AAPS: Privatize Custodial, Maintenance Work

Also: About 190 teachers could receive layoff notices this week

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (April 14, 2010): Bids to outsource Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) custodial and maintenance services were presented and discussed at the board of education meeting last Wednesday. If negotiations with its local custodial and maintenance workers union do not succeed, the board will vote on privatizing those services at its April 28 meeting.

Glenn Nelson Ann Arbor Public Schools

Glenn Nelson addresses his fellow AAPS board members during last Wednesday's meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Also mentioned was the possibility that layoff notices could be issued – and, in fact, about 190 teachers have received letters stating that they might receive such notices. If approved by the board at its meeting on Wednesday, notices could go out later this week.

The board also swore in its newest member, Christine Stead, as treasurer, replacing long-time board member Randy Friedman, who resigned earlier this month. His resignation adds a fifth seat to the election slate this fall.

Updates were given to the budget plan, and a bid for summer construction projects at Pioneer High School was given a first briefing by the board. That marked the final phase of the comprehensive capital improvements program approved by the community with the passage of the bond and sinking fund millages in 2004.

Peer mentoring was applauded as part of middle school programming, and a personal curriculum option and additional facilities projects were also discussed at first briefing.

AAPS Recommendation: Privatize Custodial, Maintenance Services

Bids to privatize AAPS custodial and maintenance services were brought as a first briefing item by executive director of physical properties Randy Trent. If approved, the bids would award a $5.3 million contract to GCA Service Group for the district’s custodial services, and a $1.3 million contract to Great Lakes Environmental Services (GLES) for the district’s maintenance services. Overall, this would save the district $2.4 million next school year, with additional savings accumulating, as four remaining supervisory positions are phased out by the 2012-13 school year. Details of the bids were included in a memo to superintendent Todd Roberts provided in the board’s information packet, and additional details were added during Wednesday’s meeting.

Privatization: Description of Custodial Bid

The district currently employs 139 custodial workers and six custodial supervisors. Custodians work 260 days a year, and are allowed paid time off ranging from 4-10 weeks per year. Current wages are broken into two tiers – the higher wage range is $14.26 to $18.11 per hour, and the lower wage range is $9.85 to $10.97 per hour. A Blue Preferred PPO family health insurance plan is offered to all custodial services staff for $560 per year, and custodians are part of the state retirement system.

Under the GCA bid, custodians would work only 240 days a year, and receive no paid time off. Higher-paid workers would receive $12.12 an hour, and lower-paid workers’ wages would remain the same. An HMO family health insurance plan would be offered to all custodians for $1,000 per year, and they would no longer accrue a retirement pension through the state system.

GCA would also plan to hire two of the six AAPS custodial supervisors, if they meet certain requirements. If the transition to privatization is successful, AAPS would eliminate two more of the supervisory positions in 2011-12, and the last two in 2012-13.

Privatization: Description of Maintenance Bid

The district currently employs 25 maintenance workers and one maintenance supervisor. Maintenance workers currently work 260 days per year, and higher-paid workers average seven weeks of paid time off per year. Wages for maintenance workers range from $16.35 to $21.90 per hour. They receive the same health insurance benefit as custodians, a PPO plan with coverage for their entire family for $560 per year, and accrue retirement savings through the state pension system.

Under the GLES bid, maintenance workers would become part of a different local labor union. They would work nine-hour days for four days a week, totaling 1,800 hours over the year. All employees would make $17 per hour, and would have no paid time off. GLES would offer a similar health care package as GCA, for which an HMO family health insurance plan would cost each worker $1,000 per year. Workers would also stop accruing retirement savings in the state retirement system.

If the bid to privatize maintenance services is approved, GLES would also plan to hire the AAPS maintenance supervisor, as long as that person meets certain conditions of hiring.

Privatization: Board Questions and Discussion on Bid Package

Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, argued that the combination of hiring GCA for custodial services and GLES for maintenance services would be the best option for the district. He explained the reasoning behind his recommendation, touting GCA’s extensive experience in over 1,400 schools across the country, and mentioning the “outstanding” reference GLES received from the University of Michigan. Trent said that GLES had responded to the custodial services RFP (request for proposals) as well, but that he believed GCA’s use of newer technology, as well as the positive local history GLES had in environmental services,  meant that the two companies could best meet the district’s needs as recommended: GCA for custodial work, and GLES for maintenance.

Simone Lightfoot questioned the scope of work outlined by the contracts, asking, “What costs will we incur when we need them to do work that was not in the RFP? … They’re only going to do what we’ve ‘RFPd’ them to do.” Trent assured the board that both companies will do whatever needs to be done during standard work hours, and that they have an overtime rate for any coverage needed outside the work day. He gave the example that both companies have new ideas they would bring to the district to increase efficiency, and that those procedures were not delineated in the RFP.

