AAPS Recalls Teachers, Lays Off Bus Drivers

Teacher contract approved, transportation contracted to WISD

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (June 23, 2010): After an hour-long recess trying to wait out a tornado warning, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education conducted the last hour and 15 minutes of its Wednesday meeting in the basement of the downtown library. During its basement session, the board postponed three information items due to the storm, and moved directly to the action items on its agenda.


Board secretary Amy Osinski, center, and board president Deb Mexicotte, assessing the storm to determine how long to recess their meeting. Board secretary Glenn Nelson looks on from the right. (Photos by the writer.)

The board recalled all 191 laid-off teachers via the ratification of a new teacher contract, and authorized the layoffs of the entire AAPS transportation staff by contracting with Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) to provide the district’s busing. AAPS bus drivers and other transportation staff can  apply to WISD for jobs.

The board also renewed the district’s food service contract with Chartwells, received an update from state Rep. Pam Byrnes on Michigan’s Race to the Top efforts, and heard a report from The Neutral Zone’s Riot Youth on school climate as experienced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQQ) youth.

Severe Weather, Agenda Amended

Since Wednesday’s meeting was the last one of the 2009-10 school year, there were no first briefing items. That split the meeting’s planned agenda neatly into two parts – information items, followed by action items. However, just over two hours into the meeting, in the middle of a presentation by David Duggar on the Early College Alliance, a tornado warning was issued, and everyone in the downtown library was escorted to the basement.

Once downstairs, it was quickly decided – through numerous, brief discussions among small groups of board members, AAPS staff, and superintendent Todd Roberts – to postpone the rest of Duggar’s presentation, along with the rest of the “information items” portion of the agenda, including the high school updates from Huron and Pioneer staff. At that point, many of the presenters left, and board president Deb Mexicotte said the plan was to wait out the tornado warning, and return to the boardroom – where the meeting is televised on Community Television Network – to finish the “action items” portion of the meeting.

However, after an hour of waiting, when the warning was extended another hour, the board set up a meeting area and went ahead with their meeting in the basement.

Once reconvened, Roberts explained that Duggar would return in August to continue discussing the Early College Alliance (ECA), a program at Eastern Michigan University that allows students to earn college and high school credit simultaneously. AAPS is being offered 25 slots in the ECA @ EMU program for the 2011-12 school year, and the board has until September 2010 to decide whether or not to participate. Mexicotte suggested that preparation for the Compass Test, a placement test at Washtenaw Community College, could be incorporated into the ECA, and said of the program, “it could be a match made in heaven.”

Regarding the high school update, Roberts said the Pioneer and Huron staff members would return to make their presentation in August or early September. Mexicotte noted that many people have expressed interest in seeing the results of the high school climate survey, which were going to be presented as part of the high school update. She asked whether the board would be amenable to posting the school climate survey results before the full update is given to the board.

Roberts suggested that it would be better to wait until after the board hears the full presentation, when high school administrators and teachers will have a chance to share their plan for using the data along with the results. Mexicotte withdrew her request, and agreed to hold the survey results until the board hears the full high school update.

Roberts also skipped giving what would have been his final 2009-10 superintendent’s report, and the board continued on to the second briefing and action items.

Teacher Contract Ratified, Laid-Off Teachers Called Back

Roberts introduced the tentative agreement (TA) to be considered by the board. Saying he would be neither as lengthy nor as eloquent as Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) president Brit Satchwell had been earlier in the meeting, Roberts began by defining the goal of the bargaining teams: maintaining high-quality academic programs while keeping jobs.

Roberts said he appreciated teachers as well as other employee groups “stepping up,” and said that, if approved, the agreement with AAEA would mean the district would not have to enact part two of its budget, which would have reduced an additional 39 teaching positions in the district. He stated, “I think this agreement sets up a way that we can deal with the … structural deficit in an ongoing, planful kind of way … I think it’s a good agreement, and I want to congratulate our negotiating team. The agreement is in the best interest of our kids and helps us preserve our newest teachers.”

Tentative Agreement: AAEA Comments

As Roberts mentioned, Satchwell had given a lengthy report on the contract during the association reports earlier in the meeting. He reported that the AAEA members ratified the tentative agreement by a 4 to 1 ratio, and that the trustees were briefed on the details and rationale behind details in executive session before the meeting. It was a lot of work, Satchwell said, and he thanked both bargaining teams for conducting themselves professionally during very difficult circumstances.

Different perspectives, Satchwell said, were merged into service for common goals, which he defined as: the maintenance and advancement of quality instructional programs for all students; the maintenance and advancement of terms of employment for staff; and the maintenance and advancement of the district’s ability to honor the first two goals.

