AAPS Busing Decision Coming June 23

Transportation consolidation looms; 2010-11 budget set

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (June 9, 2010): At its second-to-last meeting of the school year on Wednesday, trustee Susan Baskett appealed to the AAPS bus drivers’ union: “I want to stress to the bargaining unit – we’re running out of time.”

Todd Roberts takes notes

AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts, taking copious notes during last Wednesday's school board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The AAPS board of education voted to consider a resolution to consolidate transportation services at its final meeting on June 23, if a competitive bid is not received by the bus drivers’ union before then. Also, after months of discussion, the board passed the 2010-11 budget and accompanying millage to support it.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved a new AP Biology textbook, passed a resolution in support of using the state’s School Aid Fund only to fund K-12 schools, and debated the renewal of a contract to outsource the district’s food service. And, for more than half of its six-hour meeting, the board engaged in non-voting business, receiving updates from Skyline High School staff, the USA Hockey team housed at Pioneer High, and the Intergroup/Social Change Agents, a high school program designed to encourage dialogue on social identities.

Countywide Transportation Consolidation Plan

AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts introduced Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent of operations, and Brian Marcel, assistant superintendent of business services for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), saying they were available to answer any questions about the transportation consolidation plan proposed at the board’s June 4 meeting. Allen pointed out that the entire plan is on the board’s website, and said they would begin by asking Marcel to review the plan.

Transportation: Consolidation Background and Savings Goals

Marcel gave some history, saying that in February of 2007, the superintendents, chief financial officers, and members of the school boards from every district in the county met to explore a variety of possible countywide consolidations. At that time, Marcel said, transportation was identified as a possible service to consolidate, with the original intention to privatize consolidated transportation services countywide.

After additional consideration, Marcel continued, the direction of the group changed to wanting to keep employees public, but reap savings as if services were privately run. Consultants were brought in to help create a plan that would yield savings of 18-25%, by focusing on standardizing as much as possible within transportation services across the county. Marcel noted that special education bus routes would change for the upcoming fall, and that general education routes would stay relatively the same for the first year of the program.

Board secretary Glenn Nelson asked what savings would be created by the consolidation plan as it’s been crafted. Allen answered that the AAPS had hoped for $1.5 million in savings, but this plan achieves only $1.3 million the first year. Allen then pointed out that savings could increase in future years, once AAPS routes are made more efficient.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot asked if the WISD anticipated making a profit by administering the consolidated transportation services. Marcel said no, that the program’s finances would be separate from the rest of the WISD. He explained that no profit is expected, but if there were additional savings for some reason, an oversight group could choose either to make a capital investment in the program or provide a rebate to participating districts.

Transportation: Hourly Wages and Salaries

In response to questions raised at the consolidation plan’s first briefing on June 4, Allen had prepared two spreadsheets for Wednesday’s meeting – one sheet broke down bus drivers and monitors by rate of pay and years of service; the other compared the proposed salaries of the consolidation’s central administrators with the WISD recommended salary ranges for those positions.

From the proposed salary spreadsheet, Baskett noted that bus driver supervisor/trainers are slated to make a higher wage under consolidation. She confirmed with Allen that the supervisor/trainers are currently making from $40,000 to $50,000 annually, but that the consolidation’s administrative design team proposes to pay them $49,150. The WISD recommended salary range would bump them up even higher, paying them from $66,203 to $77,857.

From the hourly wage grid, both Baskett and trustee Andy Thomas noted that the 48 drivers making $18.09 per hour at the top of the current pay scale would experience quite a dip in income – down to $16 per hour for general education routes, or down to $16.50 for special education routes. Lightfoot also pointed out the much higher cost of health care for the drivers under consolidation, and stated, “I’m troubled by a few aspects of this plan … We’re asking the lowest wage earners to adjust to the new reality, but not the managers – that’s problematic.”

When Baskett questioned the size of the supervisors’ raises, Marcel reiterated two points he had made at the last meeting – that anyone in WISD supervising 50 employees needs to be paid at that highest compensation range, and that all positions were “benchmarked” to the market. Lightfoot questioned the benchmarks, pointing out that AAPS currently pays the supervisor/monitors much lower than their proposed salaries under the WISD plan. But Marcel said that perhaps AAPS supervisor/trainers have different job descriptions than those positions would have under the WISD plan. Lightfoot countered, “It seems like you’re going with the highest ‘benchmark’ for the upper managers, but the lowest ‘benchmark’ for the drivers.”

