AAPS Weighs Cuts to Staff, Buses, Programs

Superintendent Patricia Green: “We are beyond the tipping point.”

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education Regular Meeting/Committee of the Whole (April 18, 2012): After quickly approving two items in a regular meeting, the AAPS school board recessed to a committee meeting to discuss informally proposed reductions to the fiscal year 2012-13 budget. The district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the coming year.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations (Photos by Monet Tiedemann)

Trustees discussed possible staffing cuts, reductions to transportation services and discretionary budgets, the restructuring of alternative high school programs, and the elimination of some extracurricular funding. AAPS administration is currently relying on $6 million worth of projected revenue enhancements to cover a chunk of the deficit. The remaining deficit is proposed to be covered through a combination of cuts and use of fund balance – summarized in three different plans: A, B and C.

Plan A has the least amount of cuts and the most use of fund balance, but still calls for a reduction in staff by 32 full-time positions, the elimination of some busing services, and the closure or merging of one of the district’s alternative high schools. Plans B and C have progressively greater cuts and less use of fund balance.

A formal presentation will be made on proposed budget reductions at the next regular board meeting, this Wednesday, April 25, with community forums and public hearings to follow in May. Board president Deb Mexicotte said at the meeting that the board will pass a finalized FY 2012-13 budget in June.

After the jump, the specifics of Plans A, B and C are laid out it detail.

Possible 2012-13 Budget Reductions, Revenue Enhancements

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green noted that the proposed 2012-13 budget follows years of massive budget reductions, and said “There are very few places to go where it’s not going to hurt very deeply.” She noted that AAPS has reduced its budget by roughly $55 million over the past five years, saying, “We are beyond the tipping point … We are hemorrhaging in some ways, because we do not have the kind of funding streams to keep us at the level we would choose.”

District deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen presented a tiered set of three alternative budget reduction plans (Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C) to address a projected $17.8 million deficit for the coming year.

Each plan assumes an identical set of four revenue enhancements totaling $6 million: Schools of Choice enrollment ($1.1 million); Medicaid reimbursement ($500,000); state retirement system offset ($1.8 million); and best practices incentive ($2.6 million). Allen pointed out that the Medicaid reimbursement estimate is conservative, and will likely be higher. But he cautioned that though the state retirement offset and best practice incentives are part of Governor Snyder’s budget recommendation, they have not yet been officially approved by the legislature.

AAPS trustee Andy Thomas

AAPS trustee Andy Thomas

So the revenue enhancements assumed by all three plans would reduce the $17.8 million deficit to roughly $11.8 million. Each of the three plans cover that remaining $11.8 million deficit in different ways.

At the April 18 meeting, the board expressed the most interest in the core plan (Plan A) presented by Allen, which would reduce expenditures by $7.3 million and use $4.4 million of fund equity. Multiple trustees expressed appreciation for work of Allen and his staff in putting Plan A together. “I can tell from looking though this that some very sharp pencils were used in coming up with these figures,” said trustee Andy Thomas.

Plans B calls for deeper cuts than Plan A. And Plan C calls for even deeper cuts.  Plan B would reduce expenditures by $9.7 million and require the use of $2 million in fund equity. Plan C would reduce expenditures by $13.5 million, and actually add $1.6 million to the district’s fund equity. The additional cuts in Plans B and C, compared to Plan A would come in three areas – teaching staff, transportation, and district-wide discretionary budgets.

To summarize board discussion in this report, The Chronicle has grouped the suggested budget reductions into the following categories: staffing; transportation; secondary school programs; extracurricular activities; and other district-wide cuts. In each section, the list of recommended reductions is followed by administration’s descriptions and board discussion on each item. The final section on the proposed budget reductions covers board discussion and questions not related directly to any of the administration’s recommendations.

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Staffing

Proposed Plan A staffing reductions are:

  • Reduce teaching staff by 32 FTEs, an average of one per building ($3.2 million);
  • Eliminate four counseling positions ($400,000);
  • Reduce police liaison contract for three school officers ($350,000);
  • Outsource noon-hour supervision ($75,000);
  • Reduce budget for substitute teachers ($200,000)
  • Eliminate or consolidate middle school athletic directors ($37,500); and
  • Require the Rec and Ed director and office professional positions to be funded by Rec and Ed, not the general fund, now that Rec and Ed can support them ($205,000).

