AAPS 2012-13 Budget Begins to Take Shape

Trustees target $4.8 M in cuts; but may use $7 M in savings

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole (May 16, 2012): Although they showed mixed sentiment on some issues, trustees tentatively expressed agreement on a total of $4.8 million in budget cuts, and just over $6 million in revenue enhancements.

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte led the trustees in their budget discussion at the May 16 committee meeting. The formal budget presentation from the administration will come at the May 23 meeting.

That still leaves a $7 million gap to be addressed as the district faces a $17.8 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, which begins July 1. There was general agreement on the board to use some amount fund equity to meet the budget targets, but no agreement about how much to use. Hypothetically, the entire $17.8 million shortfall could be covered by drawing on the fund equity the district has to start FY 2013, which is $18.73 million.

But without some cuts and revenue enhancements, that fund equity would be close to just $1 million by the end of the year, which is a half percent of the district’s currently proposed  expenditure budget for FY 2013 – $194 million. In addition, it would leave insufficient reserves to manage cash flow through the summer. And by the end of the following year, fund equity would be projected to be negative $23.5 million.

At the May 16 meeting, most trustees expressed support for leaving Roberto Clemente Student Development Center in place in its current form for at least another year, while evaluating the program’s educational effectiveness. Much of the board sentiment on Clemente was reflected in an exchange between trustees Simone Lightfoot and Glenn Nelson near the end of the three and half hour budget discussion. Lightfoot asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”

The administration’s budget proposal called for the elimination of between 32 and 64 teaching positions, but trustees were in broad agreement that there should be no cuts to teaching positions, if at all possible. Nelson suggested that by hiring less-experienced new teachers to replace retiring teachers, the district would still be able to save roughly $960,000, without incurring any rise in class sizes. Trustees expressed support for that approach, which board president Deb Mexicotte dubbed the ”Nelson model.”

While trustees showed a consensus about maintaining teaching staff levels, they were divided on the issue of transportation. Lightfoot suggested a “hold harmless” approach to transportation this year – as the districts forms an administrative committee with broad stakeholder participation to develop a sustainable transportation plan. Taking almost an opposite view on transportation was trustee Christine Stead, who advocated several times during the meeting that all non-mandated busing should be cut. Based on the board discussion, busing for Ann Arbor Open will likely be preserved via a cost-neutral plan that relies primarily on common stops at the district’s five middle schools. Also likely is that the 4 p.m. middle school bus and the shuttles to and from Community High School will  be cut. Some board members also indicated an interest in “phasing out” busing to the magnet programs at Skyline High School.

The board took no formal votes during their committee-of-the-whole-meeting on May 16. However the board’s consensus on various issues, convey to the AAPS administration, will inform the final budget proposal. That final proposal comes to the board for a first briefing and public hearing on May 23.

In addition to the budget discussion, the May 16 committee meeting included four and a half additional hours of discussion on: discussing gifted and talented programming in the district; outlining the superintendent evaluation review process; and creating a framework for a broad-based committee to study the sustainability of transportation in the district.

Budget Discussion Process

Board president Deb Mexicotte began by outlining an approach to the budget discussion that would first identify areas of consensus on the proposed budget reductions. After that, it focused the board’s conversation on areas where opinions diverged. The idea was to determine “what [the board] will be able to tolerate” as it addresses the $17.8 million budget deficit. AAPS superintendent Patricia Green added that her administration had brought additional information to inform the discussion.

The board held three rounds of discussion. In round one, trustees briefly considered each of the 27 proposed reductions put forth in the administration’s budget proposal , and were encouraged to reach consensus on items that could be eliminated with very little or no discussion.  During this round trustees agreed on cuts to 13 budget items totaling $1.9 million.

In round two, trustees discussed each of the remaining 14 budget items in detail, but did not try to come to consensus about how to balance them against each other. This round ended with an administrative presentation and lengthy board discussion on the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.

In round three, trustees tried to reach consensus on a subset of the remaining suggested reductions – in the context of the required fund equity that would otherwise be needed to balance the FY 2012-13 budget. In the end, trustees were able to agree on another $2.8 million of cuts.  They disagreed on the question how much of the remaining $7 million deficit to address by using fund equity versus deepening the budget cuts. Almost all the consensus cuts came from the administration’s core budget proposal (Plan A). The exception was a 10% cut to the district-wide discretionary budgets, which was part of the suggested second-tier of additional cuts (Plan B).

The Chronicle has organized this report by first listing the cuts the board adopted with little or no discussion. After that, discussion and general agreement reached by the board on the remaining proposed reductions are grouped into the following categories: Clemente, transportation, teaching staff, and other district-wide cuts. The report concludes at the same point the trustees’ discussion ended – with a brief discussion of next steps in the process, and general agreement that AAPS should pursue revenue enhancement via advertising.

Line Item Cuts – Round One

The board’s first pass at line item reductions yielded $1.9 million in savings. Mexicotte led trustees through a comprehensive list of the 27 proposed budget reduction options one by one and asked if there was consensus to retain each item on the list of cuts. She started a list of any items on which the board wished to have more extensive discussion on chart paper set on an easel at the front of the room.

Via this method, the board agreed to the following 13 reductions with very little or no discussion:

  1. Eliminate four high school counselors ($400,000);
  2. Eliminate middle school athletic directors ($37,500);
  3. Eliminate funding for athletic entry fees ($58,000);
  4. Move lacrosse to club sport status ($93,000);
  5. Outsource noon-hour supervision ($75,000);
  6. Eliminate district subsidy for summer music camps ($60,000);
  7. Reduce budget for substitute teachers ($200,000);
  8. Combine bus runs for Bryant and Pattengill elementaries ($16,560);
  9. ITD restructuring ($200,000);
  10. Move Rec & Ed director and office professional positions to Rec & Ed budget ($205,000);
  11. Eliminate the early notification incentive for retiring staff ($40,000);
  12. Enact Phase V of energy savings capital improvements ($500,000); and
  13. Reduce health care costs ($100,000).

