AAPS Families Challenged By Busing Changes

New routes questioned based on equity, safety, decision process

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Sept. 14, 2011): The main topic of discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of the board of education was transportation, specifically cuts to bus service that the district has made this school year.

The full 45 minutes of public commentary time was used at the meeting, and it was almost exclusively devoted to the transportation. Public commentary was bookended by pleas from administrators to view the transportation cuts as necessary in the context of severe state funding decreases. Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green warned, “Although we have had a lot of pain, be aware that this is not the end of the budget reduction cycle.”

Later in the meeting, Brit Satchwell, president of the local teachers’ union, jettisoned the remarks he had prepared for his regular report to the board, and instead made an openly partisan, passionate speech echoing the outraged sentiment expressed during public commentary, and imploring the community to unify in opposition to Gov. Rick Snyder instead of blaming each other.

Describing Snyder as “the man whose finger hit the first domino,” Satchwell argued, “The Republicans have taken $1 billion from students and the elderly and turned it into corporate tax breaks … We are dealing with ideologues who will not compromise and will not be moved by facts … We have to step back and look at the source of the problem.”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved the district’s choice of auditors and financial institutions, and the recently ratified tentative agreement with the AAEA-P, the union representing the district’s paraprofessionals. It also reviewed two bids under consideration – one for the publishing of the Rec & Ed course catalog, and one for the contracting of therapeutic services needed to meet the needs of special education students. Both bids will return to the board for a second briefing and vote at its next meeting.

Busing Changes

As part of the 2011-12 budget, the district significantly reduced bus service by enforcing a 1.5-mile walk zone at all levels, eliminating 7th hour busing at the middle school level, and requiring high school students to meet at “common stops” instead of traditional, neighborhood bus stops.

A revised agenda approved at the beginning of the meeting added two items regarding transportation:  an update by AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, and a review of the budget process by AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen.

Green, anticipating the public commentary at the meeting, led off on the topic by reviewing some recent history from her perspective.

That was followed by public comment from fourteen people who addressed the board about the busing changes. Their concerns centered on four areas: safety, community engagement in the planning process, equity, and the connection between their tax dollars and services they feel should be provided. Many of them also commented on Green’s salary.

Mexicotte had opened public commentary with a brief review of the ground rules. She noted that the board will not enter into dialogue during public commentary, but will follow up with speakers afterward as needed.

Mexicotte also invited all present to stay after the comments to hear the presentation from Allen on the budget process and why AAPS is cutting services it previously was always able to provide.

After Allen’s presentation, the board discussed among themselves the issue of busing.

Busing Changes: Superintendent Reviews History

At the Sept. 14 meeting, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green opened the transportation discussion by reviewing how the district had gotten to this point. She began by acknowledging that the changes had “created considerable concern and angst,” but that they had been necessitated by serious reduction in state funding. Green also warned that the ongoing budget situation will cause a “continuing cycle of reductions.”

Green said that as the district’s budget was developed last year, there was a series of community meetings to gather input, and that cuts to transportation service were a major part of the discussion. Because of that discussion, she explained, $1.3 million was targeted for reduction, which would have eliminated all high school transportation. Later in the spring, she continued, the board decided to add back $300,000 to develop common stops for high school students, which were “considered to be drop-off and pick-up points, and not necessarily walkable,” she said.

Green then contended that parents may not have realized the implications: “Being so far out, it didn’t register [with parents] as a change of service. What also happened last spring, in June, was that communication went out through School Messenger, but at the end of the school year, we all know we’re not really thinking about September.”

Finally, she explained, “in August, when the stops and schedules came out, a spotlight was placed on [the changes].” She noted that the administration had a process in place to make route adjustments once the school year opened, but that the public was not aware of it.

Green defended the administration’s work, saying that AAPS staff had involved the police department, AATA, WISD supervisors, board members, and that they will continue to monitor the routes and walkways, making any necessary adjustments, such as adding buses or stops, and being sure walk routes get cleared when snow starts falling.

Noting that many people have made adjustments to their regular routines, Green thanked families for trying to “make a very difficult situation work the best that we can.” She asked for continued support, saying, “We are going to see continual changes down the road, and it is going to take the entire community to work together with each other and with us.”

Busing Changes: Public Commentary – Safety

Safety concerns mentioned included: crime rates and sex offenders near designated walk routes; a possible serial rapist currently un-apprehended in Ann Arbor; traffic jams caused by large numbers of parents driving kids to school; students being forced to sit three or four to a seat on buses; the darkness of roads and pathways on designated walk routes; and 1.5 miles being too far of a distance for 6-10 year-olds to walk in Michigan winter weather.