Thomas concurred, pointing out that the wage reduction drivers at the top of the pay scale would be asked to take is a 9-12% decrease, not including the increased health care costs. Thomas said he was very troubled by the fact that one group of people were set to take a significant pay cut while others were getting pay raises. He asked how much AAPS drivers are currently paid compared to market benchmarks.

Marcel said that to compare fairly, one has to consider total compensation, since not all districts offer health insurance to drivers. With that in mind, he said, AAPS drivers are not at the top but currently in the top third of the pay range of drivers throughout the county. In terms of the administrators, Marcel again argued that there would have to be some level of salary equity among managers within WISD “so everyone will be happy when we are all one organization.”

Transportation: Hiring and Seniority

Marcel explained that the hiring timeline, also part of Allen’s packet provided to the board, was constructed to hire the program’s administrators first, so they could then be part of hiring those who would report to them. He reiterated that employment records and drug screening would be part of the hiring criteria, but again asserted, “I want to hire bus drivers who are already familiar with the students and with the schools.”

Lightfoot asked about the difference between “seniority” and “experience,” again following up on part of the conversation from the last meeting. Marcel acknowledged that the two words both mean the number of years of accumulated time. However, the reason the WISD team chose to include “experience” as a hiring criteria rather than “seniority” is because of how seniority is used in decision-making. For example, Marcel said, seniority might be applied to allow drivers to select their own routes, whereas under the consolidation plan, the WISD would make all routing decisions.

Process for Approving the Consolidation

Board president Deb Mexicotte asked Marcel which other districts had agreed to participate in the consolidation at this point. Marcel answered that Lincoln, Willow Run, and Ypsilanti are planning to participate in the consolidation of general education routes.  All of the WISD districts except for Chelsea – this includes the three above, plus AAPS, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline, and Whitmore Lake – have agreed to fully consolidate special education routing.  Chelsea, he said, is not interested consolidating either general education or special education services, but is willing to pick up students on its routes that pass through the other districts.

Baskett asked what the board’s options were, and whether an actual resolution would be coming soon. Mexicotte confirmed that if that evening’s resolution passed, it would indicate that the board intends to receive a contract from the WISD for consideration by June 18. “Moving forward tonight,” she clarified, “does not bind us to that contract at this time.” She stated that the board has an obligation to look at any bid received from a bargaining unit side by side with the WISD contract in an open way.

Thomas requested removing the countywide transportation consolidation from the consent agenda, so that it could be further discussed before a vote. Standing independently, the resolution was then moved by vice president Irene Patalan and seconded by treasurer Christine Stead, and discussion continued.

Transportation: Public Commentary on Consolidation

AAPS bus driver Chai Montgomery called the countywide transportation plan “unsound.” He pointed out that the AAPS director of transportation earns $160,000 per year, but that School Bus Fleet magazine says a manager should make around $50,000. There are ways to save, Montgomery said, but it has to start with managerial overhead, and then operational changes can be sought. First, “cut the waste from the top,” he urged.

Another AAPS driver, Richard Miller, argued that consolidating transportation services will cause increasing driver turnover. Honoring seniority, he said, would be an ethical way to rehire, and long-employed drivers are safest. He pointed out that his own salary would go from $18.09 to $16 an hour under consolidation, and urged trustees to vote with their consciences.

Transportation: Rationale for Approving the Consolidation

Baskett asked Allen what, beyond savings, were the differences between privatizing transportation services, consolidating them, and the status quo.

Allen reiterated that if the services are privatized, employees would lose their pensions, and that “many folks get into public education because of the retirement benefits.” He also pointed out that with consolidation, unlike with privatization, the participating districts retain some control over the system. Allen pointed out that the ISD takes its direction from its districts’ superintendents whereas to direct a private company to do something, “it’s usually ‘back to the table’” to renegotiate the terms of the contract. In terms of longevity, Allen said, consolidation is the best model.  Citing economies of scale when purchasing fuel and parts, he also argued, “When you consolidate ten districts, you don’t need ten directors.” Finally, Allen said that the status quo was not sustainable – “there’s no way to cut $20 million without touching employees.”