Regarding the reduction in counselors, Stead asked for clarification on whether the positions would come from attrition or retirements, and which schools would be affected. AAPS deputy superintendent of instruction Alesia Flye said that three of the four positions would be reduced via retirements – one each at Forsythe and Scarlet middle schools, and Huron High School. Those three schools can reduce one counselor and still meet the contractual counselor-student ratio of 1:325, Flye said, but a staff reassignment would be needed to fill the position left by retirement at Scarlett. The fourth counseling position would be eliminated  at Pioneer High School – a suggestion that came from that school’s administration.

Trustee Susan Baskett questioned whether the reduction in counselors would have an effect on the district’s ability to enact the new counseling and guidance programming, which was presented at the February 2012 committee of the whole meeting.  Flye said it will be a challenge to deliver some of the new plan’s services, and that a reduced number of counselors at each building could be problematic down the road.

Trustees got clarification that the athletic entry fee was beyond the fees associated with regular conference participation for all sports. Baskett asked whether students would have less exposure to recruiters. AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen answered that recruiters would still be able to come to many events.

Mexicotte tallied up the total amount saved from the above cuts, and it came to $1,985,060. Trustees agreed to employ all four of the revenue enhancement suggestions proposed by the administration (Schools of Choice, Medicaid reimbursement, MPSERS offset, and best practices incentives), totaling $6 million.

That left $9,814,940 as the remaining amount the board was still looking to cut as it moved into the next phase of discussion.  [$17.8 million – $1,985,060 – $6 million = $9,814,940].

Roberto Clemente Student Development Center

At the May 16 meeting, four people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of the Roberto  Clemente Student Development Center. AAPS administration also presented a new set of information for board review, including a set of options for relocating or restructuring the school, and a large amount of data on achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing, course offerings, and cost comparisons between the six district high schools. Additional board discussion on Clemente, including its summer school program, followed the administrative presentation.

Allen introduced the proposed reduction to Clemente as potentially saving $400,000, which included savings related to the building, principal, office professional, custodian, and utility costs. Moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer would save another $80,000.

Clemente: Public Commentary

Barbara Malcolm, a community liaison at Clemente, asserted that the board members are no longer representing the community that elected them. She said she has been appalled by “actions, lies, and deceit” and that the school board has lost much of its credibility in the community. Malcolm said the district still faces the same level of attacks on blacks, poor people, and disenfranchised students as it did when she was a student at AAPS. She said it was shameful that Mexicotte has called Clemente “racist” and “a one-way street.” Calling superintendent Patricia Green an “outsider” who was “not part of the community, only paid by it,” Malcolm accused Green of dismantling a pillar of the community. Malcolm asked Green at least to “own” a statement Green had made at the beginning of her tenure as superintendent that Clemente was not on the chopping block. She argued that AAPS needs to educate all students, “not just those who do well on standardized, biased tests.”

Charlae Davis said that if the process is sloppy, the outcome will be sloppy, and said she had serious concerns with the budget proposal process. She argued that denying families and students a role in the planning process is a form of oppression and said the process has been “victim-blaming.” She asked board members to consider whether they would be satisfied with this process if their own children were at Clemente.

Georgina LeHuray shared the story of her grandson’s switch to Clemente and the positive effect it has had on him. She argued that test scores are the wrong measurements to use in evaluating Clemente, and asked what will mean the most to these kids in 10 or 15 years – test scores or [the support] they get from these people at Clemente. LeHuray urged the board, “If you save one kid at Clemente, it’s worth every damn tax dollar we put on these kids … Do not fail these kids. Appreciate what you’ve got at Roberto Clemente.”

Clemente staff member Pat Morrow asserted that AAPS has failed the children who attend Clemente. She argued that achieving high test scores is not as relevant as getting a high school diploma, and said that sending Clemente students back to the comprehensive high schools would be setting them up to fail. “We can get kids into colleges, Morrow said, “and they can go onto be productive citizens.” She said the board needed to let the Clemente community know right now what its fate is.

Clemente: Short-Term Focus

Green said the presentation her team brought to share was developed in response to questions from the previous committee of the whole meeting about what the options the district had to make changes to Clemente. Lightfoot noted that she was not comfortable getting this information for the first time at 11:20 p.m.

Flye reviewed how Clemente is made up mostly of 9th and 10th graders, but includes some upperclassmen as well. The goal of the program, she said, is to help students return to their home school by making use of smaller learning environments, among other program features. Flye said that the administration’s short term goal was to maintain the philosophy, initiatives, and structure of the Clemente program, with the long-term of possibly redesigning the program.

Green added that the district has been talking about the possible redesign of alternative programs, and noted that A2 Tech’s name change came out of those talks. She noted that when she had been interviewing for the position in Ann Arbor, she heard that cutting alternative programs had come up during last year’s budget discussions. Green also addressed an accusation made repeatedly at recent board meeting public commentary sessions about a statement she made on Clemente’s future: “When I had visited over there early in the year, at the time I was asked, ‘Are you planning on closing the school?’ I said there had been no conversation about that – it was very early in September. None of these conversations had taken place.”

Clemente: Restructuring Options

Flye described four options for restructuring Clemente:

  1. Relocate Clemente to the A2Tech building and run both programs separately;
  2. Relocate Clemente to A2Tech and create a blended version of both programs;
  3. Relocate Clemente to a dedicated space in either Pioneer or Huron; or
  4. Integrate Clemente students into their home high schools, with the Clemente program principal coordinating support of Clemente students in the comprehensive schools.

Flye then explained why (option 1) and (option 2) were not seen as desirable. She briefly touched on how (option 4) was envisioned, and then went into detail about how (option 3) could work.

Flye noted that there might not be enough space to keep the programs fully separate in the same building (option 1). She also said that the principals of A2 Tech and Clemente had said it would not work well to blend the programs (option 2), because the two programs have such different areas of emphasis. Clemente targets mostly 9th and 10th grade students, Flye said, while A2 Tech targets older students.

If Clemente students were integrated into their home high schools (option 4), Flye said that some instruction could be delivered by Clemente staff, that some instruction could consist of “touchpoint” classes delivered with technological enhancements, and that” wraparound services” would be offered.

