The Ann Arbor Chronicle » state funding it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AirRide OK’d, State Funding Reviewed Mon, 24 Mar 2014 15:24:11 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (March 20, 2014): Board chair Charles Griffith opened the meeting by noting that the agenda was a lot lighter than last month, when the board had passed 10 separate resolutions – including a vote to put a transit millage proposal on the May 6 ballot.

Looking north on Fifth Avenue at the AirRide stop, just south of the newly opened Blake Transit Center.

Looking north on Fifth Avenue at the AirRide stop, just south of the newly opened Blake Transit Center. (Photos by the writer.)

The only voting item handled by the board at its March 20 meeting was the extension of a contract with Michigan Flyer to provide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. The board authorized the first of three one-year extensions on the initial two-year contract for the service, called AirRide.

For the third year of the agreement, the not-to-exceed amount is $170,000. That compares with the first year of the contract that was not to exceed $700,000. The drop in the cost to the AAATA stems from a revenue-sharing agreement based on fare revenues – and ridership has exceeded projections.

The board also received an update on statewide transit issues from Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, and Dusty Fancher, a lobbyist with Midwest Strategy Group. A main theme from their presentation was the need to focus on overall funding increases, as opposed to trying to fine-tune the part of the funding formula that divides public transportation funding among the 78 transit agencies in Michigan.

Harder also described an initiative to provide a non-emergency medical transportation brokerage that would tap public transportation resources. A demonstration program, to be provided through the newly formed Michigan Transportation Connection (MTC), could be up and running by Oct. 1, 2015, Harder reported.

Another highlight of that presentation included the idea that the abysmal road conditions – which have resulted from the long and harsh winter – could be a rallying point for more transportation funding. To the extent that additional money for transportation is funneled through the general transportation funding formula, that would lead to an increase in public transportation funding, along with funding for road infrastructure.

The harsh winter and the challenge of clearing snow at the 1,200 bus stops was also a part of another basic theme of the board’s discussion – accessibility of the bus service to those in the disability community. Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living addressed the board to stress the importance of making sure all the bus stops are accessible. She also reiterated the CIL’s support for the upcoming May 6 millage vote.

Other highlights from the meeting included a round of applause for AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black, who managed the Blake Transit Center construction project. The driveways still need concrete to be poured before the project is completed, but the building itself is now open to the public.

AirRide Contract

The board considered a contract with Michigan Flyer to provide transportation between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport for a third year, in a service called AirRide.

The average number of passengers for the last four weeks is 1,406, according to the AAATA .

The average number of passengers for the last four weeks is 1,406, according to the AAATA.

Two years ago, the board had authorized Michigan Flyer’s two-year contract, with the possibility of three one-year extensions, at its Feb. 16, 2012 board meeting.

The first year of the contract specified an amount not to exceed $700,000 per year. The first year’s cost proved to be less than half that ($326,600) due to higher-than-projected ridership. The anticipated cost for the second year of the agreement was expected to be $216,522.

Based on additional negotiations, the cost of service for the third year is not expected to be more than $170,000. That cost will include AAATA’s share of an AirRide/Michigan Flyer staff position – who will help passengers board and load luggage. The drop in cost to the AAATA is in part attributable to Michigan Flyer’s receipt of a federal Transportation, Community, and System Preservation (TCSP) grant. The third year of service includes adjustments that eliminate the stop on the University of Michigan central campus transit center, but add a 13th trip between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.

AirRide Contract: Board Discussion

During her report out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Anya Dale reported that ridership on the AirRide service is up 22% for the year. The average number of weekday riders for AirRide has hit 200, she said. Dale also described the historical background for the contract.

When the board reached the resolution on its agenda, board chair Charles Griffith called it an incredibly nice trend to see the cost of the service coming down each year as the ridership on the service continues to increase. He called it a great story. It reminded him of the transit improvement millage that’s on the May 6 ballot – because you take a leap of faith when you keep hearing from people about the service they want, and you think it’s the right thing to do, and then you actually provide the service.

AirRide is an example of where people really did line up and take advantage of the service, Griffith said. He ventured that it might be possible eventually to bring the price of the service down. Michael Ford noted that the AAATA is adding even more customer service components to the AirRide – as assistance loading luggage and boarding is now being provided.

Eli Cooper called the service “really outstanding.” When it was first started, the AAATA was thinking about spending around $750,000 on it, but now the cost is down to $170,000 year. It’s just remarkable, he said, what this public-private partnership has achieved. The efficiency and effectiveness of public transportation is clear in select markets, Cooper said, and it was being demonstrated here in Ann Arbor. It’s not so much a cost reduction in the contract, Cooper said, but rather a reflection of the efficiency and effectiveness of working with Michigan Flyer.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the AirRide contract with Michigan Flyer.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living called the AirRide service fantastic, saying that she and her family had used it several times going to and from the airport as well as going to and from East Lansing.

Statewide Perspective

The board received an update from Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, and Dusty Fancher, a lobbyist with Midwest Strategy Group. Their presentation had been originally scheduled for the board’s Jan. 16 meeting, but was cancelled due to bad weather.

Statewide Perspective: MPTA History, Purpose

Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, opened his remarks by thanking the AAATA board for the invitation to come down from Lansing and speak. He noted that some of the faces on the board were recognizable from his last visit two years ago, but others were new to him. He allowed that sometimes local transit authority boards don’t really understand what the MPTA does or why they do it. So he wanted to share some information about the MPTA.

The Michigan Public Transit Association was created in 1977, he said, as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit. The MPTA exists to be an educational and advocacy arm for members of the association. Out of the 78 transit authorities in the state of Michigan, 50 are members of the MPTA, he said. He characterized 50 members as a high-water mark for the MPTA, and it’s been at that level for a number of years. Some of the smaller systems, which the MPTA would love to have as members, have not joined. Harder ventured that sometimes the reason was budgetary, or for very small systems they did not see any reason to be involved. But for a very small system, he continued, that’s all the more reason to be involved. “We are all working collectively for the same goal, which is stronger support, stronger funding for public transportation,” he said. That’s why the MPTA was created, he added.

The MPTA was created with a lot of direction and support from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT), Harder explained. In the early days of public transit in the state of Michigan, MDOT noticed that all the other entities it dealt with – like road commissions – had some kind of association to represent them. But public transit authorities had nothing at that point. So at that time a number of different people came together – including the forerunner of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), which was called the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA), and the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in Lansing. Those two entities were instrumental in creating the MPTA.

It wasn’t very long after the initial creation of the MPTA that the long-standing association between the MPTA and AAATA came into being, Harder said. “You are one of early members and one of our very active members.” He pointed out that Dawn Gabay, deputy CEO of the AAATA, is the AAATA’s representative on the MPTA’s board of directors. AAATA manager of service development Chris White had been extremely active in the MPTA across the years, and AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black chairs the maintenance committee at the state level, Harder pointed out. So the AAATA has a high level of involvement and a large stake in what the MPTA does.

The MPTA was created for advocacy, but over the years that role has evolved, Harder said. About 10 years ago, MDOT – which had previously done a lot of training and educational programs – stepped back and said it could no longer afford to do it. As a result of that, MPTA had moved into a variety of educational and training programs, he explained. So now the MPTA has a dual role: advocacy and education/training. As a result of taking on the additional role of education and training, Harder explained, the committee structure that already existed was made more robust and more active. The MPTA now has a very strong committee structure, he said.

There are four annual conferences a year and an annual meeting, which is always in August. There’s a legislative conference in February. There’s a rural transit managers workshop typically at the end of March. And every June, the MPTA holds a transit vehicle maintenance seminar. That was something that historically MDOT had done. They stopped doing it for four or five years and a lot of transit systems approached the MPTA and asked for that program to be restored.

During question and answer time with Harder and Fancher, board chair Charles Griffith asked if the MPTA offered anything for board members by way of training on how to be a good board member, or on governance issues. The AAATA is not the only transit agency that is looking to expand, he said, and the AAATA has learned a lot about several related issues – so maybe some of that information could be shared with other transit authorities.

Michigan Public Transit Association executive director Clark Harder told the board that state public transportation funding had remained basically level over the last 10 years, which was a success in the context of other departments that had seen drastic reductions.

Michigan Public Transit Association executive director Clark Harder told the board that state public transportation funding had remained basically level over the last 10 years, which was a success in the context of other departments that had seen drastic reductions.

Harder told Griffith that it had been one of the long-term goals of the MPTA to have a transit boardsmanship training program – similar to what the Michigan Municipal League does for city council members. Some steps have been made in that direction, he said. He provides one-on-one training sessions with transit authority boards. He does not charge anything to members for that service, because he thinks that’s part of what MPTA members already pay for. He does not push it or advertise it a lot. He hoped that one day there would be a transit board certification program that would be offered on an ongoing basis.

Another program the MPTA has launched this year is called the “Route to Excellence” customer service training program, Harder reported. It’s the first one of its kind in the nation, he said, and the first one of its kind that he was aware of that any state transit association has put together. It’s a transit-based customer service program. The MPTA has been in the process of rolling out that program.

Statewide Perspective: Funding Levels

The MPTA’s main focus over the years has been to advocate for transportation funding – for operating funds and for bus capital, Harder stressed.

The MPTA had been successful in that advocacy over the last several years, he said. Throughout all the state cuts that every other department has faced, transportation has been able to hold its funding. He allowed that due to the cost of doing business rising, the dollars don’t go as far.

But in the face of severe budget cuts, public transportation is one of the very few things that has remained consistent across the board over the last decade, he said: “We are rather proud of that fact.” The MPTA’s current focus is on the transportation funding package in front of the legislature.

Fancher explained that the state is in the middle of the budget cycle for fiscal year 2013-14. A supplemental budget bill has just been passed in Lansing, she said.

Statewide Perspective: Funding Levels – Potholes

The big issue surrounding the supplemental bill was the condition of the transportation infrastructure, Fancher said: “You may have noticed there are a few potholes. I saw some coming down Main Street tonight!” There’s been discussion in Lansing for a long time about how to come up with a solution, she said, to solve transportation funding. There was a budget surplus this year, and the legislature decided to spend $250 million of that surplus to go toward the road budget. Some of that will take care of winter maintenance – salt and overtime to cover plowing activity. There’s also some additional money to go out and “cover up some of those potholes.”

AAATA board members Eli Cooper and Gillian Ream Gainsley.

AAATA board members Eli Cooper and Gillian Ream Gainsley.

Fancher ventured that the long winter had awakened a new sense of urgency for the public to do something about road funding. And that urgency has been lacking up to now. Everybody recognizes the need to fix the roads, but nobody wants to pay for it, she said. Right now there are a lot more holes in the road and it’s definitely going to get worse as the spring freeze-thaw cycle continues. So talks on the issue are starting back up, she reported.

Democrats are talking to the Republicans and they are sitting at the table and they are having conversations, she said. She wished that they were talking about a larger dollar amount, but at least they were talking. She was happy that they’re talking about a dollar amount that will flow all the way through the transportation funding formula – that is, to public transportation systems as well. When you hear people talk about “road funding” in the newspaper, it always makes her nervous, she said. While road funding is a part of transportation funding, it’s also important to make sure that it flows through to all the other parts of the transportation system. So she’s encouraged that the talks continue to focus on the entire CTF [comprehensive transportation fund] formula.

When the board was given a chance to ask questions, Eli Cooper noted that because the potholes are real and people see them, it might give cause for action. But the needs for the transit industry go far beyond just those visible infrastructure deficiencies, Cooper stressed. Funding is woefully lacking with appropriate regional and local transportation in the Ann Arbor community, in southeast Michigan and statewide, Cooper continued. He told Harder that the AAATA looked to the MPTA to advocate so that the legislature and state administration understands the need.

Cooper thought there’s a real responsibility to review both the levels and the mechanisms for funding local and regional authorities. So he asked Harder and Fancher to please keep that in mind as they head back up to Lansing and talk with other authorities. There’s an opportunity right now because the potholes are creating focus. “We should never let a crisis go unused,” he quipped. Harder agreed with Cooper, but said that some of the MPTA members get a little antsy and concerned when everything they read in the newspaper is about potholes. But that is what drives the message statewide. And if that is what they have to use to get more funding for public transportation, then Harder was OK with that –as long as they don’t lose sight of the big picture.

AAATA board member Larry Krieg.AAATA board member Larry Krieg. He represents Ypsilanti Township on the board.

AAATA board member Larry Krieg. He represents Ypsilanti Township on the board.

Larry Krieg offered a suggestion as a slogan that could be used, which he’d heard from AAATA staff: “You are one pothole away from public transit.” Krieg noted that public transit had taken a hit as a result of the snow, and the impact was felt not only on the roads. Krieg cited a figure from AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black – that nearly $144,000 extra was needed for snow removal contracts alone, not to mention the overtime of the AAATA’s own staff.

