AAPS Weighs State’s Impact on Budget

Also: board to go paperless; comment on Thurston teacher

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Feb. 8, 2012): At a meeting of the AAPS board of education with a relatively light agenda, trustees discussed the anticipated state education funding incentives revealed by Gov. Rick Snyder last week.

Christine Stead

AAPS board member Christine Stead. Across the table from Stead (and Deb Mexicotte, who's seated to Stead's right out of the frame) are board members Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett. (Photos by the writer.)

Contending that any increases would do little to rectify the compounding losses of funding since the passage of Proposal A, trustee Andy Thomas summarized the state’s budget plan as: “One hand giveth and the other hand taketh away.”

Trustees also agreed to move to a paperless system of board documents. In other business, the board agreed to change the district’s liability insurance carrier, and joined an emerging advocacy group – the Washtenaw Alliance for Education.

Also at the meeting, the board heard from two sets of students, after making a conscious effort recently to increase student engagement at the board level.

The board also engaged in an uncommon back-and-forth with members of the audience, which stemmed from public commentary about a Thurston Elementary School teacher who’s been placed on administrative leave. 

Budget Update

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green introduced deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen to discuss the potential for state funding increases, as well as possible changes to transportation services that would impact the budget. AAPS is in the process of crafting its 2012-13 budget, which is estimated to require another $14 million in budget reductions. The district has already cut nearly $50 million out of its budget over the past five years.

Budget Update: State Budget

At the Feb. 8 meeting, Allen reported that that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget for FY 2012-13 was anticipated to include an increase in funding to K-12 schools. Allen said he would welcome any increase in the per-pupil foundation allowance, and noted there might also be a state effort to mitigate the rising retirement costs faced by school districts across Michigan.

Trustees expressed concern that a slight increase in state education funding would do little to rectify the fact that schools are being funded at 2001 levels, even before adjusting for inflation. “Calling it an increase is disingenuous,” said trustee Christine Stead. She cited increased testing requirements, tenure reform, and all-day kindergarten as examples of new, unfunded state mandates. Those unfunded mandates, she argued, should counter any perception of a higher foundation allowance as an increase. Andy Thomas summarized his view of the state’s funding of K-12 education: “One hand giveth and the other hand taketh away.”

On Feb. 9, the governor did reveal his proposed budget to the state legislature. In general, it does not call for an increase in districts’ foundation allowances – the per-pupil amount that public schools receive from the state. Instead, the governor’s proposal would offer extra funding to districts that meet at least five of six best practices: (1) having a “dashboard” of statistics on their website; (2) being the policyholder for health insurance; (3) opening up seats in the district through “schools of choice”; (4) monitoring student growth in each subject at least twice a year; (5) offering dual enrollment (concurrent enrollment in high school and college) options; and (6) offering online or blended learning. A small amount of additional funding would also be available to defray pension costs faced by districts, as well as to reward districts that show student academic growth and/or are making efforts to consolidate services.

Budget Update: RFP for Transportation?

Allen reported that he had followed up on a board request to look into joining Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools in issuing an RFP (request for proposals) for transportation services. Ypsilanti and Willow Run currently participate in a transportation consortium with AAPS, which is managed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Allen said he found no opposition to AAPS joining in the RFP process.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot pointed out that joining the RFP process with Ypsilanti and Willow Run was only one of five suggestions the board had given administration to explore in terms of providing transportation services, and she confirmed that Allen was continuing to explore all options, including partnering with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA). Allen said all options are still being considered, and noted that participating in the joint RFP process might also yield data about how much it might cost AAPS to privatize transportation services on its own.

Stead added that AAPS should move efficiently to identify areas in the budget that are highly likely to be impacted by budget reductions. That way, the district will have as much time as possible to plan for the implementation of any reductions with the AAPS community and families. She also requested that Allen include an estimate of how much fund equity must be maintained so that the district will not have to borrow money to make payroll.