If the board chose to move forward with Plan B, the above reductions would be amended as follows:

  • Reduce teaching staff by 48 FTEs, an average of 1.5 per building ($4.8 million).

If the board chose to move forward with Plan C, the above reductions would be amended as follows:

  • Reduce teaching staff by 64 FTEs, an average of 2 per building ($6.4 million).

Trustees requested clarification on how the reduction of 32 teaching FTEs would be achieved.  Allen explained that if the positions could be not eliminated through retirements and attrition, layoffs would have to be considered. He stressed that the plan for 2012-13 is not to “carry any surplus [teachers]“. This is unlike the situation this year, he noted, when AAPS planned to eliminate 64 positions, but was only able to eliminate 50, and the board “carried” the remaining 14 teachers rather than lay them off. These teachers have been used primarily as long and short-term substitutes throughout the district this year, and the cost of their positions has been added back into the budget with the second quarter budget amendment, Allen explained.

Trustee Andy Thomas asked about the current number of anticipated retirements. AAPS director of finance Nancy Hoover said that at this time, 31 teachers have announced their retirements, but reminded the board that their positions might not line up with the district’s needs – as state law requires each teacher to be “highly qualified” for the subject area and grade level they teaching.

Thomas said the proposed reductions to teaching staff was the one part of Plan A that would cause him “not to sleep at night,” and said he would feel comfortable being more aggressive in the use of fund equity to reduce or eliminate the need to reduce staff, because fund equity would have shrunk only $800,000 since 2010. He noted that the district ended FY 2009-10 with fund equity of $16.9 million, ended FY 2010-11 with fund equity of $20.5 million, and would end FY 2011-12 with fund equity of $16.1 million if the board passed budget reduction Plan A.

Trustee Glenn Nelson requested that Allen provide a three-year projection, saying he believed it would be helpful for deciding the degree to which fund equity should be used. Allen said that such projections would be part of the formal budget presentation on April 25.

AAPS Trustee Glenn Nelson

AAPS Trustee Glenn Nelson

Trustee Irene Patalan said she would be open to a compromise that would use more fund equity to preserve teaching staff. But she was not sure how much of the fund equity she would feel comfortable using: “Everyone wants to give kids everything they can…What really is the right amount? What makes our security blanket not secure?”

Trustee Christine Stead noted that education funding from the state is projected to decrease again in FY 2013-14. “This is not our rainiest day,” she argued, pointing out that the MPSERS rate will rise from 27% to 31.2%, and that the MPSERS offset and best practices funding will likely be reduced, while the foundation allowance stays stagnant.

Stead asked Green if 32 FTEs can really be taken out of our education program and not have a negative impact on students. Green allowed that yes, there would be an impact, and said it would be dishonest of her to say otherwise. Stead said it did not seem realistic to reduce teaching FTEs, and that she did not think that would support the mission and core purpose of the district. Thomas agreed, saying, “I am concerned about taking a big hit on teacher FTEs this year after [doing so] last year.”

Allen noted that the rationale for reducing counseling staff is that counselors are not “staffed to ratio.” The teachers’ union contract, which also covers guidance counselors, allows each counselor to be responsible for 350 students. But Allen said counselors currently have fewer than 350 students. Mexicotte expressed concern about the impact of cutting counselors on building climate. She compared the proposed reductions in counseling staff to the proposed reductions in police liaison positions. “When I look at the cost, I want to have an impact on safety and climate, and I’d rather have better resources to build climate in the buildings.”

Stead said the issue is one of student safety, and noted the recent bomb threats at Skyline and Forsythe. “I am a little concerned that removing [the police liaisons] will cause students to feel less safe,” she said.  Mexicotte responded that having police liaisons is not the norm for schools in the district. “I agree that climate and safety are real issues, but I’d rather have actual safety and good climate than perceived safety and good climate.” Trustee Susan Baskett added that the police liaisons were added in the 1970′s because of racial fights at the high school level. When she looked at the suspension and discipline issues, she said, she wondered if the liaisons have made things better or worse.

Allen also said he did not think most of the individuals working as noon-hour supervisors were doing so for the retirement benefits. He suggested that hourly wages for the positions might be able to increase if the board outsourced those jobs through a management company instead of maintaining them as AAPS positions, because AAPS would not have to pay into the state retirement system for those employees. Public school districts in Michigan currently pay an amount equal to 27% of employees’ wages and salaries to the state to support the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS).

