AAPS Hears from Community: Keep Clemente

School board gets formal budget presentation

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (April 25, 2012): The board received a formal presentation of the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. The board is not required to approve the budget until June 30.

At the meeting, 33 parents, students, and staff responded to proposed budget cuts that would affect transportation, Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, and music camps. The total time allotted for public commentary by the AAPS board is 45 minutes. So speakers wanting to address the school board at public commentary at the April 25 AAPS school board meeting were limited to 1 minute and 22 seconds, which was rounded up to a minute and a half.

Brian Marcel and Scott Wenzel, giving the WISD transportation update

Brian Marcel and Scott Menzel gave the AAPS board an update on the transportation services provided by WISD to the district as part of a consortium of other districts.

After hearing the budget presentation, board members shared some of their individual thinking on how best to address the projected $17.8 million deficit facing the district next year. AAPS is sponsoring two community budget forums to get additional feedback on the budget proposal. Both start at 6:30 p.m. The first will be held on May 7 at the Pioneer High School Cafeteria Annex and the second one a week later on May 14 at the Huron High School Cafeteria.

Support of the upcoming technology bond millage came up multiple times at the meeting as one way local residents could have an impact on the funding crisis facing local schools. AAPS district voters will decide that issue on May 8.

Also at this meeting, longtime environmental educator Bill Browning was honored by the board for his years of dedication to the district, as well as his recent $30,000 donation to the AAPS Science and Environmental Education Endowment Fund.

Presentation of Proposed 2012-13 Budget

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green led off the formal budget presentation with a set of prepared remarks. She reviewed the effect that Proposal A, passed in 1994, has had on “the defunding of education as a state priority.” She said the resulting budget cuts have caused the district to feel a great sense of loss and tremendous pain. Green noted that AAPS students score higher on the ACT and SAT than state and national averages, and that the district is also recognized nationally for success in arts and athletics, but that “all of this excellence is in danger if the state does not address the structural deficit they have created.” Green urged all AAPS families to contact their legislators to ensure that retirement costs are fairly addressed, and that K-12 schools receive their rightful funding.

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen then gave the board a formal presentation on the administration’s proposed budget for 2012-13. His presentation reviewed the assumptions underpinning the proposed budget, and reviewed the proposed reductions presented at the board’s April 18, 2012 committee of the whole meeting.

2012-13 Budget – Assumptions

Allen reviewed the funds held by the district, and noted that all funds have restrictions on their use, except for the general fund. He explained how schools are funded, and reviewed how student count is determined. Of the slides he presented, one piqued more interest from trustees than others – a slide that showed the per-pupil allocations AAPS has received from the state over time. The district is currently receiving $9,020 per pupil, which is less than the 2001-02 amount of $9,234.

Trustee Christine Stead pointed out that the actual amount is much lower when you adjust for inflation. And Andy Thomas suggested adding a column to the chart that shows the increase in the mandated employer contribution to the state pension system, MPSERS, alongside the decrease in foundation allowances. “It would give a very realistic portrayal of why we are sitting here after midnight getting ready to talk about some very difficult issues.”

Allen noted that, in 2001-02, the district was paying an amount equal to around 12% of employee wages into MPSERS, but that the rate has skyrocketed in the past decade. The mandated employer contribution rate is currently 27%, Allen said, and is projected to increase to more than 31% for FY 2013-14, and to more 33% for FY 2014-15.

Allen said that while legislation is currently being considered to reform MPSERS, the effect of any changes would be long-term. In response to a question from trustee Glenn Nelson, Allen said that for each percentage point that the MPSERS rate increases, the cost to AAPS is roughly $1.1 million.

Finally, Allen showed a slide of three-year projections and highlighted the impact on the district’s fund equity, if the district did not make any budget reductions. “If we don’t cut anything,” he said, “we could make it one more year.” Nelson suggested checking the accuracy of base budget numbers, given the projected changes to special education reimbursement.

In response to Allen’s review of potential revenue enhancements, Nelson asked if the enrollment projections included the School of Choice students. Allen said that although the district is expecting an increase in SOC students based on the move to all-day kindergarten, the projected increase in enrollment is not reflected in the budget’s enrollment projections. Nelson also contended that the “best practices” incentives offered by the state are not best practices as defined by educators, but function instead like “political ransom.”

Stead noted that Michigan school districts are facing the largest funding reduction in state history, and said it would really change the whole conversation if communities were able to regain local levy authority. Trustee Irene Patalan said that while sales in Michigan are projected to increase, she did not trust that the state will use the sales tax as promised to fund K-12 education.

The Chronicle has organized the bulk of this article according to the budget topics addressed at this meeting – transportation, Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, band and orchestra camps, staffing, the tech bond, and discretionary budgets.