Beyond Lightfoot’s brief mention, the possibility of collaborating with the AATA to serve the school system’s transportation needs was hardly discussed at the board’s Feb. 8 meeting. The board had discussed the possibility of collaborating with the AATA in more detail at its committee-of-the-whole meeting on Jan. 25.

Since then, conversations between AAPS and the AATA have started. In his monthly written report for the upcoming Feb. 16 AATA board meeting, AATA CEO Michael Ford wrote to the AATA board:

Ron Copeland [operations manager], Phil Webb [controller], Chris White [manager of service development] and I [Ford] met with the AAPS Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and Director of Communications last week. This was our second meeting to explore how AATA service could assist in their efforts to reduce transportation costs. Since the first meeting, we have developed some opportunities for the 2012‐13 school year that would replace 2‐5 AAPS high school bus routes with students using existing AATA service. AATA and AAPS staff will be working in the next few weeks to develop the details.

The Superintendent expressed her pleasure with how this effort is proceeding. Later last week I met with AAPS Board Trustees Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett. I shared the details of our meeting with AAPS representatives and our coordination efforts. We also discussed opportunities to provide enhanced communication to parents regarding potential changes that could better help with their understanding of what public transit is, what it can do, and the ease of use.

We agreed to meet again and look at some longer term solutions such as identifying grant opportunities, raising local awareness and gathering data to pinpoint the needs of where high school student are in need of public transit, but don’t have a voice nor access to navigate public transit services to school.

During the agenda planning portion of the Feb. 8 meeting, trustees Irene Patalan and Simone Lightfoot each requested that a date be assigned to review the transportation options, including the WISD report of operational statistics. Board president Deb Mexicotte suggested that the board should bundle the WISD review with a discussion about the RFPs and conversations with AATA.

BoardDocs: Electronic Document Management

The board has been considering a move to paperless document management system for at least six months. BoardDocs, a paperless board documents system, was first introduced to the board at its July 2011 board retreat. The issue was on the Feb. 8 agenda for a second briefing and a board vote.

Board Docs: Description and Cost Information

Board secretary Amy Osinski made a brief presentation to the board highlighting the pros and cons of moving to BoardDocs. She also outlined the related cost information.

As benefits, Osinski noted ease of use, ease of access, and greater transparency. She explained how the public would be able to follow along with the agenda online, and how complete videos of each meeting would be uploaded to BoardDocs within a day of the meeting. The video capture would be done by Community Television Network, she said, which will also continue its livestreaming and replaying of the meetings on community access television. The video capture for BoardDocs would be uploaded as a YouTube video, and could have each section of the meeting tagged according to the agenda.

In addition, Osinski continued, using BoardDocs would allow all previous meeting documents to be scanned and searched by the public, from one central place. All documents would be formatted consistently, and agenda changes would be automatically e-mailed to everyone.

BoardDocs does allow for personal notes to be taken by board members during public meetings, and though they are only accessible through each trustee’s login, Dave Comsa – AAPS deputy superintendent for human resources and general counsel – pointed out that if notes are taken as part of a deliberative process, they could be made to be shared. He also counseled board members not to e-mail or text each other during a meeting.

Board president Deb Mexicotte responded, “It is not our intention to ever text or e-mail from the board table.” Trustees around the table nodded in agreement.

Osinski wrapped up the “pros” by noting efficiency and cost savings in staff time, ease of policy management, a “metasearch” capability that allows users to search board documents of other BoardDocs’ client-districts, the lack of need to maintain and pay for physical storage space, and BoardDocs “outstanding customer service.”

She then acknowledged that there are a few drawbacks to making the switch to a paperless system.

There would be a learning curve in terms of getting accustomed to everything being electronic, she said. Osinski also noted that access to a computer and the Internet would be required to access board documents, which could pose a limitation for some families. She also pointed out that the board might be limited in terms of meeting locations. However, she said she could mitigate constraints on location by creating a “hot spot” in her computer that could be used by all trustees to access the Internet during meetings. Finally, Osinski noted that confidentiality is not 100% guaranteed, though trustees countered that the same is true with paper documents.