Glenn Nelson asked Trent if he was correct in interpreting that the bid has built-in increases in savings over time, as AAPS would eliminate the remaining four custodial supervisory positions over three years. Susan Baskett asked about the rationale of retaining these four supervisors at all: “Would we really still need six – four of ours and two of theirs?” Conversely, Lightfoot questioned, “What might we face as a backlash of ‘brain drain?’”

Trent explained that the four custodial supervisors remaining on the AAPS payroll, as well as the two who would move to GCA, would all be necessary during the transition to privatization in order to “train the new folks.” Nelson added that temporarily retaining the supervisors was “a form of insurance,” and that removing them all from the AAPS payroll on day one “would make [AAPS] very vulnerable if this didn’t work out for some reason.”

Deb Mexicotte asked for clarification on the effects to retirement earnings. Lightfoot and Baskett asked clarifying questions regarding the wages and benefits that would be offered to workers if they were hired by the contractors. They pointed  out that workers would be asked to pay almost double in health insurance costs, while receiving significantly lower wages, no paid time off, and no state retirement pension.

Trent countered that with each company, the benefits are automatically offered, and not tied to hours worked. He also mentioned that the workers would not lose the state retirement savings they had already accrued, but that their “years of service” – a multiplier in the formula for calculating a worker’s pension – would be frozen (meaning they could not accrue any additional savings). Trent also said that he believed GCA would likely offer a 403b retirement savings plan, with some employer matching of employee contributions.

Christine Stead pointed out that conversations with labor unions are still ongoing, and she and Mexicotte both asked for clarification on the timing involved in outsourcing versus reaching a negotiated settlement with current AAPS custodial and maintenance staff.

Trent answered that an April 28 deadline has been set for negotiations to conclude, and that if an agreement with the union has not been reached by then, the district would hope to move forward with outsourcing. Approval of these bids would then be slated for second briefing and a definitive vote at the April 28 board meeting. In part, Trent explained, the April 28 date was set to ensure a smooth transition if privatization does occur, so that the companies have sufficient time to interview and hire a full staff to be able to begin work on July 1.

Baskett asked whether all AAPS employees would be able to transfer directly to the new companies if they chose to do so. Trent clarified that AAPS workers would need to interview, but that they would be hired as long as they passed a drug test (which the district does not currently require of all employees), and as long as they had maintained a good attendance record during their tenure in the district.

Lightfoot expressed concern that not enough staff would transfer to meet the district’s needs, given that the wages and benefits that would be offered are “not attractive.” Trent assured the board that choosing which direction to move by April 28 would allow the companies to fill their staffs “even if they have to hire all new workers.” He also mentioned that the district would cooperate with each company to get all employees trained, and that each contractor has a training plan ready to go.

Baskett asked Trent why GLES was chosen over Aramark, when Aramark came in with a lower bid. Trent explained that Aramark’s bid was misleading and incomplete, since it did not include payment for substitute costs while the other bids did. Baskett also questioned, “Is there any relationship between a member of your staff and the president of GLES?” Trent said no, and denied that there were any conflicts of interest in the decision-making process he and his staff had used.

Outcome: Both Roberts and Trent stressed that this bid would only be acted on if negotiations with the local custodial and maintenance workers union could not reach a settlement before the April 28 board meeting.

Privatization: Public Commentary

Two speakers offered opposition to privatization at Wednesday’s meeting during public commentary.

Percy Brown, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association of Paraeducators (AAEA/P), argued that the district’s overall mission was to improve student achievement, and that this could not be done without paraeducators. He added that paraeducators are “ambassadors” and that they are assuming increasingly greater responsibility as teachers’ focus is being pulled toward standardized testing.

Chai Montgomery, an AAPS bus driver, also argued that privatization was a “misguided” solution to the district’s financial problems. He mentioned that there are other ways to cut costs, and that the threat of privatization is ongoing. Montgomery asserted, “We have to change the status quo and make education freer … I don’t like privatization – I don’t think it’s fair.”

Friedman’s Resignation

Directly after public commentary, board president Deb Mexicotte announced that the board had accepted the resignation of long-time board member Randy Friedman. Saying she would speak later to his service, Mexicotte said simply that Friedman had resigned, and gave no further details.

Stead Installed as Board Treasurer

Without missing a beat after announcing Friedman’s resignation, Mexicotte facilitated the selection and swearing-in of Christine Stead as a board officer. Stead had nominated herself to be considered for the board treasurer position that Friedman had held.