2012-13 Budget – Transportation

The proposed transportation budget reduction options discussed at the April 25 meeting were:

  • changing Skyline’s school day starting and ending times by 15 minutes to streamline bus use ($266,400);
  • eliminating the 4 p.m. middle school bus ($85,284);
  • eliminating midday shuttles from Community High School to comprehensive high schools ($230,184);
  • eliminating all transportation of choice (i.e., Ann Arbor Open, Skyline, and Clemente) ($266,400);
  • eliminating all high school busing ($545,000);
  • and eliminating all busing except for special education busing ($3.5 million).

Transportation: WISD Update

Earlier in the evening of the April 25 meeting, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD)’s superintendent Scott Menzel and assistant superintendent Brian Marcel presented the board with an update of the transportation services provided to AAPS as part of the WISD transportation consortium. Their presentation highlighted the results of a parent satisfaction survey they had conducted, from which they concluded there are an “unacceptable” percentage of parents who are unhappy with the service. [.pdf of WISD transportation update]

A key issue, Marcel explained, is that routing is done with the previous years’ student data – because the district’s student accounting software, PowerSchool, does not “roll up” student data until August. That is, in the district’s software, students aren’t moved to the next grade level until August. Multiple trustees questioned this process, and suggested ways to achieve greater accuracy in routing. Marcel also provided volume data for the phone calls received by the WISD about busing, and discussed plans to be better prepared to respond to calls in the coming year.

Nelson clarified that the district’s participation in the WISD transportation consortium has an effect on the special education reimbursement from the state. In Michigan, 70% of the cost of special education vehicles is eligible for state reimbursement. Marcel explained how the state reimbursements had shifted – as the responsibility for transporting special education students had shifted from AAPS to the WISD.

A few board members expressed disappointment with the WISD’s report, and requested additional information. Trustee Andy Thomas asked if the WISD was aware of any industry standards in terms of cost per student mile that would allow AAPS to benchmark the efficiency of the consortium, and also asked Green to have AAPS staff review the effect of the transportation changes to absenteeism in the district. Lightfoot also questioned the cost of services provided by the consortium. Patalan asked for the WISD’s suggestions on how to save money in transportation.

Board president Deb Mexicotte said the presentation had given the board a lot to think about, and said, “Hopefully we can do better next year.”

Transportation: Ann Arbor Open and Community

Five parents spoke to the board during public commentary regarding the proposed cuts to busing that would affect students attending Ann Arbor Open and Community High School.

Bruce Tasonjy, whose daughter will be attending Community in the fall, said that the cuts to busing will make it hard for single parents to keep their jobs. He also suggested cutting salaries across the board, instead of laying off so many employees.

Sascha Matish, Jill Zimmerman, Carol Sickman-Garner, and Carol Chase discussed the ramifications of cutting busing to Ann Arbor Open. Matish said parents at Ann Arbor Open are sympathetic to the difficulty of the job facing the board, but noted that Ann Arbor Open serves 500 students ages 4 to 14, who deserve the same services as their K-8 peers. She argued that cutting busing would limit Ann Arbor Open to families who live nearby the school and are able to transport their children to and from school each day.

Zimmerman suggested that Ann Arbor Open could make other cuts that would equal the cost of transporting to and from the school. She and Chase said Ann Arbor Open parents would welcome the district’s suggestions for alternative ways to meet the targeted budget reductions, and that parents can also suggest alternatives that would achieve budget reductions while doing less damage to the school’s institutional integrity. Zimmerman also pointed out that students who are interested in pursuing open education might find local charter schools more interesting if AAPS does not offer transportation to Ann Arbor Open.

Finally, Sickman-Garner said that if the board does decide to eliminate bus service to Ann Arbor Open, the school will need help from the district to ensure student safety during drop-off and pick-up. She pointed out that twice every day, 500 students and their families are converging on one building with a small parking lot in the middle of a neighborhood. She asked if there had been any consideration of the impact of eliminating busing on the neighborhood surrounding Ann Arbor Open, as well as the cost of possibly upgrading traffic lights, redoing the school’s parking lot, or hiring additional crossing guards.

Transportation: Board Discussion

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she would like to see the district form a transportation committee that includes representation from parents and kids who are affected, and said she would be willing work with the committee. During the agenda planning portion of the meeting, Mexicotte said she would place the possible creation of a transportation committee on the board’s next committee of the whole agenda.

Thomas said that it seems to him, in looking over the budget projections, that the question is not whether but when to eliminate transportation. He said, that like taking off a bandaid, “You know it’s going to hurt no matter when you do it. In my view, transportation appears to be a dead duck.” Regarding transportation at Ann Arbor Open, Thomas recounted his memory of living on the Old West Side, seeing Ann Arbor Open parents standing in line with tents, barbeques and camp chairs, to be able to register their children for the school. Citing the extreme dedication and determination of Ann Arbor Open parents, Thomas said he firmly believed that these parents would figure out how to organize carpools to get their kids to school.

Lightfoot asked for clarification on why only Skyline’s and not other high school’s schoolday times would be changed. Allen responded that Skyline’s day ends later than the other high schools, and would not allow for buses to take Skyline students home and then return in time to take middle school students home.