Andy Thomas asked what would happen if Osinski’s computer was supposed to be the “hot spot” for Internet access, but she was not able to attend the meeting. Osinski replied that there would be redundancy training and that the district would have others who could sit in for her. She also noted that she has only missed three board meetings in eight years.

The annual cost for BoardDocs would be $9,000, a nearly $2,200 increase per year compared to creating paper board packets, Osinski said. The cost for the first year includes $1,000 in training and implementation costs. The product can be fully customized, comes with 24-hour tech support 365 days a year, allows the district to archive up to 10 years of data, and includes all upgrades. Also, the district maintains all ownership of its data.

Osinski presented a set of references to the board and opened the floor to discussion.

BoardDocs: Board Discussion

Christine Stead pointed out that BoardDocs would not save money – although it would significantly lighten Osinski’s workload, the district was not planning to decrease her position.

Trustees expressed gratitude to Osinski for her presentation and asked a few clarifying questions about hardware requirements, system capabilities, and confidentiality.

Osinski reiterated that using BoardDocs is as safe or safer than using paper. She noted that in 11 years of business, BoardDocs has never had a security breach, adding, “… but you can never say never.”

Deb Mexicotte told Osinski, “I think it is the right thing to do and we will all get used to it. But one of the most compelling things is how excited you are about it.” Simone Lightfoot agreed that Osinski had made a good case for the switch to BoardDocs, and had allowed it to grow on trustees who had been more reluctant.

Susan Baskett asked about the timing of implementation and training, and Osinski said it would be a six-week implementation, or until everyone is comfortable with it. Glenn Nelson suggested a target of having BoardDocs fully implemented at the board’s April 11 meeting.

Outcome: Trustees unanimously approved moving to BoardDocs, a paperless document management system, as part of the consent agenda.

Liability Insurance Renewal

Superintendent Patricia Green introduced deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen to explain the shift in the district’s insurance premium costs. The district’s liability insurance is renewed annually on Feb. 1.

Allen explained that the bids that came back from the district’s insurance agent, the Hylant Group, were significantly higher than last year. That led Allen to request that Hylant re-bid the district’s coverage with other insurance carriers. After examining a set of new bids, Allen said, he recommends switching insurance carriers from Zurich to Affiliated FM – not to lower the cost of insurance premiums, but in order to lower the amount of increase.

Allen also explained that it’s reasonable to have expected an increase in premium costs, given the district’s claim history over the past two years. As examples of claims made under the district’s coverage, Allen noted an increase in computer theft, a lightning strike at Northside Elementary, a flood in the boiler room at Forsythe Middle School, a transformer failure at Pioneer High School, and an exhaust fan fire at Ann Arbor Open.

Trustees asked if the coverage from the new carrier is equivalent. Allen explained that it’s actually a bit more extensive in terms of flood coverage and crime risk mitigation, but that everything else is pretty much consistent.

Simone Lightfoot asked if Affiliated FM is a known company, and Allen answered that yes, they are one of the biggest companies in school liability. Susan Baskett asked if the company was local, or was a historically-underutilized business (HUB). Allen said he would get back to the board about the firm’s location, and that he did not believe is was a HUB.

Outcome: Trustees approved the shift in liability insurance carriers as part of the consent agenda, which also included three sets of minutes approvals.

Washtenaw Alliance for Education

Deb Mexicotte asked Glenn Nelson to review a resolution he wrote for AAPS to join the Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE), a consortium of school districts in Washtenaw County focusing on legislative issues.

Nelson summarized the proposed resolution as having four themes: (1) closer coordination among the Washtenaw County school districts; (2) improved communication between board members and superintendents; (3) continued, more intense work on coordination and collaboration of service provision within the county, such as transportation and human resources; and (4) being a vehicle for advocacy on state legislation.

Christine Stead suggested that because the board had already discussed the WAE extensively during its organizational meeting on Jan. 18, the board should consider their Feb. 8 discussion as a second briefing. She also noted that approving the resolution to join WAE at the Feb. 8 meeting would allow AAPS to share the news at the legislative breakfast on Feb. 13. Trustees agreed to move the item to the consent agenda, but it was later pulled out for a full reading of the resolution.

