School Board to Use Savings to Bridge Deficit

Transportation study committee created as more cuts loom in 2013-14

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (May 23, 2012): The majority of AAPS trustees have agreed to spend down roughly $7 million in fund equity to meet projected expenditures for fiscal year 2012-13, beginning July 1, 2012. That decision came after suggestions by trustees Glenn Nelson and Christine Stead to restructure Roberto Clemente Student Development Center and to fully eliminate transportation, respectively, again went nowhere. The May 23 meeting included much discussion about the effect that spending down fund equity this year could have on the district’s ability to weather another projected deficit of $14 million to $18 million in FY 2013-14.

The board is expected to vote on the FY 2012-13 budget at its June 13 meeting.

In addition to the budget discussion, trustees moved quickly through a number of other items of business at the May 23 meeting: (1) directing administration to create a transportation committee; (2) approving the sale of tech bonds; (3) supporting the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget with some suggested reporting improvements; (4) the approval of two property easements with the city of Ann Arbor; and (5) the approval of a number of policies, including an anti-bullying policy as newly mandated by state law.

Trustees also heard from 20 people, most of them speaking during general public commentary in support of the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, which had originally been proposed to be closed or restructured as part of the budget. Many thanked the board for taking Clemente “off the chopping block” for this coming year, but expressed concerns about the board’s process, the district-wide achievement gap faced by African-American students, and the board’s “lack of respect” for Clemente students.  

2012-13 Budget

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green introduced the first formal briefing on the AAPS proposed 2012-13 budget by asserting, “The district is hemorrhaging… The pain is real.” She reiterated the position shared at earlier meetings, saying that her administration does not want to make any of these cuts at all, and that what has been in the budget is valued and has made the district great.

The budget elements of the May 23 meeting are reported below. First, there was a presentation by AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen on the background and assumptions informing the proposed budget; a review by Allen of the suggested budget reductions; board discussion on the proposed budget; and a public hearing on the proposed budget. Public commentary, as well as this meeting’s student report, are described following these items, as they were each primarily related to the proposed budget reductions.

2012-13 Budget: Background and Assumptions

Robert Allen said that his PowerPoint presentation was “pretty much the same” as the board had already seen multiple times. He reviewed it again briefly, stressing how rising pension costs are not under the control of local districts.

Trustee Christine Stead asked what the foundation allowance would be if adjusted for inflation, and Allen said he did not know, but as far as he had heard, there was no plan to increase the $9,020 per pupil allowance. Board president Deb Mexicotte said that the figure she had seen before, if the foundation allowance had risen only by the rate of inflation, was near $11,000, and Allen said that sounded right.

Allen said the projected deficit for 2012-13 was $17.8 million, which includes the shift to providing all-day kindergarten. He also said that he feels fairly confident that the projected deficit can be lowered $1 million due to health care cost savings, but that he has not yet incorporated that into the plan.

Allen described the health care cost savings in more detail, explaining that the benefits of offering a self-funded health care plan to employees is starting to pay off, but that he is still being conservative in estimating the savings to the district. As more employees move to the self-funded plan, those savings continue to increase, Allen said. He noted that a health care consultant paid for by the health care corporations had advised him regarding making a $1.7 million budget adjustment to the base expenditures. Trustee Glenn Nelson, who had asked about the shift in base expenditure numbers at the last meeting, said he appreciated the way Allen keeps the board well-informed.

Allen then put up a slide with three-year projections, which shows that if the district does nothing to reduce expenditures, the fund balance will be depleted within two years. Stead expressed concern that with the special education reimbursement rate decreasing, the mandated retirement contribution rate increasing, and less guarantee of state offsets and incentives, the cuts that AAPS will need to make for 2013-14 will be even higher than this year.

Trustee Andy Thomas disagreed, saying that the state offsets are likely to continue, and that the board isn’t going to “sit on our hands and do nothing.” He noted that the $4 million in reductions the board is planning to pass will be put into the base expenditures for 2013-14 and for subsequent years. He suggested that the future projections are not representative of what is likely to occur.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan

At the May 23 meeting, Allen reviewed the proposed budget reductions by category. See The Chronicle’s coverage of the board’s May 16 committee of the whole meeting for more discussion of the proposed reductions.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Instructional Services

Allen reviewed that the consolidation of the Clemente summer school into the district-wide Pioneer High program would save $80,000, but Green said Clemente has asked the board to reconsider this piece. She said that much of what Clemente is doing is more like orientation than credit recovery, and that they feel the structure is important to their entire program.

Stead said she could argue against every single one of these cuts, and asked where the $80,000 would come from if the Clemente summer school program were to stay intact. Green said her administration is still looking into it, and that for now, the reduction is still on the list.

Allen also noted that the site-based budgets, which fund individual building’s school improvement plans, will be eliminated for $250,750, and that a reduction of four FTEs (full-time equivalents) in counseling positions will save $400,000.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Operations

Allen reiterated the list of transportation cuts included in the plan, and commented on them:

  • Changing the Skyline High start time by 15 minutes, which would entail a memorandum of agreement with the teachers’ union ($266,400);
  • Eliminating midday shuttles at Community High ($230,184);
  • Reducing costs for transportation to Ann Arbor Open by using middle school common stops ($98,800);
  • Eliminating the 4 p.m. middle school bus, which significantly impacts after-school programs ($85,284);
  • Combining the bus routes of Bryant-Pattengill elementary schools($16,560).

Regarding the 4 p.m. middle school bus, Allen said the district is looking at other ways to be able to fund that.

Regarding the combining of bus routes to Bryant and Pattengill, Allen noted that it could impact start times at those schools, which would lead to another memorandum of agreement with the teachers’ union. He said the idea of combining these routes has been discussed for a couple of years, and that Pattengill’s start time might have to shift by 15 minutes because there will be fewer stops. Allen said the consolidation could allow for the elimination of up to two of the nine busses that are dedicated to those schools’ routes. The worst case scenario, he said, would be the addition of 10 minutes to the length of some students’ bus rides.