Busing Changes: Public Comment – Decision Process

Multiple speakers noted flaws in the district’s communication regarding the process followed, and requested to be more involved in the decision-making in the future. Patricia Byrd said, “I keep hoping you will understand that your communication was not done well. If it had been done well, people would have been here earlier.” Ahmar Iqbal, an AAPS parent and school board candidate, argued that some of Green’s comments about the district’s decision-making process “seem almost revisionist,” and that “the [community] engagement wasn’t there.”

Parent Patrice Bear concurred, adding, “This process is broken. This is chaos. The communication has numerous gaps. We have been ignored, neglected, and left out of the problem-solving. Until you reach a better solution,” said Bear, “I am requesting that you reinstate last year’s bus routes.”

Busing Changes: Public Comment – Equity

Danielle Thesinger, a Skyline 10th grader and daughter of a single parent, outlined her challenges in getting to her assigned common stop, which is two miles from her house. She noted that for some students without access to a ride to common stops, the new system will mean walking two miles or farther to get a stop, and then walking the same distance home from the common stop after school. Even for those who live near an AATA route, Thesinger said, “75 cents every day [AATA student fare each way] is going to add up.” Finally, Thesinger pointed out that she sometimes needs to get home in time to provide child care for her 7-year-old brother after school and that she is not sure how that will be possible.

The new system widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” argued AAPS parent Sumi Kailasapathy. Alluding to the fact that school board meetings open with a recitation of the pledge of  allegiance, she said, “We just took the pledge of allegiance and proclaimed one nation,” she said. “My fear is that we are actually creating two nations.”

AAPS grandparent Carol Campaign noted that on severe weather days, parents who are unable to drive their children to school or to their common stops because they have to be at work, or because they don’t have a car, will be breaking the law by letting their children stay home. Witherspoon picked up on this theme too, blaming the district for starting a “domino effect.” Parents who allow truancy can be jailed, she pointed out, causing them to be fired, and the family to be broken up.

Busing Changes: Public Comment – Property Tax, Public Services

Many speakers stressed that they were aware of the budget concerns, but asked the board to reconsider their decisions regarding busing, given the taxes they believe they are paying for this service. “If this is a privilege, why am I paying taxes?” asserted district parent Abiola Arinwumi.

Parent Danny Ignacio pointed out that his neighborhood, which falls just outside of the 1.5 mile walk zone for Logan Elementary and therefore lost its elementary school bus stop, brings $2.5 million to the city in taxes, 26% of which goes to AAPS. Ben Ilozar agreed, “We are working parents … We pay our taxes, but we cannot be given the basic assurance that our kids’ safety will be taken care of.”

Busing Changes: Public Comment – Superintendent’s Salary

A number of speakers also challenged Green directly, arguing that she needs to take a salary cut. Parent Sherry Witherspoon summed up this perspective, saying that she is appalled by Green making more than the president of the United States. “Could the superintendent take $100,000 of that money and give it to transportation, and struggle really hard to live on $144,000?” Witherspoon questioned. “Some of us need to live on less than $10,000.” [Green's base salary is $245,000. The U.S. president earns $400,000 per year.]

Busing Changes: Deputy Superintendent – Budget Process and Timeline

In his remarks following public commentary, deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen noted that in the past five years, the district has been forced to reduce expenditures in nearly every area, including: instruction, staff reductions, employee concessions, health care savings, early retirement incentives, consolidation, transportation concessions, legal services, and athletics.

This year, 2011-12, he pointed out, was the first year that the cuts caused an increase in class sizes. “These are not necessarily things that are good for kids. Reducing our transportation service is not good for kids, but we have to balance our budget,” Allen said.

He then reviewed the 2011-12 draft budget as presented to the board in April of 2011, and noted that the three main concerns the community expressed at the subsequent community forums were regarding principal-sharing, the elimination of high school transportation, and the increase in class sizes. In response, Allen said, the board reversed its decision on principal-sharing, and added money ($300,000) back into the budget for common bus stops for high school students.

Regarding the locations of common stops, Allen pointed out that one of the challenges in setting routes is that AAPS knows who qualifies to receive bus service, but not how many of those students will actually choose to ride the bus. Traditionally, he said, 35% of possible riders take the bus, and so the first few weeks of the school year are always the time when adjustments are made, once actual ridership is determined.

Saying the district is already talking about what changes it will need to make for next year in terms of transportation, Allen said the district plans to start much earlier in involving the community. “We should be able to come out with proposed budget sooner, and what that implies,” he said. “We do plan on starting earlier. We do plan on looking at the process.”

Busing Changes: Board Response

Trustee Simone Lightfoot, who is up for re-election in November, asserted that the transportation changes, “didn’t sit well with [her] from the very beginning,” and that she did not think the board had thought them through. “I think we have the best constituents,” Lightfoot said. “We should say we were wrong – that would engender more respect. I look forward to parents getting their questions answered, and hope we usher in a whole new paradigm in the way we do things.” She thanked Green for jumping in [as new superitendent] and being “baptized by fire.”

