New Trustee, AAPS Board Weigh Budget

WISD budget review prompts concern over millage

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (May 12, 2010): Last month, Andy Thomas made a report to the board as a member of the Parent Teacher Organization Council. Now, the PTOC will make those reports to a board that includes Thomas.

Andy Thomas AAPS school board member

Andy Thomas, being sworn-in as the newest trustee of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education at its May 12 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Thomas replaces long-time member Randy Friedman, who resigned in April.  The selection of Thomas to the board during last Wednesday’s meeting marks the third change in board membership in the past six months. Thomas’ current term will end at the end of the year, and he – along with trustees Simone Lightfoot, Christine Stead, Deb Mexicotte, and Susan Baskett – will need to be re-elected in November to remain on the board.

Also at the meeting, the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students was addressed from multiple perspectives. The proposed Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget was reviewed, and the board was briefed on the district’s finances, sinking fund summer projects, policy updates, and human resources.

Andy Thomas Selected as New Board Trustee

After presentations were made by five candidates at its meeting on Wednesday, Andy Thomas was selected, seated, and sworn-in as the newest trustee of the district’s seven-member board.

Board Candidate: Presentations

Before Thomas was chosen, board president Deb Mexicotte reviewed the trustee selection process, reminding candidates they would each have five minutes to speak to the board about who they are, and what they would bring to the board. Then, Mexicotte explained, the board would vote, and whoever was selected would be seated, sworn-in, and enjoy full voting privileges. Candidates made presentations in the following order, chosen at random: James Corey, Noah Hurwitz, Victoria Haviland, Jack Panitch, and Andy Thomas.

Corey reviewed his history as an AAPS student, and as a teacher, coach, and dean. He named two events – the Columbine massacre, and September 11 – as making him realize how lucky he is to be an American, and how much he wanted to give back to his community. Highlighting his interest in using technology to improve education, Corey noted that he is among the 30% of Ann Arbor residents who do not have children, but he still cares about high-quality education. As the district’s opportunities, he listed improving communication, involving the community, celebrating diversity, and making decisions more quickly. Corey acknowledged that he does not have a “magic pill,” but wants to be part of making the decisions.

Hurwitz touted his strong commitment to education, and noted that he had also run for the board in 2003 “to give back to the community.” He mentioned fighting for his adopted son to be given opportunities throughout his schooling, while working as a substitute teacher in virtually every school in the district. Also a former AAPS student, Hurwitz described himself now as a lawyer with an emphasis on education law. Due to the current challenges, he argued, he would “work to promote an understanding of the board’s decisions in the community.”

Haviland began her presentation by describing a visit she made to an AAPS classroom the previous week. She described her experience as a teacher and teacher educator as having led her to the “national forefront” of work in designing equitable instruction, including publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and working on a book on the topic. Haviland argued that teachers would appreciate a board member having had a life in education, and that her connections to the University of Michigan, as well as her expertise in equity issues would be assets to the district.

Panitch began by noting humorously that his wife thought he needed his head examined for applying for a board seat for the third time this school year. Saying he has learned something each time around, Panitch described his motivation for wanting to serve on the board as having a stake in maintaining excellence for all, being inspired by the trustees’ selfless service, and feeling a “calling to serve.” Panitch pointed out that, while he is proud to currently wear the mantle of stay-at-home dad, he has 19 years of experience as a tax attorney, with experience in negotiation, litigation, and advising. He also described himself as a “confident, talented guy, but also a team player.” Noting that “nobody can replace Randy Friedman,” Panitch closed with, “Tonight, Ann Arbor may seem like a house divided, but we’ll put it all back together and move on.”

Thomas was the last to address the board, and reveled in the freedom of Wednesday’s presentation topic. He pointed out that the last two times he applied, candidates were asked to present on a very specific topic, but that tonight he would simply speak about “what makes me tick, and why I’ll be an asset to the board.” Thomas pointed to his 25 years as a health care administrator as good practice for working with ongoing declines in revenue. He also mentioned some of his firsthand experience with the district – he has a son at Tappan, and has worked with the AAPS Educational Foundation. In addition to canoeing and playing the viola, Thomas called his work with the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund as one of his greatest passions. The fund, which Thomas began to honor his wife, who died of breast cancer, encourages the reading of classic literature by at-risk elementary students.

As for why he wanted to join the board, just when he is really enjoying retirement, Thomas stated simply, “I feel it is my duty.” In this unprecedented time, he said, the AAPS is at a tipping point, and his experience with budget cuts and cost containment, as well as his commitment to equity and excellence, makes him the ideal candidate. If chosen, Thomas said the board could expect him to be a straightforward, independent thinker without a predetermined agenda, someone who is not afraid to admit when he is wrong, and someone who would push the board to make data-driven decisions. In closing, of serving on the board, he said, “I would consider it an honor.”

