievement Gap Elimination Plan, as presented to them by a set of administrators at their March 14 committee meeting.

After being walked through it, trustees applauded the plan – literally, and most of their comments characterized the AGEP with words like “integrated,” “robust,” “powerful,” and “inspiring.”

AAPS committee of the whole

From left, AAPS trustees Susan Baskett, Irene Patalan, Glenn Nelson, and Christine Stead at their March 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting, held at Mitchell Elementary School. (Photos by the writer).

Still, the board registered some concerns.  Among many elements, the AGEP emphasizes the use of data to inform instruction, and the professional development of teachers. These features of the plan led to a somewhat cool reception from trustee Simone Lightfoot, who wanted to see more emphasis on “common sense” over data, and more emphasis on children than on adults. Trustee Susan Baskett expressed some skepticism based on her experience with the follow-through she’s seen from past AAPS administrations. And, multiple trustees questioned how a wholehearted commitment to the AGEP would affect the district’s allocation of resources.

At its committee meeting, the board did not take any action related to the AGEP. More details of the plan, along with the board’s discussion, are presented below, after the jump.

Also at the committee meeting, the board heard from parents concerned about rising class sizes at the preschool, and heard a review of the student intervention and support services (SISS) department.

A discussion on revenue enhancement ideas was postponed. [Full Story]