Outcome: Stead’s appointment to the treasurer position was unanimously approved by a roll call vote of all board members present, and she was installed by board secretary Amy Osinski.

Five of Seven Board Seats to Be Open in November’s Election

Friedman’s departure from the board marks the third change in the makeup of the board this school year – Simone Lightfoot and Christine Stead were chosen to replace resigning board members in December and March, respectively. Lightfoot and Stead will join whoever replaces Friedman in running for re-election this November, along with Mexicotte and Baskett, whose terms expire at the end of the calendar year.

Later in the meeting as part of his report for the PTO Council, Andy Thomas said he believed having five of the seven board of education seats open at once was unprecedented, and mentioned that the PTOC would be inviting all those running for board positions to attend a candidate forum in the fall.

The AAPS has posted information on its website on how to apply for the seat vacated by Friedman. During agenda planning at the close of Wednesday’s meeting, Mexicotte announced that candidate interviews will take place on Thursday, May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. Candidate presentations and selection will take place at the regular May 12 board meeting.

The Budget Plan: A Second Briefing

Based on board response to the budget plan as presented in March, superintendent Todd Roberts reviewed the proposal as a second briefing item, highlighting the few updates made to the original budget proposal. [Previous Chronicle coverage: AAPS Budget Would Cut Positions, Add Fees]

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Roberts essentially repeated the presentation he had made at the community meetings held the two previous evenings, pointing out the few changes made since the board last met. The very newest change – the elimination of middle school planning centers – had not been mentioned at the budget meetings.

Roberts’ revised presentation also included more details on the impact of the proposed cuts on students, highlighting the increases in class sizes, and elementary-level split classes that would be necessary, depending on how negotiations with the teachers’ union conclude. Roberts has placed the bulk of a remaining $4.4 million shortfall not addressed by “part one” of his proposed budget on the shoulders of the teachers to absorb. “Part two” could include layoffs of teachers, with an impact on class sizes, depending on how negotiations unfold.

Both Roberts and teachers’ union president Brit Satchwell, who attended the April 12 community budget meeting, have reported that negotiations are proceeding amicably, but that some number of teachers will likely need to be “pink-slipped” in case layoffs turn out to be necessary. AAPS is required to issue layoff notices to any teacher who might not be returning the following year by 60 days before the end of the current school year.

Late last week, about 190 teachers were notified that they are on a list to receive layoff notices. The board meets on Wednesday, April 21, and will vote on whether to issue those notices – if approved, the notices will likely be sent out later this week. Speaking to The Chronicle on Monday, AAPS spokewoman Liz Margolis said the hope is that the majority of those notices, if not all, will ultimately be rescinded.

The budget amendments made since the last board meeting are as follows, along with any additional cost savings brought by each:

  • In middle school programming, the middle school planning centers were replaced with a positive behavioral support model, eliminating an additional 1.6 teaching positions, and saving an additional $10,000;
  • In elementary programming, more detail was given on the nine planned staff reductions – they would be 4.6 media specialists, 2 computer lab teachers, and 2.4 music or physical education teachers; and
  • In district instructional support, summer school would be funded through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding instead of charging tuition.

As he stepped through the budget again, Roberts highlighted schools of choice, and cooperative agreements with other districts and the county as possible sources of new revenue and savings. He also stressed how much uncertainty there still was in many directions. At the state level, retirement reform and health care legislation could still add mandates that would have a large impact on the district, such as requiring outsourcing or consolidation. Roberts noted that 51 teachers have currently applied to retire this year, but that the number could be significantly impacted depending on what happens to the pending legislation.

At the local level, Roberts said, given that it is anticipated that the districts will incur another $265 per-pupil cut, “we’ve had to go ahead and plan for the worst-case scenario.”

Budget Plan: Educational Impact

Roberts highlighted the impact that the two parts of the budget would have on class sizes and the number of split classes. Here’s how the numbers compare.

Currently, elementary class sizes average 24 at the K-2 level, and 26 at the 3-5 level. Part one of the budget plan keeps those numbers the same, but adding part two as well would bump them up to 26 and 28, respectively. Also, at the elementary level, there are currently three split classes, that is, classes with more than one grade level represented. If part one of the budget is approved, the number of split classes will rise to eight, and if part two is also necessary, the number could reach 13.

At the middle school level, current class sizes average 26. They would increase to 28 with part one, and to 30 if parts one and two of the budget are necessary.