Allen argued that substitute teacher costs could be reduced if the individual building administrators managed their own costs instead of doing that centrally. “It’s a way to help control costs where they are actually occurring,” he said. Mexicotte agreed that giving building administrators control over these costs could give them a sense of empowerment, but cautioned that there needs to be “the right balance of accountability.” She offered the example of a building running out of money for substitute teachers in March, and questioned what central administration would do in that case.

A few trustees asked about the role of middle school athletic directors. Allen explained that athletics at the middle school level is essentially “district-wide intramural.” The middle school ADs, he said, schedule all events between schools, as well as hire and monitor coaches. Allen explained that the ADs at this level are already full-time district employees, who then receive supplemental pay for their AD duties. Rather than have five middle school ADs, he said, those tasks could be consolidated into one or two positions.

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Transportation

Proposed Plan A transportation reductions are:

  • Combine bus runs for Bryant and Pattengill ($16,560);
  • Change Skyline’s schoolday starting and ending times by 15 minutes to streamline bus use ($266,400);
  • Eliminate 4 p.m. middle school bus ($85,284);
  • Eliminate midday shuttles from Community High School to comprehensive high schools ($230,184); and
  • Eliminate all transportation of choice (i.e., Ann Arbor Open, Skyline, and Clemente) ($266,400).

If the board chose to move forward with Plan B, the above reductions would be amended as follows:

  • Eliminate all high school busing ($545,000).

If the board chose to move forward with Plan C, the above reductions would be amended as follows:

  • Eliminate all busing, except for special education busing ($3.5 million).

Allen said he anticipated that combining bus runs to Bryant and Pattengill would be well-received by the community, as many parents have already asked for such changes. He also pointed out that changing Skyline’s schoolday start and end times would not impact the length of its day or periods – but the earlier end time would allow the second tier buses to be used more effectively. (AAPS uses a three-tiered busing system, with staggered starting and ending times for elementary, middle, and high schools.) Allen also noted that changing Skyline’s starting and ending times would require an adjustment in a memorandum of understanding in the teachers’ contract.

AAPS  trustee Susan Baskett

AAPS trustee Susan Baskett

Baskett argued that eliminating the midday shuttles from Community High School would prevent Community students from taking classes at the comprehensive high schools. Patalan disagreed, saying that Community did not always have mid-day shuttles, and that while Community students would certainly play sports at other schools, they did not often take classes at the comprehensive high schools. Baskett countered that the shuttles have “enhanced the quality of education” at Community.

Thomas asked if Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) services could be used to transport Community students to other schools, and Allen said it would not be as easy as using the current shuttles, which run every 20 minutes throughout the school day.

Baskett also expressed concern about the elimination of transportation of choice. “The way we sold Skyline – that bond,” she said, “was that we would support the students who opted in or won the lottery. We are not supporting them now…We sold that to the community, and now we are backing off on our promise.” Baskett said she would love to hear from parents with children at Ann Arbor Open or Skyline about how removing transportation of choice would alter their experience at those schools. She also asked how the district’s discussions with AATA were proceeding.

By way of additional background on AATA,  CEO Michael Ford’s written report to his board for April 2012 includes an optimistic update on collaboration with AAPS:

Discussions [between AATA and AAPS] have yielded a preliminary agreement to replace three high school bus routes with the use of existing AATA service, with minor modifications; one route each for Huron, Pioneer and Skyline High Schools.  This would permit AAPS/WISD to completely eliminate three buses and reduce costs.  AATA would provide passes which AAPS would distribute to eligible students.  Each time a student boards a bus AATA would charge AAPS.  It is hoped that agreement can be reached in April for implementation in the fall of 2012.

Thomas reiterated a suggestion he had first introduced during last year’s budget discussions. “As an alternative to eliminating high school busing, why not pay for busing services in the morning, and then leave it to [students] to figure out how to get home.” He noted that during after-school hours, it’s light outside, temperatures are higher, and public buses are running. Thomas requested that Allen provide an estimate of the cost of providing half-day bus service at the middle and high school levels. Nelson supported Thomas’ suggestion.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot suggested that the district talk to students directly about the potential elimination of all transportation services, saying, “I want to make sure that we have a sense of who these children are that we are impacting… I want us to be extra vigilant as a board that these cuts fall in line with our strategic plan and our rhetoric about kids standing in the [achievement] gap.” She argued that it is a slippery slope to go down the list of non-mandated service when considering cuts.