Trustee Christine Stead asserted that the community needs to consider just how broken education funding is, and to decide very carefully together what its highest priorities are. Next year, she warned, the district is anticipating another $14 million in budget cuts, and will have to choose which non-mandated services to fund, and which not to fund.

She also encouraged legislative advocacy at all levels, noting that education funding has dropped to 1995 levels when adjusted for inflation and student count, and saying that only 26% of Ann Arbor school taxes come back to the city while 74% are redistributed across the state.

Trustee Andy Thomas, who is also running for re-election in November, thanked Stead for her clear explanation of the funding challenges the district is facing. He expressed concern about the implementation of the busing changes, and noted that “a lot of the reason [AAPS] has been struggling with implementation is that [the district] is no longer in direct control of the transportation.” AAPS now contracts with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District for bus service.

Thomas asked Allen why there have been continuing problems in areas that seem to be readily solvable, such as too many kids per seat. Allen answered that the district has to be equitable when making changes so there is not a “ripple effect.” He assured trustees that AAPS meets daily with the WISD transportation department, and is working through these issues. Allen also noted there would be a contract review, during which AAPS will have the opportunity to evaluate the service it’s received.

Trustee Susan Baskett registered her frustration, and said that the board had been assured of better communication and better quality service when the budget with these cuts passed. She noted that she and Lightfoot had wanted a special meeting to discuss the transportation cuts once the bus routes came out this August, but that none of the other trustees would agree to meet, falling short of the three trustees needed to hold a such a meeting.

She listed numerous complaints she had heard from parents, and asked Allen how he planned to address them, including: late pick-ups; un-communicated route changes; too many students per seat; the length of routes to Roberto Clemente; middle school and elementary school students intermingling at shared bus stops; and no one answering the phone at the WISD. She also questioned the district’s assumption that ridership will decrease over the year, and asserted that it could increase as the economy continues to falter. Finally, Baskett argued that if the WISD is not providing the quality of service expected, AAPS needs to look elsewhere for transportation service.

Allen responded that he is looking at a number of the issues raised by Baskett, including options to amend the route to Clemente. He said that he believes the published number to the WISD transportation department is functional, but that parents can call him if they cannot reach the WISD. When pressed by Baskett, Allen offered his office number: (734) 994-2250.

Trustee Glenn Nelson reiterated that the transportation cuts to the 2011-12 budget were in lieu of cutting teachers. The state budget cuts, he said, have put enormous stress on the education system statewide. He then said he does accept that the district needs to do a better job of planning and engaging the community in a two-way process. “We want to have a spirit of openness and partnership,” he said, “as we get through these periods of enormous stress.”

Trustee Irene Patalan thanked members of the administration and trustee Thomas for their devotion to the community and for trying to educate the community. She thanked parents for getting their kids to school, and acknowledged that “there is always room for improvement” in terms of district process. Finally, Patalan asked the community to keep up the conversation, and encouraged them to remember that “We are only humans … The board of education is not the enemy. We are regular, normal people who live in the community and love our kids and love AAPS.”

Public Commentary on Split Classes at Thurston

One parent offered non-transportation-related public commentary at the Sept. 14 meeting.

Robin Huhn came to discuss split classes at Thurston. He expressed concern that the district lacked good communication regarding how the decisions were made to reorganize the first and second grade classes. “I have yet to receive a single e-mail from the superintendent – that’s not my understanding of the superintendent’s job.”

Huhn expressed frustration that a group of 15 families were turned away at the board office because Green refused to meet with them. “If this is the $245,000 job we’re getting,” he said, “I’d like a refund.”

On Aug. 26, Huhn said, parents had found out by word-of-mouth that Thurston would be losing 1.5 teachers, causing a split class of nine 1st graders and 15 2nd graders, with no advanced notice to parents or teachers. Huhn closed by sharing a petition signed by 130 Thurston parents requesting the immediate reinstatement of a full-time first grade teacher at Thurston.

Community Education and Recreation Catalog Printing

AAPS director of community education and recreation, Sara Aeschbach, brought a proposal before the board to have the 2011-12 catalogs for her department printed by Grand Blanc Printing. Aeschbach noted that Grand Blanc was the lowest bid, but is also a local company and union shop. She also said that AAPS has worked with them before and that she has been pleased with the quality of their work.

Aeschbah explained that Grand Blanc also gave AAPS pricing for two years, and reminded the board that the printing costs will not come out of the general education budget.