Andy Thomas asked for clarification on who would be part of the WAE. Nelson explained that each district will have three seats on the WAE board – two district board members and the superintendent. For AAPS, Nelson, Stead, and Green would sit on the WAE as AAPS representatives. Thomas also asked Nelson to explain that this would not have any impact on taxpayers.

Nelson responded that there would be no increase in trustee salary for sitting on the WAE. “This will decrease our school board wages from 25 cents an hour to about 20 cents an hour,” he quipped. Mexicotte noted that 25 cents an hour is “not too far off,” and pointed out that trustees are paid $130 a month in total for their service.

Trustee Irene Patalan said this was “the exact right step,” and expressed her hopes that “better things will happen for our students with this kind of alliance.”

Nelson noted that the school districts in Washtenaw County are diverse, and that when the WAE takes a position on a piece of legislation, it would need to be with a consensus of the districts present. This means, he said, if the WAE finds ways to make things better for students in these diverse districts – representing rural, urban, small town, affluent, and distressed areas – it could be a model for the state.

Green added that she worked with a similar alliance in her previous position in Pennsylvania. She said that if a WAE were in place, it could provide a venue to discuss transportation and other regional issues. She also noted that as AAPS is embarking on professional development for social and emotional learning, the WAE could offer revenue enhancement opportunities. “That’s part of the richness this model can provide,” Green said.

Outcome: The resolution to join WAE was approved unanimously after being moved to the consent agenda, and then pulled out for a full reading of the associated resolution.

Length of Board Terms

Deb Mexicotte reviewed that new state legislation now requires the district to hold board elections every even-numbered November, which had caused the board to consider switching from four-year to six-year terms in order to prevent the possibility of a majority of the board turning over in one election. As it now stands, every other election will allow four seats to potentially turn over on the seven-member board.

However, Mexicotte continued, based on the board’s discussion at the previous meeting on Jan. 18, it seems that trustees feel that sticking with four-year terms is in the best interest of the district. She noted that in the past, large swings of the board membership have not been the norm, even when they have been possible.

Trustees expressed general agreement for four-year terms.

Christine Stead added that the amount of legislation passed on K-12 education last year, such as this law requiring even-numbered year elections, was “ridiculous… Who does this serve?” she asked.

Andy Thomas noted that moving to hold board elections in even-numbered years will make the cost of campaigning significantly higher, and moving to six-year terms could limit the candidate field even more by increasing the time of the required commitment.

Mexicotte agreed. “This is the right level of commitment. I don’t want to make the bar any higher than it already is.” She noted that by not approving a resolution to follow the new law, “We did what we could to register our displeasure.” At best, she said, this new election mandate does nothing to improve the education of students, and at worst, has made it more difficult for citizens to serve on the board.

Outcome: The board took no action, leaving their board terms at four years.

Student Engagement

The board often invites segments of the student population to perform at the beginning of board meetings. At the Feb. 8 meeting, board members heard from Riot Youth, a group for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) students and their allies. In addition, the board has broadened its invited associations to include regular reports from a wider group of students. The Feb. 8 meeting saw the first installment of high-school-specific student reports, from Pioneer High School.

Student Engagement: Riot Youth “Gayrilla Theater Project” Presentation

Riot Youth, a group for LGBTQ students and their allies, explained that social support and social justice were the goals of their group. They reported that they had conducted a climate survey concerning sexual identification, race, appearance, and other items, covering 1,200 students in four schools. They explained that they had taken the survey results, along with personal stories, and woven them into the “Gayrilla Theater Project,” inspired by the name of the Guerilla Girls theater project.

Riot Youth representatives then noted that the state of Michigan has just passed an anti-bullying law that requires all districts to have an anti-bullying policy. Saying that they would be back the following week to talk to the board specifically about their suggestions of ways to add to the AAPS anti-bullying policy, they then performed a brief skit for the board.