Andy Thomas clarified that a student going to Bryant would not experience any additional time in the morning, but would in the afternoon because the driving time from Bryant to Pattengill in the morning or from Pattengill to Bryant in the afternoon would add 10 minutes. Allen said yes, 10 minutes would be the maximum addition.

Allen listed three additional reductions in operations: ITD (information technology department) restructuring ($200,000); the elimination of the early notification incentive ($40,000); and energy savings ($500,000 in 2012-13, and $700,000 in the future).

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – District-wide Reductions

Allen reviewed the following district-wide reductions that are proposed:

  • Moving the Rec & Ed director and support staff positions to the Rec & Ed budget ($205,000);
  • Reducing districtwide departmental budgets by 10% ($500,000);
  • Reducing healthcare costs ($100,000);
  • Eliminating police liaisons ($350,000);
  • Outsourcing noon-hour supervisors ($75,000);
  • Eliminating the district contribution to music camps ($60,000);
  • Reducing the budget for substitute teachers by placing the management of substitute budgets in the schools ($200,000);
  • Reducing middle school athletics ($37,500);
  • Eliminating funding for athletic entry fees ($58,000);
  • Moving lacrosse to a club sport ($93,000);
  • Replacing 32 FTEs of instructional staff (retirements) with less expensive staff ($900,000).

Regarding the police liaisons, Allen said he had talked with the Ann Arbor Police Department and confirmed that reducing the liaisons would not mean a loss of employment for any of the officers. The biggest thing AAPS will lose, Allen said, is the relationships it has with these particular officers. Christine Stead asked how they could be absorbed by the city if there was no budget for them, and Allen said there are retirements that would allow the shifts to occur. Allen also noted that AAPS will still contract with the AAPD for extra-curricular events such as football games.

Andy Thomas asked for clarification on what the $60,000 of music camp funding represents. Allen explained that it is entirely supplemental teacher pay, including fringes. The district will adjust its supplemental pay amount by $60,000, and that is a hard number, Allen said, even though the exact amount spent on this pay may be higher or lower in a given year. He also noted that there is an option to fundraise the $60,000 outside of the district budget, and that the band directors are working with the central office on this issue.

The Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA) – the teachers’ union –has asked for two weeks to look at the entire middle school budget, Allen said, to see if there is a way to keep the middle school athletic directors but still reduce the overall middle school athletics budget by $37,500. He said there have been conversations about how Rec & Ed provides the same functions, and that perhaps middle school athletics could be done more efficiently.

Stead asked how confident Allen was about the savings anticipated by hiring less expensive teachers, and asked him to walk through the logic one more time. Allen said the district is currently expecting 24 retirements, and that retiring teachers are more than likely at the top of the pay scale. If you bring in new teachers to replace the retiring ones, he said, there is about a $25,000 to $30,000 differential in pay. Allen pointed out that there is a risk the savings will be lower if the district does not have additional retirements. Thomas said that if there are only 24 retirements, the savings will be $720,000 instead of $900,000.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Revenue Enhancement

Allen reviewed the four sources of revenue enhancement that are part of this budget: (1) School of Choice students ($1 million); (2) Medicaid reimbursement ($500,000); (3) best practices funding ($2.6 million); and (4) MPSERS offset ($1.8 million). MPSERS is the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

Allen noted that there are currently state Senate and House bills being entertained on MPSERS reform, and that it is not known at this time how the outcome of those discussions will affect the MPSERS offset in the future. Stead asked if the projected 31.2% employer contribution rate would increase if there were substantial layoffs across the state for FY 2012-13. Allen said he did not think AAPS would be adversely affected by the MPSERS reform bills.

2012-13 Budget: Proposed Budget Reduction Plan – Fund Equity

Allen then summarized that AAPS needs $10.7 million of reductions after the revenue enhancements are applied, but that at this point, the district will need to use $ 7 million of fund equity to reach that target. He added that the $7 million figure does not include the additional $1 million adjustment in health care savings he reported that night, so it’s really more like using $6 million of fund equity.

Stead asked if Allen anticipated an additional deficit in the fourth quarter, and Allen said very conservatively, he would estimate an additional deficit of $500,000, depending on what happens with additional retirements. Nelson said he usually thinks of increased retirements as saving money, and asked, “Why would something that accelerates retirements hurt the budget?” Allen answered that some retirees qualify for a payout bonus based on their number of years of service. AAPS, he explained, keeps those payouts held in the balance sheet, and the expense of distributing them has to be recognized in the year during which they are actually paid out.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion

Board discussion on the proposed budget is grouped here into the following categories: administrative process, Roberto Clemente, busing, police liaisons, other cuts, fund equity, and revenue enhancement. The budget was brought to the May 23 meeting as a first briefing item. The final 2012-13 budget will be approved at the next regular board meeting on June 13.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Administrative Process

Trustee Glenn Nelson complimented the administration and board president Deb Mexicotte for guiding the board through the budget process over the last few months, saying he “appreciated the spirit” with which the board whittled down an $18 million deficit to what he called “a budget which I can live with – it’s painful, but it’s a rational kind of thing.”

Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she liked that the middle school administration was weighing in on how to best cut middle school athletics, and asked “How much of that do we do?” Robert Allen replied that there are always ways to improve the process, and that input from all stakeholders is a good thing. “We do present these proposed reductions to our administration, and each year we ask for suggestions when we start the process,” he said, pointing out that some of the district-wide cuts proposed this year came from building administrators’ suggestions.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Roberto Clemente

Lightfoot asked how many students attend Roberto Clemente’s summer school program, and noted that she has received many e-mails about the hardships those students will face if the summer school program is merged with the district-wide summer school held at Pioneer. Allen said the Clemente summer school program could be as many as 80 or 90 students, and Thomas pointed out that absorbing the Clemente students into the main summer school program will increase summer school class sizes.