Lightfoot asked Aeschbach a series of questions regarding how the project was bid out, since only three of the eight companies invited to make offers actually submitted bids. “I appreciate the diversity of groups that were reached out to,” Lightfoot said, but she then expressed her concern that a larger number of historically underutilized businesses did not bid on the project.

Aeschbach said she did not know why more companies did not submit bids, except that perhaps the project requirements were too difficult to achieve for smaller presses.

Baskett requested that the vendor put the “union bug” on the catalog so the community knows it was printed in a union shop.

Outcome: The approval of the community education and recreation catalog will be scheduled for a second briefing and vote at the next regular board meeting.

Pediatric Therapy Associates Contract Approvals

Assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services (SISS) Elaine Brown presented a series of bids to the board for approval. The bids are for a set of services provided to the district’s special needs students, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, and total $673,400.

Brown explained that Pediatric Therapy Associates (PTA) was the same company AAPS worked with last year, and that the total amount needed to fulfill the requirements on students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) has increased by just over $8,000. In addition, she said, the district will need to pay for just over $145,000 of the needed services out of the general fund due to the need to contract for two AAPS elementary speech therapists who are currently on leave ($72,520), as well as for speech therapy at Skyline High School. The remaining $528,360 will be funded by a combination of an IDEA grant and the SISS general fund.

Stead asked if it would be difficult to reduce funding spent on special education once it had been allocated from the district’s general fund. Brown said that AAPS should not be required to maintain the $72,520 in elementary speech therapy funding once the two speech therapists come back from leave.

The board asked Brown whether the number of special education caseloads was increasing or decreasing, and requested that she provide some projections.

Baskett asked if Brown could put out a bid for these services, and Brown said she would consider that, but noted that PTA has some of the lowest prices for ancillary services, and that it’s critical that any potential contractors have highly qualified personnel.

Green also suggested that the administration would like to bring the ancillary services bid to the board earlier next year, perhaps by July, so that any questions could be researched before services need to be started.

Outcome: The approval of a set of special education services to be contracted from Pediatric Therapy Associates in the total amount of $673,400 will be brought to the board for a second briefing and vote at the next regular board meeting.

Association Reports

At each meeting, the board invites reports from six associations: the Youth Senate, the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee on Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), the Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). At the September 14 meeting, the board heard reports from the Youth Senate, the BPSSG, the AAPAC, the PTOC, and the AAEA.

Association Reports: Youth Senate

Priya Menon, a senior from Skyline High School, reported for the Youth Senate. Menon spoke about the development of the Women in Leadership mentoring project, and the reorganization of the Senate’s school board representation. She also argued that the lunch system at Pioneer High School, under which half of the student body eats and one time and the other half eats after them, “leaves few opportunities for … strengthening the bond between a wide diversity of people.”

Finally, Menon asserted that budget cuts should not force the closure of classes a week before registration. Citing an example of 15 students being shut out of an Advanced Placement class in this way, Menon argued that this is a “common phenomenon,” and that the school board has the responsibility to “ensure that each student receives the education they need, not the cheapest education available.”

Association Reports: BPSSG

Bryan Johnson, BPSSG chair, reported being very excited about their plans for the year. He explained the goals of a strategic planning process being undertaken by the BPSSG, and outlined the ways it needs the district’s support. The process has three goals: (1) to increase the percentage of black parents involved in student learning; (2) to reinforce the culture of positive achievement; and (3) to involve staff in collaborations designed to help all students achieve. In the vein of being more data-driven in their efforts, Johnson stated that the BPSSG has asked the district to share data on black student achievement so the group can use it as baseline data to be able to measure the results of their efforts.

Johnson relayed that the BPSSG has been concerned about transportation. He asserted that while people did understand the budget challenges faced by the board and administration, “when you’re dealing with minority populations, and … when you don’t show up, you send a message. It really works against going forward.”

Johnson then deferred to former AAPS parent Charles Lewis, introducing him as “someone from one of our communities who wants to have some words.” Referring to the community meeting that took place at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative on August 25, Lewis said that that administrators who attended were “arrogant, entitled, and condescending.”

He then admonished the five board members who did not attend: “That meeting at Arrowwood that we called and we developed – you did not come. You should have been there.” Finally, Lewis addressed Green, calling her “aloof,” and challenging, “You made us the enemy … Prove it that you want to be partners – I don’t know how you’ll do it, but you have to do it.”

Association Reports: AAPAC

Scott Zeleznik addressed the board on behalf of the AAPAC. He began with accolades, thanking SISS staff for attending their parent orientation and retreat.

This year, Zeleznik said, the AAPAC will continue to push for upgrading assistive technology, and developing the process for creating a personal curriculum. He also expressed some concern that budget cuts would affect special education services, and said the AAPAC “will continue to be vigilant … to be sure that school funding does not affect students’ rights to an open and free public education.”