Lightfoot also said the board needs to be sensitive to all parents, even those who don’t show up, who “don’t love their children any less.” She said she felt the board had a tacit agreement to “hold harmless” transportation this year, make it right, and put alternatives in front of parents. Lightfoot expressed frustration that when people talk about keeping budget cuts out of classrooms, they don’t think about the need to get kids to the classrooms. “I would like us to take the elimination of busing off the table, and figure out real, sustainable solutions after we can study it.”

Patalan said she shared Thomas’ vision of the future of transportation, and asked, “Where is AATA with this – they provide something we need.”

Patalan also said taking away transportation from Ann Arbor Open makes her uncomfortable because it serves younger children (K-8), but that if busing is taken away, she would look to Ann Arbor Open to be a model to the rest of the district as to how to work with their coordinating council/PTO to get their kids to school. “I am asking them to lead this community,” she said.

Trustee Susan Baskett said that she appreciates that folks at Ann Arbor Open will work out transportation issues, but argued that some people “don’t always want to be a charity case.” She gave an example of having a beat-up vehicle that is unreliable making a parent unable to be part of a carpool. “If we say we believe in alternative education, our actions are not speaking with out words… If we value it, we have to put money behind it,” she said.

Baskett also pointed out that the elimination of the 4 p.m. middle school bus could have a disproportionate effect on children at-risk. Allen noted that the elimination of the bus would impact both academic and athletic programs at the middle schools. Baskett said the impact of eliminating this bus should be thought out fully, and pointed out, “Some things we are willing to study with a committee and some we are not.” She also requested more information behind the reasoning for eliminating the midday shuttles at Community.

Jill Zimmerman, an Ann Arbor Open parent who stayed at the meeting past 2 a.m., asked to be recognized, and Mexicotte said she could speak to the board very briefly. She said that she appreciates that Thomas thinks Ann Arbor Open parents are super-dedicated, and that Patalan thinks they could set an example for the district, but pointed out that it would a hard burden for Ann Arbor Open parents to lose transportation. “It’s one thing to wait outside for a few days in a tent [to register for the school]; it’s another to have to be at school every day,” Zimmerman said. Lastly, she pointed out that the kids who will leave Ann Arbor Open due to a lack of transportation will be its most vulnerable kids.

2012-13 Budget – Roberto Clemente

The board is considering closing or restructuring Roberto Clemente Student Development Center to achieve targeted cost savings of $400,000. At the April 25 meeting, 23 people addressed the board to express disapproval with a proposed budget reductions which would affect the school – 16 students, 4 parents, 1 teacher, 1 social worker, and Clemente’s principal, Ben Edmondson. Almost all of the speakers reflected on the way that Clemente functions more like a family than a school.

During the April 25 meeting, comments made by individual board members about the Clemente meeting indicated a general willingness to consider relocating the program into the building currently being used by A2 Tech.

Roberto Clemente: Public Commentary from Students

One of the themes that came across in the students’ statements to the board was the importance of second chances. Many students gave examples of their grade point averages before and after moving into Clemente from their traditional programs, and credited the school with their turnarounds. Xavier Lawson defined himself as a former “at-risk kid,” and said that because of Clemente, he and many other students who had previously been “in the [achievement] gap” were not any longer in the gap. Alexzandra Botello agreed, saying, “I became a student at Clemente.”

A handful of students gave very humbling statements about how staff at Clemente had helped them to realize how their previous attitudes or behaviors were only hurting themselves. They talked about how they had taken responsibility for themselves and were preparing to attend college. Students expressed concern that moving Clemente’s location would cause a regression in their positive behavior. Many asked that board members visit Clemente to see firsthand how unique and well-suited the environment is to this population of students.

Multiple students also credited Clemente with being a “lifesaver.” Marcus Buggs said that without Clemente, he “would be dead or in jail.” After witnessing his father’s fatal shooting at age 9, and with his mother currently in jail, Buggs credited Clemente with “making [him] a man – a person who can take of [his] family, and other families – who can go to college and change the world.” Buggs will be attending Western Michigan University on a 6-year scholarship, beginning in the fall of 2012.

Finally, the most prevalent theme was the family atmosphere fostered at Clemente; multiple students called Clemente home, and the school community a family. Cierra Reese said that “each teacher is like a parent to each student. Taking away this program is like taking away a child’s home.” Meghan Lau said that consolidating Clemente would be like “Closing the road to success for people who have finally found their way there.” After she was overcome with emotion, principal Ben Edmondson offered to finish reading Lau’s statement: “It’s like shutting a door to your house and not being allowed back in…” London Renfroe-Lindsey directed her comments specifically to AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, reminding Green that when she visited Clemente, she had promised that Clemente would be safe from budget cuts. Renfroe-Lindsey asked “This program has more to offer than meets the eye…What would drive you to take that away?”

After public commentary had concluded, Thomas asked a clarifying question of Clemente students regarding the medals that some of them were wearing around their necks. Students explained that the medals signified the attainment of certain grade point averages.