Satchwell argued that the contract achieved student learning, the welfare of staff, and sustainable finances. The ability of AAPS to cope as well as it has with an outdated state funding structure, he continued, has been due to good planning and cooperative sacrifice. Calling the contract full of “balanced and intelligent solutions,” Satchwell thanked AAEA members who were not on the bargaining team, noting that they had only two days to absorb, reflect, question, and debate the contract – all during the last week of school. That AAEA members could focus attention on the tentative agreement last week, he said, was amazing.

Satchwell also thanked the public for its patience. Both bargaining teams, he said, put students first by being “deliberately surgical,” and not employing a “meat cleaver approach.” He thanked central administration for proposing cuts that made AAEA members think about how they could help, for taking personal cuts themselves, and for setting the stage for productive negotiations. If the contract passed, he said, it would be posted on the AAEA website.

Lastly, Satchwell said, he wanted to prepare the public for reading the contract. He urged everyone not to look for concessions or gains for one side or another, and to be mindful that the reasons for many aspects of the contract are related. “Don’t read it with a closed mind,” he implored. “There are aspects of this TA that have never appeared in any contract in the state.”

Translating the contract in to winners or losers, Satchwell said, “will mean you missed the whole point of collective bargaining.” He summarized: “Teachers are giving financial concessions over the next few years, and will reap gains when the district’s financial crisis abates. This agreement allows us to plan and to teach.”

Tentative Agreement: Summary of Content

A summary of the tentative agreement approved by AAEA members was presented to the board by the following AAPS staff: Dave Comsa, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services; Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations; Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, administrator for elementary education; Cynthia Ryan, director of human resources; and Alice Chamberlain, assistant director of employment services.

aaps tornado meeting

Presenting the TA (left to right): Dave Comsa, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services; Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations.

The presentation of the summary below is in chronological order, with board members’ questions and comments about each section included in the same section: language changes, elementary changes and specials; memoranda of understanding (MOAs) – general; MOAs – financial; financial package; revenue allocation formula; and calendar.

Tentative Agreement Summary: Language Changes

Comsa began by listing language changes made to the contract regarding affirmative action, reimbursement of unemployment, evening conferences, and school meetings. He noted that these changes are necessary either to comply with new constitutional amendments, or to reflect actual practice.

Tentative Agreement Summary: Elementary Changes, Specials

Dickinson-Kelley presented changes affecting elementary school teachers, which she described as “minor changes to reporting and supervision language.” Elementary teachers’ morning reporting time will be reduced from 20 to 15 minutes before the start of the school day, she said. The presentation pointed out that the building safety plan will be deleted but maintained in two other sections of the contract. Dickinson-Kelley asserted that the “students will still be monitored.”

Dickinson-Kelley also explained a provision to end the “banking” of specials time, which she described as a change in the end-of-year date for special area classes – art, music, physical education, information literacy/technology, and Spanish (grades 3 and up). Up until now, she said, specials have ended two weeks early, but the new contract will have them – and their associated planning time for classroom teachers – continue through the last full day of school.

Dickinson-Kelley also pointed out that planning time was increased by two minutes, and that media specialist contact time (with students) was increased to that of other specials – to 1,440 minutes, up from 1,250 minutes.

Lastly, Dickinson-Kelley highlighted changes to the monitoring of students learning English as a Second Language (ESL) to allow ESL teachers to monitor five students in addition to the 75 students they have on their caseloads. The rationale for this monitoring, she offered, was that most students pass out of Title 3 eligibility (the law that requires districts to offer ESL services) before they are fully competent in English.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked for clarification about the difference between receiving ESL services, and being “monitored” by an ESL teacher. Dickinson-Kelley explained that students move through four levels of ESL services – beginner, low intermediate, high intermediate, and proficient. Once a student reaches the proficiency level, she said, ESL services are discontinued, even though research indicates that this could be premature.

The new contract provision, Dickinson-Kelley reiterated, would allow each ESL teacher to  serve 75 students directly, while monitoring five students who have achieved proficiency to prevent them from “sliding back.” Baskett asked if students who are being monitored can then be offered help if they are found to be slipping. Dickinson-Kelley said yes, suggesting that one way might be for the ESL teacher to work with the student’s classroom teacher to modify lessons.

Tentative Agreement Summary: MOAs – General

Ryan and Comsa presented updated memoranda of understanding (MOAs) that would be part of the new contract. First, Ryan said, timelines were set to transition to a teacher evaluation process. In 2010-11, the framework for evaluation will be expanded, principals will be trained, and teachers can volunteer to be evaluated with the new tool. This process will be expanded in 2011-12, she continued, and be fully adopted by all teachers in 2012-13.

Comsa reported on an MOA to collaborate on developing alternative methods of compensation, commonly known as “merit pay.” He mentioned that the administration will be evaluating such a system used in Oscoda, Mich., and that the plan is to implement a new compensation system in AAPS by 2011-12.

Comsa also highlighted an MOA calling on the district and the AAEA to create a joint RFP with other employee groups to explore options for tax-exempt employee investment programs that might offer employees more variety.