Trustee Irene Patalan asked how many students who begin the school year at Clemente are still there at the end of the year. Jane Landefeld, AAPS director of student accounting, answered that 15 students left between October and February this school year. Nelson asked if the 15 who left Clemente returned to other AAPS schools. Landefeld said some left AAPS to attend other schools out of the district, some transferred to other AAPS schools, and some dropped out of school entirely.

Thomas asked where exactly the projected $80,000 in savings from consolidating Clemente’s summer school program would come from. Mostly from staffing costs, Allen replied. Trustee Susan Baskett suggested breaking out the cost of the transition/orientation part of the Clemente summer school program from the classes part.

Mexicotte said she wants the academic focus to be the driver of summer school programming, and that summer school has always been about closing gaps and academic recovery. She argued that the orientation pieces need to be accomplished during the regular school year – individually or in cohorts.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Busing

Lightfoot asked if there was any concern about the mixing of ages of students on the Bryant and Pattengill buses, if they are consolidated. No, Allen said – all of the other elementary school buses mixed children from grades K-5.

Trustee Irene Patalan noted that there are a group of students who primarily attend classes at the comprehensive high schools but who come to Community High for part of the day – for those students, eliminating the mid-day shuttles will hurt. These students do not have organized advocacy, she said, but they do believe that coming to Community each day keeps their day intact as they are given support, self-esteem, or other help there.

Nelson said he would like reassurance at the second briefing that funding for the 4 p.m. middle school bus will be replaced, as it adds enough to the educational experience for enough students to be worth it. If at the second briefing on the budget on June 13, the board cannot be assured the money will be coming from elsewhere, Nelson said, he would like to explore not cutting the 4 p.m. middle school bus.

Stead requested data on high school bus ridership, particularly if there were changes to ridership this year.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Other Cuts

Lightfoot asked if, in light of the cuts to police liaisons, there was a way to have some sort of arrangement with the city so that the city could be sensitive to the idea of sending AAPS officers who are already familiar with the district. Allen said he could have that discussion with the acting chief [John Seto], who has been very responsive. Lightfoot also asked what the cost is for AAPD coverage at individual, separate events, and Allen said that in the past it has been treated as overtime pay for the three dedicated officers. If those positions are no longer funded by AAPS, the AAPD would be paid an hourly rate for event coverage, said Allen. Baskett said, “AAPD are a good police force, but they are not cheap.” She asked Allen to look for other ways of providing security at events, or work to negotiate a lower rate with AAPD.

Mexicotte noted that cutting 4 FTEs from counseling staff concerns her because of the effect it could have on the district’s work closing the achievement and discipline gaps. “While it is an attractive cut because it’s large, and because it’s based on attrition, this is an area of particular distress for me,” she said. Mexicotte also noted that she had been sitting next to AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Alesia Flye at the May 16 committee meeting, and that she wanted to acknowledge Flye’s distress at the reduction in departmental budgets. “[Flye] said, very professionally under her breath,” Mexicotte reported, ” ‘Ouch – that’s really going to hurt our professional development.’”

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Fund Equity

Nelson said he was concerned about losing teachers in 2013-14 if the district digs too deep into fund equity this year to cover projected expenditures. He suggested bringing the idea of moving Clemente this year back to the table for discussion. “As we talk about the expenses related to [Clemente], and the performance as we know it, … I am not completely sure that investment is worth it,” Nelson argued.

Nelson said that for every teacher cut, roughly 300 students are affected by larger class sizes. By this logic, he explained, the $200,000 that would be saved by moving Clemente this year would save three teachers in 2013-14, affecting 900 students directly. “I am hoping we look really hard at this program because I think we need to,” Nelson said.

Stead responded that shifting academic programs warrants more planning time, and that she sees looking at effective program supports and results as the work of next year. “This is not about a move – this is about a thorough review from a program perspective,” she argued. She also pointed out that the achievement gap and discipline gap are not just Clemente problems, but district-wide issues, and that the program review needs to be comprehensive.

Stead explained her fear that without deeper cuts this year, AAPS could face the situation of not having enough fund equity to make payroll next summer, when the state aid payments are suspended. She noted that her concerns are based on the fact that the district ended up using $2.3 million out of fund equity this year to cover unanticipated spending, and that the MPSERS offset and best practices funding are not guaranteed to continue.

Stead said she is very concerned that using $8 million of fund equity this year does not position the district for financial sustainability next year, and suggested again that the board consider cutting all transportation out of the 2012-13 budget for a savings of $3.5 million. She argued that cutting transportation will require a “concerted effort from the entire community, city, carpools, everything you can think of,” but that so far, efforts at working on transportation have been “piecemeal.”

Thomas disagreed, pointing out that for the last three years, AAPS has been spending down fund equity at the rate of only $1.7 million a year, and that using $7 million this year is a reasonable and conservative way to address the current deficit. He said he had been present at the last AAPS Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) meeting, and that there was some discussion there of how the AAPSEF could offset some of the cuts. He also noted that the PTO thrift shop might be willing to make some kind of contribution, and that University Bank has come forward with $5,000 to help with the music camps. “What this illustrates,” Thomas said, “is that there is some willingness in the community to use private funding to help offset some of these cuts.”

Thomas said he would like to be able to sit down in October (2012), not April (2013) and hear the administration’s plan to eliminate another $14 to $18 million in 2013-14. He said he’d like to hear the plan in detail, similar to what was presented at this first formal budget briefing. It’s important to start the conversation in October [of 2012, for planning the 2013-14 budget], he said, because “we don’t have very many bullets left in our gun. What we are left with for next year is transportation as a whole, our contracts with bargaining units, reducing teachers by a truly drastic number, closing schools, and redistricting. And, closing schools has a ripple effect on transportation. These will all require a great deal of thought.”

Mexicotte asked Allen how much the district needed to keep in fund equity to be able to make payroll over the summer, and Allen said $9 million. “Then that’s the magical number – $9 million,” Mexicotte said. “It is the number after which we give money to the state to lend us money they should be giving us in the first place.” She argued that the difference between leaving $9 million, $10 million, or $11 million in fund equity “hardly makes a difference” because the district is facing $14 million more in cuts next year.