Zeleznik noted that the AAPAC is hearing reports from parents that therapists’ case loads are being stretched such that teachers and aides lose instruction time by needing to spend their efforts meeting students personal needs. “Please be sure the district is providing a challenging education environment,” he implored, “and not custodial day care.”

Association Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC, and began by explaining the PTOC’s role as a coordinating body for all school-level PTOs and PTSOs. She briefly outlined the PTOC’s plans for the year, including holding forums to help PTOs share funding and enrichment ideas, and offering training sessions in leadership and financial management.

In addition, Pachera invited everyone to the fourth annual PTOC launch party on Monday, Oct. 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 at Slauson Middle School. At the launch party, she said, Green will give an introduction, and the six candidates (including two incumbents) running for the school board in this November’s election will each be invited to “give a short, platform speech.”

As an example of one of the PTOC functions, Pachera highlighted its role in helping families adjust to the busing changes. The PTOC, she said, worked with principals to be sure all families received communication outlining the changes. They also helped parents to set up walking school buses and car pools, drive the old routes on the first day of school to find any students waiting at old bus stops, and advocate for more crossing guards.

“We all know some things fell through during these changes,” Pachera said, requesting that AAPS administration “Keep communication open and frequent.”

Association Reports: AAEA

As described at the start of this board meeting report, AAEA president Brit Satchwell amended his planned comments after hearing the debate unfold about transportation for the first two hours of the meeting. “I had some very unifying welcoming comments,” he began, “but a lot of what I’ve heard here tonight makes me want to grab people and get them focused on the key idea.” Satchwell then reviewed that he has heard a lot of groups come before the board to express outrage and displeasure at the effects of budget cuts, and that while these groups have a right to be angry, they need to have a wider perspective.

Describing the situation as being like “a chain of dominoes, where each domino blames the one next to it for falling,” Satchwell urged everyone to “go back upstream and deal with that first domino.” Calling the actions of Republican leaders “lies, theft, and immoral,” Satchwell argued that the AAPS community needs to “channel some of our outrage to unified action.”  He encouraged everyone to sign the two petitions circulating in the city – one to stop the public act that would allow emergency managers, and one to recall the governor.

He closed by validating the board’s efforts, saying, “I know you’ve been vilified and blamed tonight, and I know it’s really hard to make the decisions you have been forced to make and then take the blame. You have done a yeoman’s work in trying to be fair.”

Board Action Items

The board unanimously approved three action items at its Sept. 14 meeting – the appointment of auditors, the appointment of financial institutions, and the ratification of a contract with the union representing AAPS paraprofessionals.

Action Item: Auditors

Allen requested board approval of Plante Moran as the district’s auditor. He noted that this will be the sixth year in a row that AAPS will have used the same firm, and that usually the district would go out for a bid, but that instead the firm adjusted their price downward by $5,000.

Lightfoot recommended that AAPS revisit all of its contracted services to try to get some budget relief.

Outcome: Plante Moran was approved as the district’s 2010-11 auditor.

Action Item: Financial Institutions

Allen requested board approval of a list of twelve financial institutions for the district’s use during the 2011-12 fiscal year. He explained that AAPS re-certifies its financial institutions every year, requiring them to provide their 2010 audits as well as proof of active FINRA status. FINRA, or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is an independent regulator of investment firms.

Allen noted that these firms are the same as last year, with the exception of Key Bank, which asked to be removed from the list for lack of use. The list represents institutions that AAPS is authorized to use, but AAPS does not use them all each year.

Based on questions from the board, Allen confirmed that FINRA status confirms that these banks are stable and will do well. He also noted that AAPS does not have to keep banks with concerning records, even if they maintain FINRA certification. Allen also said that if any other institutions want to be on the list, they can contact him.

Outcome: The board authorized AAPS to use the following financial institutions during the 2011-12 fiscal year: Bank of America, Bank of Ann Arbor, Citizens Bank, Comerica Bank, Fifth Third Bank, Flagstar Bank, JP Morgan Chase, MBIA of Ann Arbor, Michigan Commerce Bank, Michigan Liquid Asset Fund, TCF Bank, and United Bank & Trust.

Action Items: AAEA-P

Mexicotte moved that the board support the recently ratified tentative agreement with the Ann Arbor Education Association – Paraprofessionals as has been recommended by the superintendent, and reviewed in the confidential meeting packet.

Outcome: The AAEA-P contract was unanimously approved.

Board Committee Reports

The school board has two standing committees. The planning committee consists of: Christine Stead (chair), Susan Baskett, and Irene Patalan; the performance committee consists of: Glenn Nelson (chair), Simone Lightfoot, and Andy Thomas. Board president Deb Mexicotte sits on neither committee.