High school level class sizes would sustain the most dramatic increase if this budget passes. Core high school classes currently average 28 students in all grades. With part one of the budget, ninth grade class sizes stay the same, but tenth through twelfth grade class sizes would rise to an average of 31. If part two of the plan is also enacted, all high school class sizes would move from an average of 28 to an average of 33.

Budget Plan: Contract Lengths

Stead pointed out how the biggest difference in impact has to do with whether or not part two of the budget plan will need to be enacted, which would eliminate an additional 36 teaching positions. She argued that the district would hardly be able to measure the effect of the increased class sizes and split classes for years, and that she hoped the teachers’ union and administration were able to achieve a 4% across-the-board reduction of teachers’ salaries. Stead then asked Roberts about the duration of the contract under negotiation.

Roberts clarified that the $4.5 million in savings brought by part two of the budget plan includes all employee groups, and that in these “uncertain times … it’s unlikely that either party would want to commit to more than a two-year contract.”

Budget Plan: Planning Centers Out – Behavior Model In

Lightfoot mentioned that she was pleased to see the middle school planning centers being recommended for elimination, which had been suggested at the last board meeting. She asked whether or not community assistants had been considered for use in the middle schools, as had also been mentioned earlier.

Roberts confirmed that using community assistants had been part of the conversation, but that nothing has been decided yet. He pointed out that some money was left in the budget in order to effectively implement a positive behavior support (PBS) model in the middle schools, which may need to include hiring some staff, such as community assistants or “someone like that.” Roberts said a plan would be coming back to the board once developed.

Mexicotte expressed her pleasure at the administration’s response to the concerns stated at the last meeting: “Positive behavior support is fabulous – thank you so much! Moving toward a PBS model is absolutely where we should be headed. It’s a distributed model – everyone is responsible.”

Budget Plan: Musical Instrument Fee

Mexicotte repeated her concern from the last meeting regarding musical instrument rental fees: “I’m still not sure we can charge for musical instruments without violating board policy.” Roberts then countered that it depends how AAPS board policy is interpreted, and that “we would have to look at our own board policy closely.” Roberts also mentioned that some other nearby districts do charge such a fee.

Nelson pointed out that state law says, “if it’s part of the curriculum, as we are proud to say our fifth grade instrument program is, than I don’t think we can charge.” But Nelson was quick to add that he is not a lawyer, and that this policy should be reviewed by the district’s legal counsel.

Mexicotte referenced a court case involving a graphing calculator as the impetus for “why this came up,” and pointed out that the board has a policy on equity as well as materials that would be implicated. She asked Baskett to lead the performance committee in reviewing these policies along with administration, to see if “there is a change or adjustment we need to make to the budget.”

Nelson agreed that it warrants a closer look, and thanked Mexicotte for the “heads up.”

Budget Plan: Board Concerns

Stead and Mexicotte made brief comments concerning the impact they feared this budget could have on students. Stead stated, “We’re almost underestimating the possible impact this could have. We’re constantly being asked to do more with less.” Mexicotte added, “These are uncertain times. The numbers are still surprising, even though we’ve seen them a lot. There is no doubt these changes will impact students, staff, and the community.”

But the most detailed concerns came from the longest-serving board member, Glenn Nelson, who worried if the administration was doing such a good job at figuring out what to cut, it would lead the community to think “we’re coming through [this] relatively unscathed.” He gave three examples of why he was “very concerned with what’s happening to education in this community.”

First, he pointed out that the best-case scenario still raises class size by 8% in middle school, and by 15% more if part two becomes necessary. “These are real impacts on the climate in the middle school,” Nelson asserted, “that may or may not show up in the MEAP.”

Secondly, he argued that split classes were not good for individualizing education, which is a goal in the district. Finally, Nelson cited concerns with requiring payment to participate in athletics, saying, “I know we’ll implement it the best way we can, but there will be some people who don’t apply, and we’re going to lose a few kids.”

Nelson closed with a plea for taking greater responsibility for education at the local level, while working for change at the state level, and claimed that education is at a “dangerous fork in the road” between lower quality and higher quality.

Budget Plan: Budget Approval Process

Mexicotte requested that the budget plan be removed from the consent agenda, saying that the board should only be suggesting to the administration whether or not they are “on track” for what may come next, “such as layoffs, TAs [tentative agreements with labor unions], or consolidation agreements.” She pointed out that there will be a public hearing on the budget on May 26, and that the board does not have to officially approve it until June 30.

Nelson said that his understanding, too, was that the board was to approve a guideline that night – not line items, but an overall plan. He asked Roberts, “Do you have any concerns if we remove this from the consent agenda? Do you feel you are lacking in any authority to move forward?”