On the topic of relocating the Clemente program to Pioneer or Huron (option 3), Flye and Green suggested that modified schedules could be used to keep Clemente students totally separate from other students if that was desired. The modified schedules might include separate lunch periods, or alternative starting and ending times. At the comprehensive high schools, Clemente students would benefit from an enhanced set of opportunities, they said, including sports, arts, career and tech education and other electives, while maintaining Clemente’s mentoring approach and weekly “rap sessions.”

AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent led the administration in describing the spaces within Pioneer and Huron that could house Clemente. At Pioneer, he said, there are seven classrooms in the D wing that could be available, along with an eighth room upstairs that could be used if necessary, an administrative area, a separate entrance, and a large lecture facility that could be used for the weekly rap session. Clemente would displace math classes currently using the space, which Pioneer’s administration said would be a good change for the school, Flye added.

At Huron, the available space would be an isolated area with eight classrooms would be on the third floor of the arch, Trent explained, noting that students would have to walk through the entire building to reach the space. Flye allowed that world language and language arts classes would be impacted by the classroom shift at Huron. However, she reported that Huron’s administrative team had indicated it would not be a problem to relocate those classes and provide office space to accommodate the Clemente program.

Stead questioned how much would be saved by relocating the program intact under (option 1) or (option 3) versus blending the program with A2 Tech under (option 2) or integrating Clemente students in to the comprehensive high schools under (option 4). Allen answered that only the blended program in (option 2) would save the targeted $400,000. The other three options would save around $200,000 – because those options preserve Clemente’s administrative costs.

Lightfoot asked if there had been any consideration of ways that $200,000 could be saved while leaving the Clemente family as it is – like marketing the program to bring in more School of Choice students, or opening it up to more 8th graders. No, Flye answered. Lightfoot asked when such alternatives would be considered. Mexicotte responded to Lightfoot by saying that the board would use the meeting to decide whether to move forward with one of the options presented by administration, or make no change to the program.

Clemente: Data

Flye presented the board with data on Clemente’s student achievement, attendance, graduation rates, staffing levels, and course offerings, and comparative data on student achievement, graduation rates, and cost per student for all six AAPS high schools.

Cost per student at different AAPS high schools

Chart 1. Average cost per student at Ann Arbor Public School high schools. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

AAPS director of student accounting Jane Landefeld said that it was challenging to determine the degree of student academic growth at Clemente, because students enter the program at all times of year and stay for different lengths of time. Landefeld said she had reviewed the transcripts at the end of the second trimester for each of the 87 Clemente students enrolled at that time, and determined that 39 of the 87 (45%) then had higher GPAs than they had had when entering the program. However, she also noted that many of Clemente’s classes are slower-paced, and so “it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges in terms of which classes they are taking.”

Trustee Andy Thomas questioned the relevance of graduation rates – because the goal of Clemente is to return students to their home school for 11th and 12th grades. Landefeld confirmed that students do not graduate from Clemente because “Clemente is a program, not a school.” She explained, however, that “somewhere along the way, the state listed it as a school, so if a student ends at Clemente, they are considered graduating from Clemente.” Stead suggested that AAPS should communicate to the state that Clemente has been misclassified as a school.

AAPS proficiency by school

Chart 2. Michigan Merit Exam scores by subject by AAPS high school. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Nelson asked about the capacity of Clemente’s building. Trent explained that the building has 18 classrooms, which can fit up to 15 students each, with some larger rooms as well. Nelson noted that many classes at Clemente have fewer than 15 students. Flye added that Clemente strives to keep class sizes averaging 10-12 students. Landefeld stressed that Clemente gains students throughout the year, so the number of students fluctuates. There are  currently 104 students in the Clemente program, according to the analysis of student growth presented by Landefeld.

Mexicotte said that when she was first elected to the board, Clemente’s enrollment was around 170 students. She pointed out that for the purposes of current discussion, the board has been using a population of 100 students.

Clemente: Long-Term Focus

In the long term, Flye said, Clemente and other alternative programs in AAPS could be redesigned to offer expanded distance learning opportunities made possible through digital technology, and additional course offerings. The administration could also continue to explore the implementation of a middle college concept, and more flexible day and evening schedules. Flye concluded by saying that AAPS will continue to develop early interventions for at-risk students.

Clemente: Board Discussion

Baskett asked if there was any discussion of team-building – in a scenario where Clemente students are moved back into the comprehensive high schools in any way. Flye said the schools would welcome them, and that team-building with staff and students was acknowledged to be a very important part of the process.

Thomas said he had a number of concerns, beginning with the fact that decisions about Clemente should take program effectiveness into account, as well as potential cost savings. Regarding the student achievement data presented, Thomas said that on one hand, the fact that 0% of Clemente students are proficient in writing [See Chart 2] seems like “a pretty strong indictment of the Clemente program.” However, he said, the real question is, “At what level are students when they enter the program, and where are they at the end of one year, two years?” Thomas said that student growth is not being clearly measured except by GPA, which he argued was an “imperfect” measure.

Thomas also expressed concern about the timeline of implementing any changes in the Clemente program by fall 2012, and said that the district needs more time to prepare. He suggested that AAPS keep Clemente intact for one year, during which it completes a comprehensive evaluation of the program based on data, not anecdotal evidence. “And if that costs $200,000 or $400,000 plus transportation costs, that’s the price that we pay for not dealing with this earlier in the year,” Thomas said.

Stead said her thoughts on Clemente were similar. She said she was willing to trade off all transportation to preserve education as the district’s primary mission. She said she could support a change to Clemente that is led by a focus on the program, and would be discussed for a year by the principal, parents, families, and students involved. She felt like the district is now “trying to retrofit” a solution.

Directing her comments to two Clemente students still in attendance at the meeting [at 12:30 a.m.], Stead called the Clemente achievement data “extremely concerning,” and said, “You can roll your eyes and say it’s not important, but I can tell you – these numbers are important.” She agreed that Clemente warrants further review and discussion, and that while there is not time to fix it this year, “We need to do right by these students.”