Tentative Agreement Summary: MOAs – Financial

Chamberlain reviewed the financial MOAs in the tentative agreement. She began by saying that the media specialists would not “grieve” staffing adjustments – meaning that they will not file grievances about the change. Baskett asked Chamberlain to compare current staffing with that proposed by the contract. Chamberlain explained that Pioneer and Huron high schools currently have three media specialists and one clerk each, and that under the proposed contract, they would have only two media specialists and one clerk. Skyline will have one media specialist for 2010-11, and then move to the same configuration as Pioneer and Huron.

All middle schools, Chamberlain continued, will have one media specialist, whereas some now have an additional .5 FTE. And at the elementary level, Chamberlain said, media specialists will staff 150 minutes of open library per week. Baskett asked how the elementary libraries will be staffed, and Dickinson-Kelley answered that, in general, the media specialists will staff libraries within their 1,416 minutes of contact time. But she added that some schools may use parent volunteers or even share the responsibility among staff members.

Another MOA is that teachers will not grieve the assigning of student teachers, Chamberlain explained. Usually teachers are allowed to choose their own student teachers, but the student teachers from the University of Michigan and other universities who teach elementary Spanish are assigned directly to classroom teachers for supervision. Dickinson-Kelley added that the AAEA is very supportive of the world language apprentice teachers, and that both the AAEA and AAPS administration recognize the goal is ultimately to hire world language teachers when the economy improves.

Lastly, Chamberlain listed two more changes that the AAEA has agreed not to grieve: 1) that the counselors at the high schools will lose half of their secretarial staff – each school currently has two positions, but will reduce to one [each set of middle school counselors also has one secretary]; and 2), that elementary teacher clerk time will be reduced.

Tentative Agreement Summary: Financial Package

Allen described the part of the contract related to the financial package, which would be incremented by school year. In 2010-11, he said, this contract would save the district $4.34 million – $2.2 million in wages, $750,000 in step delays, a $90,000 reduction in supplemental pay, and $1.3 million in health care savings. Wages would be frozen, but all laid-off teachers would be called back. Allen noted that this was possible, in part, because of the 95 retirements in the district this year.

The wage reduction of $2.2 million would be achieved by having teachers work for 182 days, but only get paid for 178 days. Two of those four days would be given back to the teachers as personal business days in five years. Teachers usually receive four two personal business days per year, which cannot roll over from year to year. These bonus personal business days would be able to roll over, so each teacher could choose from one of three options after five years: take them as days off, have them paid out at the teacher’s daily rate, or save them to cash out at retirement at a higher daily rate.

Trustee Andy Thomas asked how the personal business days would be accounted for, or expensed. Allen answered that they would be run on the AAPS balance sheet as a liability, and as they are paid out, they will be expensed in that year. Board chair Deb Mexicotte asked if it was the expectation that all of the personal business day expenses would come due at once. Allen said that, after five years, when the two personal business days are added back to employees’ banks, AAEA members together can cash in no more than 150 personal business days per year.

Next, Allen explained the step delays. When hired by AAPS, teachers are placed in columns on the salary schedule according to the degrees and graduate credits they hold. For the first 10 years of a teacher’s employment, each year they go up one “step” on the schedule within their column, and move across columns as they gain additional schooling. This new contract would delay the step movement by 3/4 of a year in 2010-11, saving the district $750,000, and freeze the salary schedule at its current rates.

The remaining savings in 2010-11, Allen said, would come from reducing Appendix V supplemental pay – the pay teachers make for coaching, advising clubs, etc. – by 5% across the board, totaling $90,000; and from freezing the maximum health care premium amount that the district will pay for each teacher at the 2009-10 amount. This premium amount of $12,582 would cover a Priority Health HMO or Blue Care Network HMO. If a teacher wanted a more expensive health insurance plan, they would have to pay the difference.

library basement

During the tornado warning, the board reconvened on the lower level of the library. From left to right: Superintendent Todd Roberts, and trustees Simone Lightfoot, Deb Mexicotte, Irene Patalan, Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, Andy Thomas, and Susan Baskett.

In 2011-12, Allen continued, this contract would save the district an additional $1.02 million. In that year, the district has committed to limit layoffs, but will still delay step increases by 3/4 of a year (for $750,000 of savings), and decrease supplemental pay by $265,000. The 2011-12 reductions in supplemental pay will be more directed, Allen said, with some categories increasing and others decreasing.

Nelson asked Allen to clarify exactly when the step movement would occur over the next three years. Allen gave the following example. For a teacher on Step 1 this year, in 2010-11, that teacher would move to Step 2 at 3/4 of the way through the school year. Since the district would know in advance, the employee’s paycheck would be the same all year, reflecting 25% of the Step 2 increase. Then, that teacher would move to Step 3 at 3/4 of the way through the 2011-12 school year. Again, the employee’s paychecks would be set for the year to reflect receipt of 25% of the step increase. Finally, Allen concluded, the 2012-13 school year would return to the usual practice, with the example teacher moving to Step 4 at the beginning of the school year.