Roberts answered that any items for which he would need specific approval he would bring back to the board individually, and confirmed that discretionary items in the budget were not “set in stone.” He also argued that the staffing process has to move forward, including making transfers – both voluntary and involuntary.

Mexicotte then wrapped up by saying that the board was now in the final “influence and suggestion stage” of developing this budget, and Nelson and Stead explicitly stated their support for this framework.

Mexicotte added, “You have my support, but I am dismayed.”

Outcome: Even though this was a second briefing item, there was not a formal vote. The board signaled its approval that AAPS administrators continue to move in the direction outlined by the budget plan as presented.

Peer Mentoring

Numerous references were made during the meeting to a peer mentoring program at Forsythe Middle School in which cognitively-impaired, physically-impaired, and/or hearing-impaired students are mentored by general education students in an adapted physical education class developed and taught by Kelli Bert. The peer mentoring program was started in 2004-05, and had been considered for reduction by Forsythe’s principal. But in response to a notable outcry of support for the program, it has been reinstated and will continue next year.

Two public commentary speakers – one parent and one student – spoke on behalf of the program. The parent noted that her son, who is hearing-impaired, had been helped tremendously by the program, which she also credits with stimulating age-appropriate social interactions, promoting self-esteem, and increasing empathy for and tolerance of special education students. She applauded the decision to continue supporting the program.

The student who spoke is currently a junior at Pioneer, and had been a peer mentor in the program during his seventh grade year. Calling it an experience he’d never forget, this student asserted that all the peer mentors he knew from that class have gone on to participate in social service projects, and that the program helps able-bodied students to overcome stereotypes.

Barb Byers, vice chair of the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), used her association report to express gratitude that Forsythe’s peer mentoring program had been preserved, and added that a similar program had been started at Clague this year. She credited Clague’s program with bringing special needs students into the school community, and argued that relationships developed during peer mentoring can be “life-changing for all involved.” Byers also advocated for including peer mentoring in a systematic and effective program to dealing with middle school bullying, including the bullying of special needs students.

Other First Briefing Items

In addition to the custodial/maintenance privatization bid, the board considered a number of other items at “first briefing,” at which no action is taken. Action is usually taken at “second briefing,” or the second time the board reviews an item.

Personal Curriculum

Superintendent Todd Roberts introduced the personal curriculum (PC) being presented to the board at this meeting as being a necessary option for AAPS to offer to be in accordance with state law. A personal curriculum allows students to deviate from state graduation requirements, known as the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) if they meet certain parameters.

Joyce Hunter, administrator of middle/high schools and career and technology education, then came to the speaker’s podium. She explained that a personal curriculum can be requested on an individual basis by parents/guardians, school personnel, students over age 18, or emancipated minors. It leads to a regular high school diploma if successfully fulfilled. Hunter then reviewed the following allowable modifications to the MMC:

  • After completing at least 1.5 mathematics credits, students can request to exchange one credit of Algebra II for .5 credit of Algebra II;
  • After completing two social studies credits, including civics, students can request to exchange one credit of social studies for an additional language arts, math, science, or world language credit; and
  • Students can request to exchange either or both of the required credits in physical education & health, and visual, performing, and applied arts for additional credits in language arts, math, science, or world language.

The parts of the MMC that cannot be modified, except for special education students or students who transfer to AAPS after attending two years of high school somewhere else, Hunter explained, are as follows. All students are required to complete:

  • Four credits in English/language arts;
  • Three credits in science, including biology and either chemistry or physics;
  • At least 3.5 mathematics credits (four without a PC);
  • At least two credits in social studies (three without a PC), including .5 credit in civics;
  • An online learning experience, as incorporated into one or more required credits; and
  • Two credits in world languages (beginning with the class of 2016).

One modification the district allows, which does not require a personal curriculum, is to spread algebra II over two years instead of the usual one year. This allows students to earn two math credits for Algebra II.

In addition, Hunter explained that the district is moving toward allowing students to take more advanced classes in high school by meeting some of the MMC requirements in middle school. Students who are ready can already take Algebra II in eighth grade, and Hunter is proposing that the district allow the same for world languages.

Hunter noted that Lisa Bares, the district’s world language coordinator, is  working on standardizing and creating common assessments for the first high-school level of each of the world languages offered by the AAPS – Spanish, French, German, Latin, and Mandarin Chinese. This standardization would allow AAPS to begin offering high-school level language classes to eighth graders as early as next fall.

Roberts added that next year’s sixth graders will be the first class to have to meet the MMC world languages requirements. So the district would like those students coming into middle school next year to have the option to build toward taking their first high-school level language class during eighth grade.