The skit focused on the marginalization of queer youth in AAPS, and noted that 10.5% of students surveyed identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. These students face a lack of queer sexual health information in health classes, regular verbal abuse, higher risks of physical harassment and suicide, and ongoing isolation, they said. According to the skit, only 62% of queer students feel safe in AAPS, and teachers, counselors and staff members rarely intervene when LGBTQ youth are harassed.

We tell our stories because we are good students not realizing our potential, they said. “We are an at-risk population.”

Deb Mexicotte and Glenn Nelson thanked the Riot Youth for performing and said they would be pleased to continue the conversation. “We really think we can make things better for you,” Mexicotte said.

Student Engagement: Report from Pioneer Students

Four students from Pioneer High School – Charlie Geronimus, Aidan Geronimus, Javon Williams, and Chelsea Racelis – gave a report to the board. The students began by explaining a new schoolwide communication system, which allows for greater student feedback to student council and administration. They noted that lunch time has been going well, and has brought the school together as a whole. They also reviewed a school-wide student council goal of sending Pioneer’s special education students to the Special Olympics. They said the whole student body has really backed the goal, which will require $6,000, but said that they hoped the board would choose to allocate money for Special Olympics in the future.

Pioneer High School Student

Pioneer High School student Charlie Geronimus addressed the board.

In terms of the budget, the Pioneer students noted that the arts programs in the district are incredibly rich, and noted that Pioneer students will be playing at Carnegie Hall later this year. “We have an incredible amount of talent in the music department, but we are faced with threats of our budgets being cut. We would like to ask when the budget cuts come around that you could keep in mind the excellence this district has had in the arts,” the students said.

The Pioneer representatives also praised their principal, Michael White. They said he is doing an amazing job, but that some kids still don’t care. “Classrooms are being run as if everyone is in the 10% [of students who don’t care]. The 90% that know what they’re doing – they don’t need to be disciplined so much.”

There is a level of respect that students are expected to give, they said, but they don’t feel like they are getting back the respect from some teachers that they deserve. Citing teachers who have no lesson plans, use tests printed off the Internet, or otherwise slack off, the representatives requested a mechanism, such as a drop box, where they could give direct input into teacher evaluations. “Teachers need to do their homework,” the Pioneer representatives said, “We would appreciate the ability to more easily bring it up to tell you when teachers are not doing their jobs.”

Multiple board members thanked the Pioneer students for their presentation, and for sharing their voices. Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett each noted appreciation for their attire – all four students were dressed in formal business clothes. “Image is important,” Lightfoot said, “and your bold diplomacy is great. I look forward to you holding us accountable.”

Baskett asked if they had had input into the school climate survey recently done at Pioneer. Student council president Charlie Geronimus answered that he believes the climate at Pioneer has improved since White was made principal. “I can’t speak to things like what Riot Youth was talking about,” he said. “But just because I haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it’s not going on.”

Superintendent Patricia Green added that the board will be given a report on last year’s climate surveys at the next committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Administrative Leave for Thurston Teacher

Sherry Murphy, a teacher at Thurston Elementary School, was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 28, 2011. It prompted public commentary at the Feb. 8, 2012 board meeting.

Administrative Leave for Thurston Teacher: Public Commentary

Three parents spoke to the board about the placement of a Thurston 4th grade teacher on administrative leave, with no explanation given to parents or students.

Charlie Adams, mother of a 4th grader with dyslexia who was specifically placed in Murphy’s class due to her 30 years of experience, said that her child has been “thrown to the gallows” with the long-term substitute the class was given. Adams also pointed out that her daughter had numerous substitutes in her first two years at Haisley Elementary, and that she was finally stable academically. Adams said she has requested that her daughter be moved to another class to no avail, and said the current situation is unacceptable. Adams said the students miss Murphy desperately, and called her disappearance from the classroom “mysterious.”