So when we think about regional transportation, we also need to keep ourselves running, Krieg stressed.

During his report to the board, Michael Ford – chief executive officer of the AAATA – noted that he’d had an incident with a pothole this week and found himself taking the bus. “It’s nice to have that option,” he said.

Statewide Perspective: Funding Levels – By Formula

The transportation budget for the fiscal year 2014-15 – which will start on Oct. 1, 2014 – is currently being debated, Fancher told the AAATA board. She expected the state House of Representatives to vote their budget out of committee later this month. She thought that funding for transit would remain about the same. In the last two years, there has been a $5 million operating line item that MDOT could use for discretionary funding. The MPTA had argued to get that in because of the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA), which creates a disruption in the funding of the system. She did not think that the $5 million would be part of next year’s budget.

She was hearing that there might be some money in the budget – whether it’s in MDOT’s budget or in some other budget – for the RTA. The MPTA had advocated for $2 million in the supplemental budget bill, but there was “not enough education on the House side” to get that done, she said. So what the governor’s office has done is to say “we will find the money for fiscal year 13-14 … we’ll figure it out.” And then the governor’s office would advocate for the remaining money in the next year’s budget. That would allow RTA members to go out and educate members of the House of Representatives. She pointed out that the RTA is a member of the MPTA.

Board chair Charles Griffith recalled the situation last year when there had been an interpretation of the CTF formula that had been unexpected – and it took almost a year for the AAATA to get the money back that it had expected. “Has that been fixed in a permanent way, or is that still something we still need to get done right for the long-term?” Griffith asked. Fancher indicated that it was in fact something that could happen again. She reviewed how the Detroit Dept. of Transportation’s reduction in funding had impacted other transit agencies when the regular funding formula was applied. There has not been a permanent fix for that, she said. She would be happy to find a permanent solution moving forward. She felt there was interest among legislators in finding a permanent solution. But she said the focus right now is on finding an overall transportation funding increase “before we bust into fixing things inside Act 51.”

Harder added that the MPTA has tried to spur that conversation with MDOT, but said that the MDOT was not just rather resistant, but “adamantly resistant” to carrying on that conversation – until there is new, additional funding for the formula. They’ve made that pretty clear, he said. That’s clearly coming from the governor’s level – that they don’t get into these conversations until they get appreciable new funding.

Eli Cooper added that a couple of days ago there was an article in the local media that talked about 15,000 new jobs coming into the Ann Arbor community. That’s 15,000 people looking for ways to get to work. In our economy and our community and in this state, we need to have travel choices – proper local travel choices, regional and statewide travel choices, Cooper said.

Cooper appreciated the MPTA’s work and encouraged the MPTA not to argue over the smaller pieces, but to look more broadly and into a brighter future where transit authorities and transit services in our community and statewide are adequately funded – so that local transit agencies have the ability to provide the service without worrying about whether a millage is passed or not.

In response to Cooper’s remarks Fancher said her focus was on making sure that everything goes through the formula.

Statewide Perspective: Detroit

Eric Mahler noted that in Detroit’s state of the city address, mayor Mike Duggan had made it clear that public transportation is a focus. Duggan had also said he was looking to the federal government for buses and other things. Mahler asked if Harder and Fancher had heard anything from the state level about partnering between the federal government and the city of Detroit and some kind of collaboration for other transit authorities around the state.

AAATA board member Eric Mahler.

AAATA board member Eric Mahler.

Harder told Mahler that he had heard there was interest on the part of the administration in Washington to try to identify some additional funding. Of course the issue for the state is the match for any federal dollars on the bus capital side. Harder said that Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommendation is still very strong on the bus capital match side – and that is one of the things that Snyder’s administration had prioritized right from the start.

Harder indicated that right now, on the federal side, the reauthorization for transportation funding is being discussed. He allowed that the state of Michigan is not doing as well now, as when earmarking was the normal process. “We had a senior delegation and we did very well with earmarking,” Harder said. But “earmarking” is a dirty word in Washington now, so they don’t do that, Harder said.

On a more positive note, Harder pointed out that right now the city of Detroit and the new mayor have the ear of the U.S. president. And sometimes miraculous things can happen because of that kind of relationship, Harder said. Mahler was right about Duggan being a very strong supporter of public transportation – as a former manager at SMART. “[Duggan] gets it in terms of fixing what’s wrong,” Harder said. Fancher added that she has heard that MDOT is trying to turn over every stone to make sure that they are making the best use of grants that are available and are really trying to help out as much as possible to pull in federal funding.

Statewide Perspective: Regional Thinking

Eli Cooper recalled about a year ago a conversation about the RTA and the state budget. It focused on whether money was going to be available and that local CTF funds would be supporting the RTA. It sounded like things might be a little bit different this year, he ventured. The AAATA had wanted to support the RTA – but not at the expense of the rides that are provided within local communities, he said. Cooper was looking to the MPTA to continue to advocate on the AAATA’s behalf.

Statewide Perspective: Non-Emergency Medical Transportation

MPTA executive director Clark Harder reported that last year, the MPTA has put a lot of time into researching non-emergency medical transportation with the goal of creating a statewide public-transit-based brokerage for those non-emergency rides. There’s been great input from the AAATA on that topic. Vanessa Hansle, the AAATA’s mobility manager, has been leading the mobility management aspect of that study, Harder reported.

In just the last month, the MPTA has authorized moving that forward, creating the Michigan Transportation Connection (MTC), which will be the coordinating body. They will soon be bidding out some of the managed care contracts across the state. It’s possible that by Oct. 1, 2015 there will be at least one demo project up and running to handle Medicaid non-emergency medical transportation, coordinated through the MTC, Harder said.

Later in the meeting, Midwest Strategy Group lobbyist Dusty Fancher mentioned that she had been advocating legislatively on the issue of non-emergency medical transportation – within the state’s Dept. of Human Services budget. She had arranged for the committee to hear from Harder, and he had testified in front of that committee. It had put on the committee’s radar screen that they could be thinking about public transportation as a tool to save on Medicaid dollars. There’s no reason to contract out transportation service at a higher rate than what could be provided by the local public transportation service. People are already paying tax dollars for that, she pointed out, so full advantage should be taken of it.

Dusty Fancher is with Midwest Strategy Group, a lobbyist firm in Lansing.

Dusty Fancher is with Midwest Strategy Group, a lobbyist firm in Lansing.

Responding to AAATA board questions about overall transportation funding in Michigan, Harder said one reason he was excited about the non-emergency medical project is that he sees a lot of potential to alleviate some of the pressure on the existing funding formula. That’s because it’s a new source of funding that does not come with the same strings attached as the current formula. But Harder could also see the benefit that it would bring to moving the conversation forward on a regional basis. In the time he has worked for the MPTA, he’s concluded that is really what is needed – something that can drive the arguments regionally. Those who work in public transit understand the importance of moving toward regionalization, he said. But there has not been an overriding issue that they could fall back on and point to and say: This is why we need regional transportation and here’s an example of how it pays off and works.

A non-emergency medical transportation brokerage is regional transportation, Harder said. If success is achieved with that, they would be brokering rides for people – whether it is rides on public transportation or private transportation. That will help to build the case that people don’t just live within the confines of their city or their county. Services are not just confined to the city or the county where people live, Harder said. People need to get across those artificial boundary lines that have been put up. He said public transportation was initially set up in ways that actually helped to encourage those artificial boundary lines – so that now they have to be broken down. The MPTA felt that the RTA is a wonderful thing that needs to happen – but not if it’s funded on the backs of all the existing transit agencies in the state. That would tear down the infrastructure that has taken 35 years to build.


Accessibility of the AAATA’s service – particularly to those in the disability community – was a significant theme of the March 20 board meeting. Clark Harder, with the Michigan Public Transit Association, gave a presentation to the board about the MPTA’s efforts on behalf of its member transit authorities, of which AAATA is one. He fielded questions from AAATA board members after that presentation, including one from Jack Bernard.

Bernard wanted to know what the MPTA is doing for riders who have disabilities. He asked what was happening in Lansing specifically with respect to disability issues. Harder replied that MPTA has a strong partnership with the state-level disability organizations. In the past, the MPTA had led coalition efforts involving disability groups, but had backed off in recent years, he said. A new coalition called Transform had emerged. MPTA had encouraged the groups that they had previously worked with to get involved with Transform.

Transform had some funding available and was able to do some things that MPTA was not able to do, Harder said. The MPTA would continue to work closely with the disability network – saying that they had always worked very closely with United Cerebral Palsy and groups like The Arc. He could not tell Bernard that there are any new sources of funding being identified for persons with disabilities in terms of public transportation usage. But he felt there was a keen awareness that for many people who have disabilities, public transportation is their only way to be mobile in our society. He felt that there is certainly room to add funding to assist persons with disabilities.

Accessibility also came up in connection with the issue of snow clearing at bus stops. During his report to the board, CEO Michael Ford noted that it had been the worst winter in many years, and with that came many challenges. Shelters and walkways get cleared and then the street plows come along to do their job, which means that the AAATA needs to redo its job. That’s particularly difficult with 1,200 bus stops, Ford said. The effort is actually coordinated, Ford added, between various agencies and contractors. AAATA works with the city of Ann Arbor and the community standards department to address sidewalk complaints. And as the season draws to an end, the AAATA staff will be meeting with representatives of the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to review how things went this year, and to start thinking about how things can be improved and coordinated next year.

AAATA board member Jack Bernard.

AAATA board member Jack Bernard.

During the “question time” agenda slot, Jack Bernard told Ford that he appreciated the emphasis that Ford had placed on making services accessible. It’s of critical importance that the AAATA do that, Bernard said. The AAATA is uniquely situated to be able to serve populations who cannot drive or who don’t drive, so it’s critical that the AAATA make its services accessible.

On the topic of snow removal, Bernard allowed that it’s very difficult to make sure the 1,200 bus stops are accessible for all of the AAATA’s patrons so that they can get on and off buses safely and conveniently. He allowed that not every bus stop could be cleared the way the AAATA would ideally like it to be cleared. But when the AAATA knows that there are particular patrons who had disability issues or have difficulty boarding, he wondered if snow clearance could be prioritized in those spots. He allowed that it’s important to get every spot, but AAATA drivers know their passengers – so he thought it might be possible to target those spots.

Ford responded to Bernard by saying an internal meeting had been held recently on that topic. Ford said the AAATA wants to make sure it does the best job possible. Accessibility is definitely a high priority for the AAATA, Ford said.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living commented on the snow removal issue. She reported that she gets calls from people who are able to get out on the bus, but when they come back – because of the way things get plowed, or shoveled after they’ve left their home – they are stuck. Bus drivers try to be helpful in helping people off the bus, but the drivers can’t leave the bus.

Grawi noted that the University of Michigan has a strategy where patrons can provide information about where they live and where they need to go – and as a result, certain locations receive an asterisk so that they receive extra attention for snow removal. But it’s not just a question of where the person lives or where they board on a regular basis, she cautioned. Because the bus will take us wherever life takes us, and people are getting on and off the bus everywhere in the community. So it’s every curb ramp in every subdivision that needs to remain cleared, she said. There’s still ice on some ramps, even though a lot of it has melted. She suggested that in the spring, the AAATA and others should start to think about a plan so that for next winter a plan is in place.

Ford also acknowledged the issue during his March 20 report to the board. He noted that during its Feb. 20 board meeting, the board had also heard about the critical need to make the system accessible. He noted that Carolyn Grawi of the Center for Independent Living had met with staff during the past week to discuss specific concerns. Making services and systems accessible is a priority for the AAATA, Ford said, and will continue to be.

The board also received a report from the local advisory council, a group that provides input and feedback to AAATA on disability and senior issues. Rebecca Burke reported from the most recent LAC meeting, that the group had received a presentation on the Jewish Family Services (JFS) vehicle accessibility plan. The group had also reviewed a users guide, which is due to be out in May. They had also reviewed data from a survey from a small population of users. The survey had covered items like destinations that users would like to reach that are currently not served by AAATA.

Communications, Committees, CEO, Commentary

At its March 20 meeting, the board entertained various communications, including its usual reports from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, the planning and development committee, as well as from CEO Michael Ford. The board also heard commentary from the public. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Financial Report

Reporting out from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, Anya Dale gave an update on the financial report the committee had received. Revenue is under budget by 0.1% but expenses are under budget by more than that, she said. Some of the extra costs the AAATA has incurred involved additional expenses due to weather-related items, she noted. Because of the very cold weather in January, ridership had dropped off. But the other indicators – operating expense per passenger, operating expense per service hour, operating expense per service mile – were all slightly better than budget for the fiscal year, she said. In that context, everything is still doing well, she said.