Board Candidates: Voting Process and Outcome

After the presentations, Mexicotte again reviewed the process that trustees would use to choose their new member. The voting would be done by paper ballot, she said, and would continue until a candidate received a simple majority, which is four votes. If no candidate achieved four votes in the first round of voting, she added, there would be more discussion, and another vote. If there was still not a majority at that time, trustees would put forth their top two votes, and the top three vote-getters would move on to another round. Mexicotte summarized the process as one that moves on by slowly eliminating those candidates with fewer votes. If there is a tie that cannot be broken after a short recess, she pointed out, she would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Before the voting began, trustees Glenn Nelson and Irene Patalan each thanked the candidates. Nelson encouraged them to stay involved in the schools no matter how the vote went, and Patalan said she was proud of and had learned from all the candidates.


Board treasurer Christine Stead participated in the meeting by speakerphone.

Via speakerphone, Christine Stead asked for clarification on how her vote would be received, since she would not be submitting a paper ballot. Board secretary Amy Osinkski suggested that Stead should give her vote first, since it would be verbal. Stead agreed.

Mexicotte then issued an invitation to vote: “Let us cast our first ballot.”

Board members voted on small, lavender slips of paper, which were then collected and read by Osinski. The votes were as follows: Stead voted for Panitch; Lightfoot and Baskett voted for Haviland; Mexicotte, Nelson, and Patalan voted for Thomas.

Osinski noted that no one had received the majority. Mexicotte opened the floor for discussion, but after a few moments of silence, quipped, ” … or a minute where trustees can collect their thoughts.”

Osinski then passed out pink slips for the second round of voting, which yielded the final decision. As with the last trustee selection that had put Stead on the board, it was the four board officers who voted in the winner – Mexicotte, Patalan, Stead, and Nelson voted for Thomas. Trustees Lightfoot and Baskett voted for Haviland.

Thomas joined the table, sitting down next to the trustee with the longest tenure on the board, Glenn Nelson, and was sworn-in by Osinski. Mexicotte joked, “If you have any questions, just ask Glenn,” and added, “Just kidding – by all means, if you need to ask a question, please do.”

Achievement Gap

Throughout the meeting, references were made to the district’s addressing of the achievement gap between white and minority students.

Dicken “Lunch Bunch” Program to be Reorganized

Near the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Mexicotte read a lengthy statement from the board regarding recent controversy surrounding a program at Dicken known as the “African-American Lunch Bunch.” The program was started this year “to provide support and peer mentoring for African-American students who are not achieving at grade level based on state test score results,” Mexicotte said. Following a field trip taken by the program’s participants a few weeks ago, the board has received many angry comments, many of which, Mexicotte said, have “not been civil, or tempered, or well-informed,” and which she said “illustrates just how far some have strayed from the presumption of good will on which the best communities rely.”

Mexicotte went on to admit that, after seeking a legal opinion, it was found that “the ‘Lunch Bunch’ program as it was structured does not comply with board [anti-discrimination] policy or the [Michigan] state constitution, Article 26.” [Article 26 addresses affirmative action programs. It states, in part: "The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."]

Mexicotte stated that the program would be reorganized, and that “the administration and the board will also create, disseminate, and implement clear guidelines regarding compliance with the board’s anti-discrimination policy and state law to ensure that [Dicken principal Michael] Madison and all administrators and district employees understand and comply with all applicable policies and laws.”

Dicken “Lunch Bunch”: Public Commentary

One person offered public commentary on the “Lunch Bunch” – Ann O’Connell, an AAPS parent who has served on school PTOs and School Improvement Teams over the past 12 years. She expressed concern that district officials, as well as adults in the Dicken community, did not realize Dicken’s African-American “Lunch Bunch” program was “illegally segregating students by race.”

O’Connell noted that over the years she has been involved in the district, other district or school-based efforts have also have been found to be discriminatory for targeting students based on race or gender. On Wednesday, she urged the trustees, “in the strongest possible terms, to re-think and re-direct the district’s group-focused approach to … closing the achievement gap.”

She argued for the retraining of district staff so they can clearly identify appropriate interventions. “What you have been doing, often with excellent intentions,” O’Connell asserted, “is illegal, it’s immoral, it’s insulting to both girls and to African-Americans to imply that they will not, can not, succeed in a fair educational system.”

“College and Career-Ready Review” Follow-Up Forum

Late in the meeting, Susan Baskett extended a “heartfelt thanks” to the Peace Neighborhood Center, the school board, the superintendent and his cabinet for participating in the College and Career Ready Review held on April 29, and for “working toward getting all of our kids college and career ready.” The Review was an opportunity for AAPS administration, the Board, and the community to come together to review and discuss achievement gap data.  She mentioned that the expectation was only that a few community leaders would attend, but over 85 people were there. Singling out her fellow trustees for a second round of thanks, Baskett said that she sees them, and herself, as bridges and inroads to different, specific communities within the wider district community.