Mexicotte said that one of the visions she has kept in her mind all these years as a trustee is to keep AAPS above the line of solvency, and that she is comfortable spending $6-$7 million from fund equity this year.

Lightfoot agreed that she is comfortable with spending $6 million from fund equity if “we do nothing next year but plan, plan, plan.”

Patalan said that over the past six years, AAPS has made approximately $70 million in reductions – that’s just huge. “Of course, we’re all feeling fairly depressed,” she said. She added it also frightens her to allow fund equity to get so low, and that doing so was “truly a gamble. … You almost feel naked without something [to protect] against the future, and what the future could be.” The district’s ending fund equity balance for the current fiscal year is projected to be $18.73 million.

2012-13 Budget: Board Discussion – Revenue Enhancement

Nelson said the community does have other options – one is to keep pushing for legislative change at the state level, and another is to try again to pass a countywide schools enhancement millage. Passing such a millage, Nelson said, will require a very strong effort by citizens who care about education, “but one doesn’t get it done without starting. I urge the citizens out there who feel that education of the children in Washtenaw County is being threatened to not be as excellent as they deserve and need for the world they are going to live in, that we start talking about the enhancement millage.” [A countywide enhancement millage was on the November 2009 ballot and defeated, with 57.4% of voters voting against it, though it was supported by a majority of Ann Arbor voters.]

Stead said passing a revenue enhancement millage at the county level would be difficult, and that while she would support such efforts, AAPS also needs to keep working for a statewide solution. “There is a real structural issue,” she said. “Education should not be so subject to partisan politics that we compromise our entire future as a result… I would hope people would work with us… to focus on revoking Proposal A.” [Passed in 1994, Proposal A was a ballot initiative that aimed to create more equitable funding across all districts and to keep property taxes from escalating dramatically. Proposal A took away, to a significant degree, local control over school funding, though districts can still request voter approval to levy local millages for building construction, repairs, and maintenance.]

This was the first briefing on the 2012-13 budget. The budget will come before the board again for a second briefing and vote at the next regular board meeting on June 13.

2012-13 Budget: Public Hearing

Deb Mexicotte noted that the proposed budget has been posted on the district’s website, and invited anyone in the room to speak on the budget.

A parent in the Georgetown neighborhood spoke about the suggested consolidation of bus runs to Bryant and Pattengill schools. She pointed out that while adding 10 minutes to a bus route does not seem that long, it makes the run 40 minutes long at the end of the day for a 6-year-old. She also noted that the buses currently serving the students in her neighborhood are really full, and that it might not be realistic to think about eliminating a bus when you factor in fifth grade instruments needing space too.

A Clemente parent offered some perspective on the Clemente summer school program. She said that when Clemente first started in 1974, it was a 12-month program, and that the Clemente philosophy addresses the belief that students lose a lot over the summer. Students do take academic classes, and Clemente does offer Read 180 and credit recovery, she said, but it also orients students to the way classes will be conducted in the fall. Incoming 9th graders are offered an “intro to biology” class to prepare them to take biology in the fall and be successful. Also, students are given help with basic math, she said, to prepare them for the concepts they will be learning in the regular school year.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary

Eighteen people addressed the board during the regular public commentary period at the beginning of the meeting. Sixteen discussed Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, which had originally been proposed to be closed or restructured as part of the budget. Two other speakers discussed transportation services, which are slated for further reduction under the proposed budget as well.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary – Roberto Clemente

Members of the Clemente community thanked the board for taking Clemente “off the chopping block” for this coming year, but expressed concerns about board process, the district-wide achievement gap faced by African-American students, and the board’s “lack of respect” for Clemente students. Many students gave testimonials about how Clemente had changed their lives, and how it was stressful to live with the fear that their school would be taken away in the future.

Kathleen Ardon said she has not felt the board was listening during public commentary. She cited sidebar conversations, superintendent Patricia Green getting up to talk to another administrator, and the limited speaking time allowed. She suggested to trustees that they “try limiting your comments to 90 seconds each, as we have been made to do.” Lexanna Marie Lyons echoed Ardon, noting that at the May 9 board meeting, “a young white girl got to speak about her experiences at A2 Tech and read a letter.” Lyons noted that while that girl got to speak as long as she wanted, Clemente students were limited to a minute and a half each, and “they did not receive the praise this white girl received.”

Lyons said that as an African-American female, she has experienced many forms of racism and that she feels racism right now. Student Corey McDonald added, “Why set a time limit for speech when you stay here for…I don’t know how [long], but… a very long time.”

Student Mackenzie Caddell said she was “terribly embarrassed” and “mortified” when she saw the Clemente achievement data shared at the May 16 board committee meeting. However, Caddell continued, after reviewing data on African-American achievement district-wide, she “concluded that AAPS is only exceptional for students that are not of color…It isn’t black students’ failure – it’s a shared failure.” She noted that the positive impact that Clemente has had on students’ attitudes and behavior “cannot be seen on paper.”

Clemente teacher Mike Smith also addressed the achievement data discussed on May 16, and presented comparable data for African-American students at the three comprehensive high schools. Saying that he agreed that Clemente’s test scores were “abominable” and “damnable,” he noted that the achievement data for African-Americans students are very concerning across the district. Smith noted that only 53% of African-American 11th graders at the comprehensive high schools scored proficient in reading on the Michigan Merit Exam (MME), compared to 88% of their Caucasian counterparts. In math, the MME proficiency numbers are similar – Caucasian 86%, African-American 43%, Smith said.

Cierra Reese asserted that the achievement gap starts in elementary school, and Charlae Davis added that closing the achievement gap requires looking at “the big picture,” including the study of qualitative data, such as the information presented by students and their families.