Tentative Agreement Summary: Revenue Allocation Formula

The most inventive piece of this contract is the revenue sharing formula, Allen explained. Beginning in 2010-11, as soon as the district’s fund equity balance returns to at least 10% of the general fund, as determined by the annual audit report (usually available in November of the following fiscal year), a revenue allocation formula kicks in. Revenue would be paid back to the AAEA according to the pre-determined formula until the AAEA has received $4.5 million back from the district.

The formula as presented starts with the total general fund revenues, subtracts any increase in the state retirement contribution, and any gifts or donations made to AAPS, and allocates the balance in the following way: 25% would be allocated back to the district’s fund equity, and “the remaining 75% would be allocated to the AAEA group based on their percentage of the total cost of all employee groups,” currently approximately 70%. The remaining portion of the 75% would be allocated according to the administration’s discretion.

The AAEA’s allocations could be applied to off-set health care costs, added to the salary schedule, or paid back to teachers directly in an off-schedule payment, and would be determined by the AAEA in collaboration with AAPS.

Allen then described two other scenarios that could affect the bounds of the contract. If an annual audit reports the district’s fund balance as 15% or higher, the AAEA has requested to go back to the table and re-open bargaining. If, on the other hand, the district’s revenues fall by .5% or more [roughly $900,000], the contract could be voided by the district.

Thomas questioned the perpetual nature of the contract. Comsa confirmed that this contract, including the wage freeze, would continue in perpetuity until the AAEA recoups $4.5 million, unless one of the two scenarios described by Allen occurs – a fund balance of greater than 15% or a revenue drop of .5% or more.

Tentative Agreement Summary: Calendar

Comsa reported that the contract also provides for calendars through 2012-13, following the countywide calendar for winter and spring breaks. They preserve the February break, and the Wednesday off before Thanksgiving.

Tentative Agreement: Board Discussion

Nelson began the discussion, saying the fact that the teachers stepped up to help the district during this financial crisis should inspire the board to return the sentiment, by ratifying the TA and calling back all the teachers before next year’s budget is even set by the state. Nelson said that most businesses would probably see such a move as a risk.

Roberts agreed that the TA should be passed, but countered Nelson’s assertion that it was risky from the district’s perspective.  “The budget we adopted planned for the worst,” he said, noting that the budget could withstand even a $268 per-pupil reduction to the foundation allowance. “From a financial stewardship plan,” he argued, “the board can feel comfortable that the district’s financial solvency next year will be even better than anticipated. Let’s get these teachers back to work!”

Nelson then noted that there was a date omission on page 13 of the contract, and Comsa confirmed it should read “2010-11.” [As of publication of this article, the contract has not been made public by either AAEA or AAPS.]

Thomas thanked both negotiating teams, saying that it was “remarkable that you were able to reach this tentative agreement” considering the amount of uncertainty. He added that he felt, though the agreement was “not perfect” and that he had some concerns about the contract getting AAPS where it needs to be by 2011-12, “this is the best we can expect to get.” Thomas also added that, assuming it’s ratified, it will be great to call back teachers and preserve fund equity.

Baskett offered simply, “Good job.”

Irene Patalan asserted, “This could have been disastrous. People could have been stubborn.” Saying other districts have a culture of disrespect between their administration and their teachers’ unions, she noted, “I’m proud of this.”

Mexicotte offered, “It strikes me as a leap of faith on both our parts – this is astonishing to me. An ‘in perpetuity’ contract – unprecedented, historic!” Then, rhetorically, she asked, “Where else has this been done?” and added wryly, “I hope in a couple of years we don’t find out why no one has done this.” She concluded, “I am thrilled with the innovation as well as the partnership.”

Outcome: The resolution was moved by Christine Stead, seconded by Patalan, and approved unanimously in a roll call vote.

Tentative Agreement: Notice of Recall

Mexicotte then read the resolution recalling all teachers who had been laid off for the 2010-11 school year, effective immediately. The resolution stated that although staff had been reduced for economic reasons, the negotiation of a successful master agreement between AAPS and the teachers’ union allows the district “to rescind the previous layoff action and … recall all laid-off teachers.”

Nelson said, “I’m so proud of the whole community, and that we were able to do this. I’m so relieved, and so thankful for the students and staff.”

Outcome: The resolution was moved by Patalan, seconded by Stead, and approved unanimously in a roll call vote.

AAPS Outsources Transportation Services to WISD

Superintendent Todd Roberts introduced this item, noting that voting for this contract – which was reviewed before the meeting by board members in executive session – would move AAPS forward, along with four other districts, into a fully consolidated transportation consortium run by the WISD. [Chronicle coverage: "AAPS Busing Decision Coming June 23"] He clarified that, if the contract was approved, all AAPS transportation employees would be laid off, and be allowed to apply to the specific transportation entity within the WISD.

