AAPS Board Sets 2011-12 Budget

Class sizes increased, bus service modified

The 2011-12 Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) budget, approved by the board of education on June 8, will cut 62.3 teaching positions, modify bus service to high school students, and require the use of $810,000 of the district’s fund balance.

The $183 million budget went through many iterations since originally proposed in April, before the board approved it on Wednesday evening on a 5-2 vote. Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Christine Stead dissented.

Details on the board deliberations that led to the split vote on the budget will be included in The Chronicle’s forthcoming meeting report, along with the other board business transacted that evening.

This brief highlights the key elements of the approved budget.

Instructional Staff Reductions and Associated Impacts

The new budget will decrease the number of teaching positions by 62.3, which will save the district $5.6 million, but cause an increase of class sizes of approximately two to three students per classroom across the district. Class size targets will be 23-25 students in grades K-2, 26-30 students in grades 3-5, and an average of 30 students in grades 6-12.

The original budget proposal brought to the board in April suggested cuts to 70 teaching positions, but at a study session on the budget held last week, administrators suggested adding back 7.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The rationale for adding those positions was primarily to address some “uncomfortably high” class sizes and multi-grade classes in early grades, according to Lee-Ann Dickinson-Kelley, AAPS interim deputy superintendent of instruction.

Assistant superintendent of secondary schools, Joyce Hunter, explained at Wednesday’s meeting that the reduction of approximately 48 secondary level FTEs will impact the number of course offerings.  For example, she said, classes with lower enrollment, such as higher-level world languages, will be offered at a single location instead of at each high school. Trustees suggested making use of distance learning technology, instead of shuttling, to ensure that all students are able to take advantage of these consolidated classes.

Dickinson-Kelley reminded the board that “staffing is an enormously complex process,” and that class enrollment can change dramatically over the summer.

Other cuts to instructional services included a reduction of seven administrative and central office FTEs, for additional savings of $600,000.

Transportation Service Reductions

The budget passed this week will significantly modify bus service offered by the district, for a total savings in transportation costs of $1.3 million.  The largest change will come in high school busing: Instead of being picked up at traditional bus stops, high school students will be picked up at a fewer number of centralized pick-up points throughout the district.

Most of these common pick-up sites will be elementary schools, which are concentrated primarily in the center of the AAPS district area.  A small number of common pick-up sites might be added in areas of the district where there are concentrated numbers of high school students who live too far out to walk to the nearest elementary school pick-up site.

Liz Margolis, AAPS director of communications, said Wednesday that routes would be set by the end of July, and that families will be notified of the transportation service changes as soon as possible.

The approved budget also eliminates 7th hour busing at the high schools, eliminates after-school shuttles at the middle schools, and requires consistent implementation of board policy on distances between bus stops.

Other cuts to operations include the elimination of 3.75 FTEs in information technology, human resources and support positions, and a reduction of maintenance costs, legal fees, and gas costs, for an additional savings of $660,000.

Changes in Revenue

District interim superintendent Robert Allen reported at Wednesday’s meeting that AAPS had attracted only 130 additional students through Schools of Choice (SOC) instead of the targeted number of 170. That lowered revenue by $300,000.  However, Allen noted that enrollment numbers could still increase, and pointed out that during the last two weeks of August last year, over 160 students joined the district.

Allen also pointed out that the budget had been adjusted to include a one-time disbursement of $2.4 million in aid from the state to the district to offset the state-mandated increase in employer retirement contributions.

Parking fees will also bring the district an additional $100,000 in revenue this coming year – fans choosing to park at Pioneer High School to attend University of Michigan football games will be charged $40 instead of $35.

Decreases in Wages and Benefits

Savings in wages and benefits totaling $2.6 million were part of the budget as originally proposed, and saw no amendments during the budget deliberation process on Wednesday.  Those savings include negotiated freezes in teacher pay, savings in health care costs, and reductions in supplemental pay for after-school activities.

District-Wide Reductions

All AAPS departments were instructed to cut 7% of their budgets without entirely eliminating any program, for a total savings of $500,000.

Two former students spoke during public commentary at Wednesday’s meeting to ask the board to maintain funding of  the district’s creative writing program, as well as to continue the support it offers to the literary arts programs of the Neutral Zone, a local teen center.

Allen confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting that while the district will continue to support a number of initiatives through the superintendent’s account or other discretionary budgets, the support will be at a lower level.

There was no discussion on other remaining district-wide savings measures totaling nearly $1.4 million, which include reducing noon-hour supervision and substitute costs, and lowering building and athletics budgets.

Fund Balance

Though board policy requires AAPS to maintain a fund balance equal to at least 15% of its operating budget, again next year the district is projecting a fund balance below that target .

The projected beginning balance of the district’s fund equity next year is $19.6 million.  The initial budget proposal called for using $1.73 million in fund equity during the next school year to supplement revenue.  However, the budget as eventually approved is projected to use only $810,000 in fund equity, keeping it just above $19 million, or 10.4% of the budget, at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

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