Nelson said he recognized the legitimacy of different views, but he believed that voting against this plan would lead to increased cuts in instruction and larger class sizes. He announced his intention to support the plan, arguing that there is a basic efficiency to be gained by consolidating, and that the board needs to be focused on its mission to educate children and young people, rather than considering what the cuts mean to adults. Finally, Nelson asserted that savings from this plan will increase after the first year, and that “it will be good for our students over time.”

Lightfoot countered part of Nelson’s view, saying, “I see it as a ‘both/and’ not an ‘either/or’ situation … We have an obligation both to our students and to our employees.” She later said that she, too, would be supporting the plan, with her stated misgivings – “There are changes that can and should be made to the pay structure,” she said. “I hope WISD will take our comments into account … I implore them to do it.” Lastly, Lightfoot pointed out that the state may be requiring districts to consolidate transportation services in the future, and that AAPS may end up ahead of the curve.

Stead identified the board’s current position as a “contraction stage,” and argued that AAPS needs to position itself for longer-term efficiency in light of education’s structural funding deficit. Calling the consolidation plan “the better option on the list of terrible options,” Stead also reminded the board that during the failed countywide schools millage campaign last fall, much of the feedback received from voters called for exploring new approaches to cost-saving, including consolidation. She pointed out, “It would be difficult to go back and ask for support in the future without having taken that feedback into account.”

Thomas thanked Marcel and Allen for their hard work, and said he does see the potential for tremendous benefit to the district in this plan. In considering the consolidation, he said, he keeps coming back to this year’s $20 million deficit, and a potential $15 million deficit for 2010-11. Though he said he has “serious misgivings” about this plan, he said he would support it, and that on the whole, consolidation is the way to go.

Baskett described the consolidation decision as a “tough call.” Privatization is not in anyone’s best interest, she said, and the district can’t stay with the status quo. That leaves the last two options, as she put it – working with the bargaining unit (the union representing bus drivers), while moving forward with the WISD resolution. She encouraged WISD to lower management salaries, and closed with, “I want to stress to the bargaining unit – we’re running out of time.”

Patalan stated, “We are very careful … My job is to keep my eyes on students.” She said she believed that consolidation would be shown to be more efficient, and appreciated that under the plan, drivers would be able to keep their pensions. Lastly, Patalan said, the “efficiency and ecology” of consolidating cannot be overlooked, and that she would support the plan.

Mexicotte asked for a roll call vote, and the trustees each formalized their support. Mexicotte closed by saying the board would expect to receive a contract for review by June 18, to be acted on at the next board meeting on June 23.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to receive and consider a contract from the WISD to consolidate transportation services with surrounding districts.

2010-11 Budget and Millage Rates Set

Allen took to the podium to field any last questions or comments from the board regarding the district’s 2010-11 budget and accompanying millage resolution. There was little discussion, as the budget had been presented to the board at various stages of development throughout the spring.

Thomas asked about the impact of lower Schools of Choice enrollment than had been budgeted. A memo from Roberts to the board states that 94 students have accepted enrollment – 47 in kindergarten, 27 in 1st grade and 20 in 6th grade. His memo also says that the district is requesting that the state allow a second Schools of Choice application window in August, but that the request might not be approved.

Allen confirmed that if the district is not able to increase Schools of Choice enrollment, it could adversely affect the budget by up to $500,000. He also pointed out that the Options Magnet enrollment is expected to meet its target.

Nelson noted that the millage associated with the 2010-11 budget will be a significant tax rate reduction. In 2000, he said, homeowners in the AAPS district were levied 12.8 mills, including the WISD special education millage. In 2005, the same homeowners were levied 12.7 mills, and in 2010, homeowners will be levied at 11.5 mills.  Nelson summarized by saying, “If we … say we want to pay fewer taxes, we are saying we want to support schools less than those who came before us.”

Nelson then apologized in advance for going off-topic, and proceeded to ask Allen how the new stormwater retention project just completed at Pioneer High School had fared during the storm the previous weekend.

Allen noted that Nelson was referencing the Allen Creek Watershed Project, and said that whether it made a difference depends entirely on where people live. Those who live closer to Pioneer might have noticed a decrease in flooding near them. Noting that he is not a watershed expert, Allen described the project as “collecting the first inch of rainwater, and regulating how it flows back into the system.”