Lightfoot said that she believes Clemente has done a “great job,” and that she is interested in the district considering better marketing of the program so that perhaps AAPS can “get it up to capacity” and bring in new revenue.

Nelson said that how he will vote on preserving Clemente will come down to where the money comes from, saying, “If it comes from the 32 [teaching positions districtwide], I just can’t go there. I really believe in those 32 [teaching positions].” If the money for Clemente would be taken from fund equity, Nelson said, he would “want to be convinced by the evaluation people that in fact there is reason to think there is something different we are going to know eight months from now because I find the achievement data very disturbing.”

Responding to Lightfoot directly, Nelson questioned how AAPS could effectively market this program when the test scores at Clemente are so much worse than at the comprehensive high schools. Nelson questioned whether performance at Clemente was actually decreasing the achievement gap and asserted, “The averages for African-Americans would go up if you took these students out of the mix.”

Lightfoot said that she was also upset by the data, but noted that African-Americans’ scores are low throughout the district, not only at Clemente. She asserted that Clemente’s parents are “not caught up in test scores – they are just happy that their children want to go to school” and that their students are getting “some basics in place – social and mental.” Nelson responded, “I’m willing to grant that in that part of education, they are doing a good job, but for $18,000 [per-student cost], I’d like both the academic and social/emotional learning.”

Trustee Irene Patalan said the test scores as well as the money do concern her, noting that the per-student cost at Clemente is closer to $19,000 than $18,000. She said she feels an urgency to help the students at Clemente be successful as soon as possible, and that she would like a recommendation from the AAPS administration about which option to take.

Patalan also mentioned that her children had been in alternative programs within AAPS, and that she was very much an alternative school supporter. She shared some of the history of the district’s “Middle Years Alternative” program that was housed within Forsythe but had almost complete autonomy. Patalan said she is not afraid of “putting programs together and sharing spaces.”

Baskett said that she was tired and would refrain from commenting. But Mexicotte asked her to please share her thinking now. Baskett obliged, saying that if the district moves to change the status of Clemente now, it will not be done right. “The driver will be money, and not the quality of education for all our children,” she said, “I think, Irene, you are wrong on this one.”

Thanking the administration for the presentation, Baskett suggested that an evaluation of Clemente should include a qualitative element, saying, “When you talk about measuring climate, we need to capture that as well.”

Mexicotte began by clarifying that the comments ascribed to her during public commentary were things that she had reported having heard over the years about Clemente, not comments that she had made personally.

She continued by saying that while she appreciates that Clemente students have positive feelings about their school, the achievement data have troubled her for many years. “Are we going to say that these data points are not going to be what we are judging our achievement gap on across the district?” she asked. Mexicotte said that if the district wanted to decide not to judge “growth to proficiency” with test score data, then it would need to decide what else to use as metrics.

Mexicotte suggested the district needs to set expectations about test scores, and what kind of cost per student figures it would like to see. She suggested that the district study Clemente over a two-year time frame to determine if it should be marketed, moved, or adjusted in some other way, and noted, “If the program is really something we want for our students, we shouldn’t be gatekeeping as hard as we are.” Mexicotte also suggested that art and music should be brought back to Clemente in its current location.

Outcome: The board agreed to leave the Clemente program intact for at least one year while assessing its educational effectiveness. Stead suggested that in terms of the targeted savings in alternative high school programming, AAPS administration should have a conversation with A2 Tech one more time to see if any savings can be found in that program.

Clemente: Summer School

Green explained that the impetus behind moving Clemente’s summer school is to have all the secondary summer school programs located at one site – Pioneer High School.

Baskett noted that part of the transition to Clemente is the summer school program, which is not just academic. Allen said that not all Clemente students attend summer school, and that $20,000 out of the $100,000 Clemente summer school program can be preserved to add services to the traditional summer school program, which focuses on credit recovery. Flye reported that Clemente principal Ben Edmondson has said that Clemente summer school students are also working primarily on credit recovery, and that summer school helps to provide a consistent routine for them.

Thomas said moving the Clemente summer school to Pioneer is an opportunity to achieve some efficiency. Flye noted that moving the program would also give students more opportunities in terms of course selection. Green added that the board should decide as soon as possible what the location will be – because Clemente needs to start preparing its summer program.

Trustees asked for clarification on the costs related to summer school. Landefeld explained that there are only fees for courses that are taken for extra enrichment, as opposed to courses taken for credit recovery, and that scholarships are available. Baskett asked if there is busing for summer school. Allen said there is no busing for summer school in general, but that Clemente students would be transported, and that it would likely cost less to bus them to Pioneer than to the Clemente building.

Outcome: The board agreed to move the Clemente summer school program into Pioneer High School to achieve an $80,000 budget reduction.

Teaching Staff Reductions

The administrative budget proposal includes the elimination of 32 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) in teaching staff in Plan A, 48 FTEs in Plan B, and 64 FTEs in Plan C. Trustees were in agreement that they are not interested in cutting any teaching positions.

Nelson suggested retaining the number of teachers, but hiring new teachers to replace those who are retiring. He asked for confirmation on comparative salaries, and Allen confirmed that there is roughly a $30,000 spread between retiring teachers (whose salaries and benefits cost nearly $100,000 each) and new teachers (whose total cost to the district is roughly $70,000).  Nelson suggested that 32 FTEs at $70,000 would be $2.24 million, which means that if the number of positions were preserved, but less expensive teachers were hired, the district could save $960,000.

Stead, Thomas, Patalan and Mexicotte all agreed about the importance of retaining teachers. Stead said this is one area where the primary mission of the district is clear, and that she could not justify cutting one more teacher. Thomas said he is willing to compromise on everything else, but that cutting teaching positions would be unacceptable, even if it means dipping into fund equity.


Trustees considered a variety of cost-saving measures in transportation services. There was disagreement among trustees about how much transportation they were interested in cutting this coming year – from none to all of it. Two people addressed the board during public commentary on the topic of transportation.