Ridership on ExpressRide is doing well – as it is up 10% for the year, Dale said. There is an increase in ridership on the Canton route, so that Canton and Chelsea are now about equal in ridership, Dale said.

Dale reported that the committee had received a presentation from the getDowntown program director Nancy Shore. Shore had presented the committee with results from a survey of downtown business owners and commuters in 2013. Dale pointed her board colleagues to the full report, which is available on the getDowntown website. Something that stood out for Dale was that employers considered the go!pass program a significant benefit used to attract and retain employees – with 76% of businesses using it as a way to recruit people. Among bus riders, 34% of respondents said they would be driving downtown if they did not have a go!pass. That’s 1,000 people who are choosing to ride the bus rather than driving, she said. Results from the AAATA’s ridership survey are in draft form and that would be available later, Dale reported.

AAATA controller Phil Webb.

AAATA controller Phil Webb.

During question time, Gillian Ream Gainsley asked about the “interest, advertising, and other” line item. She recalled that last year, advertising revenue had exceeded expectations. She asked if there were any insights that could be provided into why it’s down this year, or if there is anything that can be done about it. AAATA controller Phil Webb explained that the budget line item is a combination of a few different items.

It includes advertising revenue and some other revenue from the getDowntown program. He allowed that advertising revenue is a little bit down compared to budget. Just this week, however, he’d received a report for February, and revenue had shot back up again. The monthly amount received by AAATA was $26,000 – which was ahead of the monthly average, whereas in January it was below average for that month. “It’s starting to come around,” he said.

On the topic of low ridership in January, Charles Griffith said that a lot of people just did not get out on the very cold days. As a regular bus rider, he said, there were a lot of days he would’ve been very unhappy, if he’d had to take his car out. But the buses were still running. And “miraculously,” he said, buses were running for the most part on time. He was able to commute to work very consistently, saying it was almost kind of surprising. Off mic, Ford lightly ribbed Griffith about the idea that it was surprising to him. Griffith responded by noting that everyone else was struggling out on the roads, but the buses have good traction and they get around quite well.

Comm/Comm: Blake Transit Center Opening

In his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that the new Blake Transit Center had opened. It’s located on South Fifth Avenue across from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, north of William. It had been opened as part of a soft launch on Monday, March 17. Staff had been on hand throughout that day to share information, he said. The new center will better serve passengers and employees, Ford said. The facility also provides a chance to make the urban core communities a more attractive place to live and work. Ford thanked everyone who had helped with the Blake Transit Center. Ford noted that additional work still needs be done – including concrete that needs to be poured.

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority maintenance manager Terry Black got a round of applause at the board March 20, 2014 board meeting. He was project manager on the construction of the new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, which had a soft opening on March 17, 2014.

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority maintenance manager Terry Black got a round of applause at the March 20, 2014 board meeting. He was project manager on the construction of the new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, which had a soft opening on March 17.

Ford thanked staff for all the hard work that it’s taken to get things to this point: “I think it’s a magnificent facility. I also just want to acknowledge Terry Black for all of his hard work and effort. This guy has been relentless day in and day out, just being there making sure everything is going to work, and I just want to thank you personally for all your hard work.” Ford’s remarks prompted applause for Black.

Board chair Charles Griffith noted that some board members had an opportunity to get a tour just before the board meeting and he’d visited the facility on Monday during the soft launch. He asked Black for a report on how things had gone with the BTC construction. “You don’t have to tell any horror stories – we don’t need to hear those,” Griffith quipped.

Black reported that most of the feedback he received so far has been very positive. A lot of staff had worked really hard on Saturday and Sunday to get the facility to the point where it could be opened on Monday, Black said. He felt that the reaction had been positive – as far as the bus drivers and passengers were concerned. Like any new building, there are some things that need to be tweaked, he said. He was looking forward to a little warmer weather so that the concrete could be poured.

Eric Mahler asked Black to summarize some “lessons learned.” Black replied that there were a lot of lessons learned and he wanted to leave it at that. Those lessons would be incorporated into the AAATA’s future work on the Ypsilanti Transit Center.

Comm/Comm: May 6, 2014 Millage Vote

The upcoming millage, which the board approved for the May 6, 2014 ballot at its Feb. 20, 2014 meeting, came up at several different points during the March 20 board meeting.

During communications time at the start of the meeting, Gillian Ream Gainsley reported some “really great endorsements” had come out of Ypsilanti. She thanked the AAATA staff for coming to give a presentation to the Ypsilanti city council. That same morning, AAATA staff had presented to the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority. The Ypsilanti DDA had passed a resolution of support for the millage with wording similar to that of a resolution passed by the Ann Arbor DDA – saying that if the millage passes, the Ypsilanti DDA will increase its support for transit and transit-related activities.

During his report to the board, Michael Ford noted that the ballot language for the 0.7 millage request had been delivered to the Washtenaw County clerk the day after last month’s board meeting. During the last four weeks, staff had been hitting the road and hitting the pavement with the message about the urgent need for improved transportation services within the community and within the greater Ann Arbor area. As campaigns often go, he said, the AAATA had received some negative press recently. Ford said he recognized that’s part of the process and said the AAATA would do its level best to balance that part of the equation by continuing to provide good factual data. Internally, the AAATA is engaged in a readiness process to ensure that it’s in a position to deploy new services shortly after funding is approved, if it is approved, Ford said.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living reiterated her support for the May 6 millage vote. Grawi said she was pleased to see the number of endorsements that were starting to be announced. The whole community benefits from transit expansion, she said. We need the service now – we need the service today, she concluded.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

An alternatives analysis is currently being conducted by the AAATA for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. The study has winnowed down options to six different route alignments.

During his report to the board, Michael Ford gave an update on the connector study. The project team recently reviewed updates on the timeline, modeling, and finances. Ridership estimates are scheduled to be completed at the end of March, he said. He was recently in Washington D.C. and met with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials, who support the connector study concept and had agreed to meet with project partners to discuss possible opportunities for federal funding.

Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Station Environmental Review

During communications time at the start of the meeting, Eli Cooper reminded the board that the Ann Arbor Station environmental review project was getting underway. The first of a series of three public meetings would be taking place on April 2, he said. Meetings will take place at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, he noted, starting at 4:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. For people who want to come earlier in the day or those who preferred to attend later in the afternoon, there would be opportunities to attend. At those meetings the project would be introduced, he said, and the dialogue would begin – which he hoped would culminate in the identification of an appropriate intercity passenger rail station for the city of Ann Arbor and its environs.

Comm/Comm: Annual Board Retreat

Eric Mahler reported out from the planning and development committee meeting. The committee has spent a great deal of time planning for the board retreat, he reported. The committee had discussed what it wanted to get out of the retreat. They were at this point looking at June as the likely time for the retreat, he said.

Present: Charles Griffith, Eric Mahler, Susan Baskett, Eli Cooper, Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley, Jack Bernard, Larry Krieg.

Absent: Sue Gott, Roger Kerson.

Next regular meeting: April 17, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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Washtenaw Trial Court Budget Items Approved Thu, 05 Sep 2013 03:04:49 +0000 Chronicle Staff At their Sept. 4, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners acted on three budget items related to the Washtenaw Trial Court – for a new case management software system, and for state funding of the court’s juvenile division.

The board gave final approval to the selection of a new record-keeping software system for the Washtenaw County Trial Court that’s estimated to cost $2.3 million. The Tyler Odyssey Case Records Management System will replace an outdated software system that hasn’t been supported by the previous vendor since 2005, when the vendor went out of business.

The original resolution, put forward at the board’s Aug. 7, 2013 meeting, had identified the following funding sources for this project: (1) a $551,998 refund from the state related to an unfinished pilot project; (2) $200,000 from an anticipated 2013 surplus in the trial court budget; (3) $700,000 from the county’s IT fund balance; and (4) $899,463 from the county’s capital reserves, to be repaid with any trial court surplus starting in 2014.

However, some commissioners weren’t comfortable with the funding sources that were identified, so an alternative resolution was brought forward during the Aug. 7 meeting that did not include references to funding sources. An amendment to that alternative resolution – made after considerable discussion and procedural maneuverings – stated that the board approved the selection of this software system, and directed the county administrator to develop a maintenance and implementation plan, and to identify funding sources by the time of the board’s Sept. 4 meeting.

The funding sources identified in a separate Sept. 4 resolution are: (1) a $551,998 refund from the state related to an unfinished pilot project; (2) $200,000 from an anticipated 2013 surplus in the trial court budget; (3) $300,000 from the county’s IT fund balance; and (4) $1,299,463 from the county’s capital reserves, to be repaid with any trial court surplus starting in 2014.

A staff memo accompanying the funding resolution also notes that an annual software maintenance and support fee – starting at $188,933 – will be offset by revenue from fees associated with all Washtenaw County electronic filing.

Commissioners discussed the approach to funding for about an hour with Donald Shelton, chief judge of the trial court. An amendment was added from the floor to designate that the e-filing revenues would be used to reimburse the capital reserves until the $1.299 million is repaid. After the $1.299 million is reimbursed, the e-filing revenues would be allocated to the county’s tech plan fund balance.

Both resolutions related to the trial court software were given final approval on Sept. 4. The vote was 8-1 for each resolution. Commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissented on the resolution related to a funding model. Commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1) voted in support of the funding model, but against the resolution approving the software purchase.

The board also gave initial approval to 2013-2014 state child care fund expenditures of $9,425,785 for the trial court’s juvenile division and county dept. of human services. About half of that amount ($4,712,892) will be eligible for reimbursement from the state. [.pdf of budget summary] According to a staff memo, the child care fund is a joint effort between state and county governments to fund programs that serve neglected, abused and delinquent youth. Part of this year’s funding will support a new 10-bed treatment program that will be housed in the county’s youth center facility, opening in November of 2013. From the staff memo:

The treatment program in its initial phase will exclusively provide treatment services to females aged 12-17 using an integrated therapeutic treatment model. The program will offer a short-term 90 day option as well as a 6 to 9 month long-term treatment option. The second phase of treatment programming will expand services to males aged 12-17.

The new program is expected to generate revenue from out-of-county treatment referrals.

The expenditures given initial approval by the board on Sept. 4 will result in a net increase of 5.46 jobs. A total of 10.46 full-time equivalent positions will be created, and 5 FTEs will be eliminated. A final vote is expected on Sept. 18.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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County Programs Get Grant Funding Thu, 21 Feb 2013 00:21:51 +0000 Chronicle Staff Three items related to grants and programs administered by the county’s office of community & economic development (OCED) were given final approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at their Feb. 20, 2013 meeting.

The items are: (1) the Michigan Works! system plan for 2013 [.pdf of 2013 MWSP]; (2) $20,000 in federal funding (Community Services Block Grant discretionary funds) to conduct a needs assessment of the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, supplemented with $5,000 in county matching funds; and (3) $20,000 in federal funding (Community Services Block Grant discretionary funds) for tax preparation services to low-income customers, in partnership with Avalon Housing, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County, Housing Bureau for Seniors and Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.

These items had received the board’s initial approval at a meeting on Feb. 6, 2013.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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UM Makes Case for State Funding Thu, 13 Dec 2012 22:23:58 +0000 Chronicle Staff At the Dec. 13, 2012 meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents, provost Phil Hanlon briefed regents on the university’s annual letter to the state budget director, outlining the fiscal 2014 budget needs of the Ann Arbor campus. [link to .pdf of budget development letter] The 10-page letter, officially from UM president Mary Sue Coleman, makes the case that UM needs state support, and provides details of UM’s cost containment efforts, affordability, and impact on the regional economy.

The university also responds to the state’s request for suggestions for “formula funding” – a mechanism to standardize appropriations for higher education. The letter argues that this formula approach to funding for higher education, which has resulted in one-time allocations, should instead be used as base-level funding, to provide greater consistency for budget planning. The letter also argues that formula funding, which is based on year-to-year improvements, doesn’t recognize the high level of achievement that institutions like UM have already reached.

Regarding cost containment, the letter highlights UM’s efforts to eliminate $235 million in general fund expenses since 2004. A third phase that’s currently underway is targeting $120 million through 2017 in a combination of cuts and increased recurring revenues. More than $30 million in cuts have been identified in fiscal year 2013, which runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

The letter also includes sections on affordability and economic impact. For economic impact, the letter references the UM Entrepreneurship & Innovation website for more details.