Regarding a perceived lack of respect, parent Tara Cole referenced how a board member said she had felt threatened at the last meeting and that there had been a lack of respect shown for the board. Cole said the Clemente community feels the same way. Cassandra Parks said she is not convinced the board is concerned about these students, and reminded the students gathered, “You have to exercise our right and make sure the people in power really care about us.” After finishing her own comments, Parks also interrupted public commentary later in the meeting to call out teachers’ union president Brit Satchwell for distracting the board by typing loudly while people were speaking. Mexicotte asked Parks to be seated. Satchwell apologized for the perceived disrespect and closed his laptop.

Student Tyler Sheldon said students “feel that we have been kicked aside as lower-income minorities, so unfortunately, it makes us wonder, if we came from upper middle class two-parent households, would this have been considered?”

Public commentary on Clemente at the May 23 meeting also offered many examples of the qualitative data noted by Davis. Tia Jones and Alexandra Botello argued that the cost of educating Clemente students should not be relevant. Jones said she is finally getting the education she deserves and has been wanting her whole life, and Botello noted that the bullying and assault she faced in other AAPS schools was not present at Clemente.

Harmony Redding, Jermia Castion, and Caleb LeHuray noted the positive effect that Clemente has on students who have struggled elsewhere. “Roberto Clemente has been a gateway to education for many students,” LeHuray asserted. “You need to leave it alone as it is so the future students can see the value of their education and be successful later on.”

David Bullard and Corey McDonald warned that closing or consolidating Clemente will cause many students to drop out or return to their old bad habits. McDonald also pointed out that Clemente students will be looked at as “lower class” by students at other schools if the program is consolidated.

2012-13 Budget: Public Commentary – Busing

Jill Zimmerman thanked the board for allowing modified busing to continue to Ann Arbor Open, and said it will “make a huge difference in the lives of many families.” She also noted that it seems like eliminating busing district-wide is a “very real possibility” in the coming year. She encouraged the board to continue discussion with the community as this is considered. Zimmerman said the budget process in general should start sooner in order to realize the most savings with the least negative impact on families.

Patty Kracht urged the board to keep building administrators involved in the budget planning as it affects individual schools. She noted that when she heard about the consolidation of Bryant and Pattengill busing routes, she called the principal of her child’s school to ask if start times would be staggered. The principal did not know the answer and had not been included in the re-routing planning. “Please,” Kracht said, “if you’re not going to involve parents, at least involve administration.”

2012-13 Budget: Clarification on Public Commentary

Trustee Christine Stead spoke about the board process and structure surrounding public input. She noted that 45 minutes of public commentary is allotted at every meeting, and that the time is divided among all those who sign up to speak. [Each speaker is allotted 4 minutes. In the event that more than 11 people sign up to speak, the 45 minutes is divided equally among all speakers.] Stead also noted that student reports, given on a rotational basis by representatives from each of the high schools, are intended to be more in-depth reports, and that Clemente was on the schedule for the May 23 meeting. “Tonight, that person can take as much time as they would like,” she said, stressing that the trustees “absolutely want to hear students’ voices.”

Board president Deb Mexicotte offered clarification on the building of Skyline High School. She said the $92 million that paid for Skyline was part of a $240 million bond allocated by taxpayers to provide improvements to every building in the district, as well as to build the new school. Mexicotte explained that bond funds cannot be used for operating expenses. She said the district would love to be able to raise operating dollars from its taxpayers, but is legally prohibited from doing so.

Regarding disproportionality in discipline referrals, superintendent Patricia Green said she agrees there are disparities that parallel national trends, but said that it is being addressed. She noted that AAPS has instituted a multi-year plan to eliminate both the achievement and discipline gaps across the district.

2012-13 Budget: Roberto Clemente Student Report

Tia Jones volunteered to give the student report for Clemente, and started by simply saying, “We have said all we have had to say,” and reminding trustees that they are all invited to come see the school. Deb Mexicotte noted the concern expressed during public commentary that Clemente students have not had unlimited time to address the board, and explained that the student report is untimed. Jones asked if other students would also be given a turn to speak, and was told no.

Jones then shared some of her own story, saying that before Clemente, she had attended Dicken for all of elementary, then Slauson, Scarlett, and Eastern Washtenaw Multicultural Academy (a local charter school) for middle school, and finally Huron for 9th grade. “I remember teachers telling me never to try, that I would never be anyone,” Jones said. She said that in 6th grade, she did not know the Pledge of Allegiance, and that she felt out of place during her 8th grade year at EWMA, since the majority of students were of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, Jones recounted, “At Huron, I felt really bad due to an issue outside of school. Counselors did not know what to do with me.”

When she got to Clemente, Jones said, “Dr. E [Clemente principal Ben Edmondson] did not allow [me] to fail.” She told trustees that when the cuts to Clemente were proposed, it got to her because she knows what the school has offered her and her peers. “It shelters us, nurtures us. We spend most of our time at school.”

Board President’s Report

Deb Mexicotte reported on the board’s May 16 committee of the whole. In addition to going through a facilitated discussion to direct administration about board priorities during this trying time, she said, other topics discussed at the meeting were: how personalized learning is approached in AAPS; the possible creation of a transportation working group; and the superintendent evaluation timeline.

For full coverage of the non-budget May 16 committee of the whole agenda items, see Chronicle coverage: ”AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation.”

Transportation Study Committee

At the May 16 committee of the whole meeting, trustee Simone Lightfoot had suggested that the board convene a working group to study transportation sustainability in the district. After some discussion, trustees agreed to direct administration to convene such a group, and Deb Mexicotte said she would write up a request to do so, since the board does not take official action during committee meetings.

Transportation Study Committee: Formal Request to Administration

During the information section of the May 23 meeting, Mexicotte read a draft of the administrative request that she had written based on her notes from the May 16 committee meeting. Trustees subsequently approved the creation of an administrative working group “for the purpose of studying and reporting on the sustainability of school bus transportation for AAPS students.”