Transportation: Public Commentary on Busing to Ann Arbor Open

Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC) co-chair Sascha Matish passed out a set of handouts to the board outlining the impact of eliminating busing to Ann Arbor Open on subgroups of the school’s population. She noted that busing is used by 95% of the school’s 22 African-American students, and 68% of the school’s 57 economically disadvantaged students (who receive free or reduced-price lunch). Matish also passed out an aerial map of the Ann Arbor Open area, and requested that the board view a video created by the AAOCC of morning traffic near the school to give trustees a sense of the traffic back-ups already facing families on a daily basis. Again, Matish suggested that cutting busing would severely compromise student safety.

The other co-chair of the Ann Arbor Open Coordinating Council (AAOCC), Jill Zimmerman, also addressed the board. Referring to a set of bar graphs distributed to trustees, she noted that Ann Arbor Open’s MEAP scores are higher than the district averages in math and reading. She also pointed out that districtwide, the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 8th grade is lower than the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in 3rd grade. However, the gap between 3rd-grade achievement and 8th-grade achievement is smaller among Ann Arbor Open students than it is across the district. “When we are talking about equity and closing the achievement gap, what Ann Arbor Open does matters,” Zimmerman asserted. “Our kids are doing better, and we think it’s because of what we are doing.”

Zimmerman also briefly reviewed an alternate busing proposal created by the AAOCC, which was sent to board members and AAPS administration before the meeting. The alternative proposal relies on common stops at middle schools and would more than halve the cost of busing to Ann Arbor Open.

Transportation: 4 p.m. Middle School Bus

Nelson said that he has consistently heard from middle school parents about the value of the after-school middle school program. Thomas suggested that the middle school principals could use some of their discretionary funds to keep the 4 p.m. bus if they wished.

Stead reiterated her theme that she does “not see transportation as being more important than education.” She noted that transportation is not required, not funded, and is not more valuable than a teacher. She argued that the community could come together and provide transportation, but could not come together and provide teaching. Baskett argued that there are many people in the community who would not be able to come together to provide transportation, saying, “You can call a carpool on your iPhone. Other families do not have phones.”

Mexicotte said she was inclined to leave the 4 p.m. middle school bus in place for another year, because a few years ago the district completely restructured middle school and lost a lot of extras and opportunities.

Transportation: Mid-day Shuttles to/from Community High School

Mexicotte noted that students get themselves to Community High School, and Baskett asked how many students this affected. Stead asked if AATA could be approached to provide shuttles, and Margolis answered that AATA buses don’t run often enough to make it work. Stead asked if Community students could Skype into classes at the comprehensive high schools. Allen allowed that yes, that would be possible.

Thomas said he was in favor of this reduction, and noted that Community shuttles are a “big-ticket item.”

Transportation: Busing to Choice Programs – Ann Arbor Open, Skyline Magnets, Roberto Clemente

Green presented a proposal crafted in the previous week by her staff that offered a cost-neutral alternative to continuing Ann Arbor Open busing – by consolidating routes at middle school common stops. Lightfoot expressed frustration that a new proposal was drafted for the Ann Arbor Open portion of the transportation cuts only, and said that she wants to be sure the district is doing the same for everyone, not just “the squeaky wheel.” Baskett commented that the administration’s proposal was very similar to one crafted by Ann Arbor Open parents and presented by them to the district.

Several trustees expressed discomfort about eliminating busing at Ann Arbor Open – because of the inequity of that would arise from offering busing to all other students of the same grade levels (K-8). Nelson disagreed, saying that he was fine with cutting Ann Arbor Open busing to reach the cost savings goals.

Regarding transportation to Clemente, Thomas said he believes AAPS will have to maintain transportation to the building if it stays open – because there is no other way to get there.

Baskett said that providing busing to the magnet programs that are part of Skyline High School was a promise that the district made to the community, and was meant to ensure better diversity in the magnet programs. Baskett asked how many students in the magnet programs rely on transportation provided by AAPS. Landefeld explained that about 30% of Skyline students are bused, roughly 100 per grade level on average. Thomas said he’d consider eliminating magnet transportation before eliminating all high school busing. Mexicotte pointed out that not everybody who takes a bus to Skyline is in a magnet program, and suggested that the district should keep transportation for the magnet programs for now, but consider phasing it out.

Lightfoot said the she feels like she’s “operating in the dark” when it comes to transportation choices, like she has to “choose now and see the fallout later.”

Transportation: Skyline Starting/Ending Times

Lightfoot said she did not like moving Skyline’s start time up by 15 minutes, because she has a concern about the earliness of high school days in general. Baskett said that as the district makes use of its newly forming, community-wide committee on transportation, the decision about Skyline’s starting and ending times could be revisited and reversed. A change to Skyline’s starting and ending times would require a memorandum of understanding with the teachers’ union, as noted earlier by Allen.

Transportation: High School Busing/All Busing

Almost all the trustees expressed general concern that there was not enough advance time this year to eliminate high school busing or all busing in a responsible way. Stead disagreed, and continued to push for the elimination of all busing as a way to leave more money in the district’s fund balance.

Stead said she would be more inclined to work on creating an entirely new program for transportation, and to begin concerted conversations with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to work on that as soon as possible. She added that she wanted to remind the board the district had a “horrible experience” with transportation this year. The district had to adjust transportation spending by $800,000 mid-year, while maintaining a “fragmented” system with “little bits of transportation here and there,” she said.

Outcome: Trustees agreed to maintain busing to Clemente and to the Skyline magnet programs. Busing to Ann Arbor Open will likely continue under a modified plan, which will save the district $98,000. The board plans to cut the 4 p.m. middle school bus ($85,284) and mid-day shuttles to and from Community high ($230,184), as well as achieve $266,400 in savings by moving the Skyline starting and ending times up by 15 minutes.

Other District-Wide Cuts

The board also agreed to cuts to police liaisons, site-based budgets, and district-wide discretionary budgets.

Other District-Wide Cuts: Police Liaisons

Stead suggested that removing the police liaisons would cause increase safety issues. She cited five bomb threats at Forsythe Middle School and two bomb threats at Skyline High School as evidence. Baskett pointed out that the bomb threats were unsubstantiated. But Stead argued that students are staying home from school and getting physically sick with worry because of them.