UM’s FY 2013 general fund budget of $1.649 billion for the Ann Arbor campus, which regents approved in June, reflects a $4.3 million increase in UM’s state appropriation to $273.1 million – an increase of 1.6% compared to FY 2012. The previous year, in FY 2011, state funding to UM had been cut by 15%.

This report was filed from the Michigan Union’s Anderson room on UM’s central campus, where the regents held their December meeting.

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AATA Approves Routine MDOT Processes Fri, 28 Sep 2012 00:13:48 +0000 Chronicle Staff As it typically does each year, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has authorized its chief executive officer to sign and execute contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) without seeking a separate board resolution – as long as the contracts are less than $1 million. The board gave the blanket authorization at its Sept. 27, 2012 meeting.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, there are 10-15 separate agreements between MDOT and AATA. A staff analysis of the resolution allows that there’s a risk to the practice – that the board might not be aware of the contracts that the CEO is executing. That risk is meant to be mitigated by a new practice of reporting all such contracts to the board’s performance monitoring and external relations committee.

Also approved by the board at its Sept. 27 meeting was a grant agreement with MDOT for a contract of over $1 million. MDOT is providing the local match, which totals $2,414,000 for AATA’s FY 2012 federal Section 5307 grant. [.pdf of FY 2012 expenditures for Section 5307 program]

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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AATA Projected FY 2013 Budget Takes Dip Fri, 21 Sep 2012 22:14:54 +0000 Chronicle Staff While the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s draft budget had shown a small surplus for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year, the budget that the AATA board will be asked to approve at its upcoming Sept. 27 meeting will now show a $300,000 deficit.

The draft AATA budget provided on Sept. 12 to the city council as a communication item for its Sept. 17 meeting showed a surplus of $22,692 over the budgeted expenses of $33,344,048. However, on Sept. 14 the AATA was notified by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) that a new interpretation of the state’s operating assistance formula would reduce AATA’s assistance by $803,500. The AATA financial staff responded by reducing expenses, but left about $300,000 to be covered by the fund balance reserve.

So the resolution included in the AATA board’s information packet provides a budget resolution worded as follows: “It is resolved, that AATA shall utilize approximately $300,000 of its Unrestricted Net Assets for the purpose of balancing the FY2013 Operating Budget of $32,700,181, that such budget is hereby approved to become effective October 1, 2012, and that the budget is assigned to the Performance Monitoring and External Relations Committee (PMER) for appropriate monitoring.”

The possibility of the reduction in funding was known previously. At the board’s Aug. 16, 2012 meeting, Charles Griffith had reported from the performance monitoring and external relations committee on the topic. From The Chronicle’s report: “An issue of concern, Griffith said, is the possibility of state operating assistance decreasing for fiscal year 2013, due to a change in the formula the state has been using to distribute money to transit agencies around the state. It could result in a loss of $800,000 in next year’s budget. Griffith said that ‘we have folks working on that,’ and the AATA is working with some of the other transit agencies in the state, and will be attempting to address that going forward.”

About half the reductions in expenses in the now proposed budget, compared to the draft, were made in wage reductions – a total of $294,473. Percentage-wise, the budget for management wages was reduced by 2.79% compared to a 1.24% decrease in non-management wages. [Google Spreadsheet compiled by The Chronicle showing contrast by category between draft and final budget.]

The AATA board’s Sept. 27 meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room at the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

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County Board OKs State Reimbursements Thu, 20 Sep 2012 00:18:11 +0000 Chronicle Staff Several items related to state reimbursements for Washtenaw County units were given initial approval by county commissioners on Sept. 19, 2012. The timing reflects the state’s fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. In contrast, the county works on a calendar-year budget cycle; but many of its units receive significant state funding.

The Washtenaw County Trial Court juvenile division anticipates $4,329,042 in reimbursements from the state child care fund budget. Programs supported by these revenues include family foster care, institutional care and in-home care, according to a staff memo. The trial court’s Friend of the Court program is also seeking reimbursements for “services to residents who are seeking to establish paternity and/or child support orders.” Over a three-year period through Sept. 30, 2015, the county expects to receive $11,902,808 in federal revenue, administered through the Michigan Dept. of Human Services. According to a staff memo, the county currently has 18,000 active child support cases, with at least one child per case.

Also related to child welfare, the county prosecuting attorney’s office is requesting $1,102,872 in federal revenue for prosecuting and/or nonpayment of child support cases, and establishing paternity. The funds are also administered by the state Dept. of Human Services, and include a $568,147 county match over the three-year period through Sept. 30, 2015.

Commissioners also approved the application of two state grants for operations in the sheriff’s office. A secondary road patrol grant of $184,464 would fund 1.5 deputy positions, if awarded. And a $196,000 grant from the state Dept. of Treasury would cover costs for the dispatch merger between Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor. That grant is part of the state’s economic vitality incentive program, which encourages intergovernmental cooperation.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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UM Regents Criticize “Formula Funding” Wed, 23 Nov 2011 20:20:37 +0000 Mary Morgan University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Nov. 17, 2011): A meeting that began 20 minutes late included two items that spurred discussion among regents: The possible use of a formula to allocate state funding for higher education, and the need for a more comprehensive housing strategy on the Ann Arbor campus.

Block M cookies

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman passed around a tray of Block M cookies before the Nov. 17 board meeting. Later, regent Martin Taylor objected to a potential “cookie cutter” approach to appropriating money for higher education, via formula funding. It was fairly clear that he wasn’t referring to these cookies. (Photos by the writer.)

This year, as part of the standard budget appropriations process, the state also has asked universities to provide suggestions for how to implement “formula funding” – a mechanism that’s being considered as a way to standardize appropriations for higher education. Martin Taylor and other regents expressed concerns over the approach, and asked for revisions to a letter being sent from the university to the state budget director that would explicitly state UM’s opposition to this kind of funding model.

Also on the agenda were two requests related to renovations at East Quad on central campus and Baits II on north campus. The topic prompted regent Andrea Fischer Newman to call for a broader strategy for student housing in the coming decades, saying that more attention needs to be given to that aspect of the university. Regent Larry Deitch noted that UM charges a healthy price, and he doesn’t believe there’s full value for UM’s lower-division students when some facilities aren’t up to snuff.

The child rape scandal at Penn State was mentioned at two points during the Nov. 17 meeting. Toward the start, board chair Denise Ilitch read a brief statement on behalf of the regents, saying that the board fully supported president Mary Sue Coleman’s Nov. 16 letter to the campus community. The university plans to use this tragic situation, Ilitch said, for thoughtful re-examination of UM’s values, culture and priorities.

At the end of the meeting, Douglas Smith spoke during public commentary, criticizing the university for not protecting alleged victims of sexual assault by UM athletes Brendan Gibbons and Jordan Dumars. Penn State was only an anomaly because the victims were children, he said. But it’s not an anomaly for university administrators to protect their athletic programs rather than the victims, he added – that’s the norm.

Two others spoke during public commentary. Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization, lobbied regents to reverse their previous vote of support for the right of graduate student research assistants to unionize. And Courtney Mercier, founder of Michigan Student-Athletes for Sustainability, advocated for support to improve integration of the athletic department into the university’s sustainability efforts.

Student filmmakers also made a presentation during the meeting, highlighting video public service announcements (PSAs) they’d made for UM’s “Expect Respect” campaign. After they finished, Ilitch asked whether they’d be interested in making a PSA for the regents, too.

President’s Opening Remarks

UM president Mary Sue Coleman typically starts each meeting by giving highlights of recent accomplishments that the university or its faculty, students or alumni have achieved. She began the Nov. 17 meeting with news that UM alumna Jesmyn Ward had won the National Book Award in fiction for her novel “Salvage the Bones.” Ward received her MFA in creative writing from UM, graduating in 2005. While a student at UM, Coleman noted, Ward won five Hopwood awards, and faculty had expected great things from her in the future. Coleman observed that “Salvage the Bones” had generally been considered a long-shot to receive the award, and that the honor is a real credit to Ward and to UM’s creative writing program.

Denise Ilitch, Mary Sue Coleman

Regent Denise Ilitch, left, and UM president Mary Sue Coleman.

Coleman also congratulated Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, who was recently elected to the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Pescovitz is UM’s executive vice president for medical affairs and oversees the University of Michigan Health System. It’s one of the highest honors in the medical or health professions, Coleman said. Pescovitz received a round of applause from regents and UM staff.

The university’s health system is on the cusp of welcoming patients and families to the new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, Coleman said. The hospital opens officially on Dec. 4, but staff and faculty have already started moving in. More than 20,000 people from the community attended an open house for the facility earlier this month. No one expected that kind of turnout, Coleman said, but it speaks to the community’s interest in the hospital. She thanked the board for their support of the project.

Highlighting another recent venture, Coleman noted that UM’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses are part of the new Michigan Corporate Relations Network, along with Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. The intent is to connect university resources with businesses more efficiently, she said. The initiative, funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Strategic Fund, will include several programs designed to spur economic development. Coleman said it’s another way that the university is working to reinvigorate the state’s economy.

Coleman concluded her remarks by noting the recent death of regent emeritus Deane Baker. He was 86. Baker had served as a regent for 24 years, in a tenure that overlapped with regents Larry Deitch and Andrea Fischer Newman. Coleman praised his generosity to the university, and gave her condolences to his family.

State Budget Appropriations Letter

Provost Phil Hanlon briefed regents on the university’s annual letter to the state budget director, outlining the 2013 budget needs of the Ann Arbor campus. [link to .pdf of budget development letter] The 12-page letter, officially from UM president Mary Sue Coleman, makes the case that UM needs state support, noting that the Ann Arbor campus receives 30% less in state funding than it did a decade ago. It also provides details of UM’s cost containment efforts and impact on the regional economy.

This year, the state also asked universities to provide suggestions for “formula funding” – a mechanism that’s being considered as a way to standardize appropriations for higher education.

UM’s letter notes that formula funding, as a new funding model, poses several challenges. From the letter:

The University of Michigan has long expressed concerns about formula funding. When not carefully designed, formulas may favor standardization, ignore economies of scale, and make flawed assumptions about costs being consistent between institutions. The incentives that are embedded into formulas can steer institutions toward uniformity and away from diversity, and this poses serious drawbacks for the State of Michigan. We believe that the diversity of scope and mission seen among the State’ s fifteen public universities is invaluable; it is what enables our universities to meet the State ‘s critical goals for higher education. A formula that fails to recognize the important differences amongst the public universities will undercut the important investments already made in these institutions, and harm rather than help the State.

When the State institutes formula funding, careful planning will thus be required to avoid that potential harm. Specifically, it is critical that the methodology include comparisons of each university to similar institutions. Using the Carnegie classifications and limiting the comparisons to only public institutions will allow for Michigan public universities to be measured against their peers.

The letter goes on to suggest specific performance measures that a formula funding model might include. They include:

  • Six-year graduation rates
  • Freshman to sophomore retention rates
  • Total number of undergraduate degrees awarded
  • Number of degrees awarded in fields that will fuel economic growth of the State: engineering, mathematics and natural sciences, health professions (nursing, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry)
  • Number of advanced degrees, particularly those awarded in fields critical to maintaining and enriching business, legal, civic, and educational endeavors within Michigan (such as JDs, MBAs, PhDs)
  • Sponsored research funding
  • Technology transfer and economic development indicators, such as the number of patents filed by university faculty or the number of start-up companies spun out of the university.

Attached to the letter is a copy of the university’s $1.587 billion FY 2012 general fund budget, which the regents approved in June 2011. The budget is based on the assumption that UM will receive $268.8 million in state appropriations for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. That amount represents a $47.5 million cut in UM’s state appropriation – a decline of 15% compared to FY 2011, and the lowest amount of state aid received since FY 1964, when adjusted for inflation. The budget included a 6.7% increase in tuition and fees for most in-state first- and second-year undergraduates at the Ann Arbor campus, for a total of $12,634 per year ($6,317 per term).

State Budget Appropriations Letter: Regents’ Discussion

Regent Martin Taylor began the discussion by asking if it’s a fait accompli that the state will combine the budgets for K-12 and higher education funding. K-12 and state-funded institutions of higher education have traditionally received support from different state funding pools.

Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, said that last year – for the first time – the state used some of the School Aid Fund to support higher education. Revenues for the School Aid Fund, set aside to fund K-12 public schools – come mostly from the state sales tax, she said. There remains concern about this move on both sides of the aisle, she said.

Her understanding is that the growth of the School Aid Fund has outpaced growth of the state’s general fund. It’s been characterized as a surplus that could be used to fund all education, not just K-12, she said. Wilbanks said she wouldn’t describe it as a fait accompli, but there’s some expectation that a similar recommendation will be made for the next budget, tapping the School Aid Fund for higher education as well as K-12.