Roberto Clemente: Public Commentary from Parents

Parents noted Clemente’s small class sizes, mentorship program, universally high expectations, and exceptionally caring staff as critical to the school’s success and did not want to see any changes to the program or its location. “We want success just like anyone else wants success,” said parent Jeri Jenesta. Andrea Martin noted that without Clemente, many of these students would not get a diploma, and that if they don’t graduate, “we, as taxpayers, will be taking care of them the rest of their lives.” Chris Miller’s comments regarding her son summarized many of the sentiments shared: “He is not a number. He is not a statistic. And, he is not a dollar sign.”

Roberto Clemente: Public Commentary from Staff

Clemente principal Ben Edmondson stood beside each student as they spoke, but said little himself other than that he was proud of his students and thankful for the opportunity to be their principal. Edmondson also read the rest of one student’s statement when she became too overcome with emotion to speak. Charlae Davis, a social worker who identified herself as the co-founder of a mentoring program used by Clemente students, urged the board to “humanize the discussion,” and noted, “In a world of policy, if you find programs that are experiencing success, you ask how you support and replicate them, not eliminate them.”

Longtime Clemente teacher Michael Smith questioned the district’s commitment to closing the achievement gap, noting that some of the students he teaches enter his classes reading significantly below grade level. He noted that Clemente’s current building was purpose-built for students needing the structure, discipline, and family atmosphere it offers, and called it a “rescue mission” for students who had been “lost or forgotten by the district and this community.”

Roberto Clemente: Board Discussion

Lightfoot asked why Community High School had not been considered for closure or restructuring, as the other two alternative high schools had been. “It has this reputation as a sacred cow,” Lightfoot said. Allen answered that Community’s student population is much larger than the populations of Clemente and A2 Tech, and therefore could not be combined with other programs. Also, Allen said, A2 Tech and Clemente have similar goals, while “the program at Community is slightly different in terms of who they cater to.” Lightfoot said it should have been more clear that the district was looking at restructuring “alternative programs with fewer than 250 kids in them” rather than all alternative programs.

Thomas said he was “sick” about letting a financial decision drive a programmatic decision, such as moving Clemente onto the A2 Tech campus. He expressed concern about being able to effectively merge the two programs when they are operationally very different. “There is a huge climate gap with the way they do things at A2 Tech versus how they do things at Clemente. Will it be that they share teachers and classrooms, or will it be A2 Tech on one side of the building and Clemente on the other side, as though they are still five miles apart? I am willing to keep an open mind, but I am really concerned.”

Lightfoot said she would like to see the Clemente program continue without being “morphed.” She was less wedded to it continuing in the very same building. “The thing that makes the program work is the individuals implementing it,” she said.

Patalan said she “absolutely supports Clemente,” and that it is “saving kids’ lives and helping them become the wonderful citizens we all want them to be.” She pointed out that AAPS has had programs share buildings before, that she believes that having Clemente share space with A2 Tech is doable. She said she trusts the principals to work it out.

Baskett questioned, “What is our commitment to alternative education? We know it is important to us, and we know it costs more. So, if we are going to do it then we have to play the price for it, and I think our children are worth it.” She said that this proposal is “bigger than putting two groups of kids in a building” and that “for some of them, to take their building away is traumatic enough.” Finally, Baskett said that after the “transportation debacle” of last year, she did not trust administration to get the Clemente/A2 Tech restructuring worked out by the fall.

2012-13 Budget – Band and Orchestra Camps

The board is considering cutting $60,000 of funding to support band and orchestra camps. The district’s funds offset the costs of travel and staffing at the camps, and are complemented by funds raised by music students and their families to cover the camp costs.

Band and Orchestra Camps: Public Commentary

Five people spoke to the board regarding the proposed cuts to the district’s band and orchestra camps. David Baum, co-president of the Pioneer Band Association, asked the board not to cut funding for the band camps. He noted that more than 850 students attend the camps, and said that they are the springboard into the academic music program each year. Baum argued that cutting the camps would lower the quality of the band and orchestra programs, and will eventually lead music students to choose to leave the district.

Patton Doyle, an AAPS alum, credited the AAPS music program with teaching him problem-solving, and noted that the true power of the AAPS music program is not the success of one school, but the program as a whole. Doyle is currently studying physics at the University of Michigan.

Maggie Fulton, president of the Pioneer Orchestra Parents Society (POPS) asserted that many students don’t have the family resources for lessons, and that they would be disproportionately hurt by the elimination of this experience. She said music staff members have told her the program will not be able to happen without the district’s subsidy, and argued that the subsidy “provides a demonstrable return on the investment.”

Two current AAPS students spoke on behalf of the band and orchestra camps. Charlie Geronimous said band camp inspired him to work harder and be a better musician, and brought kids together in ways not seen anywhere else. Judy Pao added that orchestra camp helped her to transition to high school a lot easier, and that she felt like she was in a family on the first day of school.

Band and Orchestra Camps: Youth Senate Report

The Youth Senate is invited to give a report to the board each month. This month, the report focused entirely on the possible elimination of district funding for band and orchestra camps.