Simone Lightfoot also addressed the review, saying she believed it was important for the district to “own our stuff.” She announced a follow-up forum to take place on May 27, so “we can answer the questions posed, listen, and acquire feedback.”

Fund Balance Considerations

Two of the first briefing items – the third quarter financial report, and the board’s annual review of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget – tied together an ongoing board discussion over the district’s fund balance and at what level it should be held. Also brought up was the need to begin working on a renewal of the special education millage that funds a large part of the WISD’s work, but will expire next year.

Fund Balance: Third Quarter Financial Report

Nancy Hoover, AAPS director of finance, and Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations, presented the third quarter financial report to the board.

Hoover noted that there were no major changes to the bottom line, though some revenues and corresponding expenditures were reclassified because they are now coming from the federal government instead of the state.  Trustee Glenn Nelson asked if anything had happened since the report was generated that the board would otherwise not hear about until the district’s audit. Hoover said, “No, this is the last change we have to make that we are aware of.”

Allen then took to the podium to lead the board through the budget trends evident so far this year, and to compare this year’s spending with that of the 2008-09 school year. He asserted, “We are pretty much on track to where we were last year at this time.”

Allen then pointed out another thing that has not changed: the projected deficit of $7.58 million. He reviewed the fund equity balance he had previously presented to the board, highlighting that the district has spent down $12 million of it over the past two years. Allen said even though the district had been “holding the line on expenditures, and buying only what is necessary,” it looked like the target of $2.7 million in mid-year budget reductions was not going to be reached; in fact, he said, “we’d be very happy to get to $1 million in reductions.”

Andy Thomas asked about the discrepancy between $2.7 million and $1 million: “In what areas were you not able to realize the savings you’d hoped for?” Allen pointed to overtime as a unmitigated cost, saying, “If you have to have coverage, you have to have it.”

Christine Stead asked several questions: 1) if there was a possibility of fund equity increasing, 2) what percent of the current budget is reflected in the current fund equity balance, and 3) if Allen could describe what would happen if the district spends down all of its fund equity and has to borrow money.

Allen answered that the major source of the district’s revenue is state aid, and that until the economy starts to rebound, he does not see fund equity increasing. The current fund equity balance, he continued, was 14.2% of the district’s budget at the end of last year, and will be around 11% or 12% at the end of this year. While reassuring the board and public that the district is preparing its budget for the worst-case scenario so that fund equity will be preserved, Allen briefly described how AAPS could borrow money from a state bond fund at a low interest rate if needed. He also pointed out that the interest expense would become another operating expense. Irene Patalan added that the rating the district gets from its auditor would affect its interest rates.

Both Nelson and Mexicotte offered support for the idea of maintaining a larger fund equity balance, in light of the current political climate. Nelson pointed out that this year there will be a major contested election at the state level, and that well-known correlations with election cycles have shown that good news in terms of state funding may hold until the election, but that major cuts often follow an election.

That’s because newly elected officials try to get all the bad news out the way in their first few months in office, to position themselves best for re-election. Mexicotte concurred, saying that it’s possible that even if the state per-pupil funding is not reduced by $300 initially – as the worst-case scenario in the district’s proposed budget contemplates – larger cuts may come down the line, which is what happened this school year.

Allen closed by saying that “you have to build in a little extra” in case the student count or the foundation allowance is lower than anticipated. “What’s gotten lost,” he asserted, “is that we’ve always faced a structural deficit, and though we were able to do some things to lessen the impact, this problem is not fixed until the structural deficit is addressed, and it has yet to be addressed.”

Fund Balance: WISD Budget and Special Ed Millage Renewal

Christine Stead, who participated in the May 12 meeting via phone, had prepared a review of the WISD budget, after she and Nelson had met with WISD staff in April. However, “because of the awkward nature of presenting by speakerphone,” Nelson said he would make the presentation.

He began by pointing out that state law requires the budget of each intermediate school district to be reviewed by its constituent districts annually, which he described as “a good mandated function.” He explained that the board needed to respond to WISD with any recommendations by June 1, and that WISD is required to consider the board’s input in approving its final budget.

After giving a general overview of WISD’s proposed budget and fund balance, Nelson zeroed in on the special education fund, saying “it’s really important to understand as a preview of what’s coming” in terms of the district’s future budgets. Explaining that WISD’s general fund revenues are declining alongside declining property values, he noted that next year, WISD’s fund balance will drop from $26.7 million in 2009 to only $3.6 million. Nelson described $3.6 million as “very close to the zero axis.” “Their fund balance will be gone after this year,” he cautioned.

In addition, Nelson pointed out, a portion of the most recent special education millage will expire after next year, requiring major cuts in WISD’s payments to AAPS for special education services in 2012. Nelson expressed concern that cuts would then need to be made in the general fund to make up for the lack of funding for mandated special education services, saying, “The implications are huge for the entire student body.”