Thomas said that it is not clear to him that having police liaisons is having any effect on the bomb threats in any way whatsoever. Stead countered that when she has talked to principals, they believe that the sheer presence of the officers helps to reduce disciplinary issues. Nelson stated that he believes five teachers will have a greater impact than three police liaisons for the same cost.

Stead argued that the city will not hire these police officers if AAPS releases them, and that the robberies in her area have gone up as police numbers across Ann Arbor would be decreasing.

Baskett pointed out that overall, crime in Ann Arbor has actually decreased, and that these three police liaisons have seniority in the Ann Arbor police department and would be reassigned within the community. She said that a police officer could arrive any building in the district in less than 10 minutes, and that she would rather have teachers than police officers. Patalan said she agreed with Baskett, Nelson, and Thomas.

Discussion: District-wide Discretionary Budgets

Mexicotte reviewed the administration’s proposal on discretionary budgets. She said that a 5% cut to these budgets – which cover building-level costs such as professional development, paper, and supplies – would save $250,000. A 10% cut would save $500,000. Thomas suggested “bumping that up” to possibly as much as a 15% cut. However, Allen and Flye suggested that would have a dramatic effect on the ability of a building to function effectively.

This was one area in which the board included a reduction from Plan B of the suggested reductions – Plan A of the budget proposal had suggested cutting discretionary budgets by 5%, and Plan B took the reductions to 10%.

Discussion: Site-Based Budgets

Site-based budgets in AAPS fund have been available to school improvement teams (SITs) to use as they see fit. Patalan said that while it was a small amount of money, she appreciated that each SIT was able to decide how to best use it to serve that school locally. Still, she said, she understands the need to cut it.

Outcome: The board agreed to eliminate police liaisons ($350,000) and site-based budgets ($250,750). They agreed to cut district-wide discretionary budgets by 10%, saving $500,000.

FY 2012-13 Budget – Next Steps

After the board worked through the list of possible reductions for the third time, Mexicotte tallied up the cuts tentatively agreed to by the board. The cuts totaled $4,805,678, leaving a $7 million of deficit [$17.8 million deficit, minus $4.8 million in cuts, minus $6 million in revenue enhancements]. She asked the board if they would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity to balance the budget. Their responses were mixed.

Part of the board’s decision about how much fund equity to use will be based on projections of school funding – this year and into the future. One person addressed the board at public commentary on the topic of school funding.

Next Steps: Public Commentary on School Funding

Steve Norton reported that the state of Michigan is currently projecting funding for the School Aid Fund (SAF) to increase, but cautioned that the board should not assume this unexpected revenue will accrue to benefit local districts. Norton pointed out that the state may choose to save the extra SAF funding to reduce the pressure on the state’s general fund, which is forecasted to be lower than expected this year and next.

Norton also suggested that the community begin a conversation about private giving to support schools. He noted that the East Grand Rapids public schools educational foundation has raised $350,000 in one year to offset the budget cuts facing their district. Norton said it’s hard to get people to dig deep, but that “we are at a point that if we can’t get the rest of our citizens to move forward with a countywide enhancement, and can’t convince legislators [to provide adequate school funding], maybe we should move forward to do something ourselves.” Norton suggested as an example that the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation could launch a campaign to cover the cost of transportation.

Next Steps: Fund Equity

Mexicotte said that Norton had made a very good point during public commentary, and that there is no guarantee based on past history that the SAF would see any increase. At this point, she said, if the board does not give different direction to AAPS administration, a balanced budget would be achieved by taking $7 million coming out of the fund balance.

Thomas said he would be willing to use $7 million of fund equity, but Stead was adamant she would not be. When pressed, Stead said she might find it acceptable to use up to $5 million, and added that it was “poor planning to sit here for six, seven, eight hours.”

At 1:15 a.m., as the board appeared unable to make further progress, Mexicotte responded, “If this is as far as we can get now, it’s as far as we can get.” She explained that the administration would take the board’s input from the meeting, and present a final budget on May 23. After that, she said, the board can have additional discussion and move forward.

Nelson said that starting from a $17.8 million deficit and getting to within $2 million of addressing it is not bad for one evening. He thanked Mexicotte for her facilitation, and said that he was open to staying longer to continue discussion, but also fine with waiting to continue discussion on May 23. “Then the administration can come back and give us … an option with $7 million use of fund equity, and then those of us who want to can argue for $5 million.”

Nelson also noted that Senate Bill 1040 – a retirement reform bill which as of May 17 was passed by Michigan state senators and is moving on to consideration by the state House of Representatives –could be helpful in resolving the budget. “There is a chance that more than $2 million could come out of it, and with luck, we could be done,” Nelson said.

Stead disagreed, saying that part of what’s driving up the mandated employer contribution rate to the state retirement system is that many districts are laying off staff. She said she is very concerned about how things will look a year from now, because current layoffs are not part of the figures being considered.

Lightfoot said that while she would prefer not to use $7 million of fund equity, she could support it if the district committed to make the next year be strictly focused on planning to be more prepared to make cuts in the future.

Next Steps: Advertising

Just before the meeting wrapped up, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green said she had one quick question for trustees, and asked if they would give her and her staff direction on the revenue enhancement ideas that administration had previously presented.

AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis reviewed the suggested advertising possibilities – digital billboards, scoreboard advertising, and website banners. She said she felt the trustees had given clear direction against pursuing the creation of billboards on the properties of Wines, Pioneer, and Huron, but reiterated the suggestion for allowing banner ads across the top of the AAPS website.

Margolis said that the company AAPS would work with has worked with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS), and when Margolis had talked to the Plymouth-Canton director of community relations, they spoke positively of the partnership. The first-year revenue from allowing banner advertising would be at least $22,500, said Margolis, and would be projected to increase to $250,000 by the third year. She noted that Plymouth-Canton’s revenue has increased by 30% every month, and that the terms of the agreement will be shifting from a 60/40 revenue share with the advertising company [in favor of AAPS] to a 50/50 split if the district does not commit soon.