Taylor said he’s talked with some people who are knowledgeable about the state legislature, and they feel it’s a done deal.

He then raised the issue of formula funding, calling it a dangerous area for the state to get into. It’s disturbing to turn funding into a cookie-cutter approach, he said. Wilbanks replied that the first indications of Gov. Rick Snyder’s interest in formula funding were seen in the state’s FY 2012 budget, although that budget appropriated funds for higher education as they’ve been handled historically. Looking ahead, the projected state budget amounts for higher education in FY 2013 are roughly equal to FY 2012, she noted, but specific reference is made in the state budget document regarding formula funding in FY 2013.

Specifically, the state budget document for 2012 and 2013 states:

Beginning in fiscal year 2013, Governor Snyder proposes the use of a formula to allocate university funding. The efforts to develop the formula will be led by the State Budget Director, with input from universities and other stakeholders. The formula will encourage universities to graduate a highly educated workforce in a timely manner and conduct research that contributes to the overall economic strategy for Michigan. [link to .pdf of full budget document]

University officials have been working for the past six months on recommendations regarding formula funding, Wilbanks said. There are serious challenges, including the cookie-cutter issue that Taylor mentioned, she said. Those concerns have been expressed to state officials, she said.

Andy Richner, Martin Taylor

From left: Regents Andrew Richner and Martin Taylor.

Taylor said it seemed that the merging of K-12 funding with higher education, along with the formula funding approach, were designed to reduce funding to higher education. That’s an attitude that’s popular in Lansing, he noted.

Higher education hasn’t fared as well as K-12 regarding state funding, Wilbanks said. So there’s a debate about the mechanics of appropriations, as well as with formula funding. There have been numerous attempts at formula funding going back decades, she noted, but this is the first time she’s seen a much more serious effort in that regard. She believed the university has the opportunity to influence some of the characteristics that might be considered in the formula.

Hanlon said that the state’s 15 public universities have very different missions, so it’s hard to imagine how a single formula could work. The letter to the state brings up some of these concerns, he said.

Wilbanks noted that over the past decade, there hasn’t been any consistency in the funding of higher education. But the challenges of formula funding are evidenced in other states that use this approach, she said. Applying a formula to the appropriations process doesn’t ensure consistency and predictability. Financial pressure might preclude the ability to “fund the formula,” she said, or legislative priorities might change. These things wreak havoc, Wilbanks said. Throwing a formula into the process simply makes it more challenging, she concluded, noting that she and others have pointed out these issues to state policymakers.

Andrew Richner brought up the issue of the impact on the university’s bond rating. Now, UM has a AAA rating, and it’s important to maintain, he said. The high bond rating allows the university to get better interest rates when borrowing money for projects like the East Quad renovation, he noted. He didn’t see that mentioned in the letter to the state.

UM president Mary Sue Coleman told regents that the university has presented a lot of evidence to state budget officials, and UM executives have talked to legislators and the governor. They’ll continue to do that, she said. UM has experienced a 30% reduction in state funding over the past decade, not adjusted for inflation, she noted. Coleman said she’s proud that through cost cutting and aggressive fundraising, they’ve been able to keep the university financially sound. “But this isn’t a given going forward, and we need to appreciate that,” she said.

Taylor advocated for revisions to the letter that would explicitly state UM’s opposition to formula funding, along with the letter’s existing suggestions for how to implement it. He observed that in the 26-page document, they weren’t putting up much of an argument against formula funding. To him, the letter seems to imply that going in the direction of formula funding is acceptable, he said.

Hanlon noted that the university wasn’t asked if formula funding is a good idea. They were asked for suggestions on how to implement it.

Taylor countered that it was important to explicitly state the university’s view on this. To say nothing “just doesn’t seem to me to be very smart,” he said. The same is true for separate letters from UM’s Flint and Dearborn campuses, he added.

This is the second year that Hanlon has been responsible for drafting the university’s letter regarding its state budget allocations – he was promoted to provost following the 2010 departure of Teresa Sullivan, who was hired as president of the University of Virginia. The letter was also criticized by some of the regents last year. At the regents’ November 2010 meeting. Andrea Fischer Newman told Hanlon that the request for state funding had been too low, and she didn’t feel that they’d taken the opportunity to lay out their case for more funding effectively.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the letter, with the provision that it be modified to reflect their concerns. The Flint and Dearborn campuses submit separate letters, which were also approved by regents.

Dorm Projects Lead to Broader Discussion on Housing

Items related to renovations of two University of Michigan dorms – Baits II and East Quad – were on the agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting.

Typically, Tim Slottow – UM’s chief financial officer – is responsible for briefing regents on capital improvement projects. He was absent from the meeting, and Royster Harper, the university’s vice president for student affairs, handled these housing-related items.

Harper began by noting that the renovations were designed to improve the residential experience for students, and to enhance living/learning opportunities. She said she wanted to assure regents that the closing of East Quad and Baits II in the next academic year would not create an overall shortage of beds. She reminded them that Alice Lloyd Hall, a dorm with 530 beds that’s been closed for renovations, will reopen next year. Along with other measures, Harper said UM will be able to accommodate demand for all students, and will have options for graduate students and law school students as well, if they are interested in university housing.

Royster Harper, Stephen Forrest

Royster Harper, UM vice president for student affairs, talks with Stephen Forrest, vice president for research.

Regents were being asked to authorize an estimated $11.95 million renovation to Baits II, located on UM’s north campus. The work includes infrastructure updates and reconfiguration of community spaces. The 175,000-square-foot, five-building complex was built in 1967 and houses about 575 students.

The project will be designed by UM’s department of architecture, engineering and construction, in collaboration with Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc., a Grand Rapids firm. The work is expected to be completed in the summer of 2013. The nearby Baits I residence hall, which houses about 570 students, will be closed at the end of this academic year because of infrastructure issues, and won’t be reopened.

Regarding the Baits II renovations, Harper said the university has been working hard to enhance the vibrancy and appeal of north campus. They’ve created an undergraduate community in the Northwood apartments, she said, and there’s a great living arts program in Bursley Hall. In 2008, some infrastructure work was done at Baits II, but now the university need to do more, she said. The work is even more important in light of the university’s decision to close Baits I, Harper told the regents. That residence hall didn’t provide the kind of experience that students should have, she said, and it wouldn’t have been worth the investment to make the necessary renovations.

Dorm Projects: Regents’ Discussion

Andrea Fischer Newman told Harper that the regents appreciate the investments and upgrades to residence halls, but there’s a bigger issue. She wanted to see a long-term strategic plan for university housing and student life, including recreational facilities and the future of Mary Markley Hall. The new North Quad has had a positive impact, she indicated. [North Quad, located at the southeast corner of State and Huron streets, opened this fall and has been praised by regents in the past. It was the first dorm built by the university since the 1960s, and houses about 450 students.]

Newman said she knows that funding is an issue, but these things need to be dealt with. This aspect of the university needs to be addressed, and not enough attention has been paid to student living, she said, whether it’s freshmen or married couples or students with children. She hasn’t seen an overall plan, and it’s an area that’s important to UM’s competitive position.

Harper replied that a plan for student housing would be brought to the board’s meeting next spring. When pressed by Newman about details – What’s the timeframe for the plan? Will it include suggestions for new dorms? – Harper said the plan would address the university’s direction for student housing in the next 40-50 years. Denise Ilitch, the board’s chair, added that regents will be reviewing a broader master plan for the university at their December meeting, and student housing will be a part of that. Additional details about the student life aspect of that master plan, including housing and recreational facilities, will be discussed in the spring.

Newman said she’s on Harper’s side – she understands that there’s no dedicated funding stream for housing improvements, and that there’s not enough focus on it. Her intent is to push things forward.

Regent Andrew Richner asked for more details on how housing for the freshman class will be handled. Harper said that the living/learning communities in the Northwood apartments 1-2 would be expanded to Northwood 3, where the apartments will be renovated. Alice Lloyd Hall will reopen, adding about 530 beds.

Andrea Fischer Newman

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman. In the background are UM president Mary Sue Coleman and regent Larry Deitch.

Harper said plans are still uncertain for how to accommodate about 300 students, but they’re working on it. Their first priority is freshmen, she said, and there likely won’t be as many returning students living in residence halls.

Larry Deitch told Harper that she does a great job, and he’s sure her staff will make Northwood the best it can be. But it’s not ideally suited for an 18-year-old new undergraduate, he said, and it doesn’t compare with other facilities. The university needs to focus on building more facilities like North Quad, he said. If the money isn’t there, he wants the university to explore public-private partnerships. He noted that he’s said this before, but the idea has been resisted.

The university charges a healthy price, Deitch said, and he doesn’t believe there’s full value for UM’s lower-division students when some facilities aren’t up to snuff.

Newman agreed. As regents, they hear from constituents, she said, especially when housing assignments come out. And most of the complaints are from people who are upset about being assigned to north campus housing. She wondered whether there was any consideration given when making housing assignments, to coordinate with a student’s area of study?

Harper identified the main issue as transportation. It’s a challenge to get back and forth between north campus and central campus in a reasonable amount of time, she said, and the university needs to work harder at improving that situation. She noted that there are students who clearly don’t want to live on north campus. But when a student is first assigned there, they often react to the reputation of north campus being a terrible place to live, which is very different from a student’s experience after they live there, she said. But no matter how wonderful the living situation is, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get back and forth between campuses, she said.

Newman suggested taking a closer look at this situation. Perhaps there are more classes that can be offered on north campus, so that students won’t have to make the trek. She said she thinks there’s a better way to coordinate housing with academics, and noted that feedback on the issue has been “incredibly high-pitched” this year.

Provost Phil Hanlon agreed that they can do better, and that the kind of coordination that Newman mentioned hasn’t been done historically. He reported that there are 17 engineering students in the freshman calculus class that he teaches, and all but one of their classes are on central campus. [The College of Engineering is located on north campus.]

Regent Kathy White spoke up, saying that she’d been an engineering student at a different university, and the last thing she would have wanted was to live next to the engineering building. “That is insane,” she said. White said a lot of engineering students don’t want to be relegated to north campus.

Newman responded that there needs to be a balance. With about 2,200 students living on north campus, there’s a level of concern, she said.

Harper said she understands the concern, and at a minimum, the university needs to fix the transportation piece. [The transportation piece is one that is to be addressed in part through an alternatives analysis phase of a study of the Plymouth-State corridors, headed up by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, with support from other partners including UM. The first phase of that study, found some kind of higher capacity transit system would be supportable in that corridor, at least in the area connecting the UM campuses. See "AATA: Transit Study, Planning Update"] Richner also expressed concern about the university’s meal service, saying that issue needs to be addressed as well.

UM president Mary Sue Coleman concluded the discussion by noting that following North Quad and the renovations of other student residence halls, they need to keep those kinds of successes going.

Later in the meeting, Chuck Lewis, a vice president with Integrated Design Solutions, briefed regents on the proposed schematic design for the $116 million “deep” renovation of East Quad, located at 701 E. University Ave., between Hill and Willard. Regents had approved the project at their July 2011 meeting, and authorized IDS as the project’s architect.

The 300,000-square-foot residence hall houses about 860 students and the Residential College, a living-learning community started in the 1960s. The RC will be temporarily located in West Quad, according to a Michigan Daily report. The East Quad renovation is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2013. The project is part of a campus-wide “Residential Life Initiative” first presented to regents in September 2004.

Outcome: In separate votes, regents unanimously approved the renovations at Baits II and the schematic design for East Quad.

“Expect Respect” PSAs

Toward the beginning of the meeting, regents heard a special presentation from four undergraduate filmmakers involved in creating a series of public service announcements for UM’s “Expect Respect” campaign. Josh Buoy, Chris Duncan, Roddy Hyduk, and Stephanie Hamel were on hand to highlight four short PSAs that were played for regents, and to give behind-the-scenes descriptions of the productions.

Josh Buoy, Rob Rayher

From left: UM junior Josh Buoy with Rob Rayher, who teaches an introductory filmmaking course at the university. Buoy was one of four students who gave regents a presentation about public service announcements they made to promote the “Expect Respect” campaign.

Buoy told regents that they had gotten involved in the project as an outgrowth of an introductory filmmaking course they took with Rob Rayher, who also attended the Nov. 17 meeting.

Most of the PSAs feature students and administrators – and in one, former UM football player Desmond Howard – all with the theme of respecting others. The PSA featuring Howard is called “The Man” and promotes UM’s “Stay in the Blue” program. The program calls for keeping blood alcohol content at .06 or below.