In discussing the 2011-12 budget, AndyThomas asked about the potential impact of a failed renewal of the special education millage. Nelson suggested that AAPS should be prepared to expect a 8-9% $8-9 million reduction in special education funding if the millage were passed at the same rate as it currently exists, and a 12-14% $12-14 million reduction if it fails completely. He added that this would be in addition to an increase in employer retirement system contributions, higher yearly costs in general, and likely another decrease in the foundation allowance from the state. About the impending millage renewal, Nelson said, “I’m not sure if … I’m confident, but we do have to make the case and make it well.”

Superintendent Todd Roberts added that if the millage rate were to be increased, it’s possible that WISD funding of AAPS special education services could remain reimbursed at 82%, as it is now.

Stead emphasized the importance of maintaining fund equity in light of these upcoming issues, and offered, “We have to continue to be creative, but we may run out of creative ideas.” She then reminded the board that at this time, “our obligation is to review the budget and make suggested changes.” Deb Mexicotte pointed out that the board has sent comments in the past, and reminded everyone that any decisions about a new millage would need to be made countywide.

Nelson pointed out that state law says a millage could only be called in May, August, or November, but that the current millage had been passed as part of a special election held in September of 2004. He then added that, “The discussion of dates is in its infancy now.”

Consent Agenda: Transportation Item Removed

There was no discussion of the items on the consent agenda, which included the spring grant awards presented at the last regular meeting, as well as four sets of minutes.

A proposal to consolidate busing services with other districts across the county, which had come to the board as a first briefing item at its last meeting, had also been listed on Wednesday’s agenda as a second briefing and consent agenda item. However, on Wednesday, before the meeting, the proposal was pulled off the agenda.

When queried by The Chronicle, board president Deb Mexicotte said simply that the item was not ready for review. In the board packet, superintendent Todd Roberts wrote that, “Dave Comsa [AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services] and the legal counsel for the WISD are working on the language for the resolution that the board will adopt if the board approves moving forward with joining the county-wide consolidation of transportation.”

If the WISD transportation consolidation does not come to fruition, or AAPS decides not to join the effort, the district would have until the end of the school year to decide on privatization of transportation services, whether or not a contract is reached with current AAPS transportation employees.

Outcome: The consent agenda, without the transportation consolidation item, was unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Stead, Baskett, and Thomas.

Action Items

The board took direct action on two items Wednesday night, approving a resolution for a public hearing on the 2010-11 budget, as well as agreeing to support the state’s second attempt at winning a grant through the Race to the Top federal education initiative.

Action Item: Budget Hearing

Deb Mexicotte explained that, by law, the board needs to hold a public hearing on the annual budget each year.

Glenn Nelson read the notice of public hearing, which states that the hearing will be part of the next regular board meeting on May 26, and that copies of the proposed budget can be retrieved from the AAPS board office for public review. The notice also states that the “property tax millage rate proposed to be levied to support the proposed budget will be the subject of this hearing.” He then read the resolution calling for the hearing. A memo from Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations, details that the first briefing and public hearing on the proposed budget, as well as the first briefing on the millage resolution, will take place on May 26, but that the final approval of the 2010-11 budget, as well as the millage resolution, will not take place until June 9.

Outcome: The resolution calling for the budget hearing was moved by Nelson, seconded by Patalan, and unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Stead, Baskett, and Thomas.

Action Item: Race to the Top Commitment

Roberts introduced a resolution seeking board support of a second Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between AAPS and the Michigan Department of Education regarding Michigan’s application to round two of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition. He noted that the MOU “walks through various areas that state and local school districts would be responsible for,” but that would only go into effect if the state is awarded RTTT funding.

Michigan applied for round one of funding in January, and was denied. However, in order to make the state more competitive, state legislators passed a flurry of legislation during the application process that local school districts are now responsible for upholding, even without having won the additional RTTT funding.

Roberts drew the board’s attention to page five of the MOU, which begins the outline of the scope of work, and mentioned that this MOU is structured similarly to the one from round one. He also mentioned an example of something that is currently being put in place as a result of the RTTT legislation: a countywide data system to support instruction.

Baskett asked if there were any major changes, as the MOU did not look that different from last time. Roberts answered that the language in section D of the state reform plan, an element called “Great Teachers and Leaders,” was loosened regarding the use of teacher evaluations, and gave more power to teacher bargaining units in terms of determining teacher evaluations. Roberts noted as well that the Ann Arbor Education Association, the local teacher’s union, did sign off on this MOU, whereas they had not agreed to the MOU in round one of the application.

Baskett also asked if Roberts was able to see the actual application this time around. During round one, the application was still being written when districts were asked to sign MOUs in its support. Roberts acknowledged that, this time, he had been given the opportunity, but had not read all of the 500 pages. He did confirm, though, that the opt-out language is the same. That is, he said, AAPS can opt out of the arrangement “if it’s costing us more than we’re getting or it’s not working for us.”