Youth Senator Enze Zing urged the board not to overlook the impact of smaller budget cuts in the face of needing to reduce the overall budget by $17.8 million for the coming school year. Zing, who is also the co-president of the Pioneer Symphony Band, reminded the board of Pioneer’s standing as the only two-time Grammy award-winning high school in the U.S. Zing argued that the rigorous music camps, which take place in August, encourage students to keep up with practicing over the summer, and that the music programs would “crumble” without them. She also suggested that the camps offer freshmen student an immediate social entree on the first day of high school, as well as giving upperclassmen a way to transition back into school after “a languid summer.”

Zing asserted that not having the music camps to adjust to school would cause students to experience higher stress levels, leading to lower grades. The falling grades, she continued, would lower the school’s overall success and cause some parents to pull their kids out of AAPS. The associated loss of funding from these departures will cause a vicious cycle of additional budget deficits and more cuts to programming, Zing said. She suggested asking students for alternative ideas before eliminating the music camps.

Band and Orchestra Camps: Board Discussion

Allen suggested that additional fundraising could be done to cover the cost of the camps. Thomas pointed out that there is no reason to think that the camps would need to be eliminated, and said that booster clubs may be able to help fundraise the $60,000, saying that works about to about $70 per student. “We can do this,” Thomas asserted, noting that scholarships exist for families for whom an additional $70 would be a financial hardship. Allen noted that students do already do some fundraising to pay for the cost of camp attendance, and that the $60,000 paid by the district has been used to fund the support staff, teachers, and administration who participate.

2012-13 Budget – Staffing

The proposed staffing budget reduction options discussed at this meeting were: reducing teaching staff by 32 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions ($3.2 million); and eliminating four counseling positions ($400,000).

Thomas said it is absolutely unacceptable for the district to cut 32 teaching positions after having cut 65 last year and more the year before that. “I don’t want to reduce by one teacher,” he said emphatically. Thomas suggested using more fund equity to be able to save the 32 teaching FTEs. Patalan said she shared Thomas’ feelings about losing teachers, and said that while making those cuts this year could be done, it would not be acceptable to cut more teachers every year.

Allen noted that the counselors are currently being staffed at 250 to 1, but could be staffed at 300 to 1. In response to board questions, he said the reductions would be for two middle school counselors and two high school counselors. Baskett asked how the new counseling and guidance program rolled out this February will be affected by the proposed reductions, and what other impacts the counseling reductions will have. “They do more than write college entrance letters,” she said.

2012-13 Budget – Tech Bond

On May 8, AAPS district voters will decide whether or not to pass a millage to fund a $45.8 million technology bond. The AAPS administration’s reasoning behind asking for the bond can be found in previous Chronicle coverage: “AAPS Pitches Case for Tech Improvement” A detailed description of what the bond would buy and how the millage would work to fund it can be found in “AAPS to Float February Tech Millage” [The board subsequently decided to put the bond on May's ballot instead of February's.]

During her report from the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council (PTOC), Amy Pachera thanked Allen for coming to a recent PTOC meeting and explaining the details of the proposed budget. She noted that schools across the state have their hands tied, and that “low-hanging fruit was cut years ago.” Pachera asked the community to vote on the upcoming tech bond as a way to have a real impact on the budget. She noted that 100% of the money raised by the bond will go to AAPS, unlike local tax dollars, of which only 30% are returned to the district.

Nelson and Stead each remarked on how the budget will be affected if the tech bond does not pass, noting that certain infrastructure within the district will need to be upgraded with or without the dedicated funding, due to changes in state law on data management and reporting requirements.

During items from the board, Mexicotte made a similar plea. She reported that she and Green had attended part of a recent state summit on education, and had found it disappointing. “It continues to be quite illustrative,” she said, “to go to Lansing and hear our leaders speak without ever acknowledging or connecting the dots between the desperate situation we districts find ourselves in and their lack of leadership in bringing us to this place.” Mexicotte pointed out that passing the tech bond is one way that AAPS can help itself, and closed the meeting by speaking directly to voters: “I want to urge you to take back that bit of control that we have over funding and our experience with our students… It’s a modest bond, but it’s one that will make a real difference… Vote yes – it’s local, it’s helpful, and it’s for our students.”

2012-13 Budget – Discretionary Budgets

The proposed budget would cut 5-10% from discretionary funds, for a savings of $250,000-$500,000. Allen explained that “discretionary” might not be the best term to describe these budgets, which are really building-level departmental budgets. Trustees asked for clarification about what was included in these budgets.

Green listed items included in these budgets as: dues and fees; paper; mail and postage; materials; office supplies; field trips; some textbook costs; hourly teacher rates; and printing. “There is discretion in there,” she said. “The discretion is in ‘Do I need all of these supplies, or this amount for postage?’” Allen added, “It’s really all those things you use when you run a building… The discretion is in how to balance them – all categories are needed things.”

Thomas argued that reducing discretionary budgets by 15% instead of 5% or 10% would net another $500,000, which he proposed could be used to keep Clemente going another year, and keep the middle school late bus, which all the middle school principals feel strongly about.