Roberts then noted that joining the consortium would save AAPS $1.2 million next year, while maintaining the same general education routes during the 2010-11 school year. He also mentioned that there had been one modification to the proposed plan since the briefing on June 9. Four salary ranges on the administrative salary schedule – the assistant director of operations, the bus driver supervisor/trainers, the fleet manager, and the assistant director of dispatch – were broadened to lower the minimal possible salary paid for those positions.

Dave Comsa, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, then addressed the board, saying that a reasonable bid had not been received from the district’s transportation bargaining unit. The Teamsters union, he said, had submitted a bid for monitors and drivers, but not supervisors, and their bid was contingent on the board ratifying it before their members would. Comsa asserted that the district had met its requirement to solicit bids from employee groups whose jobs were up for consolidation. No one representing the union was present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Board treasurer Christine Stead asked how communications would be handled with current employees if the board decided to move forward with the consolidation. In particular, she asked how the WISD application process would be made clear and easy for them. Comsa answered that if the board approved the contract, AAPS would include information on applying to the WISD with the layoff notices, which would be sent out immediately.

Stead also asked if AAPS would provide support to those employees being laid off who might not have internet access – the WISD application process is entirely online. Comsa said yes, there would be a kiosk set up at the Balas administration building that the transportation staff could use to apply. He added that AAPS staff would offer support to anyone who needed help completing the application. Roberts also noted that WISD has similar computer terminals set up where transportation staff could complete the application on-site.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot asked whether managers and supervisors applying for WISD positions would have to undergo the same kind of background checks as bus drivers, such as review of attendance records. Comsa answered that yes, each applicant would sign a release to allow the WISD access to their AAPS employee file. All WISD applicants will also need to be fingerprinted, and checked in I-CHAT, the state’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool.

Trustees Lightfoot, Susan Baskett, and Andy Thomas all questioned the degree to which the new salary ranges proposed on the WISD administrative salary schedule truly addressed the concerns that had been raised at the last meeting. At that meeting, some trustees had indicated a strong preference that the salary ranges for administrators of the new transportation entity be lowered, and pointed out that many administrators hired by the new system would be getting raises, while bus drivers would be taking a significant cut to pay and benefits.

Baskett asked why the pay ranges had only been adjusted for four of the administrative positions and not all of them. Roberts answered that, based on the application window for some positions having already closed, the new pay ranges would have had minimums less than any applicants were currently earning. And, he added, the WISD did not think they would be able to find qualified people for those positions for less than what they offered. Baskett responded, “I think that’s a weak argument … We’re asking our drivers to take a cut.”

Lightfoot asked why the top ends of the salary ranges were not amended, only the minimums. Shonta Langford-Green, AAPS assistant director of compensation/benefits administration, answered that those were the only amendments she had received from the WISD. Lightfoot pressed on, asking how a change to only the minimum end of the salary range was really a change at all. Roberts answered that now the WISD could hire people for a lower rate, and that he suspected the WISD would now be hoping to hire someone at that minimum end of the range.

Thomas noted that some proposed WISD salaries were still significantly higher than what the district is currently paying people in similar positions, as well as higher than the salaries proposed by the privatization bid considered earlier by the district.

Mexicotte reminded the trustees, “What we have before us is the administration’s recommendation.” She said that though the board had looked at bids from private companies in the past, that is not the current recommendation being considered. Deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen confirmed that the recommendation of the administration is to join the WISD consortium.

Outcome: Secretary Glenn Nelson requested removing the countywide transportation consolidation from the consent agenda. Standing independently, the resolution was then moved by Nelson, seconded by Thomas, and, without any further discussion, approved unanimously in a roll call vote.

Consent Agenda Approved

The consent agenda, as read by board secretary Amy Osinski, contained three items briefed at the June 9 meeting: renewal of the district’s food service contract with Chartwells, the renewal of AAPS membership in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), and the temporary re-authorization of four board policies. Of these, only the food service contract prompted further discussion by the board.

Baskett asked if the administration could do its annual evaluation of Chartwells earlier in the year so that the information would be available in writing for board review before the annual contract review. Allen said yes, and that he had provided information to the board based on questions they had from the June 9 meeting. Lightfoot thanked Allen for providing the information she had requested regarding the nutritional value of school meals, and asked if the public would be given the same information. Allen responded that he “didn’t want to add another presentation to the meeting,” and said he would be bringing a PowerPoint in August so the whole community could be updated on Chartwells service to the district.

Regarding the policy re-authorizations, Mexicotte confirmed that vice president Irene Patalan and Baskett were requesting the policies be extended until Dec. 31, 2010. There was no discussion on the MHSAA membership renewal.

In addition, the consent agenda included three sets of minutes, and approval of a set of gifts donated to AAPS.