Lightfoot again registered her distaste of RTTT, saying that while she would again support this MOU, “it is with a frustration at the public policy process.” She noted that she did not want to cut off the possible resources that could be brought to the district if Michigan is selected a winner this time around. Roberts agreed that, with or without the funding, the five pieces of new legislation would impose requirements on the districts: “It is that Catch-22.”

Mexicotte read the “Resolved” section of the resolution supporting the MOU, which states that AAPS will support the MOU, but that it can “withdraw … without penalty” if it is determined that it is not in the district’s interest to participate in the state’s reform plan.

Outcome: The resolution in support of the MOU between AAPS and the Michigan Department of Education was unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Stead, Baskett, and Thomas.

Sinking Fund Improvements

Also brought before the board for a first briefing were four bids for facilities improvements to be funded from the 2010 sinking fund. Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, presented the bid award recommendations to the board for asphalt paving, roof replacements, ADA site improvements, and an energy conservation program.

During the discussion, Glenn Nelson noted that the sinking fund was a millage passed by the community, which funds improvements so that AAPS does not need to use money out of the general fund. Nelson also thanked the community for the passing the millage, pointing out its importance to the preservation of general fund money for instructional services. Trent confirmed that costs that have historically been paid for by the capital needs fund (which takes money out of the general fund) are now covered by the sinking funds.

Sinking Fund: Asphalt Paving

This summer, parking lots will be repaired at Angell, Carpenter, Clague, Scarlett, Slauson, Tappan, and Thurston, according to Trent. The biggest of these projects, he said, was Thurston, which will be redone completely to separate buses, cars, and pedestrians better. Trent put up a slide with a drawing showing how Thurston will look when completed – the main difference will be that a second loop will be created to separate buses from cars. In the new design, which he called a “safer and streamlined approach,” the handicapped parking will be moved, and pedestrians will not have to cross any traffic.

Regarding the paving projects, Trent also mentioned that bids received by the district were 25% lower than anticipated. All the recommended companies have been hired by the district before, and have great references, he said. After reviewing eight bids, Trent recommended the following contracts for board approval: ABC Paving ($145,200), Cadillac Asphalt ($214,937), Nagle Paving ($93,170), and T&M Asphalt ($23,190).

Sinking Fund: Roof Replacements

Trent stated that this summer, roofs will be repaired at Pioneer, Forsythe, Slauson, Mitchell, Clague, Northside, and Huron. Seven companies bid on the work, and two were chosen as recommended contractors. Trent added that these bids contain more inspections, double the warranty, and more insulation than previous ones, and expressed that working with Firestone as the approved supply vendor had gone well. He recommended that the board approve two contracts for roofing to: Advance Roofing ($1,062,848), and Royal West Roofing ($87,300).

Sinking Fund: ADA Site Improvements

This summer, Trent said, site improvements to bring facilities in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be made at Allen, Haisley, Scarlett, Stone, and the transportation building. Three companies submitted bids for the work, and Trent recommended one of them be given the contract: GM & Sons ($73,800).

Thomas asked for confirmation that each building is bid out as a separate project, rather than all the work of one type being consolidated in a multi-site bid. Trent confirmed that each site was bid independently, and that the bid awards he is recommending are to the lowest qualified bidder on each individual project. This is why, he pointed out, the paving and roofing bids are spread out among more than one contractor. In the case of the ADA improvements, Trent said, GM & Sons came in as the lowest bid for each of the five buildings needing work, which is why it was the only recommended contractor in that category.

Sinking Fund: Energy Conservation Program

Trent referenced a $400,000 budget reduction for “energy savings” listed in the district’s proposed 2010-11 budget as impetus for hiring a company to help AAPS streamline its energy usage. He explained that the district’s legal counsel recommended bidding out the service. Five bids were received, and three companies were interviewed.

Trent then explained how the interview committee came to the unanimous decision to recommend Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) over the other top contender, Energy Education Inc. (EEI). He reviewed several points: JCI has already done successful energy reduction work in the district; with JCI, AAPS is not penalized for saving more than targeted (EEI charges a higher fee if the district hits a certain savings mark); and JCI “has a nice addition of a student involvement piece.”

Describing JCI’s proposal as a “top-down effort” that starts with the superintendent and works through the whole district, Trent said that over 10 years, “the possible savings [reaped by implementing JCI's program] could go up to $12 million.” He also noted that, “Every dollar we are not spending on a utility can be put into a classroom.”

Trent recommended awarding a four-year contract to JCI, in the amount of $273,193 annually.

Sinking Fund: Historically Underutilized Businesses

Throughout the bid presentations ran a conversation between board members and Trent regarding the hiring of historically underutilized businesses (HUBs) for work in the district. HUBs are businesses that are minority or woman-owned. At the beginning of the discussion, Lightfoot asked  Trent to note the HUB status of any of the contractors he was recommending.