Other PSAs were made for UM’s Spectrum Center (“Huddle Up”) to promote tolerance of sexual orientation, and for the Sexual Assault Awareness Center (“Connections”) to showcase healthy relationships. All videos are posted on the Filmic Productions website, and have been shown during UM home football games this fall on Michigan Stadium’s scoreboard video screens.

After the presentation, regent Denise Ilitch told the students that the board would love to have them do a PSA for the regents. “We’ll talk,” Buoy said.

Conflict-of-Interest Disclosures

Regents were asked to authorize eight items that required disclosure under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute. The law requires that regents vote on potential conflict-of-interest disclosures related to university staff, faculty or students. Often, the items involve technology licensing agreements or leases. This month, the items included three lease agreements, three research option agreements and one licensing agreement.

Lease agreements related to leases at the UM North Campus Research Complex‘s startup “accelerator” with Silicium Energy Inc., Arborlight LLC, and Possibilities for Change LLC. One item related to a licensing agreement amendment with NeuroNexus Technologies Inc. – UM biomedical engineering professor Daryl Kipke is CEO and co-owner of the firm. Items related to option agreements were with the companies ImBio LLC, RiskWatch LLC, and Silicium Energy.

Also authorized was a collaboration between The Ark, a downtown Ann Arbor concert venue, and the University Unions Arts and Programs. The event – an Oct. 7 concert by Vienna Teng at UM’s Power Center – triggered the conflict-of-interest issue because The Ark’s board chair, Kathryn Huss, works for UM as deputy director and chief administrative officer of the Museum of Art.

Outcome: Without discussion, regents authorized all conflict-of-interest disclosures.

Public Commentary

Three people spoke during the time for public commentary at the end of the meeting.

Douglas Smith directed his remarks to UM president Mary Sue Coleman, saying that she didn’t need to travel to Penn State to find a university administration that failed to protect alleged victims of sexual assaults, especially involving football or basketball players. He described a 2009 incident involving UM field goal kicker Brendan Gibbons, who was arrested for an alleged rape of an 18-year-old freshman, and a more recent incident involving UM basketball player Jordan Dumars, who was accused of sexually assault on an Eastern Michigan University student. [Smith had also raised questions about these two incidents during public commentary at the Ann Arbor city council's Feb. 22, 2011 meeting.]

Smith argued that university administrators allowed for the victims to be intimidated so that they refused to cooperate with police. “Penn State was only an anomaly because the victims were children, but the fact that the university administration chose to protect their athletic programs rather than the victims is not an anomaly. It is the norm,” Smith said.

Smith said the board of regents needs to realize that Coleman’s administration is just as guilty as Penn State’s for not protecting the alleged victims in these cases. He asked Coleman what she had done to protect these women, and he distributed police reports that he said he hoped she would read. “Perhaps then you will cheer a little less enthusiastically the next time the football team scores a field goal.” [.pdf text of Smith's full remarks]

Stephen Raiman

Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization.

Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization, told regents that his group represents about 400 students and is growing. He wanted to talk to them about the implications of their decision to support the rights of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) to decide whether to organize and be represented by a labor union. [Regents had passed a resolution of support at their May 2011 meeting, over dissent from the board’s two Republican regents – Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman. UM president Mary Sue Coleman had spoken in opposition to the action prior to the vote.]

Raiman said he appreciated the board’s willingness to listen to students and do what’s best for them, but the problem is that the students objecting to unionization don’t have a voice. They’ve been shut out of hearings held by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC), he said, so there’s no opportunity to express their opinion.

Letting GSRAs vote on whether to unionize sounds fair, he said, but he and others don’t feel the vote should be held. It can’t be a fair process, given the parties involved, he argued. The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), which is leading the push for unionization, is backed by the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers, Raiman said. They have access to professional campaign organizers and public relations experts, he said, whereas his group is small and doesn’t have that expertise. “We’re doing what we can to make our voices heard,” he said, and urged regents to reconsider their vote.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said she’d be happy to reconsider, though she was in the minority on the board. She asked whether the university could provide resources to Raiman’s group, in the same way that the university supports groups like the Michigan Student Assembly. Regent Martin Taylor said the answer would likely require research.

Denise Ilitch, who chairs the board, said she thought that the anti-union students were getting support from the Mackinac Center. Raiman told Ilitch that the Mackinac Center has not provided any funding to his group, though they are providing legal assistance to Melinda Day, a UM graduate student who objects to the unionization effort.

[In September 2011, MERC issued a written opinion dismissing a GEO request to conduct an election seeking to represent GSRAs, and denying Day's motion to intervene in the case.]

Courtney Mercier

Courtney Mercier, founder of Michigan Student-Athletes for Sustainability.

Courtney Mercier, founder of Michigan Student-Athletes for Sustainability (MSAS), introduced herself as a senior who’s also a varsity athlete on the women’s soccer team, and who’ll be attending UM law school next year. She’s interested in a career in environmental law.

Soon after the athletic department approved the creation of MSAS, Mercier said, she was thrilled to hear UM president Mary Sue Coleman’s announcement about broader campus-wide sustainability initiatives. As a student-athlete, Mercier said, she notices that sustainability isn’t infused into the culture of the UM athletic department. Her group wants MSAS to be a venue for student-athletes to raise concerns and help make the department more environmentally sustainable. They’ve adopted the slogan: “We Play on Planet Blue” – a nod to UM’s Planet Blue sustainability initiative.

Mercier said that most people’s exposure to the university is through athletic events and facilities, and while she has pride in the athletic department, a sustainable athletic department would be even better. She’s not just talking about installing recycling bins, she said, but about reaching out to educate people about sustainable lifestyles. Integrating athletics into the sustainability effort is important, because athletes are the public face of the university. She hoped regents would support the efforts of MSAS.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andy Richner, Martin Taylor, Kathy White.

Next board meeting: Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming administration building on the UM campus in Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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UM Regents OK Budget Letter to State Thu, 17 Nov 2011 22:33:45 +0000 Chronicle Staff At their Nov. 17, 2011 meeting, University of Michigan regents discussed then approved the university’s annual letter to the state budget director, John Nixon, outlining the 2013 budget needs of the Ann Arbor campus. [link to .pdf of budget development letter] The 12-page letter, officially from UM president Mary Sue Coleman, makes the case that UM needs state support, noting that the Ann Arbor campus receives 30% less in state funding than it did a decade ago. It also provides details of UM’s cost containment efforts and impact on the regional economy.

This year, the state asked universities to provide suggestions for “formula funding” – a mechanism that’s being considered as a way to standardize appropriations for higher education. Regent Martin Taylor advocated for revisions to the letter that would explicitly state UM’s opposition to this kind of approach to funding, along with the suggestions for how to implement it. Other regents agreed. After discussion with university administrators – including provost Phil Hanlon and Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations – the board unanimously approved the letter, with the understanding that it will be revised to include a statement opposing formula funding.

Attached to the letter is a copy of the university’s $1.587 billion FY 2012 general fund budget, which the regents approved in June 2011. The budget is based on the assumption that UM will receive $268.8 million in state appropriations for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. That amount represents a $47.5 million cut in UM’s state appropriation – a decline of 15% compared to FY 2011, and the lowest amount of state aid received since FY 1964, when adjusted for inflation. The budget included a 6.7% increase in tuition and fees for most in-state first- and second-year undergraduates at the Ann Arbor campus, for a total of $12,634 per year ($6,317 per term).

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the Fleming administration building on the UM campus in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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AAPS Trustees Lament State’s “Hoops” Thu, 20 Oct 2011 00:30:32 +0000 Jennifer Coffman Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Oct. 12, 2011): Reaction to new state-level legislation and how it’s affecting the school district was a common theme of nearly every section of the Oct. 12 AAPS board meeting.

Robert Allen Ann Arbor Public Schools

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen (left) and Washtenaw Intermediate School District transportation director Tom Moore addressed the board's questions regarding transportation. (Photo by the writer.)

At the meeting, the board passed the necessary set of resolutions to qualify for the restoration of $1.6 million of support from the state, as board members criticized the state’s process as “hoops” they needed to jump through.

Budget constraints came up in most of the topics on which the board took action, as well as during two informational updates – one on the bus service, and one on the results of an insurance audit undertaken by the district. Multiple speakers who addressed the board urged trustees to take political action and to lead the community in legislative advocacy and state-level reform.

Transportation service changes were again a major point of discussion at the Oct. 12 meeting. Board members questioned the success of the district’s bus service consolidation with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Four parents spoke at public commentary about safety concerns resulting from loss of bus service, especially with the winter weather approaching.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, the board also voted to purchase additional algebra textbooks, approved the printing of the Rec & Ed catalogue, and renewed a contract for therapeutic services needed for special education students.

Response to State-Level Actions

In every part of the meeting, references were made to the ongoing reductions in state funding facing the district, as well as to several new state laws. Some laws were recently enacted and more are currently under consideration, which constrain and restructure public education while broadening and supporting the growth of charter schools across the state.

State-level actions and associated district and community responses discussed at this meeting included: financial best practices incentives, pending charter-school legislation, political reform, legislative advocacy, and planning for the 2012-13 budget.

Response to State: Financial Best Practices

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen reported that the district qualifies for a one-time state funding incentive for meeting four out of five “financial best practices” as defined by the state: (1) AAPS named as the holder of employee medical benefit plans; (2) development and implementation of a service consolidation plan; (3) procurement of bids on non-instructional services such as food service; and (4) creation of a link from the district’s website to a dashboard of statistics.

Because the district has met these requirements, Allen explained, $100 per pupil of the foundation allowance previously cut by the state will be refunded to AAPS. That works out to a return of $1.6 million to AAPS. He also noted that this $1.6 million is not included in the budget, and that it should be paid to the district within a month of applying to the state.

Multiple trustees expressed mixed feelings about the additional funding.

Trustee Andy Thomas asserted that while he will obviously endorse the resolutions necessary to certify the district’s compliance with the state-defined best practices, he found it “demeaning” that the district is being made to do so. “This is not about best practices – this is about control,” he said. After reducing per-pupil funding by $500, Thomas argued, “the attitude of the state is that we don’t deserve the money back unless we jump through hoops.”

Trustee Christine Stead agreed, pointing out that the district is also not only meeting, but exceeding, the fifth “best practice” – to pay 80% of medical insurance premiums, while passing on 20% of the premium cost to employees. Stead argued that AAPS is doing even better than that, if the intention of the practice is to keep health care costs in check. In the district’s current contract with teachers, she pointed out, the district’s contribution to health care premiums is capped at just over $12,000 per teacher, less than 80% of the cost.

Stead said she also wanted to call attention to the question of what to do with the additional funding, and suggested the best course of action would be to save the money and apply it to next year’s deficit, which is projected to be $14 million.

Allen said AAPS “has completed all the hoops,” but argued that what the district really needs is a “solution to the structural deficit … At the end of the day,” he said, “we are not being funded adequately.”

Stead agreed, calling on taxpayers to demand a restoration of the local levy authority that was lost when the state changed the K-12 school funding mechanism under Proposal A. She argued that the state has also “violated the trust of taxpayers” by slashing 20j funding, a provision of Proposal A that “held harmless” those districts who would lose funding under the then-new system. Funding through 20j was eliminated in 2009.

Finally, saying she wanted to add some context, board president Deb Mexicotte stated, “The state is bringing pretty much every tool [it] has to bear against public education …We’re going to get $1.6 million back for doing things were already doing, or doing better …We have to remember how much was taken away.”

Mexicotte explained that there was enough money in the state-managed School Aid Fund last year to raise the per-pupil allowance of every student in Michigan by $200, but instead $500 was cut. Therefore, she concluded, it’s hard to feel grateful for getting a tiny bit back.

In addition to the funding cuts, Mexicotte asserted that the additional constraints being placed on how schools conduct their business, the rise in charter schools, and the proliferation of education laws that are not student-focused are leading to a “downward spiral to breaking public education in this state.”

Mexicotte asked Stead to read aloud the three resolutions needed to receive the funding, which she did. The first declared AAPS the policyholder on employees’ medical benefit plans; the second certified that the district had participated in service consolidation; and the third confirmed that AAPS had met at least four of the five requirements to qualify for this one-time state funding of $100 per pupil.

Outcome: Trustees unanimously supported the three resolutions required for AAPS to receive the $1.6 million in best practices funding from the state.

Response to State: Public Commentary on Charter School Legislation

Steve Norton, AAPS parent and executive director of Michigan Parents for Schools (MIPFS), shared his concerns during public commentary regarding a package of bills currently under consideration by the Michigan state legislature regarding charter schools [SB 618, 619, 620, 621 and 624]. Called the “parent empowerment package,” Norton argued that this set of bills would do the opposite of that. He said the legislation encourages the creation of small education enclaves throughout the state, and encourages everyone to walk away from the problems of public schools instead of trying to fix them. He described the goals of the bills as: removing the cap on the number of charter schools and cyberschools in Michigan, and allowing public schools to vote to turn themselves into charter schools.