Outcome: The consent agenda was moved by Patalan, seconded by Nelson, and unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Stead, Baskett, and Thomas.

Auditors Appointed

Allen introduced this item, which was simply a request for the board’s approval of Plante & Moran to perform the annual audit for 2009-10. Allen said the firm has been auditing the district for the past six years.

Mexicotte asked if there was any requirement to change auditors or put out an RFP (request for proposals) for their services. Allen said it would be a good idea to solicit bids next year, but that there was too much going on this year. Nelson pointed out that, though Plante & Moran has audited the district for the past six years, they have appointed different individuals to AAPS each year, so “they have no interest in getting wrapped up” in the district.

Thomas said, “I hate to bring up problems where problems don’t exist,” but went on to point out that a great deal will depend on the figures that come out of the auditors’ report. He asked Allen if there had ever been an instance where the auditors have come back and asked AAPS to change an element of its financial reporting. Allen answered that the auditors have never suggested a “material” change, and that there have not been any major “audit adjustments” since he has been at AAPS the last four years.

Mexicotte said she would like to be clear that there was an understanding that AAPS would plan to go through an RFP process when choosing an auditor next year, even though the district has been happy with the services provided by Plante & Moran. Allen agreed, but noted, “Plante & Moran might still win the bid.”

Outcome: The proposal to appoint Plante & Moran to conduct the AAPS fiscal year 2009-10 audit was moved by Patalan, seconded by Nelson, and unanimously approved by trustees Nelson, Mexicotte, Lightfoot, Patalan, Stead, Baskett, and Thomas.

Board Committee Reports

Performance Committee

Baskett reported that the performance committee met June 10, and welcomed the newest trustee, Andy Thomas, to the committee. She mentioned that the committee reviewed the AAPS newsletter and website. Baskett noted that although the next committee meeting was not yet scheduled, they hoped to meet over the summer to address policies.

Planning Committee

Patalan reported that the planning committee met on June 16 – a meeting The Chronicle also attended – and had three items on its agenda. First, she said, the committee discussed conducting a survey to ask for feedback from historically-underutilized businesses (HUBs) regarding their participation in AAPS bid projects. The survey would ask HUBs if they attended the mixer held during the bond process, if they’ve bid on projects, and why. Patalan reported that the planning committee will look at data gleaned from the survey to determine possible next steps. The goal, she said, is to increase the number of HUBs that bid on AAPS projects.

Next, Patalan mentioned that the committee was presented with a written report on the achievement gap meeting held at Mitchell Elementary. [Chronicle coverage: "Schools: Achievement Gap or Equity Gap?"] She noted that the committee discussed how having a user-friendly grid or document about the district’s efforts to close the achievement gap could be helpful, but that she wanted to make sure the whole board was part of that conversation.

Lastly, Patalan said, the planning committee had discussed the need to evaluate the customer service of the new busing consolidation, if the board voted to move in that direction. She then closed her report, saying the committee did not have further meetings scheduled for this school year.

Lightfoot added to Patalan’s report, clarifying that at the committee meeting, Todd Roberts did commit to creating an actual plan to close the achievement gap, in which all of the variables and strategies would be included. Stead added that she was also at the committee meeting, and countered, “We do have very detailed plans in place around the achievement gap. What we’ve all been talking about is how we can better communicate that. That is a very important, pervasive part of what we do. As we’ve looked into this, I’ve been very impressed with what’s in place. We will do a better job of telling the public what’s in place.”

Based on The Chronicle’s observations at the June 16 committee meeting, there appear to be differences in perception among members of the board about whether or not the district has a clear plan for reducing the achievement gap.

At that meeting, Roberts explained that the strategies for closing the achievement gap are embedded in the district’s strategic plan, the district school improvement plan, and the building school improvement plans. Lightfoot requested that the strategies be aligned in a single document specific to closing the achievement gap, which would also incorporate the suggestions for action she compiled from school and community leaders who attended the Mitchell achievement gap meeting. Roberts agreed to produce such a document and present it for review by the board at its retreat on July 23.

Association Reports

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard from three of its associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (reported above). The Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), and the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA) are also invited to make regular reports to the board, but none of their representatives attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Youth Senate Report

Aoxue Tang gave the Youth Senate report at Wednesday’s meeting. She is a “rising junior” at Pioneer, she said, and has contributed as a writer of Youth Senate reports this year. She thanked the board for its continuing support of the Youth Senate, and began by stating that “this has been another successful year” in AAPS.

Tang then moved on to advocate for the board to address both the achievement gap, as well as the “education gap,” which she said is leading to “a slow but steady decline in U.S. competitiveness.” She encouraged AAPS to be a leader, setting an example of how to succeed in the 21st century both by raising standards, but also by raising the “quality and individual access to education resources.”