Lightfoot asked where programs such as Read 180, a reading support program, fall in the budget, and if they were at risk of being cut by lowering the discretionary budgets. Allen said software such as Read 180 is paid for out by the instructional department. Green added that there is absolutely no consideration being given to cutting Read 180 funding.

Patalan asked where the funds for School Improvement Teams are located in the budget, and Allen said those funds come out of the central budget. Deputy superintendent Alesia Flye added that most buildings use their money to pay for substitute teachers so building SIT team members can be brought together to meet.

Association and Student Reports

Five associations are invited to make regular reports to the school board: 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 Youth Senate is also invited to speak once a month, as are representatives from each of the high schools.

At this meeting, the board heard from the BPSSG, the AAPAC, the PTOC, the AAAA, the youth Senate and representatives from Skyline High School. Brit Satchwell, outgoing AAEA president, was present but passed in lieu of giving a report. The Youth Senate’s report was entirely related to the possible elimination of district funding for band and orchestra camps, and was presented above.

Student Report: Skyline

Skyline juniors Sam Keller and Hannah Lee reported on the activities of the Skyline’s Student Action Senate (SAS), and described how SAS delegates are chosen from the smaller learning communities within Skyline, and how the SAS is organized internally to work on issues of student concern or interest.

Patalan commented that it was great to have students have a voice and work in leadership positions. Nelson and Stead asked clarifying questions of the students regarding the delegate selection process and the key accomplishments and issues faced by the SAS.

Keller responded that the course fair held to introduce lower classmen to upper level electives had been very successful, but that getting the school to allow an open campus for lunch had not worked. Lee noted that a memorial to Skyline students who have died was an important achievement, but that attempts to change the dress code had failed.

Green commended the students on their presentation and asked if they would be interested in taking a leadership role in developing a leadership program called “Peaceable and Respectful Schools” to the elementary level. She also invited them to participate in the process of expanding student councils to a district-wide “house of delegates.” Keller and Lee said they were interested in being a part of the district’s new endeavors surrounding student voice.

Association Report: BPSSG

The BPSSG’s representative, Deborah Mitchell, noted a number of community collaborations between the BPSSG and other local organizations. In particular, Mitchell singled out the local teen center Neutral Zone as a group with which the BPSSG plans to increase engagement in the upcoming year.

Mitchell asserted that the 2012-13 budget, if passed as proposed, will disproportionally impact minority and low-income families, and noted the irony that this would occur as the district is focusing on reducing academic disparities related to race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Referencing the 2011-12 budget cuts, Mitchell said that the coming year’s cuts are “like deja-vu.” She encouraged the district to make special efforts to engage minority and low-income families other than “boilerplate forums.”

Association Report: AAPAC

Maria Huffman reported for the AAPAC, beginning with an announcement that Medicaid will soon begin to cover autism services in Michigan. She pointed out that this may cause a rise in consumer protection issues as new behavioral analysts begin to offer services, and urged everyone to keep the focus on the wellbeing of children.

She noted that the passage of the tech bond would increase the participation of students with disabilities, as well as provide better support of Excent Tera, software that is used in case management of students with special needs.

Finally, Huffman asserted that data collection to be used in assessing whether or not students qualify for Extended School Year (ESY) services is the responsibility of the district. She noted that state law requires that regression and recoupment, critical stages of learning, and the nature of the student’s disability all must be factored into the decision on whether a student qualifies for ESY.

Association Report: PTOC

Amy Pachera reported for the PTOC. In addition to the tech bond endorsement discussed above, she announced that the PTOC would like to see the 18 water stations of the first Ann Arbor Marathon, be worked by AAPS. Pachera also noted that $6 of every entry fee to the race, which also includes 5K and 10K components, will be donated to the AAPS educational foundation, and that other education non-profits can also use the race as a fundraiser.

Association Report: AAAA

Michael Madison reported for AAAA, saying that he was originally going to talk about budget cuts, but decided to share something more “upbeat.” He then proceeded to thank a number of AAPS staff and board members for jobs well done. He singled out director of community education and recreation Sara Aeschbach and assistant superintendent for secondary education Joyce Hunter, who are both retiring this spring, and led the board in a round of applause for each of them.

Board President’s Report

Mexicotte reported on the board’s April 18 committee of the whole meeting. She noted that the board had a preliminary discussion on the budget. She noted that the idea of moving to a balanced calendar was tabled for now in lieu of considering a variety of strategies to use instructional time more effectively that would fit into the district’s strategic plan and other plans. Stead added that AAPS needs to find a way to spend more time with students to be globally competitive.

High School Start Times

Assistant superintendent of secondary education Joyce Hunter gave a brief presentation to the board that reviewed the pros and cons of moving high school start times, based on academic literature studying districts that have implemented later high school start times. She noted that moving start times later aligns the school day with teens’ natural waking hours, and has been shown to decrease depression while increasing academic achievement, with the greatest benefits being seen in “at risk” students. On the flip side, Hunter pointed out that transportation logistics and the effect on extracurricular activities were complex issues that would need to be addressed to be able to start the high school days later. She also noted that in some districts, a shift to later high school start times has been initially contentious among stakeholders in the community.