[In response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, Janis Bobrin, the county's water resources commissioner, wrote that the project is designed to help with some quantity management for smaller storms, but is focused on improving the quality of the stormwater flowing from Allen Creek into the Huron River.]

Outcome: The 2010-11 budget was approved as part of the consent agenda described below.

Revised AP Biology Textbook Adopted

It was after midnight when the board opened discussion on the possible adoption of a revised textbook for the district’s AP Biology classes. Pioneer AP Biology teacher Dolores Kingston was still at the meeting – she wanted to be there for the final approval. When the board noticed her, they thanked her for her good work on this issue. Kingston replied, “I’ve been working since November on this – I’m going right to the end!”

Outcome: The consent agenda, containing the 2010-11 budget, the millage resolution, the textbook adoption, and minutes approvals, was moved by Stead, seconded by Patalan, and unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Thomas, Stead and Baskett.

Additional Action Items

The board considered two direct action items at this meeting – a resolution to support continued, dedicated funding of the School Aid Fund, and a resolution to hold an executive session to conduct the annual evaluation of AAPS superintendent Todd Roberts.

Resolution to Support the Michigan School Aid Fund

Nelson introduced a resolution, saying it was meant to “put on record” that the board supports the School Aid Fund as it is currently used by the state, which is solely for funding pre-K through 12th grade. Referencing suggestions currently being made by the governor and members of the state legislature to do otherwise, Nelson argued that it was important for the board to state unequivocally that it opposes transferring money out of the School Aid Fund into the general fund, and that it opposes adding other functions to the School Aid Fund. The governor has suggested, for example, that since the School Aid Fund currently has a surplus, perhaps it could be used to add funding to community colleges.

Thomas concurred, saying that this is an example of “not only counting your chickens before they’re hatched. Even after they’re hatched, there are a lot of chicken hawks … out there.”

Baskett and Patalan thanked Nelson for taking the lead on writing the resolution.

Nelson suggested that the signed resolution should be distributed to local elected officials and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He also encouraged citizens to contact their legislators, and demand that they use the School Aid fund for K-12 education.

Outcome: The motion to support the School Aid Fund was moved by Nelson, seconded by Lightfoot, and unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Thomas, Stead and Baskett.

Superintendent Evaluation

Patalan moved to hold an executive session for the purpose of evaluating Roberts at 5:30 p.m. before the next regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. on June 23. It was seconded, and approved unanimously.

Outcome: The motion to hold an executive session was unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Thomas, Stead and Baskett.

Public Commentary

Several speakers shared thoughts with the board during public commentary. In addition to the responses to possible countywide transportation consolidation reported above, the board heard concerns about privatizing child care, the Thurston driveway project, and needed education reform.

Public Commentary – AAPS Child Care Privatization

Before the meeting, AAPS child care staff members were demonstrating outside the downtown library, where the meeting was held. When approached by The Chronicle, they said they had heard that their jobs were being privatized. Three people spoke to the board with concerns about the possible privatization of the district’s before-and-after-school child care program.

child care

Demonstrators against possible privatization of the AAPS child care program. District official say they are not contemplating the privatization of child care.

Kent Olsen asserted that privatizing the school-aged child care program (SAC) would lead to inconsistency in staffing. He contended that the director of community education and recreation, Sara Aeschbach, had turned in a budget that she knew was not balanced, and questioned how such a budget could be used to cut staff. Olsen contended that the privatization of SAC had been kept quiet by the board possibly because it wanted to prevent a loss of trust on the part of AAPS parents who use the program. Olsen said SAC staff wants to work with the community and the board to address their budget, and thanked the trustees for their time and “serious consideration” of his concerns.

Connie Devine, a child care supervisor, then spoke, saying that she opposed the privatization of child care. She argued that the child care staff has been greatly overlooked, and that they have been given no opportunity to negotiate.

Finally, a Dicken Elementary School parent spoke. She said that, as a working parent, she chose AAPS in part because of KCare’s reputation as high-quality child care, and expressed concern that the quality would suffer if the service was privatized.