Maintaining a commitment to local advertisers had been a concern expressed by trustees at their March 21 meeting, when the advertising proposal had been presented to the board.  Margolis said that it would cost about $500 a month for a rotating ad, which would price it equal to what it costs to run ads locally in other venues. This would give local advertisers another daily advertising spot, she said, and the ad company would also bring in regional and national ads to the AAPS website. Finally, Margolis noted that many community members have suggested the district engage in website advertising, and added that AAPS would have full discretion to have any objectionable ads removed immediately.

Margolis also sought approval to begin the process of re-equipping the high schools with new scoreboards, which would be paid for by an advertising company and would show ads during sporting events. She said the high schools would be eager to receive the new scoreboards. In a follow-up discussion after the meeting, Margolis explained to The Chronicle that the scoreboard equipment, valued at $270,000, would come at no cost to the district. After enough ad revenue is earned to pay back the cost of the equipment, future ad revenue will be split 50/50 between the district and the advertising company, she said.

Outcome: The trustees agreed to pursue website banner ads and the scoreboard advertising.

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

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 7 p.m., at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104. [confirm date]

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  1. By A2person
    May 21, 2012 at 11:33 am | permalink

    Wow. Thank you for your hard work, BOE.
    I do wish someone on the Board would just propose eliminating the very expensive, redundant, and soon to be obsolete NWEA test. It is quite simply not the best use of our funds.

  2. May 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    However much I agree with you about testing, I’m afraid that the board won’t be eliminating the NWEA (or its equivalent) anytime soon. While the legislature is still waiting on a teacher evaluation model from the Governor’s Council chaired by Dean Ball of UM, they have already written certain requirements into state law. One of them is that teachers must begin to be evaluated with 50% of the evaluation based on a value added model of student growth data. This student growth must be demonstrated on “objective measures,” that is, standardized tests. This applies for every teacher.

    At least NWEA is a non-profit consortium and isn’t owned by Pearson!

  3. May 21, 2012 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    But Steve, the NWEA test only covers a few areas (math and English, essentially). As such, it’s clearly inadequate to meet that standard. And I’m not sure that “objective measures” does necessarily mean standardized tests.

    I have had teachers tell me that the NWEA test is being put into place for their evaluations; and I’ve had school board members tell me that it is NOT for teacher evaluation–even though Jennifer Coffman quotes them as saying that it is for teacher evaluation in an article from the Chronicle about a year ago.

    Board members also told me they think they are working on a three-year time frame for evaluation, but I haven’t seen any evaluation plan. Meanwhile, the state is working on a Smarter Balance test that they expect to be ready three years ago and that will replace the MEAP *and* meet the requirements you refer to about evaluation. So then, why waste our money now on the NWEA? Including test costs and staffing support, we are probably talking about a quarter of a million dollars that we could save.

  4. By A2person
    May 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm | permalink

    Schoolsmuse, EXACTLY!

  5. May 21, 2012 at 3:27 pm | permalink

    Sorry, that should say that they expect the Smarter Balance to be ready “in three years,” NOT “three years ago!”

  6. May 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm | permalink

    Schoolsmuse, maybe I’m off about NWEA. What I do know is that, under current law, testing is only going to increase. Whether it makes sense or not. By definition, “objective measures of student growth” means some kind of standardized instrument; it rules out teacher’s evaluations of their students.

    AAPS has been working on a teacher evaluation system with AAEA, and they were just about ready to go public when the legislature preempted them last summer. However, they are holding out hope that the fact that the current teacher contract does not have a specific end date may give them the freedom to use their own system (since districts do not have to comply with the law until their current contracts expire).

    I know they also want to use the NWEA test to track and evaluate achievement gap information. I’m torn about this whole thing: a good test can indeed give you some diagnostic information and a common measuring stick. But a test does not sum up a good education, and nor is it a reliable indicator of a good education. Using tests to help teachers help kids (and to spot weaknesses in our schools) is worthwhile. What is really dangerous is making the test scores the primary or only way in which teachers, administrators, schools, or districts are evaluated.

  7. May 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm | permalink

    One additional area where I see the NWEA providing an advantage is the role that it can play in helping AAPS provide differentiated instruction, helping us get to personalized learning plans (which appears in several places in our strategic plan).

    One part of the COTW meeting was a review of how AAPS can provide differentiated instruction to all kinds of learners, including our high performers. An important aspect is a ‘no ceilings’ component, which is consistent with the way NWEA is constructed.

    Earlier in the year, the Board also received a video presentation that covered how the NWEA was being used in classrooms already do develop a more differentiated learning environment within our classrooms. The reporting and analytic capabilities that the test provides to our teachers was demonstrated during this meeting, and how the teachers were using that information right away. It was very compelling.

    I see this as a tool that can be useful in many areas, beyond just complying with the latest sets of mandates from the state. My impression is that the NWEA is being used currently to help in identifying differentiated instruction opportunities in classrooms, and progress can be tracked from there. The ‘no ceilings’ aspect is very important, in this case, to ensure that all students are progressing and that we don’t have a group of students reaching the top and then not making progress.

  8. May 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm | permalink

    I’m all for differentiated instruction, but I think the jury is still out on whether this is the right tool for the task. And assuming that it IS good for differentiated instruction, that doesn’t mean that it is also good for teacher evaluation. Is it worth a quarter-million dollars a year? That’s why evaluating it is so important!

    In any event, I think it’s a little bit dangerous (can something be a “little bit” dangerous?) to assume that the teacher evaluation system Ann Arbor sets up is going to be better. . . or kinder, gentler. . . than the state’s system. I’m very appreciative of how careful Deborah Ball and the state committee is being, and that makes me think they will come up with a good product.

    I don’t want to go on too long about the NWEA because I’ve been doing plenty of blogging about it already (and will do more at a2schoolsmuse.blogspot.com!), and
    in any event, there are many other things in this report that interest me too. For instance, according to the report, in the most viable plans, the savings from closing Roberto Clemente were not the $400,000 initially projected but closer to $200,000. In part, that shows that the initial plan was half-baked. But it also takes me down a different train of thought.