Hunter proposed that AAPS establish a steering committee to study later high school start times, with representation from human resources, the teachers’ union, and transportation. She also suggested administering a Zoomerang survey to parents and students, and consulting with experts such as University of Michigan professors who have studied this issue.

Mexicotte said that she saw high school start times as “bound up” with issues of scheduling, transportation, and support for extracurricular activities. She suggested that perhaps AAPS could move “7th hour,” during which many elective classes take place, to 8-9:00 a.m., and then students could elect to attend that hour or not. She noted that Dearborn public schools have a similar two-tiered system. Basket also expressed interest in a “split schedule” and urged the district to “make transportation work for us, not the other way around.”

Trustees asked about the timeline, and Hunter said the committee would be charged with making a recommendation one way or the other in time to implement a change in start times for the 2013-14 school year if that was the decision made. Baskett warned against “analysis paralysis” and said the committee should be sure to adhere to its timeline for decision-making on this issue.

Stead expressed concern about the impact on extracurricular activities, and Green noted that she would like students to be involved in the study committee for that reason, as well as for the fact that many students also hold part-time jobs after school. Nelson suggested looking at the reasoning behind the decision of some districts to move back to an early start after having had a late start for high schools, such as those in Minneapolis.

Patalan said the board’s recent discussion on contradictory research regarding moving to a balanced calendar made her question the research. “What I want,” she said, “is to look at the research that says not to do this… I do want more information… I am grateful for a committee to study this further, more in depth.”

Mexicotte repeated that she is interested in looking at high school start times as one piece of possibly broader adjustments to the high school schedule, which might include other shifts as well. As an example, she said that if AAPS moved from 180 to 220 school days, high school days could start later, but end at the same time they do now.

This was a point of information for the board, and no action was taken on high school start times.

Bid Awards

The board briefly reviewed a series of bid award recommendations with little discussion. The bid awards under consideration include work on asbestos abatement, indoor air quality testing, integrated pest management, parking, asphalt paving, and ADA (accessibility) improvements.

The bid award recommendations will return to the board for a second briefing and vote at the next regular meeting.

Consent Agenda and Reimbursements

The consent agenda, which contained only gift offers, was passed by a voice vote. A set of trustee conference reimbursements was passed unanimously by roll call vote.

Awards and Accolades

Numerous students, staff, and schools were singled out for accolades at the April 25 meeting.

Awards and Accolades: Bill Browning Recognition

On the 50th anniversary of the AAPS environmental education program, the board honored longtime environmental educator Bill Browning, who coordinated the program for 28 years. Current AAPS environmental education consultant Dave Szczygiel and parent Nancy Stone noted that thousands of students and parents have benefitted from his work. The AAPS environmental education program provides enrichment for every AAPS student grades K-6 through field trips, many led by volunteer naturalists.

Stone announced that in addition to the years of passionate teaching and commitment to the district, Browning has recently made a $30,000 donation to the AAPS Science and Environmental Education Endowment Fund, managed by The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Szczygiel and Stone presented Browning with a “local geologic treasure,” called a puddingstone, on which was affixed a plaque recognizing his contributions.

Browning accepted his honor with humility, saying that it was not him that deserved credit, but those that came before him who worked to get environmental education included in the curriculum. Browning thanked the district, saying, “I had a wonderful, wonderful career here in Ann Arbor – I’m grateful.”

Multiple trustees spoke fondly of their personal connections with Browning, and thanked him for his dedication and vision. Baskett, who is now a master gardener, said warmly, “I was one of those kids on the big, yellow bus… You showed me my first wildflower – a trillium.”

Mexicotte said the district was lucky to have had Browning on staff for so long, and said that the legacy he had created would be passed on for generations.

Awards and Accolades: Superintendent’s Report

Green recognized students who had scored highly on the ACT, sports champions, poetry contest winner, homebuilding program students, and robotics team members for their accomplishments, among many others. She noted that schools are engaging students in a number of service projects, such as kindergarten students at Eberwhite Elementary School who counted coins as a fundraiser for the Dexter tornado relief work. Green also noted the success of the local Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad, and a variety of staff accomplishments. Finally, she commended the district’s administrative professionals, who she said are “always there” for the school community.

Agenda Planning

Thomas requested a discussion of the partnership between Mitchell, Scarlett, and the University of Michigan.

Stead would like an update on the possibility of charging tuition to some SOC students.

Mexicotte suggested that the board should get as much non-budget-related work done at the next regular meeting as possible, and then have the “full, facilitated budget discussion” at the May 16 committee of the whole meeting, after the two community budget forums have taken place. (Which are now scheduled for May 7 and May 14.) She also suggested that the board should keep May 30 open as a date to add an extra board meeting if needed.