After the meeting, The Chronicle spoke with Roberts and Mexicotte about these public comments. They confirmed that, though there had been some consideration of privatizing child care services, there are no plans to do so at this time. Mexicotte added that such a move would have to be a part of the budget discussion, which it was not.

Public Commentary – Thurston Driveway Project

Kathy Griswold spoke again regarding her concerns about the paving project to be completed this summer at Thurston Elementary School. Saying that the Transportation Safety Committee had met the day before, she requested that the board “issue a change order” to fix a significant vehicle-pedestrian conflict. This design was a compromise, she said. It is better, but not good, Griswold continued, and “we cannot compromise on student safety.” Lastly, Griswold argued, the design is ugly, too expensive, and will have a negative impact on future sinking fund campaigns.

In response to Griswold’s attempts to revise the paving project, on Friday, June 11, Thurston’s principal Patricia Manley issued a statement via email on behalf of the Thurston community stating that she believed that the design they had was the one they wanted. Manley included a .pdf attachment with a memorandum from Brad Mellor, who chairs the transportation safety committee. [The email exchanges between Griswold and school officials last week provide additional background on the Thurston driveway project.]

Public Commentary – Advice from Thomas Partridge

Thomas Partridge frequently speaks at public commentary of other Ann Arbor public bodies, such as the city council, the county board of commissioners and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. At Wednesday’s AAPS meeting, he introduced himself as “Thomas Partridge, AAPS resident, father, grandfather, and advocate for the most vulnerable.” He said he supported the consolidation of transportation services, but urged the board to “keep as many jobs as possible.”

Partridge then went on to other topics, suggesting that AAPS transfer money and attention away from competitive sports and toward music. He stated that he supports increased funding for education, and is an opponent of the “tea-baggers.”Partridge asserted, “Freedom does not come from cutting out opportunity,” and argued that “we need true reform.”

First Briefing Items

The board heard three items at first briefing, meaning they were introduced, and will be placed on the agenda for a second briefing and vote at the next regular meeting on June 23. The board considered renewing its food service contract, as well as its membership in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA). Trustees also discussed the degree to which pilot programs in the district need to be monitored by the board, as reflected by board policy.

Food Service Contract Renewal

Allen presented a resolution asking the board to approve another year of food service provided by Chartwells School Dining Services. He explained that the board approved a five-year contract with yearly renewal requirements in 2009, and this is the first of the four annual renewal requests.

Both Lightfoot and Baskett asked about the feedback on Chartwells’ services received from parents and students, as well as the process for incorporating that feedback. Allen noted the existence of a districtwide committee on nutrition, but allowed, “I still think the [parent] survey needs some work.” The chief complaint he received about the food, he said, was the menu repetitiveness, which repeats on a 30-day cycle. Student feedback, Allen said, comes chiefly by tracking the number of meals purchased.

Baskett noted that national concern about childhood obesity is growing, and Lightfoot questioned food quality, noting that she has heard complaints regarding an overabundance of carbs, or starches. She also stated that, for parents, “There is no mechanism by which they can make actual change.”

Allen countered that many of AAPS menu choices exceed government requirements set by the USDA, and pointed out that AAPS menus include whole wheat options, and an increased presence of fruits and vegetables. The constraints on further improving the menu are cost-related, he said. Allen continued, “If we want to provide filet mignon, [Chartwells] will do it, but they will charge us.” Lightfoot suggested that savings earned by outsourcing food service could be redirected back into the program to increase the quality of the food, and Allen said that could be considered.

Baskett asked how programmatic changes, such as price increases, would be communicated to parents. Allen noted that no price increases are planned for next year, and added that all families with students in the lunch program receive a letter regarding the program over the summer.

Allen also noted that Chartwells’ annual evaluation by AAPS will take place in July. Thomas questioned whether the review would be financial or regarding customer satisfaction. Allen answered that it will be both – finances will be reviewed, but also complaints or concerns brought by AAPS.

Baskett asked how well the Chartwells food service program had done at increasing the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch, which had been one of the goals in hiring the company. Allen replied that the numbers of applications for free and reduced lunch has been rising steadily for the last two years, and that he would be able to bring back those statistics to the board after the July review.