Norton also highlighted unsuccessful efforts by MIPFS to get amendments to the legislation passed that would have required all charter schools to be run by non-profit organizations. As the bills now stand, he argued, they “provide less of an educational opportunity than a business opportunity, allowing private profit [to be] made at public expense.” Norton encouraged the board to be leaders in engaging the community about the significance of this package of bills for the education of the vast majority of children in our state.

Response to State: AAEA President – Political Reform

In his regular report to the board, teachers’ union president Brit Satchwell expressed his frustration with the state, and encouraged people feeling the effects of budget cuts throughout the district to direct their outrage to Lansing. He warned against members of the local community who distract the discussion by “raising red herrings” and continuously claiming a lack of transparency on the part of AAPS. Their actual problem, Satchwell said, is that they simply do not agree with policies that support education.

“Less is not more,” Satchwell emphasized. He expressed frustration with people who claim the district’s budget must “be fat somewhere,” and who claim that the budget woes are due to poor management on the part of the district. Applauding the “heroic efforts made in the buildings” by teachers and administrators, Satchwell urged everyone to “take the fight upstream.”

He pleaded with the board to become the “tip of the spear” in the fight, and implored the community to follow them. “The people who brought this disaster to your kitchen table have to go,” he urged the community, “The financial difficulties we are facing are not forces of nature – the solutions are not here.”

Response to State: Countywide Legislative Advocacy Task Force

During the “items from the board” section at the end of the meeting, the board engaged in a brief brainstorm about approaches that could be used to bring together school districts and municipalities across the county to advocate as a group at the state level.

Referencing Satchwell’s call for the board to “be the tip of the spear in combating what is happening to us,” trustee Susan Baskett noted that the mayor of Saline recently engaged her in a discussion about how the recent elimination of the Michigan Business Tax would affect schools and cities alike. “We are all trying to keep up with what’s happening with the legislation,” Baskett said, “but it’s all happening so quickly.”

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green agreed, saying that the issue is coming up and is a topic for the entire county. She noted that in Pennsylvania, where she worked previously, a consortium of regionally-affiliated school board representatives met to address legislation that affected them all, and asked if that was taking place in this area.

Mexicotte noted that the Michigan Association of Schools (MASB) regularly holds a breakfast with legislators, but that perhaps convening a countywide task force would be a better approach.

Stead added that AAPS has had some difficulty in the past working with legislators as a group. While crafting recommendations for how education legislation might be reformed, she reminded her board colleagues, AAPS had approached legislators for their input. “Each legislator asked for a private, ad-hoc group just for them … They hadn’t come together, and they were partisan in their approach.”

Baskett argued, “No one entity should have to do this alone – it’s affecting all of us across school and city boundaries.” She added thanks to Skyline teacher Pat Jenkins for inviting her to help out with an activity with her Communication, Media, and Public Policy (CMPP) magnet students.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she loved the suggestion of a countywide task force, “We should be the tail wagging the dog, taking the lead.” However, Lightfoot warned, “the nice, sweet kind of approach isn’t going to work.” She argued that the district will need to enlist different sets of allies at different times, since some of the work that needs to be done is partisan in nature. Finally, referencing the CMPP students Baskett had mentioned earlier, Lightfoot said she would “love to find ways to enlist students in our public policy fight.”

Response to State: Budget Planning for 2012-13

Stead noted in her regular report as committee chair that the planning committee had discussed the upcoming 2012-13 budget at its recent meeting, in the context of state-level cuts.  She said that the district will be engaging the community as early as possible in making decisions about the anticipated $14 million in cuts that AAPS will be facing. She noted that AAPS will hold a community forum this fall to review what has been cut already over the past five years and to start engaging the public.

“We will be planning our budget in late winter and early spring so that we can make decisions earlier this year,” Stead said, pointing out that AAPS has lost just over $50 million in the past five years alone. “We will want to get people’s best thinking.”

Stead also noted that AAPS staff had brought to the planning committee a “handful of ideas” on revenue enhancement, but that the committee had asked for more due diligence to be done before continuing to pursue them. “We are looking at every opportunity for incremental revenue,” Stead said, “but not always at the cost of integrity and other things.”


Concerns about transportation continued to dominate public commentary, as they had at the September board meeting. At the Oct 12 meeting, Allen gave an update on changes to the district’s transportation service since outsourcing busing to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). Then, Allen – along with AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis, WISD business manager Brian Marcel, and WISD transportation director Tom Moore – answered trustees’ questions regarding transportation.

Transportation: Public Commentary

Four parents addressed the board with safety concerns related to the their children’s current lack of bus service. They enumerated the following safety concerns: proximity of walking path to major roads; worry about whether paths will be cleared during winter months, road construction blocking designated safe walking routes; and the effect of the approaching bad weather of the winter months on students’ walks of over a mile while carrying 20 to 25-pound backpacks.

One parent noted that her family did not own a car, and another noted that while they could drive their daughter to school in the morning, they were unable to pick her up after school since they would be at work. They pleaded with the board to restore bus service in their neighborhoods, and noted that it’s common for families to see an empty bus passing by their house that previously stopped but now does not.

A parent from Pine Lake community argued that her co-op complex is 1.7 miles from Slauson, her child’s school, and that her complaints to WISD transportation director Tom Moore have not yielded results. “If you Google 2680 [Adrienne Dr, the Pine Lake Clubhouse address], it’s 1.7 miles,” she pointed out, and requested that the district recalculate the distance. Finally, she argued that the changes to transportation have disproportionately impacted minorities.

Transportation: Bus Service Update

Allen reviewed that 2010-11 was the first year that AAPS contracted for bus service with the WISD, and that the goal was to save $1.5 million. After the audit report in November, Allen said, the district will be able to compare 2009-10 with 2010-11 to see what the actual savings were. The projected savings for 2011-12 are $1 million, he said, after the board allocated an additional $300,000 to address implementation of common bus stops at the high school level.

Allen reviewed adjustments made the original 2011-12 bus schedule due to feedback from the community, including the addition of four new runs and 39 new stops. He also said that late or overcrowded buses have been greatly reduced, and said that some adjustments are still being made in the outer quadrant of the district. Finally, Allen noted that an official count of ridership would be performed by the WISD and submitted to the state.

Transportation: Discussion – Summary Report Overdue

The board asked about numerous specific problems regarding transportation this year, but focused on one overarching issue – the lack of a summary report, which was supposed to have analyzed the program data from the first year of the district’s contract with the WISD before AAPS renewed for a second year.

WISD business manager Brian Marcel responded that the WISD spent its staff time preparing for this year rather that writing a report about last year. He offered the rationale: “If we don’t get complaints, that’s a good thing. Last year, we had almost no complaints.” Multiple board members said they would still like to see a complete report from the 2010-11 school year, including the length of time students were on buses, the number of late buses, and customer satisfaction measures, among other metrics.

Transportation: Discussion – Quality of Customer Service

Board members asked about how adjustments have been made to routes and stops. Allen assured trustees that the WISD has been consistent in implementing the new board policy, and in following up with families who still have questions.

The board questioned the level of office staff that the WISD has available to resolve concerns, whether the WISD had logged all complaints and their resolutions, and whether the WISD transportation department phone number was even operational.

Moore answered that the WISD has ten phones answering transportation calls, and that they are logging calls as well as e-mails received. He acknowledged that the WISD received 1,400 calls on one day early in the school year, which maxed out the system, but that they have since increased the capacity for receiving calls. Moore noted that the number of calls has dropped off dramatically, saying that he might get two messages a day now.

Allen confirmed that families with concerns should contact the WISD first, and that the WISD phone number is operational. Moore promised that everyone who leaves a message will get a call back. Marcel said he does not want a recurrence of the high volume of calls, and said he thinks the district’s plan to set its budget earlier will help, because the community will have more notice of any changes to next year’s bus service.

Green added that she has met with the superintendent of the WISD to share concerns and raise the issue of contract renewal in the future. As a result of that meeting, Green said, AAPS and WISD staff met to review what happened and why the phone banks were overloaded, and talked about how services had to improve.

Trustee Irene Patalan applauded the community for sharing the sacrifice involved in changing the transportation system this year. She added that, though “the board would love to go back to the way things were,” change is a “way of life.”

Transportation: Discussion – Overcrowding

Baskett asked how overcrowding is being handled on buses, and what legal obligations the district has to students regarding bus seating.

Allen reviewed state transportation law, which says that school buses can be filled three-to-a-seat. He noted that AAPS has asked the WISD to fill buses three-to-a-seat for elementary school students for a maximum of 65 or 71 students, depending on the type of bus. For middle and high school students, Allen continued, the district aims for two-to-a seat, meaning a full bus is either 44 or 48 students.

Baskett asked for clarification about how parents or students can get another bus, if taking a head count at the bus stop indicates that the bus will be overcrowded.

Moore answered that there are not enough drivers to have substitute drivers available to immediately react to an overcrowding situation. He encouraged parents or students experiencing chronic overcrowding to contact his department, but assured the board that “on a day-to-day basis, [buses] are not overcrowded.”

Baskett asked about staffing levels and turnover.

Moore acknowledged that the WISD has experienced more that 40% turnover in transportation staff this year, while industry standard turnover is less than 10%. He stated, “School bus driving is unique and not for everyone … We have the freight that talks back.” Moore explained that many drivers have left for jobs with Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the University of Michigan (UM) or Federal Express, paying the same or better “without the talking back.” He closed by saying that the WISD is currently accepting applications for new drivers.

Transportation: Discussion – Safety

Thomas asked what is being done to address safety issues on walk routes to schools, and noted that it will take coordinating with other governmental entities that are facing their own budget problems. “Who is the advocate on behalf of the students … of the district in dealing with the city, county, and state?” he asked.

Multiple staff members and board members weighed in on a response to Thomas.

Green stated that she had met with Steve Powers, the new city administrator to talk about how the city and AAPS could work together on this issue as winter approaches, and Moore said the WISD has been assured by local departments of public works that walk routes would be maintained and cleared.

Margolis added that she is working closely with the Ann Arbor Police Department officer who coordinates crossing guards to be sure they are placed as effectively as possible. She said that the recently passed law fining drivers $100 for not yielding at pedestrian crosswalks should help the situation.

Allen said he is collecting information from parents proactively about areas of concern, and pointed out that AAPS sits on a Transportation Safety Committee (TSC) along with the police and fire departments, and other entities.

Mexicotte, who sits on the TSC as a representative from the board, confirmed that “all the players are at the table” at the TSC, and that “knowing that these challenging are only going to get more challenging, the committee is getting ready to better help parents get used to these changes.”

Transportation: Discussion – AATA

Baskett said she is concerned about how AAPS bus service will look moving forward, and noted that the AATA is adding some service on the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti corridor. She then suggested that the district should try to influence the AATA’s master planning process, so that use of the AATA might be an option for AAPS families who can afford it.

Transportation: Discussion – Staff Time

Lightfoot noted, with the many issues AAPS staff have to tackle, it seems like they are still doing a lot of the work related to busing, even though the district is contracting with the WISD to provide this service.

Allen responded that, initially, AAPS wanted to be sure that the WISD had the proper guidance. Saying he no longer planned to be involved on a daily basis, Allen said he now believes “the understanding is there.”

Transportation: Discussion – Special Education Reimbursement

Mexicotte questioned why ridership is reported to the state, since providing transportation is not a state mandate. Marcel answered that it is because of state support of special education services, including transportation. In order to receive state reimbursement of 70% of the transportation costs for special education students, Marcel explained, the WISD must report the ratio of regular riders to special education riders in order to determine the percentage of transportation department office and supervisory staff that can be reimbursed.

Other Actions

In addition to two second briefing items, the board agreed to vote on a first briefing item at this meeting – the purchase of new algebra textbooks.

Other Actions: Algebra Textbooks

Assistant superintendent for secondary education Joyce Hunter explained the need for additional algebra textbooks. In a memo to the board which she referenced at the meeting, Hunter reviewed that last year, the decision was made to provide all 8th graders with an opportunity to take algebra. This decision was made, she said, “in order to increase the number of students enrolled in higher-level math courses and to increase the number of African-American and Latino students in AC and AP courses in accordance with the Strategic Plan.”

[See this previous Chronicle coverage: "Schools: Achievement Gap or Equity Gap" for more on how the decision to offer Algebra to all 8th grade students evolved.]