Committee Reports: Performance

Nelson reported for the performance committee, saying committee members had primarily discussed athletics regulations and teacher evaluation at their recent meeting. Noting that the recent changes in state law will affect teacher evaluations, Nelson said that AAPS is proceeding to develop a new evaluation system at a pace that exceeds state requirements and is better. One issue the performance committee foresees is how to handle teachers whose evaluations fall in the third of four categories – the one just up from the bottom, or unsatisfactory, category. For this reason, Nelson said, there will be a study session for the full board to discuss teacher evaluations on Nov. 2.

Nelson also noted that at its next regular meeting, the performance committee is anticipating discussing school counseling and school climate, as well as meeting with a group of Arab-American parents seeking to form an advisory group.

Thomas added to Nelson’s report, noting that the new laws regarding evaluation and tenure will place a very significant burden on principals and central administration. Thomas noted that there is a general idea out there that there is no value added by what administrators are doing for the district. So Thomas said he wanted to point out that none of the benefits that these changes could bring will be possible without a great deal of time and effort from AAPS administrators.

Committee Reports: Planning

Stead reported for the planning committee, focusing her report on an item that would not be coming to the full board – the Washtenaw County Science Olympiad. Stead explained that her committee had met with the WCSO’s leaders about possibly using the district’s facilities for the event, which is the largest elementary-level science olympiad in the country, with 1,500 participants.

Saying that it only took superintendent Patricia Green “.3 seconds” to say this is a priority, Stead said she was pleased to report that AAPS administration will be working to formalize an arrangement with the WCSO. Finally, Stead noted that the WCSO is a model program, which incorporates community members, corporations, mentors, and students, and that she hopes all of the district’s elementary schools will participate next year.

Superintendent’s Report

Green began her report by introducing the newest member of her cabinet, deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye. In her first days here, Green said, Flye has “jumped right in and taken the lead in instructional services.” Flye comes to AAPS from Rochester Public Schools, and replaces Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, who held the position in an interim capacity last year.

Green reported that she was excited about the kickoff event for the UM-Mitchell-Scarlett partnership, a teaching and learning collaboration focused on boosting student achievement, as well as a special event at the UM School of Education at which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke.

Finally, Green praised the district’s equity team (which will give a presentation on the national level), a few notable teachers who have achieved honors in their fields, and the AAPAC for its work with special education students. She also thanked everyone for a gracious welcome.

Athletics Regulations

Though not required to take any action on them, the board reviewed updated athletics regulations as an information item. Nelson reported that his committee had reviewed the 29 pages of regulations, and summarized the updates into four themes. He explained that the regulations were amended to reflect: (1) trimester as well as semester schedules, because Skyline High School now uses trimesters; (2) substantial changes in pay-to-participate fees and transportation, due to the 2011-12 budget cuts; (3) language to clarify that academics take precedence over athletics, and on how to address conflicts between athletics and the arts; and (4) additional authority for the superintendent to cancel athletic activities in the event of extreme weather.

Neson invited Huron athletic director Dottie Davis and AAPS fine arts coordinator, Robin Bailey to the podium, and welcomed questions or comments from the board.

Trustees clarified wording in a few areas, but had no major changes to suggest. There were brief discussions regarding student eligibility and conference rules regarding seniors playing on junior varisty teams.

Awards and Accolades

Assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services (SISS) Elaine Brown recognized Jen Mamer, outgoing co-chair of the AAPAC, for her hard work and dedication. Mamer, in return, thanked Brown for her collaborative style and commitment.

Mexicotte expressed her gratitude to Mamer as well, saying that the district appreciates and depends on the support of its parent community.

Consent Agenda Approved

The consent agenda is a collection of items on which the board votes as a complete set, instead of voting on each item individually.

Outcome: A consent agenda containing minutes and gift offers was approved unanimously.

Agenda Planning

The board expressed interest in seeing data on 2010-11 suspensions and expulsions, possibly linked to a review of achievement data. Mexicotte said that the executive committee would consider whether such a review should be done as part of a study session or at a regular board meeting.

Nelson added that he might like to review data across a theme of “students who are missing instructional time” for any reason, including suspension and expulsion, but also absenteeism.

Mexicotte said that she wasn’t sure the board had ever looked at absenteeism or truancy, but noted that addressing those issues would likely require different strategies than addressing missing instructional time due to suspension.

Items from the Board

Thomas extended condolences to AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent and his family, noting a few months ago, Trent lost his father, and recently his mother.

Nelson commented that the Mitchell-Scarlett partnership kick-off was really exciting, and the start-of-school gathering at Pioneer High School was very stimulating. He also expressed surprise that the speech recently given by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was so “substantive,” which focused on the idea that education is the civil rights issue of this generation.