Items from the Board

The fact that it was after 2:30 a.m. did not dissuade trustees from reporting the following items at the close of the April 25 meeting, in addition to those comments noted above.

Thomas said that there are a few challenge grants on the table in the current One Million Reasons campaign of the AAPS educational foundation. He also noted that he recently attended the equity team meeting at Logan Elementary School and was impressed with their focused student approach. Finally, he invited everyone to the May 3 Life Sciences Orchestra concert in which he plays.

Nelson said he had stopped by the very successful college and career fair at Pioneer High School, and the University Musical Society partnership celebration. He also mentioned attending a couple of Neutral Zone events, and said they were a good reminder of the importance of the board’s community partnerships.

Patalan said that three people have told her there were delighted to have AAPS superintendent Patricia Green visit their school, and that they were grateful for the opportunity to get to know their superintendent.

Stead said that Green did a great job passing our awards to the 4th and 5th grade winners at the Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad, the largest elementary science Olympiad in the U.S. She noted that the event was more about participation than awards, and that all AAPS elementary schools will be participating next year. Stead also pointed out that it took 750 adult volunteers to make the event happen.

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

Next meeting: Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.


  1. May 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm | permalink

    I know this is going to irritate a lot of people, but I think we do need to think about how many special-purpose or “boutique” schools Ann Arbor requires going forward. Arguably, the default should be 0.

  2. By a2person
    May 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm | permalink

    Fred, your use of the word “boutique” is inflammatory. And I would argue just the opposite. The more the district offers creative and innovative options, the better we compete with charters and private schools. Imagine an elementary district with choices that include language immersion in Spanish and Arabic. I have no doubt we’d recover costs as we gain enrollment, and stop bleeding kids from the district as well.

    The approach of cutting innovative and successful programs to increase cookie-cutter approaches with increasing class sizes is exactly wrong.

    The funding of our schools from Lansing is a disaster, and it needs to be fixed. Even more so, the funding of teacher pensions, which can ONLY be fixed by Lansing, needs to be addressed. I have no idea why the so-called fiscal conservatives in our state government are not addressing this, unless they actually do want to decimate public education.

  3. By Jill Zimmerman
    May 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm | permalink

    Thank you,Jennifer Coffman, for a thorough account of a very long meeting. I would like to make a point of clarification. Trustee Andy Thomas recalls seeing parents camping out to register their children at Ann Arbor Open. Thomas uses this anecdote to support his thesis that because of their “extreme dedication and determination…these parents would figure out how to organize carpools to get their kids to school.” I would like to remind Trustee Thomas that a lottery system has been in place at Ann Arbor Open, and no parent has had to camp out, for at least 15 years. The population Ann Arbor Open serves is not the same as it was then, and our vulnerable students are more vulnerable than they were then.
    Nevertheless, Ann Arbor Open parents understand that the AAPS district faces a serious budget crisis, and we want to be part of the solution. We have asked the district exactly how much busing to Ann Arbor Open costs, in the hope that with this information we could suggest informed alternatives to the proposed cuts. We are still waiting on this information from the district.

  4. By Jennifer Coffman
    May 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Jill, for the clarification. :)

  5. By Maria Huffman
    May 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm | permalink

    Correction, there are plans being developed to present legislation that would have autism services covered by Medicaid, but that is not a done deal at this point.

  6. May 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm | permalink

    A few thoughts:
    1. On transportation:
    As Jill notes, Ann Arbor Open has had the lottery for at least 15 years. (I didn’t stand in line for my oldest son’s enrollment, and I doubt that I would have.) If I didn’t live in the walk zone (I do), and there were no busing, I might have to choose a different school as both my spouse and I work full-time.

    2. When it comes to busing, I also don’t think it’s fair to treat K-8 students the same as high school students, no matter which school they go to. There’s no way I would put a 2nd or 3d grader on a public bus alone, but that’s a different situation for a 9th grader. It seems the dividing line should be age, not schools of choice. For example, in the case of Community busing in the middle of the day, it is potentially possible to take public buses from downtown to Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline, although I understand the timing doesn’t always work out.

    3. I’d like to see what the savings are from each piece of that transportation puzzle. Given the discussion in the article about the WISD reporting, I wonder if it is possible to accurately predict the savings? I mean, on the one hand I would think that it must be, or they wouldn’t project those savings, right? But I don’t see them anywhere, which also makes me think maybe they don’t have them broken out. And next year, Willow Run and Ypsilanti won’t be using the WISD for busing, right? Which means it will be just Ann Arbor. Will that change the numbers?

    Ann Arbor Tech and Roberto Clemente:
    1. It’s not clear to me if the proposal is to run both programs in the same building, merge the programs, or close one of the programs. Does the savings include reducing one principal? Or does the entire savings come from closing the building, and reducing a principal or staff would save even more?

    Teacher layoffs:
    1. I’m not advocating for these (at all)–but just in terms of accuracy, it’s my understanding that although last year’s budget specified cutting 65 teaching positions, in reality something like 50-ish positions were actually cut.