Mexicotte suggested that it would be helpful if the renewal process could be tied to the evaluation process by having AAPS be proactive in surveying, rather than waiting for the end-of-the-year report from Chartwells. She requested that Allen look at using surveys to assess customer satisfaction with the food service program on a regular basis.

MHSAA Membership Renewal

Roberts introduced the MHSAA membership renewal resolution, which would commit AAPS to comply with all MHSAA regulations in exchange for being allowed to participate in post-season play. He noted that this renewal is required annually by Aug. 1, that there was nothing new to the resolution that the board has not approved in previous years, and that there was no cost associated with the membership.

Stead noted that it was exciting to see Skyline High School listed as a member school.

Pilot Projects and Other Policy Considerations

The board was asked to temporarily reauthorize four board policies – two reviewed by the performance committee (4300 & 7220), and two reviewed by the planning committee (3760 & 6120) – with no changes until the end of the calendar year. Committee chairs Baskett and Patalan stated in memos to the board that the extensions would allow “further administrative/committee review” of the policies.

Policy 4300 covers employee evaluation, and Baskett suggested that it would be important to see what happens with the federal Race to the Top legislation – which may cause changes to the evaluation system – before recommitting to the policy.

Policy 7220 covers parent and booster organizations. Baskett reported that the booster clubs operate differently at each school, and that no consensus has yet been reached among school staff regarding the policy, so the performance committee would like more time to work on it.

Policy 3760 covers transportation, which Patalan pointed out is in flux; therefore, her committee requested the extension to craft the policy in light of what happens with possible consolidation of services.

Policy 6120 requires board approval of all “pilot projects” in the district, and annual board evaluation of such projects for their first three years. Patalan said her committee had “done a lot of talking” about the policy, but that they were not ready to recommend a revision.

Mexicotte added some history to the board’s ongoing debate about the pilot project policy, beginning, “A million years ago, I wrote this policy to ensure that new ideas would have some level of accountability.” When it was originally drafted, she said, there were many programs with unclear effectiveness. Now, she said, the board is better apprised of new programs and how they align with the district’s curriculum, thanks to the current administration’s commitment to providing information. In addition, she said, fewer new initiatives have been labeled “pilot projects” in order to avoid the added oversight accompanying that designation. Mexicotte concluded, “I am okay with us undoing the need for this oversight … If the committee thinks it’s obsolete, I’m okay with it.”

Nelson pointed out that there are many new board members who may have new ideas, and that this topic has “a lot of nuances.” He argued that it deserves the “low-stakes” brainstorming that occurs in committees, and suggested that both the performance and planning committees review the policy in the fall.

Thomas added, “I don’t think the need for this policy has gone away.” In a reference to the disbanding of a lunch program at Dicken Elementary School aimed at raising the test scores of African American students, Thomas argued, “The district recently experienced the effects of a ‘pilot project’ that did not go well.” He suggested focusing on better adherence to the policy as written.

Roberts resisted, saying that for the board to monitor every program at every school would be too time-consuming. He asked what the policy would label a “pilot project.”

Lightfoot agreed with Thomas, saying that the policy is fitting, and that she is still astounded at the number of programs in the district. “I understand how time-consuming it would be to lay that all out, but we need that,” she said. “There is room to improve on getting a handle on all the programs going on at all the schools … The program at Dicken is an example of exactly what we need to be aware of.”

Mexicotte jumped in, “Just for the record, I think this is a beautifully written policy.”

Baskett – who had also aided in the original drafting of the policy – concurred, smiling, “I, for one, don’t want to change a word.” More seriously, she said she would, however, like better adherence to the policy, and pointed out that a participant at the recent achievement gap meeting at Mitchell Elementary asked for an inventory of district initiatives on that topic, but that she and Lightfoot, who were chairing that meeting, “didn’t know where the master list was.”

Association Reports

The board invites the Youth Senate, the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) to offer regular reports at its meetings. At this meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the AAPAC, and the PTOC.

Youth Senate

Youth senators suggested aligning the Pioneer High School bus schedule with its media center hours, so that students who arrive early on the bus can consistently use the media center before school. They also expressed concern about the new math graduation requirements, and the Skyline High School final exam schedule, which does not include a half day off for studying like the schedules at Pioneer, Huron, and Community high schools do.

Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee Report

Ann Telfer reported for the AAPAC. She stated some concerns regarding the high turnover of speech pathologists at Huron High as an example of “ancillary services” that she argued could use more oversight at the central and building levels. Teacher consultants, she said, should be able to report any gap in service delivery directly to parents.

Telfer also noted a trend in AAPS, in which graduating seniors from the special education program cannot pass the COMPASS test at Washtenaw Community College, which is used to determine academic placement. The AAPAC would like to be invited to discuss the “false sense of academic achievement” given to AAPS students with IEP or 504 plans, as well as how the personal curriculum option could be used for these students. The AAPAC is also looking forward to being part of the hiring process for a new director of student intervention and support services, Telfer said, and gave the retiring Larry Simpson best wishes.

PTO Council Report

Bill Ebright reported for the PTOC, saying that they filled their officer slate for 2010-11, and that the PTOC advocacy has begun a postcard campaign to keep pressure on the state legislature to ensure adequate school funding.

Special Presentations

In addition to the Skyline High School update, which The Chronicle intends to report on side-by-side with the other high school updates coming later this month, the board heard two special presentations about programs that operate in the district: USA Hockey, and the Intergroup/Social Change Agents. Both were given solely for the board’s information, and required no action.

USA Hockey

Pioneer High athletic director Lorin Cartwright introduced the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP), which is housed at the school. The NTDP is a program to develop national hockey players under the age of 18. Roberts explained that these 44 players come mostly from outside of AAPS, and make a two-year commitment to the program. They enroll at Pioneer, and have earned an average GPA of 3.25, while performing local community service projects in addition to training as world-class athletes. Over 98% of the players leave the program with a college commitment.

Nelson and Patalan thanked the students for their hard work, and for inspiring AAPS students to do community service by their example. Cartwright summarized, “These are outstanding young men in an outstanding program housed in AAPS.”

Intergroup/Social Change Agents

Naomi Warren, a research assistant at the University of Michigan’s Program on Intergroup Relations, introduced the Intergroup/Social Change Agents (Intergroup) program to the board as “a program to help students learn how to talk across difference.” It has been a part of AAPS for eight years, she said. Warren thanked the board for its support.

A recent Huron High School graduate described how the program had taught her to listen from her heart, and to dialogue rather than debate when it came to issues of social identity. Another student said a joint workshop with students from Huron and Stone schools helped them to break down stereotypes held by the students at those schools regarding each other. And a third student asserted that Intergroup had taught him how to understand others’ points of view.

Mikel Brown, who co-facilitates Intergroup along with Warren, explained that the program helps kids to understand and manage conflict. “You can be a bunch of pieces of a puzzle in one box and make no sense at all,” Brown said, “or, you can figure out how you’re supposed to fit together with other people.”

Stead thanked the three students who spoke, affirming that the ability to listen really is a life skill.

Nelson said he appreciated the work of Intergroup, adding that it’s a good reminder of what’s important beyond the academic core.

Baskett asked how the program is funded, and how students can get involved.

Warren explained that funding was piecemeal – AAPS pays a portion as a stipend to a school liaison, and the program is partly supported by Dr. Michael Spencer at the UM School of Social Work and outside grants. Currently, Brown added, the program takes place at Huron and Stone schools, and meets after school. He said it’s been a challenge to make the program more mainstream, but that he wants it to move forward and have more impact, noting that prevention is a cost-effective means of preventing more harmful conflict in the future.

Lightfoot thanked the Intergroup presenters for coming, and asked that they “stay in touch with us. We too are in conflict, so we can be in conflict together.”

Awards and Accolades

The board typically recognizes a variety of organizations and individuals at each meeting for a range of different awards and achievements.

Kiwanis Club Scholarships

Ann Mattson, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor, made a special presentation to the board to report on its scholarship program. This year, Mattson said, Kiwanis awarded 29 $1,000 scholarships to AAPS students, funded primarily by the thrift sale it runs on Saturdays. Mattson also mentioned that six students from AAPS middle schools were given scholarships to attend music camp this summer.

Mexicotte thanked Mattson and Kiwanis for their support of AAPS students.

Superintendent’s Report

Roberts issued congratulations to all 2010 graduates. He also thanked the 450 parent volunteers who made the elementary Science Olympiad possible, and noted many awards earned by AAPS students and staff, including Atulya Shetty, a Clague Middle School 8th grader who will represent the U.S. in the World Youth Chess Championship.