Lastly, Tang drew board members’ attention to a profile of the Achievement Solutions Teams (AST) attached to her report. AST is an academic peer coaching program in place at Pioneer and Huron high schools that has had success in raising “on average, 75% of students’ failing grades to passing grades.”

Mexicotte thanked Tang for the report and noted that it was nice to meet one of the writers from behind the scenes.

AAPAC Report

The AAPAC report was presented by co-chair Johanna Mabry, who began by discussing the experience of two of her children with special education services – one who battled leukemia, but attended school often, even with a compromised immune system, and another who was born with an unexpected, undefined genetic syndrome, and who has been served by Early On as well as Student Intervention and Support Services. In both cases, Mabry praised the care her children had received. She also mentioned that her children’s family is a “lesbian-run” family, and that the district needs to be aware of serving lesbian parents as well as LGBTQQ students in the district.

Mabry then introduced the other AAPAC officers present at the meeting – Melany Raubolt, Barb Byers, and Jen Mamer. She thanked Roberts, and recently retired Student Intervention and Support Services administrator Larry Simpson for their leadership, and the board for honoring rights of children with special needs. Mabry noted the following “positive outcomes” of the 2009-10 school year: improved customer service regarding timing of buses; successful implementation of peer mentoring and adaptive physical education classes; and running disability awareness workshops at almost every elementary school. AAPAC, she said, is eager to partner with a new director, and to make connections with the new board trustees. Its regular meetings will resume in October.

Riot Youth Present Climate Survey Data

The board heard from members of Riot Youth, a program of the Neutral Zone that provides support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQQ) youth, and assists them to improve their school and community climates. They discussed the results of a school climate survey conducted from 2007 through 2009 at four AAPS high schools – Community, Huron, Pioneer, and Stone. A total of 1,102 students took the survey, and 9.5% identified themselves as LGBTQQ.

Six students from Riot Youth shared pieces of the survey data with the board, which was also presented with a 50-page color report of the findings. Among other findings, the survey reported the following:

  • Students “often” hear language derogatory to LGBTQQ individuals, most abundantly in school hallways, but also in other parts of the school building;
  • LGBTQQ students feel significantly less safe than their straight peers, and LGBTQQ students of color are significantly likely to feel less safe than white LGBTQQ students;
  • LGBTQQ youth are significantly less likely than their straight peers to feel comfortable discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with authority figures such as teachers, counselors, and administrators; and
  • LGBTQQ characters, LGBTQQ history, and LGBTQQ health-related issues are rarely addressed by AAPS curricula.

Students made the following recommendations to the board:

  • Include protection for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in board anti-discrimination policies;
  • Update curricula to include LGBTQQ authors in literature classes, LGBTQQ history in history classes, and LGBTQQ health issues in health classes;
  • Create “safe spaces” so LBGTQQ students can easily identify allies in the school environment; and
  • Incorporate the climate survey into theater to broaden the attention paid to the issue, and to prompt youth-to-youth dialogue.

Thomas thanked the students, and their advisor Laura Wernick, for their courage and initiative. He also said he was surprised and concerned that students don’t feel comfortable talking about these issues with counselors and teachers.

One student responded that she heard a counselor suggest to an LGBTQQ student that he “wait in the classroom after the bell rang and avoid the hallway.” Another student pointed out, “You don’t know if someone is supportive until you talk to them.” And a third added, “When students are harassed, the teachers don’t say anything.”

Thomas asked about the origin of the name “Riot Youth.” Wernick stated that Riot Youth started 12 years ago. She noted that the Neutral Zone is a youth-run center, and that the youth at Neutral Zone at the time chose the name.

Nelson expressed great appreciation for the quality of the work, describing it as “a massive undertaking for which we’re all better off.” He then asked, “If I was an adult in a school, how might I signal my acceptance – that I respect diversity?”

One student answered, saying that there is a “Safe Space” sticker in production that school staff could put on their doors or in their offices. It would also make a really big difference, she said, if teachers would step in when they hear “That’s so gay!” or “No homo!” The student continued, suggesting that teachers could actually use LGBTQQ examples, such as in math class when they are discussing tax rates, they could start with, “Marita and Ashley want to buy a home.”

Patalan noted that she was impressed with Riot Youth’s attention to all people, no matter who they are. “I’m proud of you,” she said. “Thank you for doing this.”

“Thank you for listening to us,” returned a student.

Mexicotte said she sees this issue as something the board needs to “keep its eyes on.” She requested that the performance committee review the Riot Youth suggestions in the fall, and bring recommendations back to the full board by December 2010, stating, “We want our students to feel safe and welcomed.”

Pam Byrnes on RTTT

State representative Pam Byrnes spoke to the board about the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competition, for which Michigan resubmitted an application on May 27 to be considered for a $400 million grant in round two of the program’s funding. She noted that Michigan’s first application did not show a good collaborative effort, but that its second bid included much wider support.