Lightfoot also noted that the board has not yet heard an update from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District regarding the transportation services AAPS has been receiving. [A transportation services review from the WISD is on the agenda for the April 25 board meeting.] She argued that transportation should be looked at holistically. “I’d to see us have the right conversation and the right plan. We are almost operating on feeling or thought rather than data regarding transportation.”

Mexicotte said she has been struck by the different perceptions people have had of the fairness of bus services offered this year. “I thought some busing was better than no busing, and that might be true,” she said. “But, I have had some conversations with people about how eliminating busing [would have been] psychologically less difficult than changing busing.” She noted how now there are “busing winners” and “busing losers.”

Another perspective on transportation that Mexicotte said she has been mulling is the balance between social justice and parental responsibility. “Of course those with the least resources are the most impacted – can they still get to school?” she asked. On the other hand, Mexicotte pointed out, the expectation from the state is that it’s the parents’ responsibility to get their children to school.

“Both have been on my mind – the fairness doctrine and the question of social justice versus parental responsibility,” Mexicotte said. “Whatever we do with busing to preserve our educational mission, I’m going to be thinking about transportation from that fairness standpoint, and also thinking about the mandate that parents have to get their kids to school.”

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Secondary School Programs

Proposed Plan A reductions to secondary school programs are:

  • Restructure or close A2 Tech or Roberto Clemente ($400,000); and
  • Reduce secondary summer school costs by consolidating program locations ($80,000).

Regarding the restructuring or closure of A2 Tech and Roberto Clemente, Allen said there were a number of options that could be undertaken to achieve the targeted savings. One would be to move Roberto Clemente into the A2 Tech building.

Trustee Christine Stead directs a question to Robert Allen.

Trustee Christine Stead directs a question to Robert Allen.

That’s an option because capacity at the A2 Tech building is over 400 students and the combined student population of the two programs is under 250 students, he said. Another option Allen suggested would be to move both programs into the comprehensive high schools.

Stead asked what was included in the cost savings estimate. Allen told her it reflected the closure of one building, including administrative salaries and building operating costs.

A few trustees asked what would happen to the building itself, and Allen replied the building could be considered for revenue enhancement opportunities.

Thomas said he really liked the alternative programs offered at A2 Tech and Roberto Clemente, and requested more detail about how $400,000 would be eliminated. Baskett encouraged trustees to visit each of the programs and talk to administrators there. “We need to see what we are looking at impacting or changing.”

Baskett cautioned against moving alternative programs into the comprehensive high schools, saying “There is a reason why some students do not go to comprehensive schools.”

Baskett also expressed concern about folding Roberto Clemente’s summer school program into the broader secondary school summer program, and suggested having a discussion with students and staff about the potential impact of doing that.

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Extracurricular Activities

Proposed Plan A reductions to athletic and music budgets are:

  • Eliminate district funds to support band/music summer camps ($60,000);
  • Reduce athletic entry fees, such as for invitational/optional meets ($58,000); and
  • Change lacrosse to a club sport ($93,000).

Baskett asked what costs the district covered related to the summer music camps. Allen explained that it was mostly the cost of staffing and travel. Baskett asked if this reduction would impact student scholarships available for these camps, and Mexicotte noted that some of the scholarship money came from booster organizations. Allen added that AAPS will have time to find another way to fund these camps.

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Other District-Wide Cuts

Other proposed district-wide Plan A reductions were:

  • Restructure Information and Technology Division (ITD) services ($200,000);
  • Eliminate the early notification retirement incentive ($40,000);
  • Eliminate site-based budgets ($250,750);
  • Reduce discretionary budgets by 5% ($250,000);
  • Reduce health care costs ($100,000); and
  • Proceed with Phase V of the energy savings capital improvement performance series ($500,000). [This item was approved by the board during the regular meeting portion of the April 18 agenda.]

If the board chooses to move forward with Plan B, the above reductions would be amended as follows:

  • Reduce discretionary budgets by 10% ($500,000).

Allen noted that the ITD efficiencies noted above would be met by the technology bond if it is approved by district voters on May 8. Green emphasized that this budget assumes passage of the tech bond. Allen added that if the bond millage does not pass, the district will need to spend an additional $3 million to $4 million on technology out of the general fund within the next year or two. Nelson and Patalan each stressed to the community how passing the tech bond will preserve the general fund to pay for teachers and other operating expenses. Green also singled out Steve Norton, treasurer of the Ann Arbor Citizen’s Millage Committee, who was at the meeting, thanking him and all the other volunteers for their public service in advocating for this bond.