Glenn Nelson commented that it was “a credit to our system that we continue to look for ways to enrich the curriculum.” Simone Lightfoot added that, while she appreciated the increased curricular rigor, she was concerned about the social implications of having “smarter but less socially acclimated students.” As a parent, she said, she is trying to balance her child’s need to meet these requirements with helping her child to succeed in other aspects of life. “Good job to you, and more work for me,” she quipped.

Deb Mexicotte asked for clarification on whether or not having a personal curriculum would prevent a student from going on to play collegiate sports. She also questioned whether students with 504s – such as students with long-term illnesses – would be allowed to modify their MMC requirements like students with individualized education plans (IEPs) can. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federally-funded schools to create a written plan to meet the needs of students who require extra accommodations, but who do not qualify for a special education IEP.

On both counts, Hunter said she would need to double-check, and that she would follow-up with the board. She did mention that the district “has been in close contact with the NCAA for a few weeks.”

Hunter also reviewed the state guidelines for school boards in developing a personal curriculum, and gave examples of how the district had met these guidelines. One of the elements of the district’s PC option that requires school board approval is how the content expectations within subject areas are met by specific classes. Hunter mentioned that a committee is working on identifying classes in career and technical education that the district could allow to meet certain MMC requirements. Roberts also mentioned that detail about the PC process will be included in the Student Services Guide, and emphasized that AAPS “need[s] to allow this to happen, based on state law.”

Pioneer Summer Construction: A Bond Comes to Fruition

Randy Trent then returned to the podium to present a set of bids for summer construction projects at Pioneer High School. Removing the portable classrooms and creating a student courtyard area are significant parts of this final project in the district’s five-year capital improvement program. In 2004, Ann Arbor voters approved two millages to fund a $255 million initiative to improve the facilities at every school, as well as build a preschool and a third high school. The money received by AAPS from these millages has been able to be used for capital improvements only. This is in contrast to the countywide millage which failed last November, which would have provided additional funding for operating expenses.

Pioneer High School temporary trailers

A view to the southwest of Pioneer High School temporary trailers. (Image courtesy of AAPS.)

Trent showed a current picture of the area Pioneer is currently using for its portable classrooms, and then contrasted it with a drawing of the renovated space. Trent referenced a memo included in the board packet and pointed out parts of the drawing as he outlined the project, which includes, “the removal of portable classrooms, the creation of a student courtyard area, tunnel improvements, including waterproofing, piping, and lighting replacement, creation of a culinary arts classroom space and renovation to create business and SISS spaces.”

Granger Construction would be coordinating the work, Trent explained, with bids going to nine separate companies responsible for different aspects of the project. In total, the project will cost $1.7 million. Trent indicated that Granger  recommends the following contractors (bid amounts in parentheses):

  • Merlyn Contractors for site demolition & earthwork ($270,000);
  • McCarthy Construction for site concrete and asphalt ($315,804);
  • Mid-Michigan Turf Care for landscaping and irrigation ($71,900);
  • Baker Construction for masonry ($58,950);
  • Beal Inc. for general trades ($407,060);
  • DRV Contractors for tunnel waterproofing ($38,335);
  • Shock Brothers Floorcovering for resilient flooring ($22,000);
  • Mills Mechanical for mechanical work ($370,000); and
  • Huron Valley Electric for electrical work ($158,400).

Susan Baskett asked about the timing of the project, and Trent answered that the roadway would be done this summer, and that by next spring once the sod has been able to take root, students would be able to “play Frisbee or read” in their new courtyard.

Lightfoot asked if any of the contractors were recognized as “historically-underutilized businesses,” which could refer to being minority or woman-owned. Trent answered by enumerating the geographical coverage area of each contractor. Documents included in the bid don’t indicate any contractor as having “HUB” status, though Baker, Beal, DRV, Mills, Mid-Michigan, and McCarthy as listed as being “small businesses.”

Nelson stated, “It is exciting to see this come to fruition for those of us who put the bond together … It really is ‘last but certainly not least.’” Acknowledging that the portable classrooms did have their charm for some people, Nelson concluded, however, that the renovations would make Pioneer “much more attractive.” Nelson also thanked Trent for his orderly reports and leadership.

Trent insisted that the bond work had been a team effort, saying that “everyone from the superintendent to the teachers in the rooms” had participated to get the program this far. Trent suggested coordinating a photo shoot in the fall to showcase the bond’s improvements and, “to reminisce on all our work.”