Mexicotte read the entire formal request into the record of the meeting. In summary, it outlined the board’s reasons for wanting to charge administration with convening such a group, saying it seems “prudent” to study the “short-term and long-term funding, support, partnerships, and solutions for school transportation” in order to understand AAPS’ role in the system, now and in the future.

In the request, the board charged the committee with examining three questions:

(1) Can we create a district-wide plan which includes short-term and long-term strategies, and that maintains district-funded transportation for students in AAPS? If so, under what circumstances (time, partnerships, delivery models, targeted student populations, funding strategies)?

(2) If not, what are the alternatives that might be considered or implemented (partial or complete elimination, privatization, partnerships, needs-based grants or services)? and

(3) What are the general and specific impacts on changing, reducing, or eliminating district-funded transportation as it relates to our strategic and educational outcomes and goals?

The request also asked the superintendent to be sure to include a diverse group of stakeholders on the committee, including administrators, representatives of other public and governmental entities, parents, students, and board members. It also said specifically that the working group could be made up entirely of members from an already existing committee, such as the Transportation Safety Committee or the City/Schools committee, or could be a newly created group, at the superintendent’s discretion.

Finally, it was requested that the board hear progress updates from the group on a regular basis, and that the process of completing the study and offering recommendations come back to the board by January 2013, in time to inform the FY 2013-14 AAPS budget.

Transportation Study Committee: Board Discussion

All of the trustees except for Christine Stead were immediately supportive of the creation of such a committee as outlined by Mexicotte. Stead suggested instead that perhaps a long-term financial planning group be assembled, and said that regarding transportation, she would rather have the district leverage the structure already in place rather than make a new committee. She also questioned the utility of having the committee vet the sustainability of school bus transportation without complete funding information, and asked, “Where does this tie into our strategic plan?”

Andy Thomas said there are specific issues regarding transportation that the board and the district need to address, which would make such a committee useful. He named the following as examples: “What is the impact of any reduction or the complete elimination of transportation to the district – which population will be affected? What is the impact on neighborhoods where schools are located? Will there be a huge increase in auto traffic? What are the environmental safety ramifications of this? What are the ramifications on specific programs; for example, what good does it do to keep Clemente open if there is not transportation to get to that location?”

Irene Patalan said the timeline piece was important to her, so that the committee can offer the board recommendations for the next budget cycle. Simone Lightfoot said it was important to her that the committee includes more than the “same people as usual,” and Susan Baskett added that committee members should feel free to bring their thoughts, comments, and questions without reservation. To Stead, Baskett answered that forming a transportation committee falls under strategic goal number six of the district’s strategic plan, which has to do with earning the public’s trust.

Multiple trustees and superintendent Patricia Green commended Mexicotte for the wording of her request, which noted the flexibility of the committee to define “sustainability” and other metrics. Green said, since she would be leading this effort, that she would “like to go at this not with a road map, but with a compass… All the stakeholders will develop the road map, while the compass sets the direction and keeps [the work] going in that direction.”

Mexicotte wondered whether the questions raised by Thomas would be addressed by the committee within the three study questions she had listed (see above) to define its work. Thomas said he did not think the request needed to be amended, but that it’s important not to lose sight of the interrelationship between transportation and other issues. For example, he said, “If we find that we find it necessary to close one or more buildings, students will be expected to travel longer distances to get to their schools. Are we going to still cut transportation? It’s hard to look at one piece of this without looking at the whole blob.”

Stead said she would like to see this group convene very quickly and meet a couple of times this summer, with the community, city, and police involved. Green said she would also like to move this very quickly, and is planning to dovetail with meetings that AAPS already has on the calendar with the city and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority because “once school ends, the momentum is lost.”

Mexicotte asked the board if it was amenable to placing the creation of this administrative transportation study committee on the consent agenda, and the board agreed. Mexicotte said she appreciated Green’s enthusiasm to move forward quickly, and also that she liked the template she created for making a nice, clear request to administration. “I like how it clarified my thinking when I wrote this up, and if we can do this in the future, that would be great,” she said.

Outcome: The creation of an administrative transportation study committee was approved unanimously by the board as a special briefing item on the May 23 consent agenda.

Sale of Technology Bonds

Superintendent Patricia Green thanked the public again for the passage of the tech bond millage and said the district is now moving on directly to the sale of the bonds.

By way of background, voters approved the millage at a May 8, 2012 election. The technology bond proposal is for AAPS to issue a total of $45,855,000 general obligation bonds to pay for acquiring and installing instructional technology and technology infrastructure. The estimated tax rate that would be required to service the debt on the bonds is 0.48 mill (or $0.48 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.) The estimated annual average millage rate required to retire the bonds of this issue is 0.51 mills.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent of operations, said that the administration recommends using the same bond counsel, financial advisor, and underwriters as used for the recent 2012 bond refinancing, and noted that the tech bonds need to be sold before July 1. He said the district would like to get started this summer on the work approved by voters with the passage of the bond, and asked the board to consider approving the resolution for the sale of the bonds as a special briefing item.

Trustee Andy Thomas asked what the maturity date was for the first group of bonds. Allen replied that it varied among the $27 million in bonds in the first phase. Thomas also asked if Allen knew what the interest rate would be, and Allen said he did not know, but that market conditions are still good and he expects a favorable rate.

Christine Stead thanked Allen and his team for getting this put together so quickly and having this prepared for the board.

Outcome: The sale of the technology bonds was approved unanimously as a special briefing item as part of the May 23 consent agenda.

Anti-Bullying Policy

Dave Comsa, AAPS deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel, responded to questions the board had asked during the May 9 first briefing of the district’s new anti-bullying policy.

Regarding the assurance of confidentiality in the bullying investigation, Comsa pointed to regulation 4.4, which indicates that confidentiality will be maintained to the highest degree possible. He noted also that retaliation against a “whistleblower” is explicitly prohibited by the policy, and is also addressed in regulations 4.2 to 4.22.