    If there are 100 kids at RC costing $19,000 each (OBVIOUSLY a very expensive program), and we wanted to save $2,000/student (for a total savings of $200,000), why don’t we just tell RC that they have to cut that much in their per-capita costs? It might mean slightly larger classes, but their classes are quite small now; and I’ll bet they could get creative.

  9. May 21, 2012 at 9:07 pm | permalink

    I’m a little suspect of any evaluation system. I know none will be perfect. Instead, I’d like to focus on ones that actually help our students – which, from what I’ve seen, the NWEA goes farther than the MEAP certainly does. We also spent a little over $90,000 on the NWEA. Not sure why these figures are so difficult for folks year after year, but in any case, this wasn’t the most expensive item.

    Teacher evaluation methodologies are still being developed and are behind their timeline. In the meantime, we have a law to comply with and have to move on.

    I anticipate that there will be some good thinking that occurs regarding RC this next year which will be led by improvements to supports and curriculum that help improve the students in that program. I cannot speak to whether it will be more or less, but education is our primary mission. We need to reflect that in how we go about changing programs.

    Next year is not going to be pleasant from a budget reduction perspective. However, we will continue to work hard on ways to reduce costs while improving and protecting education. Other services and costs may need to be collectively provided by our broader community if we continue defunding public K12 education, as is our current trend.

    Personally, I would like to see local levy authority returned so that communities would be able to invest in education, if they felt that it reflected their community’s priorities. Our current law seems undemocratic, and it subjects our education infrastructure to partisan politics.

  10. By A2person
    May 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm | permalink

    Whether or not NWEA is a great tool (this remains up for debate anyway), it seems to be a moot point, since the state will be mandating the Smarter Balanced Assessment within the next year or two, a computer-adaptive test much like the NWEA. Even if NWEA is superior, there is no way that our kids will take TWO computer adaptive tests multiple times per year, plus the science MEAP, plus all the other assessment batteries we deliver.

    We need to think long-term, not just for the next year. This test will be replaced very soon. We’ve lived quite well without it for decades. I can’t understand why suddenly it’s so indispensable. We could do much better things with that money, and especially with the resources and classroom time it takes up.

  11. By A2person
    May 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm | permalink

    Schoolsmuse, excellent point about RC cuts.

  12. May 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm | permalink

    $90,000 for the cost of the test. I was estimating the time/money spent by staff on training, implementation, tech support, professional development. I think that’s probably in the 1/4 million dollar ballpark but I am not sure about that–it might be less or more.

    And I totally agree about ending Proposal A.

  13. By John Floyd
    May 21, 2012 at 11:39 pm | permalink


    We have not agreed on this in the past, but I still think that reductions in the pay of the top tier of school administrators has to be part of the solution. This would not make a large dent in the deficit, but it would: 1) create some savings. The increase in the superintendent’s salary over the prior incumbent’s was a teacher’s FTE. This is not trivial. No evidence has yet been presented that a high salary for the superintendent improves education – much less that it improves education more than the money equal to the increase would provide in the classroom. Same goes – but for lessor dollars – for the other top positions in administration. It’s OK for public school administrators to make an above-average wage-after all, it is a big, important job. However, we all might be better served if people who are driven by salary, rather than by the mission of educating, went into the private sector. Nothing wrong with wanting a high income – that’s the American Dream. It’s just that to be effective in education, some part of you has to feel called to educate – to be mission-driven, not salary-driven. We need Wall Street, but that’s not who should be running the schools; 2) The idea of “Shared Sacrifice” rings hollow when not everyone is sacrificing. In this context, part of effective leadership is being willing to lead in sacrifice. There needs to be some leadership around sacrifice before asking the community to sacrifice via higher school taxes or contributions, and especially before asking those who actually have contact with students – those who do the work of educating – to sacrifice. To me, getting kids to school is more important than having “the best” superintendent (and for the reasons expressed above, I don’t think you can equate “highest paid” with “the best”). If kids aren’t at the school, the schools are irrelevant – and no one will be more irrelevant than the superintendent.

  14. May 22, 2012 at 12:01 am | permalink

    Schoolsmuse [8], regarding evaluation systems: as I understand it, the models AAPS has been pursuing are very similar to those discussed by Dean Ball’s panel. In my mind, the worry is not what they come up with. The worry is that the legislature explicitly reserved for themselves the right to decide on the evaluation model. The Governor’s Council recommendation is not binding. The State Board of Ed is frozen out of the process under the terms of the legislation passed last June.

    Moreover, how will Dr. Ball’s recommendation be squared with the requirement, already written into law, that a minimum of 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on value added models of student growth? As long as that provision remains, and there is little reason to think the legislature would backtrack at this point, all the efforts to build better evaluation systems and do a good job evaluating teaching methods is a sideshow compared to the VAM calculations. Look at what it has done to New York public schools, and they don’t even use VAM for a majority of the evaluation.

  15. By Eric
    May 22, 2012 at 10:27 am | permalink

    The system will run its reserves down again, possibly to close to nothing, and as a result will probably lose its independence in the next few years. Sooner or later it will not be able to make a required payment and will have to go to the State of Michigan for a loan or waiver and guess what the price will be? Merger with Ypsilanti which by then will probably include Willow Run. It will be total financial and academic disaster for Ann Arbor. As in many areas of human affairs loss of solvency results in loss of freedom.

  16. May 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm | permalink


    I am particularly interested in maintaining as much independence as possible for the AAPS. I appreciate the potential path you describe in your post very much, which is why fund equity is so important to our district. Not only is it good financial management, but having maintained adequate levels in the past has allowed the AAPS to weather the current financial crisis much better than other districts. There are other districts around us that have already passed deficit budgets (e.g., Saline). It will be very interesting to see how that unfolds around us, especially if K12 funding is anywhere in line with Governor Snyder’s proposal – making next year even more dismal than this year and last year for public schools.

    I will do what I can to ensure that AAPS does not deplete our fund equity this year or next year, especially given the funding outlook portrayed in Governor Snyders FY13 and FY14 proposed budgets.