Kristen Mogbo added that her 4th grader has the “math version of dyslexia,” and had also been placed in Murphy’s room specifically because of Murphy’s experience and skill set. Most troubling, Mogbo said, is the absolute lack of communication. She said she is not looking for personal details, and respects the need for confidentiality, but is requesting a timeline of when the situation might be resolved. “I don’t understand why administrative issues are being worked out in the midst of a school year,” Mogbo said. “I keep being assured that Dr. Murphy has done nothing wrong… I am extraordinarily distressed with the secrecy of the whole thing. Is there any form of response possible?”

Ben Colmery argued that his expectations have been crushed, after finally getting his daughter’s dyslexia addressed, to have Murphy removed from her classroom. He noted that he and his wife have their daughter tutored twice a week, and are doing their part to help, but he said that Murphy was critical to his daughter’s academic success. Colmery noted that Murphy was placed on administrative leave with 10 minutes’ notice, and was told not to discuss anything with anyone. But in this town, Colmery said, “There are no secrets.”

Before Colmery could continue, board president Deb Mexicotte interjected. She apologized for interrupting, but said she wanted to be sure that Colmery was “protected,” and warned, “If you make allegations, there are opportunities for people to allege illegality.”

Colmery asked, “Are you telling me I’m a risk for libel?” Mexicotte answered that the board was interested in what Colmery had to say on a macro level.

Colmery paused briefly, and then continued with his statement, saying that it appears to him that the district’s decision to remove Murphy was an economic consideration, not any other. “The thing you need to understand,” he said, “is my daughter is not a car on an assembly line … She is my daughter. I am her advocate.”

Administrative Leave for Thurston Teacher: Comment from AAPS

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green asked Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, to address the public commentary about Murphy. Comsa said he could not get into specifics regarding personnel matters, but said that there is a certified, highly qualified substitute teacher in the classroom. He continued by saying that the reason for Murphy’s absence had nothing to do with economics, and that the district was working as fast as possible to resolve the situation. Mexicotte noted that the confidentiality rules are in place to protect not only the district, but also the employees.

A member of the audience then addressed the board, saying that Murphy had asked for the “gag rule” to be removed­­­­­­­.

The board does not typically respond to comments that are made from the audience. However, Mexicotte acknowledged the audience member’s comment, noting that the district is bound by legal and contractual circumstances.

Green invited Dawn Linden, AAPS assistant superintendent of elementary education, to comment. Linden said that although she understands parents’ frustration, the district “does not know about a return date [for Murphy]” and cannot share any additional information. Linden also reiterated Comsa’s statement that the long-term substitute in place is highly qualified.

A member of the audience again spoke, saying that Murphy’s substitute was not “highly qualified,” and again Mexicotte acknowledged the comment, saying that the term “highly qualified” is being used in the same sense as the state of Michigan uses it.

Mexicotte then asked Green to speak to one parent’s contention during public commentary that his daughter had experienced an excessive number of substitutes. Green answered that “the ripple effect of making the changes requested have been pondered, and there are implications that would create another situation if the requests are honored.”

An audience member again asked if the board could at least offer a timeline for resolution of the situation, and argued that if the children are not getting Murphy back as a teacher, they should be told so they can mourn that, and say goodbye. Mexicotte answered that she appreciated the speaker’s frustration, and directed administration to work through the process as efficiently as possible.

Trustee Christine Stead added that she would like to know if the families involved at Thurston could be walked through the process more, while still protecting confidentiality, saying “that might be helpful in this case.”

An audience member again said she was disappointed, and said that her requests to have her daughter moved were not unreasonable at all. Mexicotte then ended the somewhat rare discussion between the board and audience members, saying that the board appreciated her comments and had directed administration to respond as they are able. But Mexicotte concluded that the board needed to move on with the meeting.

Mexicotte then stood and gestured to the parents who had spoken about Murphy. Mexicotte and the parents left the board meeting room together. Mexicotte returned to the board table roughly five minutes later.

All-Day Kindergarten, Test Scores

AAPS is currently weighing the possibility of moving to an all-day kindergarten program district-wide instead of the combination of half-day, all-day, and extended-day options it currently offers. The impetus for possibly moving to all-day kindergarten is the apparent intention of the Michigan legislature to cut kindergarten per-pupil funding by half for all students enrolled in a half-day kindergarten program.