Roofing Supplier Bid & DTE Energy Easement

Trent then went on to present the first briefing of a bid to approve MWA/ Firestone as the singular roofing vendor for roofing work to be done this summer at Pioneer, Huron, Forsythe, Slauson, Mitchell, Clague, and Northside schools. He explained that the 2010 sinking fund will pay for necessary roof repairs this summer, and mentioned that most roofs in the district have a 15- to 20-year lifespan. In a memo to the board, Trent explained that he would now be soliciting bids from installers, but that only contractors certified by MWA as qualified installers would be allowed to bid on the work.

The final first briefing facilities item discussed at this meeting was the approval of an easement to DTE Energy on the southeast corner of Seventh & Stadium, part of Pioneer’s property. Trent explained that the easement would be used by DTE Energy to service an existing power pole, and mentioned that it had been reviewed by legal counsel.

The only question asked by the board on these items was by Deb Mexicotte, who asked about the longevity of the easement, if approved. Trent answered that it would be permanent.

Policy Updates

Baskett listed a series of policy updates which had been reviewed by the board’s performance committee, which she chairs. Other than recommending policy #5720, Healthy Foods and Beverages, for deletion, the committee made no other changes to those policies they had reviewed. The policies will be coming back to the board for a second briefing and vote at the April 28 meeting. Baskett explained that the food policy was no longer necessary, as it is superseded by policy #5700, Local Wellness.

In response to questions she had received regarding policy #4700, Enrollment of Non-Resident Children of Employees, Baskett clarified that state law would not allow AAPS to retain students of non-resident employees if those employees’ positions were outsourced.

Stead asked how many students this would affect, and Mexicotte asked whether students could stay if their parents’ positions were outsourced to the county as part of a multi-district consolidation, which is being considered for transportation. No one at the meeting was able to answer either question with certainty.

Baskett said she had heard from the bargaining units that as many as 80 students would have to leave the district. Jane Landefeld, director of student accounting, came to the podium, and reported that the district as a whole currently has 130 non-resident students, but not all of them are children of non-resident employees; some are in AAPS for other reasons, such as receiving certain special education services. Landefeld said that she thought there were only seven students who were non-resident children of custodians, but she did not know how many non-resident children of bus drivers attended AAPS. Baksett repeated that she had heard it was 80 all together.

Nelson asserted, “I do think we want to know what that number is exactly by our next meeting.” Landefeld answered that she would go back and check, and Roberts assured the board that that number would be in the board packet.

Association Reports

In addition to the AAPAC report described above, the board received reports from the Youth Senate, and the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC).

The Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), and the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG) did not report at this meeting.

PTO Council Report

Andy Thomas reported for the PTOC, introducing it as having a “traditional mission,” to help local PTOs and serve as a liaison with AAPS administration. Thomas urged parents to get involved in local and state-level lobbying efforts, including a “massive letter-writing campaign,” and posted information about how citizens could contact their legislators about stabilizing school funding. He also mentioned that the PTOC will be holding officer training for local PTO officers in late April.

Youth Senate Report

The Youth Senate report was two-fold, and at first offered a bit of levity. The report blamed the district’s automated “phone home” system for causing “familial strife,” and suggested that the system call students’ homes only if they are habitually absent, rather than to notify parents of every unexcused tardy or absence. The suggestion elicited chuckles from many board members, administrators, and community members present.

The report then continued in a more serious tone, pointing out the significant difference in class failure rates among upperclassmen at Pioneer compared to Huron, and requesting administrative assistance in reviewing and interpreting the data they were given. The Youth Senate’s speaker described the motivation for looking at failure rates as wanting to make the best use of its Achievement Solutions Teams (AST), which offer academic peer support, and have shown to be successful in reducing failing grades.

Board Committee Reports

The board has two standing committees, through which many items on the board’s agenda get a first look – performance and planning. Each board member except for the president is assigned to one or the other – Baskett, and Nelson sit on the performance committee, and Irene Patalan, Stead, and Lightfoot sit on the planning committee. All performance and planning committee meetings are open to the public.

Performance Committee Activities

Baskett reported her committee to have focused on reviewing a “slew” of policies at its most recent meeting, as well as having been introduced to the personal curriculum presented by Hunter as a first briefing item at this meeting, as described above.

Planning Committee Activities

Stead reported for Patalan, who was not in attendance. She noted that the planning committee had also reviewed the personal curriculum brought by Hunter, as well as the series of items regarding facilities brought as first briefings to this meeting by Trent. Stead mentioned that Lightfoot had questioned Trent about process and due diligence at the committee meeting, and that the meeting had been attended by some students and community members as well.