Baskett encouraged the administration to make use of a committee called the City-School committee, which includes representatives from AAPS as well as the city of Ann Arbor. She argued that with a new city manager and a new superintendent, it would be useful to re-kindle the committee to look at issues such as transportation to see how the schools and city can work together to achieve maximum efficiency for taxpayers.

Patalan expressed pleasure at the cleanliness of the buildings when she’d stopped in to visit early in the school year. Noting that there are “many voices out there, many ‘publics,’” Patalan also said she was grateful that new superintendent Patricia Green was committed to keeping her eye on the big picture and working to do what’s best for all students.

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

Next regular meeting: October 12, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. September 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm | permalink

    I guess what readers (and taxpayers!) need to think about is this:
    1. Is the school board doing its job? There is a contested election coming up.
    In this article, “Trustee Simone Lightfoot, who is up for re-election in November, asserted that the transportation changes, “didn’t sit well with [her] from the very beginning,” and that she did not think the board had thought them through. “I think we have the best constituents,” Lightfoot said. “We should say we were wrong – that would engender more respect. I look forward to parents getting their questions answered, and hope we usher in a whole new paradigm in the way we do things.”
    If they didn’t sit well with her from the beginning, why did she approve them? On the other hand, I’m glad she’s saying that it is important to admit making mistakes.

    The article also says that “Trustee Andy Thomas, who is also running for re-election in November. . . expressed concern about the implementation of the busing changes, and noted that “a lot of the reason [AAPS] has been struggling with implementation is that [the district] is no longer in direct control of the transportation.”

    The notion that there would be problems if the Ann Arbor schools were not in direct control of busing was brought up before the school board decided to privatize–but people who brought that up were characterized as naysayers. On the other hand, trustee Thomas was one of the school board members who pushed to restore at least limited high school bus funding.

    My point is, there is a contested election–do your research on the candidates and vote.

    To the school board members I say: there are going to be more cuts next year–how are you going to involve parents and taxpayers so that they buy in to whatever cuts you want to make? Remember that parents and taxpayers might have even better ideas than you…

    2. Is the superintendent doing her job? What do you think so far? Whether your opinion is thumbs up, or thumbs down, she’d probably appreciate either compliments or suggestions for improvement.

  2. By cosmonıcan
    September 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm | permalink

    Regarding the printing and mailing of the recreation catalog: I regularly get these in the mail, even though there is no way I can use those services, and do not require a booklet; why waste the money on the printing and postage? Send a postcard to see if I want a catalog, reduce wasted printings and mailings all around, the money we save is our own.

    Why is it considered a necessity to have the book printed in a union shop, and have a bug on it too? Maybe it’s politically incorrect, but the majority of printing companies in this area are non-union, this is historically true—so why should the taxes paid by these companies only go back to their competitors who happen to be union when there is paying work to be done?

  3. By TJ
    September 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm | permalink

    I’m tired of reading parents who say “nobody told us there were going to be changes, nobody involved us.” As mentioned here, changes were announced as early as June 2011. People were invited to participate in the planning process. But I suspect that most of these people who are complaining did not pay attention to the notices and did not participate in the process. Why not be honest and say that? You’re asking the

    And I also get tired of complaints about the superintendent’s salary tied to anything people are unhappy about. Let’s say her salary was cut in half – saving approximately $125,000. That’s still less than half of the amount that was needed to provide even the limited high school funding. The truth is, as Satchwell is so passionate about pointing out, the problem is systemic and it is rooted in Lansing. I don’t think we need to recall the governor, though – what we need is serious school funding reform, and that will require a lot of different legislators.

    From what I can tell, I think the superintendent is doing a fine job. Of course, she’s only been here a couple of months, so it’s hard to tell. However, I don’t think she should be contacting each parent about the individual teachers in each school (e.g. Thurston and their split classroom) or micromanaging every bus decision – I think she should be providing high level vision and direction.

  4. By Wakefield
    September 20, 2011 at 1:42 am | permalink

    People, some well-intended, some not-so-much, are looking at communications between the District and parents over busing as a big political disconnect. This is a divide-and-conquer misdirection play conveniently exploited for political gain by the not-so-well-intended aforementioned folk who shall remain nameless. (Moreover, two elected officials, who shall also remain nameless, are unknowingly being played for political advantage, and while they would deny it vehemently if you pointed it out to them, it is as plain as the nose on their faces.)

    Take a step back from the canvas. If we try to view the big picture of what the District accomplished last year in the midst of an amazing juggling act and under the leadership of an acting Superintendent, this current busing controversy might tend to fade away against the larger body of work as an important, but understandable, break from the norm. The community’s concerns need to be addressed, but patiently, one community, indivisible.