Regarding training for staff, Comsa noted that regulation 2.2 states there will be such training. He also said the policy would be published beyond the Rights and Responsibilities handbook, as requested by the board.

Comsa reported that in response to a request for a timeline for investigations, regulation 5.4.1 states that the goal will be to complete all bullying investigations within five school days of receiving a complaint.

He noted that cyber-bullying is covered by this policy too, as the definition of bullying it uses includes the phrase “any electronic communication.” And finally, Comsa said that the policy applies to everyone listed under “organizational units affected,” and that it does include parents.

Andy Thomas said he was not completely satisfied that a question he asked at the last meeting had been sufficiently addressed – how far does the policy go when the bullying is off school property? Comsa said that the key point to consider is whether there is a nexus in the school. He noted that “our control only extends so far,” but if the incident substantially impacts or interferes with the operation of the school, it would be covered by the policy. Deb Mexicotte added that if a fight between students outside of school causes intimidation in school, it would fall under the anti-bullying policy.

Thomas confirmed, “So there does have to be some kind of connection with the school?” And Comsa replied, “Yes, we are not a policing force for the entire community.”

Mexicotte opened up a public hearing on the anti-bullying policy but no one spoke to the board on this issue.

Outcome: Policy 5800, Anti-Bullying was approved unanimously as part of the May 23 consent agenda.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Budget

Christine Stead reported that she had asked the board’s questions from the first briefing on the Washtenaw Intermediate School District budget, and WISD officials had sent a reply. Items included: a list of what is contained in “central services;” the AAPS portion of the transportation budget, totaling $6.9 million; a line-by-line breakdown of all budgets; a 3-year rolling budget table, noting the shift next year from a 67% to a 56% reimbursement rate for special education services; a list of local school improvement expenses; and a copy of their 2009-10 annual services report, which reviews the services they provide by region.

Deb Mexicotte referred to a binder that had been provided to each trustee, and pointed out that Tab 6 lists the teaching and learning initiatives of the WISD and indicates whether AAPS is involved in each one.

Glenn Nelson said that regarding the future, he would like to see the WISD budget provide more detail, particularly as it affects AAPS, and that the board members would like to be informed constituents of the WISD. In the resolution supporting the WISD budget, Nelson suggested adding an amendment to be sure his suggestions were addressed. He noted that the one-time provision of information since the first briefing on May 9 had mostly addressed his concerns for this time, but that he would like to see such information provided regularly in the future as well.

Nelson’s amendment was included in the final resolution, and Mexicotte asked board secretary Amy Osinski to include the amended language in a color other than black and to make the WISD aware of the amendment.

Simone Lightfoot lauded the WISD for providing a detailed breakdown of transportation costs, and Christine Stead added that getting this amount of data together in a week was appreciated.

Outcome: The WISD budget was supported by a resolution included on the May 23 consent agenda.

Consent Agenda

In addition to the items noted above as being contained in the consent agenda (transportation committee formation, sale of tech bonds, anti-bullying policy, and WISD budget), the consent agenda also contained a set of policies, and requests from the city of Ann Arbor for two property easements for the replacement, maintenance, and repair of water mains.

There was virtually no discussion on the easements, or on policies 5160 (Student Classification and Retention), 5170 (Elementary Reclassification and Acceleration), 6120/6100 (Pilot Projects/Curriculum Development), 7800/5200 (Parental Involvement/Progress Reporting), 7810 (Parental Involvement Title I), 5300 (field trips), and 7400 (donations).

Deb Mexicotte thanked superintendent Patricia Green and her administration for looking hard at the policies and said she appreciated in particular the “reinvention” of the Pilot Projects policy in the manner presented. Simone Lightfoot said she had raised concerns about student transportation in the field trip policy, and deputy superintendent Robert Allen said that was addressed in the policy’s regulations.

Outcome: The May 23 consent agenda, including the above-noted items, along with minutes approval, passed unanimously.

First Briefing: Millage Resolution and 3rd Quarter Financial Report

AAPS director of finance Nancy Hoover presented the millage resolution that will allow the district to levy taxes on the AAPS district area property owners. She noted that for the third year in a row, there was no Headlee rollback, so the millage rates will be as follows: homestead – 4.7084 mills; non-homestead – 18 mills; debt service – 2.45 mills; and sinking fund – 1 mill.

Andy Thomas asked how the refinancing of the district’s debt instruments affected the debt service millage. Hoover answered that the district’s debt service millage was $15.8 million before the refinancing, decreased to $15.3 million after refinancing, and then increased to $18.2 million after the recent passage of the tech bond. She stressed that the tech bond affects only the debt service millage, not the other three millages.

Hoover then continued, presenting the board with the third quarter financial report, which showed an overall decrease in expected revenues of $280,000 due primarily to changes in special education reimbursement. Allen added that the staffing and expenditure summaries were similar to last year at this time, and said the revenue adjustment would be made through the use of fund equity. Therefore, the district’s ending fund equity balance for the current fiscal year is projected to be $18.45 million.

Outcome: These items were brought to the board at first briefing, and will be voted on during the next regular meeting on June 13.

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 a student representative from Roberto Clemente Student Development Center (see budget section above), as well as the AAPAC, PTOC, and AAAA.

Association and Student Reports: AAPAC

Scott White reported for the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC). As the district looks into staffing for next year, he asked that it considers hiring additional Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) to provide support for students with autism and other behavioral issues. He argued that behavioral expertise is integral to implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) for students with autism. White also noted that with the passage of autism insurance coverage in Michigan, AAPS might be able to seek reimbursement for the BCBA services.

Association and Student Reports: PTOC

Amy Pachera reported that the Parent Teacher Organization Council held its last meeting of the year, and had a great celebration. She noted that a larger number of schools have attended PTOC meetings this year, and said the new slate of executive board members reflects a wider representation as well. Pachera also gave “kudos” to all citizens who voted yes on the recent tech bond millage.