Items from the Board

Lightfoot mentioned that she and Thomas had attended another board member training by the Michigan Association of School Boards that was “fabulous.” She also mentioned visiting Thurston Elementary,  how excited they are about getting their new driveway, and how retiring Lakewood principal Rick O’Neill will be a real loss to the district. Lastly, Lightfoot thanked participants of a recent meeting held at Mitchell Elementary to discuss the achievement gap, saying that many have asked for that dialogue to continue. She also reported that many board members have expressed a willingness to formalize work on the achievement gap.

Baskett reported that she has visited three of the five middle school planning centers, and suggested, “We need to put some consistency around these.” When asked by The Chronicle after the meeting what her purpose was in visiting the planning centers when they are being eliminated in place of the new “positive behavioral support” initiative beginning next year, Baskett responded that she is interested in collecting baseline impressions of the centers before the transition.

Agenda Planning

Neither the performance nor planning committee made reports at this meeting, other than to invite the public to their final meetings of the year. The performance committee met on June 10, and the planning committee will meet on Wednesday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the superintendent’s conference room at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. After the meeting, Lightfoot said the planning committee will consider how the board should move forward in supporting work on closing the achievement gap among students of different races.

Nelson announced that he and Patalan, the only two board members not up for re-election in November, would be holding an information session for prospective board members on Wednesday, June 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Balas Administration Building.

Mexicotte announced that the board would meet for a full-day retreat on Friday, July 23.

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, superintendent of AAPS.

Next regular meeting (and the last one of the 2009-10 school year): June 23, 2010, 7 p.m., at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 4th floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By concerned parent
    June 14, 2010 at 6:30 am | permalink

    The above link at [The email exchanges between Griswold and school officials last week provide additional background on the Thurston driveway project.]does not work. I keep receiving the message:The URL is not valid and cannot be loaded.

    Thank you!

  2. By Dave Askins
    June 14, 2010 at 7:16 am | permalink

    Re: [1] The busted link has been fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. By Chai
    June 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm | permalink

    At the end of the BOE’s June 4th meeting they stressed that Mr. Allen’s report that night was the ‘first briefing’ and therefore not actionable until at least the ‘second briefing’ which they then scheduled for the next, June 9th meeting. However, on April 28th Dr. Roberts gave us the official ‘first briefing’ on county-wide consolidation. It was to be voted upon at the next meeting (May 12th) but was yanked from the agenda just hours before the meeting was to start. The issue hung in limbo through the May 26th meeting. On or about May 27th the AAPS informed the union that it had 11 days (until June 8th) to offer a counter-bid against the WISD’s plan. They are obliged by law to do so (under PERA). On the same day, the Board of Ed scheduled the extra BOE meeting for June 4th, the night of the second official ‘first briefing.’
    The union began working on a counter-bid June 1st. It is still incomplete, mainly in terms of health insurance details (the union approached Health Alliance Plan for a package). Administrators were eager to reject the union’s incomplete bid, but by law, it seems they have to allow the union time to gather it’s information and prepare it’s case. They initially tried to reject it, but upon objection from the union agreed to wait for numbers from HAP. At the June 9th meeting, trustees did ask the WISD to amend it’s contract particularly in terms of lowering supervisory pay scales, but the Drivers/Monitors counter-bid seems to be the major reason for what will have to be the last delay on this decision.

  4. By gus
    June 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm | permalink

    Did they have the meeting about bus consolidation and did it pass?

  5. By Chai
    June 24, 2010 at 8:10 am | permalink

    @gus Last night was the meeting. David Jesse covered it for a2news, but only reported on the teachers contract. It was on the agenda, but I don’t know what happened.

  6. By Jennifer Coffman
    June 24, 2010 at 11:21 am | permalink

    The proposal to consolidate transportation services was on last night’s Board agenda, and did pass unanimously.

  7. June 24, 2010 at 11:51 am | permalink

    Well, there is a school board election this fall, and there are a lot of seats up for election. If you’re unhappy with this decision (which I am), I hope you will join me in voting for some new school board members. I don’t know who will be running, but there is an informational session on Wednesday June 30th at 5:30 p.m.