All-Day Kindergarten: Public Comment

Tina Richmond, parent of a first grader at Haisley Elementary School, addressed the board on a range of issues, saying she believed the district was operating at a bit of a “trust deficit.” She said she was dismayed to learn that the district has been accepting the full foundation allowance for kindergarten students, but not offering all-day kindergarten at all schools. Her options at Haisley, she said, had been to drive her daughter to another district school [one with all-day kindergarten] for six years, or to pay $4,000 for an all-day kindergarten option at Haisley. Richmond also noted that her daughter’s kindergarten class had 27 students, and that parents had had to beg for an aide.

Richmond also noted that she was pleased that the new MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) cut scores would more accurately reflect student achievement. But she was “disappointed that a district with such credentials would give such low achievement scores.” She urged administrators to be realistic in their communication with parents about the MEAP cut score changes. “I’m not a parent who is out there thinking we’re great,” she said. “What we’re doing is coming up to the national standards.”

“Cut scores” are defined in a FAQ posted on the Michigan Dept. of Education website: ”Scores for all state assessments are reported in ranges called performance levels. Both MEAP and MME [Michigan Merit Examination] use four performance levels: Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient, and Not Proficient. A cut score is the point on the scale that separates one performance level from the next. Cut scores were approved by the State Board of Education.”

All-Day Kindergarten: AAPS Discussion

Later in the meeting during agenda planning, Simone Lightfoot said she wanted to clarify some of Richmond’s comments on all-day kindergarten, saying “the sooner we can get [information on all-day kindergarten] out, the better.” Deb Mexicotte added that the way kindergarten funding has been used in the district was a “traditional structure that had been in place for a very long period of time.”

Superintendent Patricia Green asked deputy superintendent Alesia Flye to speak briefly about the communication being done with parents regarding the change in MEAP cut scores. Flye said communication has been sent at the building level and district-wide, and that all districts in the state of Michigan are being aligned.

Also during the agenda planning portion of the meeting, Glenn Nelson suggested that the board address the question of whether to move to all-day kindergarten as soon as possible. “I know that the administration has been working and I realize that work needs to get to a certain place, but let’s be conscious that that is an important issue that can be brought as soon as it’s ready,” he said. Green said a report on all-day kindergarten would be coming to the board “very shortly.”

Association Reports

At its January organizational meeting, the board named five associations to make regular reports to the board, and instituted a rotational system of student presentations. The board associations are: The Black Parents Student Support Group (BPSSG), the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), the Parent Teacher Organization Council (PTOC), the Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA), and the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA). The BPSSG, AAPAC, and PTOC addressed the board at the Feb. 8 meeting. A presentation from Pioneer students is described above, in the “student engagement” section of this report.

Association Reports: Black Parents Student Support Group

Leslie McGraw reported for the BPSSG, saying that the group did not meet in January, but did collect dates and locations of various Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. She noted that many BPSSG members also attended “Beyond the Bricks,” an event sponsored by the Ann Arbor Links Inc. group.

McGraw shared the URL of the group’s new website – www.dwbpssg.org – and said the group will be working to share suspension data with the community and discuss how to improve the statistics. She noted that Bryan Johnson of the BPSSG was one of a group of advisors working with superintendent Patricia Green on addressing discipline disparities.

Finally, McGraw reported on the Huron High School Rising Scholars Saturday school, which served more than 300 students over two weekends, and was open to all schools. Upcoming next steps for the BPSSG include the possibility of establishing a 501(c)3, and programming for National African-American Parent Involvement Day.

Association Reports: Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education

Scott Zeleznik addressed the board for the AAPAC, beginning with comments on the recent alleged sexual assault of a special education student by another special education student at Eberwhite Elementary.

He suggested first that AAPAC is concerned that special needs students will be “vilified and further isolated by this incident.” He urged everyone to remember that bullying and abuse issues affect all children, and that special needs children are more likely to be victims than perpetrators – because of their inability to effectively speak for themselves in many cases.