Association and Student Reports: AAAA

Haisley Elementary School principal Kathy Scarnecchia reported for the Ann Arbor Administrators Association. She said that as a unit, AAAA members rely significantly on the police liaisons, who support the administrators in many different roles. The liaisons visit homes; talk with younger students about behavior and safety; help at athletic events; and watch over parking lots, among other things, Scarnecchia said. To make up the budget difference of retaining the police liaison positions, Scarnecchia suggested considering refiguring the truant officer, homeless liaison or other community service positions.

Superintendent’s Report

Patricia Green’s report highlighted a documentary she had recently seen: ”Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.” She said it was “timely and poignant” and that she would like each AAPS high school to show it to students before the end of the year. Green said the film depicts the story of a football game between Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan in 1934 when star UM player Willis Ward was benched, and his best friend and then-future president Gerald Ford took a stand against that decision. Green said the movie was a very powerful demonstration of what character is, and of the longstanding impact people can have on society.

For the remainder of Green’s report, she offered numerous commendations of students, staff, and schools across the district, noting that “our students really distinguish themselves.” She noted the dedication of the Pioneer track to two longtime staff members – Don Sleeman and Bryan Westfield – and thanked the supporters who came to honor these educators, noting that “people came from generations.”

Agenda Planning

Andy Thomas suggested that the budget reduction plan for the 2013-14 school year should be brought forward to the board in October of 2012, with as much detail as is possible at that time. Christine Stead also suggested shifting to a longer-term approach to budgeting, and Deb Mexicotte said perhaps the board should discuss it at a committee of the whole. The board’s next committee of the whole meeting is scheduled for July 18.

Susan Baskett said she would like to hear about how possibly redistricting would impact transportation. She also reported hearing concerns about the new graduation requirements disproportionately impacting certain subsets of the AAPS population, especially special education students, and asked how that is being addressed. Mexicotte noted that the possibility of crafting a personal curriculum exists, but Baskett said her concern was that children are not coming out with a diploma at all.

Items from the Board

Simone Lightfoot said she was late to the meeting due to attending her daughter’s spring concert at Skyline High, and she thanked the orchestra director there for a job well done. She also thanked Scarlett Middle School principal Gerald Vasquez for inviting her to participate in Portfolio Day at Scarlett, saying it was nice to interview young people and to “have the opportunity to work with them on firm handshakes and lowering their hemlines.” She also noted that Scarlett had done a good job of calling on retired staff to participate in Portfolio Day, and she urged the district to look into “ways to tap into our retirees.”

Glenn Nelson said he also attended and very much enjoyed Scarlett’s portfolio day. He also noted the AAPS student art exhibit at the University of Michigan Slusser art gallery, and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce’s honoring of two AAPS teachers. Finally, Nelson lauded the homebuilding program, which just purchased 12 new lots for the next 12 houses to be built. He noted that the program’s 2012 house has already sold, and thanked the staff and advisory board who support this program.

Susan Baskett said she can’t believe it’s graduation time – she congratulated all the graduates, especially those at Skyline High, who will graduate its first class this year. “Have fun, but be safe,” Baskett said.

Andy Thomas called attention to the upcoming Ann Arbor Marathon on June 17, as well as to Mainstreet Ventures’ “marathon meal” offer: For $26 from now through race day, you can purchase a marathon meal at Real Seafood, Gratzi, Palio, and a number of other restaurants and $5 of the price of that meal is contributed to the AAPS Educational Foundation.

Deb Mexicotte said graduation season was a “thrilling and joyous” time and that she was looking forward to seeing her fellow trustees at the five graduation ceremonies this year. She also said she had the pleasure of accepting an award on behalf of Baskett from the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), certifying Baskett as “a master board member in the state of Michigan for continuing to educate herself around boardsmanship.”

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Susan Baskett, Simone Lightfoot (arrived at 8 p.m.), and Glenn Nelson.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 13, 2012, at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor.

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  1. June 4, 2012 at 10:52 pm | permalink

    I really appreciate the board members who are pushing for starting budget discussions which will address the need for major cuts much earlier in the year. October seems like a good starting date to me.

  2. By James Jefferson
    June 5, 2012 at 9:25 am | permalink

    When this transportation study committee is formed I hope that members of the public and corporate partners of the schools are included. The idea that an existing committee could be used to study a new topic doesn’t make sense. There seems to be a good deal of thoughtful public work being done by concerned school parents and parent groups that should be taken into consideration. Also, there is the AAPSEF, they have a large board and input on other issues, maybe they could be involved? And the AA PTO Thriftshop has an existing grant to the schools for extracurricular busing costs up to 100K, that is saving a lot of student enrichment opportunities, I would think these types of groups might want a say.

    And of course I agree with the need for all concerned with education to get on the phone to Lansing and urge them to act in a responsible manner towards education funding.

  3. June 5, 2012 at 10:22 am | permalink

    There are many opportunities to work across all entities in order to solve for how we will provide the high quality of education, and all of its surrounding services, that have long been central to our community in Ann Arbor.

    With any committees that may form to explore a specific area, the supporting business model cannot be ignored. Assumptions regarding funding sources and anticipating funding trends will be essential to achieve any recommendations that might come out of a transportation, or any other, committee.

    Long term strategic and financial planning should be embarked upon soon, as the AAPS strategic plan takes us through this year. As with the current strategic plan, I expect that providing adequate resources will continue to be an area that is part of the strategic planning effort.

    In the meantime, I am interested in engaging in a very tactical 3 year financial plan for the AAPS. While we do not know what our budget from Lansing will look like, we do have two years from which precedence has been established. The AAPS will continue to qualify for best practices – both in financial reporting/management, as well as programs and student performance. However, we also have the precedence that the AAPS will receive less incremental funds relative to other districts (see the Senate FY13 budget approved, especially ‘equity payments).

    As a community, we need to start planning for how we will maintain a high quality public education system, which is a foundational value in Ann Arbor. I will work hard to support any effort to accomplish this goal, as well as providing adequate funding for our students.