AAPS trustee Irene Patalan

AAPS trustee Irene Patalan

Regarding the early notification incentive, Allen explained that staff members are given a monetary incentive to announce their retirements early, and that there are three dates at which incentives are offered. Nelson said that hiring later causes the district to lose good candidates, and argued that the incentives ensure more quality candidates are available during the hiring process. Allen suggested more analysis could be done.

Allen pointed out that site-based budgets are used to support the activities of buildings’ school improvement teams (SITs), and that the building school improvement plans should be reviewed to see how that money is being used. Baskett said that reducing SIT funding doesn’t seem fair to schools who are using the money well, and argued that the same percentage should not be taken from all schools. Mexicotte expressed concern about how SIT budgets are being used across the district.

Allen noted that the discretionary budgets being recommended for reduction do not include utilities. Mexicotte asked what is included in these budgets.  Allen explained that they include travel, conferences, supplies, and hourly personnel. In response to a question from Thomas, Allen said these funds are also the source for district-hired consultants, such as Pacific Education Group.

Mexicotte pointed out that if 5% of these budgets is $250,000, then they total $5 million: “That’s a big chunk of discretionary money.” She suggested that perhaps $3.2 million could be taken out of this line item to pay for the suggested 32 FTE reductions in teaching staff.

Allen noted that one of the assumptions made last year was that health care costs would increase by a greater rate than they actually did, which is what accounts for the health care cost savings.

Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE) is considering pooling health care costs among Washtenaw county districts. So Nelson asked if the district’s involvement in WAE would have any impact on the district’s health care costs in the next year.  Allen said it would not have any impact. Allen explained that while AAPS is open to the idea, it’s not likely that AAPS would be able to garner much savings from pooling with other districts. Responding to a question from Stead, Allen indicated that AAPS is planning to study its own health care utilization pattern so that the district is able to make an informed decision if the WAE does invite AAPS into a health care consortium. Allen reiterated that AAPS is “not in the same ball park” in terms of health care costs – due to the size of AAPS and the fact that its union contracts cap costs.

Proposed 2012-13 Budget Reductions: Other Board Discussion and Questions

Nelson asked what the proposed budget assumes about the county’s reimbursement rate for special education services. Allen responded by saying the budget assumed a 66% reimbursement rate for 2012-13, but that AAPS has just received notification that that special education services will be reimbursed at 67%, which translates to a difference of roughly $250,000.

2012-13 Budget Timeline

Now that the board had expressed some of its concerns and noted areas about which it would like more detailed information, Mexicottte explained that the administration will prepare for a more formal presentation on the proposed 2012-13 budget. That presentation will come at the board’s next regular, televised meeting. Following that, she said, there will be two public hearings in May, and the final budget will be passed in June.

Lightfoot asked if the district would be taking this plan to the community, and Allen said there would be community forums held after the first formal briefing to the board.

Stead asked if it would be possible to approve the final budget before June, so the district would have more time to work with parents to address changes [such as those affecting busing for next fall] before school gets out for the summer.

Green noted that the final state budget needs to be set before the district can set its budget. She said that Gov. Rick Snyder has said the state budget would be set by June 1. Nelson noted that that possible reforms to the state retirement system could also have a large budgetary impact, and that reforms might not follow the budget timeline.

Thomas agreed with Stead that AAPS should not put itself in the same position as last year, when the district spent all summer trying to communicate changes to the busing plan after school was out.

Mexicotte acknowledged her colleagues’ concerns, and said the board would move as quickly as possible through the remaining steps in the budget process. She said by mid-May, everyone should be clear which reductions the budget will likely include.

Balanced Calendar

Green and AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye addressed the board about moving to a balanced calendar. Green summarized some of the history. She said that the idea of moving from a traditional academic calendar to a balanced calendar came about as part of the UM/Mitchell/Scarlett partnership. After community concerns rose with the initial presentation of the idea, it was tabled, and AAPS administration underwent significant turnover. This winter, Green and her new team revisited the issue, and discovered that the research supporting a move to a balanced calendar is much less clear than had been initially presented to the board last year.