  5. By Rod Johnson
    September 20, 2011 at 8:59 am | permalink

    Recalling the governor is a start…

  6. September 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm | permalink

    Re: [3] and [4]
    I partly agree with you, that many people weren’t paying attention, and should have been, but at the same time:

    –the district did a really poor job of bringing people into the decision-making process (yes, even those who would be interested) for both transportation and athletics, and they’ve paid the price for it with angry parents. If they had asked people early in the process, about *specifics*, I think they would have been surprised about the buy-in and the help they would have gotten in planning better routes.

    –the WISD has been slow to share information about the costs of transportation, the actual savings, etcetera. Maybe that’s because they have new staff too, but since they can’t give the district distinct numbers for (for example) an additional stop for a bus that’s already on a route, it makes parents skeptical–rightly or wrongly.

    –I hope the district is taking seriously the idea of “safety first.” I think that’s very important–and yet it seems that the common high school stops don’t really address some safety issues. Some kids in outlying areas have to walk on dark roads with no sidewalks to get to those common bus stops. So then, parents say, what is the purpose of the common bus stops? What about kids who are still sitting four to a bus? It’s easy for the district to say “be patient,” but if it’s your child, you probably won’t be patient. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be patient.

    And honestly, I think if the district had consciously engaged parents from around the district in *conceptualizing* the bus stops, there would have been much more buy-in and many fewer problems, because parents really do know their neighborhoods.

  7. September 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm | permalink

    I’ll point to this Chronicle story from June 2010 [link] which covered bus consolidation plans; especially these quotes:

    Lightfoot asked how the public would know who to call with specific questions, such as “Why is our bus late?” Nelson continued that line of questioning, adding, “I would contrast a ‘late bus’ call with a call about two students getting in a fight – those would demand calling different places.” ….

    In response to Lightfoot’s concern, Marcel also offered help from WISD, saying the WISD has a communications person who could help “craft” communication with the public.

    Marcel is Brian Marcel, assistant superintendent of business services for WISD; I’m not sure who the WISD’s “communications person” is.

  8. September 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm | permalink

    Thanks Ed–that actually explains a big piece of the puzzle. Apparently the WISD communications person retired on August 31st, but her email address never said that (and I’m not sure about her phone number but I’ll guess it was equally obtuse)–and in the interim there is no WISD communications person, the Superintendent is handling communications duties. So it would make sense that a lot of calls that shouldn’t have been missed, were missed.

  9. September 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm | permalink

    WISD is a public body, and they do hold public meetings. Board information is here [link] and the next board meeting is September 27. “Citizen participation” is on the agenda for the previous meeting, but I’m not aware of the details of how to do that.

  10. By Wakefield
    September 21, 2011 at 10:49 pm | permalink

    In a perfect world, one where you don’t have to tap your CFO on the shoulder and hand him a second hat, one where you let him focus on his complicated and mission-critical job while your experienced and talented superintendent steers the organization and handles the political duties, last year’s foreshortened budget process never repeats itself. Big picture: the organization made it through the transition better than anyone could legitimately expect, due in large part to cooperation among the District, the Board, the teachers and their leadership (and in no small part to the skills of Dr. Roberts’ having left the organization stronger than when he came to it).

    So, while the constructive criticism aka Monday morning quarterbacking might seem necessary to some, you won’t see me go there. Respectful and firm dissent is our civic duty, no doubt, but I’m sure we know how to keep it in the clubhouse. Anyone who doesn’t know the appropriate back-channels for this stuff can figure them out pretty quickly. And the new superintendent is entitled to the same cooperation, good will and trust we showed her predecessors.

    We have new leadership but still face an uncertain future in the form of the structural deficit, other potential hits to funding, wholesale changes in education policy with attendant unfunded mandates and incremental losses of local control. So, we would are best served by manning up and acting in partnership with the District.

    And about that CFO: anyone who says or implies anything other than “Thank you for your amazing service on behalf of our kids,” loses me from the start. They don’t make a grade for that kind of performance, because A+ would be too trite. MVP sounds more appropriate.

    (I am a concerned parent with kids in the District. No one has pre-screened these comments or asked me to say this stuff.)

  11. By Rod Johnson
    September 22, 2011 at 1:49 am | permalink

    I laughed at “I have yet to receive a single e-mail from the superintendent – that’s not my understanding of the superintendent’s job.” Yeah, that’s the superintendent’s job–to send lots of email.

  12. By Maria Huffman
    September 22, 2011 at 10:37 am | permalink

    I’m not sure consolidation was such a great idea, but by the time that gets played out, there may not be money for busing anyway. So people should rethink some ideas,like having Roberto Clemente so far out of town. Why not bring it in to a more central, easily accessed location and let it start later in the day? Then public transportation will be available, and walks are during the daylight hours.