Secondly, Zeleznik said the incident has prompted many parents to question whether to trust AAPS to protect their children and to inform parents of what is really taking place in the classroom, as they are legally required to do. He argued that abusive behaviors among students need to be identified and prevented from recurring, and suggested to administration that the district hold forums with parents to discuss the issue and how it relates to their specific school environment. He also noted that change needs to come from the administration in terms of securing student safety and well-being over the protection of colleagues.

The AAPAC has continued to hold Disability Awareness Workshops, Zeleznik continued, and he invited trustees to attend.

Association Reports: Parent Teacher Organization Council

Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC, noting that PTO officer training took place on Feb 8. The training is given by the NEW Center, she said, and reviews the fiduciary and other legal responsibilities of PTOs.

Pachera noted that the PTOC is in full support of the district’s upcoming technology bond, and looks forward to educating the PTOs about the bond. She also noted that the PTOC will be reviewing the district’s budget in overview at its next meeting, and will look at how the state budget and taxes affect the local budget.

Awards and Accolades

The board unanimously supported two proclamations: National School Counseling Week from Feb 6-12, and Principals Week from Feb. 13-17.

As a part of her superintendent’s report, Patricia Green recognized a number of students who received awards from the Presidential Scholars program, as well as Knowledge Masters Open winners, forensics competition winners, and various student groups who have raised money for certain local causes. She also praised the district’s music and humanities programs. Finally, Green invited everyone to attend the district’s upcoming Orchestra Night on Feb. 16 at Hill Auditorium, a free performance by all AAPS middle and high school orchestras.

Agenda Planning

Several trustees proposed items that they’d like to see on the agenda for future meetings.

Susan Baskett requested an update on the Rising Scholars program.

Simone Lightfoot asked if the board could look into what supports the district has in place for math, particularly the algebra strand, as she has heard many concerns about good students having difficulty with math.

Christine Stead added she would appreciate hearing about classroom-specific “key investments” the district could make to address math, MEAP cut scores, or other things. Deb Mexicotte clarified that the board was interested in considering adjustments to support for classrooms that may have been cut in the past, in order to better meet the district’s academic goals, and superintendent Patricia Green said that administration was looking at that.

Stead said she read an article in a Michigan Association of School Boards publication about how Birmingham schools are charging tuition to out-of-district students instead of participating in Schools of Choice. She noted that it was interesting that they were able to do that, and she wanted to be sure AAPS was aware of that. Schools of Choice students are actually a loss for AAPS in terms of the foundation allowance, because students bring their foundation allowance from their home district to AAPS, and Ann Arbor’s foundation allowance is higher than that of other surrounding districts.

Lightfoot also noted the possibility of charging foreign students tuition as part of an exchange student program. Green responded that she had a breakfast meeting last week with the new president of Washtenaw Community College – Rose Bellanca – and that the potential for such an exchange student program had been briefly discussed.

Items from the Board

Christine Stead noted that the Forsythe Science Fair was coming up on Sunday, Feb. 12, and encouraged people to come by. Also, she reminded her fellow trustees, “You’re just making it harder on yourselves if you have not started training for the Ann Arbor marathon.” She added that she was happy to help do what she could in terms of supporting them through training.

Simone Lightfoot said she had spent time this week with the Rising Scholars program and looked forward to assessing how the district can continue to support and expand that program. She said the program’s success shows her that kids will take any assistance they can get, including a balanced calendar. [A balanced calendar  could feature a shorter summer break and optional "intersessions" – one or two-week long academic or enrichment activities held during breaks in regular instruction, for example.]

Glenn Nelson said he had been happy to see a number of groups in the community coming together to address issues of student discipline, and noted his involvement in a community panel for Skyline High School’s accreditation review.

Susan Baskett thanked the ACLU and Student Advocacy Center for their recent event, and noted that she and Nelson had participated in a meeting of the district’s minority hiring committee.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot, and Glenn Nelson.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at 7 p.m. at the fourth-floor boardroom of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!