Balanced Calendar: Review of Data

Flye walked the board through a detailed presentation on the research she had reviewed, which revealed a lack of consensus among educators about the effectiveness of a balanced calendar in most settings. Flye noted that the UM/Mitchell/Scarlett partnership is going strong, and that it is working to focus all of its efforts within the school improvement goals already set by the buildings.

Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent for instructional services, addresses the balanced calendar while Amy Osinski, executive secretary to the board of education, looks on.

Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent for instructional services, addresses the topic of the balanced calendar while Amy Osinski, executive secretary to the board of education, looks on.

Flye characterized a balanced calendar as spreading the 180 days of a typical school year across more weeks of the year, shortening vacation periods, and interspersing “intersessions” between sections of the school year.

She noted that proponents of a balanced calendar say it increases student achievement, but that the research is inconclusive and contradictory. Flye added that most research does show consistent academic gains for at-risk students when schools have switched to a balanced calendar.

Flye said that a balanced calendar would not save the district money, but would in fact add costs to the budget. She also noted many potential challenges – including a lack of support from the community, teachers, and local businesses, which depend on students for summer labor.

Flye suggested that AAPS form a committee, including union leadership representation, to continue to discuss the impact that a balanced calendar would have on AAPS specifically, and to develop a draft calendar for discussion. She listed some aspects of the committee’s work, which would include: site visits to districts with a balanced calendar; parent meetings; parent surveys; and the invitation of guest speakers to address the community. She requested that the board provide the committee with parameters for a balanced calendar, such as whether opting-out would be allowed. Other parameters would be whether the balanced calendar would apply to the whole district, clusters of schools, or only specific buildings.

Balanced Calendar: Board Response

The board expressed mixed responses to Flye’s presentation.

Given that the data are inconclusive and the costs or retrofitting air-conditioning at all buildings could be prohibitive, Thomas suggested that AAPS should focus on expanding summer school in some buildings rather than moving to a balanced calendar across the district. He also suggested that the district could create meaningful opportunities for learning during instructional breaks, such as the “intersessions” described as part of the UM/Mitchell/Scarlett partnership. Patalan also liked the idea of expanding intersessions across the district.

Stead noted that Flye’s research did not distinguish between balanced calendar programs that added actual instructional time and those that merely spread out the 180 days that are already part of the traditional calendar. “Somehow we need more time with our students,” she asserted, and noted that countries with more instructional time score higher on international tests of student achievement.

Lightfoot and Baskett each expressed frustration at the additional study being undertaken by the current AAPS administration. Lightfoot said, “I’m not so sure that the back and forth of studies should inform us. We can do it right.” Baskett agreed, saying that Flye’s presentation seemed like a total dismissal of the work of previous administrators. She said she would like to see AAPS implement a balanced calendar as part of the UM/Mitchell/Scarlett partnership, and allow families to opt-out if they did not want to participate. Baskett also said AAPS could be a place where researchers could study how a balanced calendar could be effective.

Nelson said he had been swayed by the presentation, having been ready to fully support a balanced calendar if it make sense educationally – but was now feeling unsure how to proceed. He expressed concern that the board was asking the administration to study too many specific big initiatives at one time, and suggested the board have one discussion, perhaps as part of a retreat, that would prioritize the district’s focus on different initiatives. Those initiatives needing prioritization include: a balanced calendar; high school start times; moving to more K-8 schools; changing attendance boundaries; closing a building; and other possible strategies toward raising student achievement. Nelson said it was hard to work through these issues in a linear fashion, at sequential meetings. “I don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, but I don’t want to say ‘no’ either. I want [the administration's] feedback.”

Green responded saying that the administration is spread thin with the number of initiatives the board has asked it to pursue at once. She urged the board to allow the administration to focus on what it can do and do well, which is focusing on instructional delivery and maximizing learning time. Green also emphasized that the district’s strategic plan, achievement gap elimination plan, and discipline gap elimination plan are “very comprehensive and structured to bring about results.”

Mexicotte suggested to her colleagues that the right approach might be to direct administration to continue to work on whatever they think will improve instructional time. She pointed out that a balanced calendar is just one strategy that could be used to do that. “This is not a hill we should die on,” Mexicotte said. “We can’t do everything.” Maybe the board should not be so directive in suggesting agenda items, but focus on the plans mentioned by Green and allow strategies to support those plans to come forward from administration more “organically,” she said.