Also in reference to previous planning committee discussions, Lightfoot announced later in the meeting that the district would be holding a “college and career-ready” review on April 29, at which AAPS will present achievement gap data to the public, and lead the analysis of such data.

Second Briefing Items Approved on Consent Agenda

With the budget plan removed, the consent agenda contained the second quarter financial report, 15 policy updates, and four sets of minutes. Aside from a reading of the list of policy titles by Stead, there were no questions or discussion on any of these items.

Outcome: Approved. Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Baskett, and Stead voted yes.

Awards and Accolades

Tributes to Randy Friedman

Glenn Nelson started a string of tributes to Randy Friedman, saying he was missing the former board member of nine years, who stepped down from the board on April 12. Nelson commented that Friedman had played a very important role in helping the board to transition “between two different regimes,” putting the bond together, hiring Todd Roberts, and supporting the enhancement millage. On a personal note, he said, “Our relationship really evolved … He taught me a lot … I did not always agree, but I always learned from him. I, for one, am going to miss him very much.”

Christine Stead also thanked Friedman for his years of service, and reassured the public that “While we’ve had a lot of change, this board works well together.” She added that the longer-term trustees have devoted many hours to supporting her and trustee Simone Lightfoot, the board’s two newest members, and said she hoped more strong candidates would come forward.

Deb Mexicotte added her thank-you to Friedman for his years of service, and added some historical perspective: “My first interaction with [Friedman] was trying to get on to this board when he did … Randy never brought it up.” She reminisced that there were times she and Friedman were “responsible for keeping each other in our seats, [but that] he was very gracious when his voice was not the one that carried the day.” Mexicotte noted that when she had asked Friedman if he had wanted to say good bye, he declined, saying he had said what he’d needed to say. Still, she said, “I hope he hears these things.”

Lightfoot contributed her first impression of Friedman, “I understood very quickly the power that he wielded,” and that she thought Friedman had the “kind of personality where you never felt he was listening to you” but that’s because he could “split his brain.” She added, “I loved his smile. I loved that he could say he was wrong. I will miss the opportunity to know him better.”

Celebration of Excellence Awards

Two celebration of excellence awards were presented at Wednesday’s meeting. Molly Crankshaw, a veteran third grade teacher at Burns Park, was nominated for an Excellence in Customer Service award by a parent of two children she has taught. The nomination noted that children blossom as individuals under Crankshaw’s care, and provided many examples of how she excels in her role. Also honored was Robert Kokoszka, a special education teacher at Huron, who was lauded for always having faith in students, even when they don’t have faith in themselves.

Superintendent’s Report

Todd Roberts listed multiple high school, middle school, and elementary level awards and achievements, including those of staff, students, and schools as a whole. He thanked the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for hosting student artwork, and University of Michigan Health System for partnering with AAPS around education about depression. Lastly, Roberts thanked all those who attended the recent budget meetings.

Deb Mexicotte suggested moving the superintendent’s report to earlier in the meeting. Susan Baskett and Christine Stead agreed, with Stead arguing that any one item from the report would be amazing, and that every single meeting there are many amazing items to share.

After confirming with Roberts, who consented, “I’ll do it anywhere,” Mexicotte said she would move the superintendent’s report higher up on the agenda, likely right after public commentary.

Items from the board

Glenn Nelson echoed Roberts’ mention of Youth Art Month in downtown Ann Arbor as “really wonderful.” He also praised AAPS parent booster club volunteers, as well as the AAPS Educational Foundation, for their fundraising efforts.

The meeting was adjourned by president Deb Mexicotte.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, secretary Glenn Nelson, newly-installed treasurer Christine Stead, trustee Susan Baskett, and trustee Simone Lightfoot.

Absent: Vice president Irene Patalan.

Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, superintendent of AAPS.

Next regular meeting: April 21, 2010, 7 p.m., at the Downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 4th floor board room.


  1. By schoolsmuse
    April 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm | permalink

    Jennifer, thank you for this article. Do you know where GCA and GLES are located? And–do you know what board policy they are talking about regarding the musical instruments? Is it an equity policy? Thanks.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    April 19, 2010 at 9:23 pm | permalink

    I’m trying to imagine Pioneer without the portables… nope, can’t do it.

  3. By James C. Crawford
    April 20, 2010 at 1:41 am | permalink

    Oh yeah, bring in the scabs! Watch as the level of services and professionalism drop with the move. Go ahead and privatize the school bus drivers as well. See what happens then. This is not a smart idea. Save money now, but it will cost you in ways you cannot even conceive of now. Short term thinking is what has gotten this country into trouble through the financial crises of the 80′s and the same type of mindset will do more damage than good now!