Hunter explained that in order to align the new 8th grade algebra course with high school expectations (which will allow 8th graders to earn high school credit for the course) the district will need to purchase additional copies of the Holt textbook being used in 9th grade algebra classes.

The board asked how the books will be distributed, why a request to purchase these books was not made in the spring, and how students and teachers are currently functioning in 8th grade algebra without these books.

Hunter clarified that each student will be lent a book to take home, and each teacher will have a class set for use in the classroom. She also took responsibility for not ordering the books last March, when the courses were set, saying that in consideration of the budget constraints, she had decided to have teachers make course packs and use supplemental materials, but noted that system was less than ideal.

Stead suggested it would be helpful for students to vote on this item immediately, instead of waiting until after a second briefing, noting “It’s nice to be able to do something at this level that directly impacts student learning.”

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the immediate purchase of 507 Algebra textbooks at a total cost of $32,537.

Other Actions: Second Briefing Items

There was little discussion on the two second briefing items considered at this meeting – the printing of the Rec & Ed catalog, and the contracting of therapeutic services for special education students. Both items were reviewed at more length during the Sept. 14 board meeting. ["AAPS Families Challenged by Busing Changes"]

Regarding the special education contracts, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services Elaine Brown stated that Green has asked her to bring competitive bids for the needed services earlier in the year next year for board review. Brown also noted that competitive bidding had been a part of her recommendation to contract with Pediatric Therapy Associates this year, and that PTA had provided the lowest bids.

Outcome: As part of the Oct. 12 consent agenda, the board unanimously approved the printing of the Rec & Ed catalog, as well as the contracting of therapeutic services needed for special education students. The consent agenda also included minutes and gift offers, which Mexicotte said were much appreciated.

Other Actions: MASB Voting Delegates

Mexicotte explained that each year, the board sends a number of voting delegates, usually two, to the annual conference of the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB). She noted that the conference will be held near Traverse City, MI this year, and asked for volunteers to represent Ann Arbor. Lightfoot and Baskett volunteered, and Thomas noted that he believed Glenn Nelson, who was absent from the Oct 12 meeting, was also interested.

Mexicotte said the board could nominate up to six delegates, and suggested certifying the three delegates nominated.

Outcome: Lightfoot, Nelson, and Baskett were certified as AAPS delegates to the MASB conference, and board secretary Amy Osinski was directed to register the delegates for the conference by Oct 14.

Update on Insurance Audit

AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services Dave Comsa reported to the board that the district’s auditors had recommended performing benefits eligibility audits, which AAPS then did. He explained that all audited employees were told that no action would be taken against them if they were honest in claiming dependents from that point forward.

Employees cooperated, Comsa said, and because of their voluntary cooperation, the district will recoup $766,000 by no longer covering ineligible dependents. Following the audit, Comsa said, AAPS enacted additional safeguards against being able to claim ineligible dependents, including requiring documentation such as birth certificates or marriage licenses.

The board expressed pleasure that the audit has yielded cost savings, as had been hoped, and that the district has taken steps to protect against such a problem recurring.

First Briefing: Policy Updates

At the beginning of her planning committee report, Stead thanked Green for presenting an action plan to use as a tracking tool during policy review. Later in the meeting, Stead presented a first briefing of updates to a set of board policies her committee had reviewed: Policy 5150 (Student Attendance), Policy 5200 (Progress Reporting), Policy 5400 (Safety, Injuries, and Emergencies), Policy 5500 (Smoke-Free Environment) and Policy 5600 (Medication).

Of those reviewed, Stead said, changes were suggested to two policies – Student Attendance and Smoke-Free Environment.

The suggested changes to the student attendance policy were to bring attendance procedures for elementary, middle, and high school students under one policy.

If approved by the board, the smoke-free environment policy would be amended to include the school grounds in the policy, thus bringing an “outdoor” element to what had been an indoor policy. The board questioned what this would mean to smoking by adults at outdoor sporting events, and to tailgating on Pioneer grounds on UM football Saturdays. Stead confirmed that all smoking on AAPS grounds would be prohibited, and that UM police would be responsible for policing Pioneer’s parking lot on UM game days.

Though the other three policies reviewed by the committee were not seen as needing updates, Stead said the planning committee did suggest some changes to their administrative regulations, rules regarding the implementation of the policies, on which the board advises but does not vote.

Regarding the progress report policy, Stead suggested adding a line about how parents have the responsibility to stay informed about student progress. Lightfoot suggested putting in language about requiring additional oversight of students whose progress triggers concern. Stead was amenable to having her committee look at the regulations again to see how such an idea could be incorporated.

Stead also reported that small wording changes were suggested in the regulations of policies 5400 (Safety, Injuries, and Emergencies) and 5600 (Medication) to reflect current practice.

Outcome: The board will review these recommendations at second briefing at its next regular meeting.

Achievement Gap

During the catch-all, “items from the board” section at the end of the Oct. 12 meeting, Stead commended the local chapter of Links, Inc. for holding a “well-facilitated, solutions-focused” meeting on the achievement gap. [In a phone call with The Chronicle, Baskett explained that Links, Inc. is an exclusive, international civic group for African-American women, and noted that the recent meeting of the organization's local chapter was an invitation-only study of the achievement gap facing AAPS.]

Stead asserted that working with Links is exactly the kind of community engagement AAPS has been hoping for, and that “if any one person could have solved this problem, it would have been solved a long time ago.” Baskett also thanked the leadership of Links, Inc., expressing appreciation that “the community is really getting involved with us.”

Lightfoot questioned the timeline for implementation of the district’s achievement gap elimination plan. Mexicotte suggested the appropriate process would be for the performance committee to make a recommendation for the plan to be formally reported to the board. Then, the executive committee of the board “can see where to slot it.”

In his regular report to the board, Bryan Johnson, chair of the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), also addressed the achievement gap. He noted that the BPSSG had recently hosted their kickoff meeting, and that the theme of their work for 2011-2015 will be “building the achievement bridge.” He explained that the BPSSG has formed committees around three goals – increasing parent involvement, reinforcing a culture of achievement among students, and working with AAPS to create an environment in which all students can succeed. The BPSSG executive committee, Johnson said, will also be working with community organizations on a program addressing academics, character, and citizenship.

Saying she was looking forward to working with the BPSSG, Mexicotte noted that she attended their kickoff event, and that it was a “roomful of energy, new ideas, and new partnerships.” She said the past leadership of the BPSSG has always been a great partner, and that the new leadership was energizing as well.

In her superintendent’s report, Green also thanked the BPSSG for inviting her to their kickoff event, and praised the group for embarking on a multi-year process to help eliminate the achievement gap.

Suspension and Expulsion

The board engaged in a brief off-agenda discussion on suspension and expulsion data, disagreeing about whether the topic was part of the recent planning committee meeting and if it should have been part of Stead’s report to the board.

Baskett said she had requested data on 2010-11 suspension and expulsion data last February, and that she should not have to wait to get it until February 2012 – when a study session on the issue has been scheduled. Lightfoot agreed, saying, “I think we, as trustees, should not have to wait until February – those numbers should have been made available to us.”

Mexicotte said the executive committee had asked AAPS administrators when they would have a good grasp on not only the numbers of students suspended or expelled, but how the district would be moving forward in dealing with these situations. While the board may receive raw data soon, Mexicotte said, “the idea was to give the administration some time to frame the numbers, understand them better, and bring a plan to that meeting.”

Additional Public Commentary

During public commentary, AAPS parent and board of education candidate Ahmar Iqbal, commended Green on her first 100 days as AAPS superintendent, and addressed the board on the issue of class size. He noted that when he went to the capsule and curriculum nights for his two children, he was troubled by the class sizes they are experiencing. Iqbal pointed out that the “overloading” of high school classes has prevented his daughter from transferring to another class and noted that his children are not experiencing class sizes at the targets set by the 2011-12 budget.

Iqbal also argued that he believes families will choose to leave AAPS because of the lack of available course offerings due to larger class sizes, and suggested the following solutions: hold additional teacher training sessions on how to deal with larger class sizes; require principals or other administrators to teach classes to reduce class size; and create a community task force with parents to explore options.

Board Committee Reports

The school board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

At its recent retreat on Oct. 14, the board suggested that the issue of committee restructuring be brought to the next regular meeting on Oct. 26. The board is considering meeting as a “committee of the whole,” instead of using two, separate committees.

The planning committee’s report is included in the section above on early budget planning in light of state-level funding cuts.

Performance Committee

In Nelson’s absence, Thomas spoke about the recent activities of the performance committee.

Thomas reported that the performance committee met with an Arab-American parent support group, who were requesting formal recognition so that they would then be able to link to their group website from the AAPS main website.

Noting that this parent group has been instrumental in addressing curriculum issues within AAPS, to bring knowledge and sensitivity to cultural concerns of Arab-American students, Thomas thanked them for their insight, and said he thought the committee discussion had been very positive.

Finally, Thomas noted the performance committee had discussed concerns about whether counselors are used as effectively as possible, particularly in terms of preparing students about how to apply and pay for college. He said that AAPS is not always in line with best practices regarding guidance counseling, and said he expects a plan of action to come of the board in the near future to be sure counselors are used to best to meet the needs of today’s students.

Board Associations

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA).

At the Oct. 12 meeting, the Youth Senate, AAPAC, PTOC, BPSSG, and AAEA addressed the board. Mexicotte noted that she had recently met with the AAAA about equity work and how the board might work with them to be better partners. She added that she was disappointed that they did not report to the board at this meeting.

BPSSG and AAEA reports are included above in the summaries of board discussion on the achievement gap and the board’s response to state-level funding cuts.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Rachel Blakemore from Community High School addressed the board on behalf of the Youth Senate. She reported on concerns regarding progressively limited course offerings at Pioneer and Huron, and expressed that many students are deeply troubled by the rumors circulating around that Humanities may not be offered in the future.

The remainder of the Senate report focused on busing. Blakemore reported that many of the drivers are inexperienced, and uninformed. She also noted that because of fewer shuttles between high schools, students’ academic and athletic opportunities are more limited. Finally, Blakemore pointed out that the lack of [AATA] bus passes has also limited student opportunities, as shuttles and normal school buses “are not adequate.”

Association Reports: AAPAC

Melany Raubolt addressed the board on behalf of the AAPAC. She thanked Green for addressing concerns regarding transportation of special education students, and reported that many glitches seem to have been resolved. She also thanked Brown for speaking to the AAPAC about improvements in the process of developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for special needs students, and noted that the AAPAC looks forward to learning about how students can develop a personal curriculum if needed.

Raubolt said she is looking forward to peer-to-peer mentoring expanding throughout the district, which reinforce that “children with special needs are children first, not disabilities first.” Three schools, she noted, are slated to participate in Disability Awareness Workshops (DAW) in November.

Ann Arbor is a large district, Raubolt said, whose children would be better served if AAPS offered a young adult program to special education students. She argued that parents should be able to visit all young adult programs to choose which is best for their students, and that all programs need to be flexible enough to meet students’ needs, including toileting needs. “Our students can lead productive lives,” Raubolt asserted.

Association Reports: PTOC

Martine Perreault reported for the PTOC, thanking Green for giving the keynote address at the group’s recent launch party as well as answering questions from the audience.

She also thanked the six candidates from the board of education for attending the launch party, and answering questions formally, as well as informally during a dessert buffet.

Finally, Perreault thanked the PTO officers who attended as well. She noted that the PTOC has had contact with every PTO and PTSO in the district at this point in the year, up from a membership of only 10% of the PT(S)Os four years ago, and that the PTOC continues to “build strength through unity.”

Upcoming PTOC events, Perreault concluded, will include treasurer training and a fundraising forum.

Superintendent’s Report

Green praised the district’s 63 national merit semifinalists, the Community High jazz program, the Huron drumline, the Skyline library, and multiple other specific schools, students, and teachers for recent achievements. She also reported on the recent visit of a group of students from Ann Arbor’s sister city of Hikone, Japan.

Finally, Green thanked the PTOC for the opportunity not just to speak, but also to “mix and mingle, to be a person and not just a superintendent.”

Additional Items from the Board

Baskett apologized to the Ann Arbor Tech community for the board retreat being scheduled on the same day as their open house to dedicate the school’s new name. She also invited everyone to the annual NAACP freedom fund dinner, to be held on Nov. 5 at the Sheraton. If they’re unable to attend, Baskett urged her colleagues and all listeners to consider sponsoring a student to attend for $35.

Mexicotte noted that she is a panelist on a forum taking a critical look at student performance on Oct. 22 from 9-11:30 at the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) student union. She added that this forum is one of a series EMU sponsors every year.

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

Absent: Trustee Glenn Nelson

Next regular meeting: Oct. 26, 2011, 7:00 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

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