Baskett said the board owed the community “closure” on the balanced calendar issue. She said there may be other issues that require similar focus. Lightfoot said that any changes to the upcoming board agenda should be made transparently, and Mexicotte agreed.

Spring Grant Awards and Energy Savings Plan

The “regular meeting” portion of the April 18 agenda was extremely brief. Without any discussion, the board approved two items on a consent agenda – the 2011/12 spring grant awards, and Phase V of the energy savings capital improvement performance series.

Both issues were briefed at the previous regular board meeting on March 21, 2012.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan (until 9:30 p.m.), and trustees Simone Lightfoot, Glenn Nelson, and Christine Stead.

Next meeting: Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

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!


  1. April 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    The FY14 budget plans from Governor Snyder include the following:

    •MPSERS increases to 31.2%.
    •No increase to the foundational allowance (which will be kept at the FY12 level, representing a 7% reduction from FY11 or $470/student FTE – the largest reduction to K12 education in the history of school funding in Michigan).
    •Decreased MPSERS offset from FY13 and FY12.
    •($113M) less for best practices funding compared to FY13.

    These projections are not likely to change much with the current legislators in office. The AAPS ‘rainy day fund’ is also meant to address a cash flow issue so that our district can make payroll commitments over the summer months, as revenue disbursements are not released to districts during this time. Our Board policy states that the AAPS must maintain 15% fund equity. We have been below 10% for some time, and will continue to be. The important take-away is that FY14 is likely to be worse than FY13 in terms of funding for K12 public education, and there are limitations to how much fund equity can address, especially given the FY14 outlook.

  2. By jane burton
    April 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm | permalink

    1) In support of eliminating police liaison officers: the student and staff populations at the large high schools have been cut by almost 50%, surveillance systems are in place, the discipline incidents are tremendously fewer than 5 years ago.The officer has much less to get involved in and elimination should be strongly considered.
    2) What is the early notification for retirement incentive? who is is open to? how would one be informed o the important dates connected with it?
    3) As far as changing the rules of the game with regarding to transporting students to schools, passing the last bond, etc. — the rules of the game have been changing constantly for everyone 00 that is the game now.
    4) Why never consider having CHS student attend comprehensive high schools? They would enhance the student populations of each both in numbers and in quality, could enjoy the programs at the comprehensives without incurring transportation costs, etc. Yet this is never, ever proposed. Why such is CHS sacred cow?
    5) Combining Roberto Clemente and AA Tech/Stone is a great idea for so many reasons — location, accessibility by AATA, staff cost reduction, etc. Putting those programs into the comprehensives — not a good idea — often these students must have a separate setting in order to focus on their education without the many distractions which their original high school setting presented.school

  3. By john floyd
    April 23, 2012 at 10:46 pm | permalink

    I have not heard “Reduction of Administrator Salaries” offered as a solution element. Might save several teacher FTE’s. Seems to me that retaining teachers is closer to the schools’ mission that matching administration salaries in other districts.

    It’s also time to focus on the relationship between how much we are willing to fund schools vs. other state services, and the creation of a “21st Century Jobs” workforce. May be we are better off educating kids than incarcerating small-time dope users.

  4. April 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm | permalink

    It was interesting that tonight at the board meeting there were lots and lots of Roberto Clemente students and parents speaking against the Roberto Clemente proposed cut, but there was not a single person from Ann Arbor Tech (aka Stone School). I have thought for a long time that the Clemente program is a much stronger program, and I wonder if this is just proof of that.

  5. April 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm | permalink

    Schoolsmuse, many of the students enrolled at A2 Tech are living on their own with no parental support. Many are working full time jobs while seeking their high school degrees. I would not make the assessment that not seeing them at the board meeting tonight equates to a weaker program at A2 Tech.

  6. April 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    No Liz, I make the assessment that Clemente is a stronger program based on the two schools’ graduation rates. And also based on conversations with parents and staff over the years.

    I wonder though, are you trying to say that the way these kids split out is that kids with family support end up at Roberto Clemente, and those without it end up at Ann Arbor Tech? Because based on limited information–for instance, the kid profiled in the Detroit Free Press [link], that is not the impression that I’ve gotten.

    I agree that it might not make sense to run two programs that appear to serve the same population (do they?) and it’s my understanding that part of the issue is that Roberto Clemente (the school) was designed for the program, with small classrooms to suit the small class sizes. That is obviously different than Ann Arbor Tech, which is in Stone School, an old elementary school.