In the first bid description, when Trent noted that none of the recommended paving contractors were HUBs, Lightfoot jumped on it: “I keep asking that question, and I’m getting no’s. I’m looking forward to getting some yeses.” In the next bid description regarding roofers, Baskett echoed Lightfoot’s concerns, pointing out that “there has been a desire among some members of the board to foster relationships with HUBs.” She asked Trent if he had provided any incentives or encouragement to HUBs to apply, and whether the district has gotten any feedback from HUBs about why the district’s attempts to foster relationships with them “have not gone anywhere.”

Trent pointed out that reporting HUB status on the bids is optional, and that some businesses simply choose not to self-identify as HUBs, even though they are, such as GM & Sons, the minority-owned business recommended as the contractor for ADA improvements. He also pointed out that there is no official policy in place to recruit HUBs, but that he has coordinated networking events, and sent out RFPs to minority-owned businesses. Trent concluded, “We can’t make them bid.”

Baskett conceded that, while few of the current contractors being recommended have HUB status, those companies could always subcontract with HUBs. Trent confirmed that this could happen, such as with the Thurston project, where the main contractor could subcontract certain aspects of the project, such as lighting or landscaping. He also suggested that he could send letters to the HUBs who have worked for the district in the past to get their feedback. Patalan added that the planning committee will look at this issue, and consult with the district’s legal counsel.

Policy Updates

Both the policy and planning committees of the board have been engaged in ongoing review of board policies. At Wednesday’s meeting, 12 policies – 5550, 4020, 4050, 4100, 4400, 4500, 4600, 5120, 5130, 6140, 3000, and 3050 – were presented at first briefing. Most parts of these policies were either submitted for re-authorization as is, with no changes needed, or with only minor wording changes meant to bring the policy in line with current district practice, procedures, or department names. [.pdf file of revised policies]

The more extensive proposed policy changes were as follows:

  • In 5550.R.01, Chronic Health Conditions, ADA language was added;
  • In 4040, Anti-Harassment of Employees, “electronically transmitted acts” added;
  • In 4050.R.01, Family & Medical Leave Act, military family leave added and defined;
  • In 4050.R.03, Personnel Files, long-term storage of files, and disposition of files upon employee’s death addressed;
  • In 4050.R.06, Employee Background Checks, fingerprinting and background check processes updated, and language added about fingerprinting results expiration date;
  • In 4100.R.01 & R.02, Hiring Procedures, application and reporting processes updated; and
  • In 4500.R.01, Safety, Injuries, and Emergencies, language added to be sure student health information is appropriately disseminated, and sign-in requirement added.

In addition, three of the policies were newly drafted:

  • Policy 5120, Middle School Attendance, “articulates attendance guidelines … and provide for problem-solving with parents/guardians when attendance is inconsistent and/or detracting from school success;”
  • Policy 5130, Middle School Retention, “provides a protocol for administration, faculty, and families when grade retention is under consideration in grades 6-8;” and
  • Policy 6140, Homework, establishes guidelines for teachers, families, and students regarding the purpose, nature, and expected time commitment of homework.

Both Baskett and Patalan submitted charts summarizing the proposed policy changes their committees were suggesting. Baskett added, “We believe the chart is very clear, but we’re open to any questions … or feedback.” She highlighted the homework policy for parents in the community to note.

Patalan also thanked board secretary Amy Osinski, who, she said, “has her eyes focused on policy, and does a good job.”

There was no discussion on any policy items, which will come back before the board as second briefing items for approval.

Human Resource Services Update

Each year, the AAPS human resources department updates the board on any new developments, as well as providing a snapshot of retirements, resignations, and unpaid leaves for the coming year. As new trustee Andy Thomas confirmed during the first part of the presentation, Wednesday’s presentation was for information only, and no vote or approval by the board was required at that time.

HR Update: Teacher Evaluation Process

Cindy Ryan, AAPS director of human resources, updated the board on the process used in teacher evaluation. “We’re in the process of working on a new evaluation system,” she said, and identified one of the big concerns as how to integrate the Race to the Top (RTTT) mandates, such as integrating measures of student growth into the teacher evaluation process.

Ryan explained that, a year ago, a committee was formed through collective bargaining to assess models for teacher evaluation. Of the seven or eight models the committee reviewed, they decided they most liked the “Framework for Teaching” model created by Charlotte Danielson, and are moving forward with tweaking that model so that it would meet RTTT requirements and the needs of the district.

Several trustees asked how the Danielson model would intersect with specific district needs while ensuring that AAPS is in compliance with legal requirements, such as annual evaluations.

Ryan assured the board that the model could be embellished, or amended as needed, confirmed that it could be adapted for all Ann Arbor Education Association members, and called the work of the evaluation committee “a big undertaking.” Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, added that there is a collaborative group in Lansing working to develop teacher evaluation models that will incorporate RTTT.