Byrnes then described the four core areas of reform that RTTT is designed to encourage.

First, she said, RTTT aims to increase academic standards, which Michigan has done by implementing the Michigan Merit Curriculum and reworking its graduation requirements.

Secondly, the state board of education is developing a certification for school administrators, and requiring teacher evaluations to be based on job performance to meet RTTT’s requirement of recruiting and maintaining effective staff. The state board is also developing alternative routes to teacher certification to meet this goal.

Thirdly, the RTTT program wants to help states develop sophisticated data tracking systems. Byrnes explained that, should Michigan win the funding, a large proportion of the money would be used to shore up the state’s Center for Education Performance and Information (CEPI) database.

Lastly, she explained that the federal government is using RTTT to turn around Michigan’s lowest-performing schools. The legislative provisions adopted in Michigan in support of RTTT also increase the allowance of charter schools in the state, as well as two cyber schools, Byrnes noted.

Nelson said he appreciated Byrnes visit, and mentioned that the board had passed a resolution at its last  meeting supporting use of the School Aid fund solely for funding pre-K through 12th grade education. He added that the 2004-05 school year was the last time per-pupil funding was less than the most optimistic figure coming out of Lansing, and asserted that it was unreasonable for legislators to talk about the School Aid fund as having a surplus. Byrnes said she agreed with Nelson, but that there was not agreement in Lansing.

Lightfoot questioned how the legislative changes made at the state level could be implemented without resources, if Michigan does not win a second round of funding. Byrnes assured the board, “The staff required for this is in the budget – $2 million, 14 FTE … I think you’re going to see a lot of help from the state.”

Lightfoot, Stead, and Mexicotte all expressed frustration with the legislative provisions allowing for, as Lightfoot called it, “the proliferation of charter schools.”

Stead pointed out how heavily the districts are competing for students, and Mexicotte asked, “What can we do to put charter schools where they are needed the most, and remove them from districts performing the same or better?”

Byrnes said the idea behind allowing more charter schools was to help urban areas create alternatives for education. Approximately 250 charter schools are currently allowed in Michigan statewide.

Later in the meeting, as the “pre-comments” to his comments during association reports, Ann Arbor Education Association president Brit Satchwell thanked the trustees for their comments regarding charter schools. “We all value competition,” he said, “… but charter schools operate at an unfair advantage” in terms of enrollment and finances. Still, Satchwell said, he appreciated Byrnes coming, and noted that she “has been a friend of education.”

Public Commentary

Kathy Griswold spoke during public commentary about the Thurston Elementary driveway project. She pointed out that a recent letter signed by 30 parents admitted that the solution being implemented was “not ideal.” She asserted, “What concerns me is when we don’t use ideal solutions, we end up with the situation in the Gulf [the BP oil spill].” She argued that the pedestrian considerations at Huron and Skyline high schools were also rushed, and have had negative long-term consequences at those schools.

Griswold urged the board to make pedestrian traffic more than an afterthought, and asserted, “It’s critical that we get an ideal plan in place this summer.” She also urged the board to follow through on creating a crosswalk near King Elementary, and said the project “was stopped by [Ann Arbor city administrator] Roger Fraser,” despite support from the King school principal, the Transportation Safety Committee, and AAPS director of transportation Brad Mellor.

Agenda Planning

The two board members not up for re-election this fall, Nelson and Patalan, will hold an information session for prospective board candidates on Wed., June 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Balas Administration Building.  Nelson also noted that he and Patalan would be offering a similar session later in the summer as well, so that hopefully those interested in running could attend at least one of the two.

Mexicotte also announced that the board would hold an executive session at 7 p.m. on June 30, following the information session, for the formal superintendent evaluation. The next scheduled event after that is a day-long board retreat on Friday, July 23, for which the time and place have yet to be announced. The first regular meeting of the 2010-11 school year will be held on Aug. 18, 2010 at 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

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

Next meeting: Board retreat, July 23, 2010, time and place TBA.


  1. By Rod Johnson
    June 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    The Riot Youth kids are pretty terrific. It would have been great to have gotten their names into this.

  2. By Dan Ezekiel
    June 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm | permalink

    Great, comprehensive reporting, as usual! One small correction: AAPS teachers ordinarily receive two, not four, personal days per year. This year, they will receive four (two of which will be unpaid until at least five years from now).

  3. By Jennifer Coffman
    June 29, 2010 at 12:53 pm | permalink

    Thanks– Dan is correct.

    Teachers get 2 personal business days a year– not four. The new contract gives them two more days, which they cannot take or cash in for five years, and which will carry over from year to year, unlike the “regular” personal business days they already receive.

  4. By Dave Askins
    June 29, 2010 at 1:13 pm | permalink

    Rod: Here’s a link to the entire 50-page color report mentioned in the article, which the Riot Youth presented at the board meeting: [link]

  5. By Rod Johnson
    June 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm | permalink