Comsa continued, saying that the district was “somewhat working in a vacuum” without a lot of guidance coming from the Michigan Department of Education on how to interpret RTTT requirements. Still, he said, AAPS is “ahead of the curve by implementing this evaluation committee,” and that the district can make a strong argument that it’s already in compliance.

Thomas asked about the timeline for getting this new evaluation process embedded in the contract as it’s currently being negotiated, and Ryan said it’s possible that the new evaluation process could be in the next contract. Mexicotte added that the contract can always be amended with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) at any time.

HR Update: Demographic Data

Alice Chamberlain, AAPS assistant director of employment services, presented the district’s current demographic data on retirements, resignations, and unpaid leaves for 2010-11, and pointed out that the district uses this data directly to arrange staffing.

In total, Chamberlain said, the district is expecting 58 people totaling 56.2 FTEs to leave the district next year, and broke them out by subject, and grade level. Of all the positions, she noted that the two positions opening up in the hearing impaired program may be difficult to fill.

Nelson noted that retirement legislation is being developed at the state level, and said that counting on this number of retirements is like, “saying ‘there’s no rain yet’ before a thunderstorm.” He continued, asking if it was accurate to assume major changes in these numbers if legislation including a retirement incentive should pass. Chamberlain allowed that if retirement reform passes, “these data very well could change, and the change could be radical.”

[Retirement reform legislation, including a retirement incentive, did pass in both the house and senate late last week, and awaits signature by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.]

HR Update: Professional Development

Jane Landefeld, director of student accounting, Michelle Madden, math/science curriculum coordinator K-8, and Chuck Hatt, literacy/social studies curriculum coordinator, presented an overview of the professional development (PD) offered in AAPS.

Landefeld explained that PD is offered to teachers as part of their contractual obligations, and therefore all teachers are required to participate. Much of the PD is offered during the school year on days without classes, but some PD is also offered after school or over the summer. In total, Madden added, there are over 1,400 sessions and workshops offered to district employees each year, to “grow teacher-leaders.” These sessions are often used to introduce new curriculum or interventions, she explained. Hatt added that PD can be adapted as needs arise, and that it can be used to continually improve and adjust instruction.

Nelson asked whether national efforts to standardize curricula match up with Michigan’s curriculum. Madden answered that the national efforts are to devise standards, not actual curricula, and that AAPS outcomes standards are higher than both those of the national core standards project, and those of Michigan. Madden added that the national core curriculum standards project “will not happen overnight,” and is “very ambitious.”

Association Reports

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board received reports from three of its associations – the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), and the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC). The Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), and the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG) did not report at this meeting.

Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee Report

Scott White reported for the AAPAC, and began by describing a bit about Williams syndrome, the disease that affects his daughter, Lauren. He noted that the week of the board meeting was the first-ever Williams syndrome awareness week. In deciding where to send Lauren for school, White said he has become an advocate for increasing opportunities for peer mentoring in the district. Through this work, he has gathered information on successful programs, and he reported at Wednesday’s meeting that a successful peer mentoring class has begun at Clague Middle School this year, which he called a “happy beginning” toward “helping students see abilities and not just disabilities.”

White also said AAPAC is pleased that the reorganizations taking place in the district’s Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) department will lead to a full-time position for Peer-to-Peer programming and another for Adapted Physical Education. Unfortunately, White said, Steve Schwartz will be decreasing his volunteer hours for the fourth-grade disability awareness workshops, and he encouraged the board to ensure continuation of the workshops.

PTO Council Report

Co-chair of the PTOC, Donna Lasinski, began by reporting that the council has been making a concerted effort to take a look at what can be done as a community to make a difference at the legislative level. She noted that the PTOC advocacy committee now has 35 members, and is growing each week. The committee has crafted talking points around their four stated goals: (1) guaranteeing that school funding levels are set by the start of the fiscal year; (2) ensuring that schools are funded at the level of program cost, not dollars available; (3) developing a stable and secure funding model for schools; and (4) prioritizing education funding over other state needs. These goals reflect the PTOC’s perception, said Lasinski, that “no state has ever dug itself out of an economic hole by building more prisons.”

Thus far, advocacy efforts have targeted both elected officials, and those running for office in November. Next, the committee will be initiating a postcard campaign to give parents a chance to say why education is important to them. And finally, the PTOC, based on feedback from some of the legislators with whom they have met, has decided to attempt partnerships with other similar parent groups from parts of the state with less supportive elected officials.

Youth Senate Report

Youth senators Priya Menon and Nikila Lakshmanan suggested in their report that off-campus lunch privileges currently enjoyed by some Ann Arbor students  should be extended to all high school students, or, alternately, offered as a reward to students with no unexcused absences or tardies. [Community High School has an open-campus policy.] Being able to leave for lunch, Menon and Lakshmanan argued, can help prepare students who go onto college “to adjust to the new surge of independence that comes with a new environment.”

The youth senators also invited everyone to participate in a walkathon to fight poverty, wished all students good luck on AP exams, and reported that Pioneer High music students are concerned about the possible lay-off of their orchestra director, Jonathon Glawe.

Committee Reports and Agenda Planning

The board has two standing committees – performance and planning – through which many items on the board’s agenda get a first look. Each board member except for the president is assigned to one or the other – Susan Baskett and Glenn Nelson sit on the performance committee, while Irene Patalan, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot sit on the planning committee. All performance and planning committee meetings are open to the public. Also at each meeting, trustees can put forward items they would like to have considered on agendas for future meetings.

Performance Committee Activities

Baskett reported that her committee reviewed many of the first briefing items coming to the board for Wednesday’s meeting, including the WISD budget, third quarter financial report, and a “slew of policies.”

Planning Committee Activities

Patalan reported that Trent had walked her committee through the beginning of spending the 2010 sinking fund money, and that some of the first briefing agenda items reflected this discussion. She pointed out that the planning committee has also been engaged in policy review.

Planning for 2010 Board Retreat

Mexicotte announced that there would not be an organizational meeting of the board this July, since the elections were moved to November. Instead, she suggested, the board retreat usually scheduled for the end of the summer could be moved up to July. The board retreat, Mexicotte explained, is an opportunity for the board to set goals, re-form itself as a board, and move forward with agenda items, and is typically a single-day event. Saying that she would be working with Patalan to set an agenda and talk about facilitation, Mexicotte requested trustees to send their summer schedules to Osinski so a retreat date could be set.

Awards and Accolades

The board devotes time at each meeting to reflect on positive accomplishments in the district, and honor those people who go above and beyond the call of duty.

Celebration of Excellence

John Fisher, a physical education teacher at Angell and Pattengill, was honored with a celebration of excellence for his service to his students. He was nominated by Martine Perreault, chair of the PTOC, and a parent of three children who have attended Angell Elementary and who had Fisher as a teacher. Perreault’s nomination lauded Fisher’s emphasis on personal fitness, cooperative games, and innovative inclusions to the phys ed curriculum. She credited him with turning phys ed into “an enjoyable respite in the school day.”

Fisher and many of his family and supporters gathered at the podium for his receipt of the award. He thanked them all, saying, “I’m lucky and I’m blessed … I don’t like my job – I love my job!” Fisher’s mother, who had been standing next to him, then also responded, urging everyone to “do your best at whatever you do.”

Superintendent’s Report

Todd Roberts noted many recent successes of AAPS students and staff, beginning with the high school level, and including the receipt of a Grammy Gold award, and a regatta win by Pioneer High School. Huron High School, he said, had eight students’ work recently published in a book called “Talking Back,” and Skyline High School students placed highly in the recent Special Olympics competition.

Roberts also noted the impressive feat achieved by Community High students and staff, who removed 4,460 pounds of garlic mustard, an invasive species, from natural areas across the district as part of an all-school service project. At the middle school level, Roberts praised Slauson for placing highly in the Science Olympiad, and all the middle schools for becoming “healthy schools.” He also praised many of the district’s teaching staff for individual accomplishments.

Items From the Board

Glenn Nelson mentioned that he had just attended a dinner and dance at the Ann Arbor Community Center, and thanked the community centers for their wonderful work. He also reminded everyone of the “three wonderful art shows” of student work currently going on in town.

Susan Baskett thanked the SISS department for hosting Parent University talks at the Bryant Community Center. She pointed out that over 50 people attended the recent lecture by Dr. Sanchez, and invited everyone to attend the May 24 lecture by Patricia Edwards on reaching non-traditional students.

Christine Stead pointed out that Johnson Controls Inc. did a great job at Skyline High School on April 29 of showing students what they do, and providing some perspective on possible careers for students.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan, secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, AAPS superintendent.

Next regular meeting: May 26, 2010, 7 p.m., at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Glenn Nelson (School Board Member)
    May 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm | permalink

    Thank you to the Ann Arbor Chronicle and to Jennifer for another thorough, excellent article. Your work improves the quality of the public dialogue on important issues in our community.

    I have one correction. In the discussion of the WISD budget and in the paragraph beginning with “In discussing the 2011-12 budget …”, my references to expected cuts should be expressed in million dollars rather than percents. I may have misspoke in my presentation. In any case, “8-9%” and “12-14%” should be “$8-9 million” and “$12-14 million”, respectively.

  2. By Jennifer Coffman
    May 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Glenn. We will make the correction.

  3. By Mary Morgan
    May 31, 2010 at 3:26 pm | permalink

    The Associated Press is reporting that several states are opting out of the Race to the Top program, voicing concerns similar to ones that have been raised by AAPS officials. [link]