AAPS Board Passes 2012-13 Budget

District made $4 M in cuts; will use $6.5 M of savings

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (June 13, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education passed a $188.96 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, which begins July 1.

AAPS school board at its June 15, 2012 meeting.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools board at its June 15, 2012 meeting.

That budget reflects roughly $4 million in spending cuts compared to last year’s budget, and reflects the elimination or restructuring of some transportation services, a reduction in the budget for substitute teachers, and the consolidation of high school summer school programs.

The approved budget also calls for using $6.54 million, or about one-third, of the district’s current fund equity, which caused trustee Christine Stead to cast her vote against the budget. Stead expressed strong concern that the budget neither allows for incremental expenditure shifts, nor sets the district up for successfully weathering the 2013-14 budget cycle and beyond. “I want us to use our past year’s experience as a data point,” she said, “… [T]o act like we are, with the information we have, is difficult for me to support.”

The June 13 meeting also saw the approval of three special briefing items – a renewal of the district’s food service contract with Chartwells, a resolution to upgrade human resources and finance software, and a set of policy revisions. Special briefing items are reviewed and voted on by the board in a single meeting instead of being entertained as first and second briefing items at two consecutive regular meetings.

Finally, the board approved the contract of Robyne Thompson as the new assistant superintendent of secondary education, and extended the contract held with AFSCME Local 1182, which primarily represents custodians and maintenance workers in the district.

2012-13 Budget

The formal adoption of the 2012-13 budget  was the main item on the board’s agenda.

Budget: Public Commentary

There were eight speakers during public commentary. Seven spoke about the district’s current plan to keep Roberto Clemente Student Development Center open for the next year, but to evaluate its effectiveness (as the board had previously weighed the option of consolidating or closing alternative high schools, including Clemente) and one spoke about busing reductions at Bryant and Pattengill.

Barbara Malcolm asked: “How do we citizens hold the school board accountable?” She argued that the board is “allowing those with no vested interest in this community come in and make you appear incompetent.” She called the arrogance displayed by the school board deplorable and questioned whether the board was so disconnected that it does not know what is going on in the community. “We have to get those who are not truly concerned about education for all students out of here,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm pointed out that the cost savings for closing the Clemente summer school might be lower than hoped – given that Clemente summer school staff members were hired by the district-wide summer school program at Pioneer High School instead of absorbing the Clemente students into the district-wide program without any adding additional staff.  She also noted that the board still has to pay for busing to the program. She also contended that a partnership with Ypsilanti has led Clemente to add $150,000 in revenues to the district, which the AAPS board has not acknowledged, she said. Malcolm noted that Green had attended the recent African-American festival, saying, “We are happy you came…, but don’t just come for the fun stuff – that’s a slap in the face.” Finally, she asserted that it seems like some board members are supporting personal agendas in their board work.

Clemente parent Kathleen Ardon disputed a contention that there had not been an evaluation done of Clemente earlier, saying an evaluation had been done under former AAPS superintendent Richard Benjamin in the 1980s, and the program had been deemed exemplary. Ardon said it bothers her that the board does not want to consider the GPA of Clemente students as a measure of success, and also noted Clemente was not “given credit” the money it brings in by enrolling students from Ypsilanti. She thanked the board for waiting to restructure Clemente, but said it was too little too late, and contended that the board has alienated Clemente principal Ben Edmondson.

Clemente graduate Nicholas Morton said he will be proud to come back to talk to the students at Clemente after attending college. He recited the Clemente creed, and noted how Edmondson holds all students to his high expectations. “There is a school for everyone, Morton argued, and [Clemente] is the school for us.”

Charlae Davis said she sat and cringed at the last board meeting when the Clemente summer school was presented as an orientation program. She said the program is 110% academically rigorous, and addresses what scholars say will diminish the achievement gap. As an educator, Davis said, she does not understand why the summer school program would be consolidated with the district-wide summer school at Pioneer. She called it a “lose-lose” situation for students who have to choose between attending summer school at Pioneer or not attending at all.

Like others, Davis noted that Clemente brings in over $150,000 in School of Choice revenue from Ypsilanti students, and questioned why that was not included in the cost savings calculations. Davis continued, saying that, “…power, oppression, intimidation, and professional bullying have no place in the school board, or superintendent’s cabinet. Please stop trying to push your own agendas – you have already received your education.”

Tia Jones said she is truly bothered that Clemente does not have a summer school program for the first time since 1974. It is not orientation, she said, but a “home” for students over the summer. “We want to be with our family and not with some strangers,” Jones asserted.

Jeanne Rivers, daughter of former U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Rivers and Clemente graduate from 1998, noted that she actually graduated early because of the summer school program at Clemente. She said it’s sad that Clemente could be closed. “We [in Ann Arbor] claim we’re not racist,” Rivers said. “I just don’t see how we are going to succeed as a city if we allow this one little school to just be dismissed and dismembered,” noting that Clemente students are not welcome in the comprehensive high schools. “Please don’t take this away from these kids,” she urged the board. “This is some of these kids’ only chance.”

Monique Hardeman urged the board to remember that we were all children at one time, and pointed out that different children have different needs. She noted that AAPS has had three alternative high schools for her whole life—A2Tech (formerly Stone School), Community, and Clemente, and that they are all part of the Ann Arbor community, and serve different groups of students. She pointed out that Clemente is not just a school for African-Americans, but that she has noticed students of many different cultures there. “Everybody there is loving and getting along well,” Hardeman said. “Before you cut any school, think about how it will affect those children.”

Patty Kracht addressed the board regarding busing changes at Bryant and Pattengill. She noted that the board has said Bryant-Pattengill parents have requested this change, but in fact, parents feel “like we have been steamrolled with this plan.” She noted that the combination of routes between the two schools will cause some of the district’s youngest students to be on a bus for 45-50 minutes at the end of the day. Two hundred four to seven-year-olds at Bryant will be “corralled in a gym” for 18 minutes before school with only two to four teaching assistants looking after them, Kracht pointed out. She added that she was disheartened by her experience on the newly formed committee on this issue, and that it was obvious that parents’ ideas and information would be dismissed.

Superintendent Patricia Green introduced the second and final briefing of the 2012-13 budget proposal by saying that the creation of the budget had been a long process, and that the administration knew it was going to be a very difficult cycle. The budget reductions that are part of the proposal are designed to keep the cuts out of classroom as much as possible, Green said, but she acknowledged the “great losses” experienced by the AAPS community as the district goes through its sixth year of significant budget reductions. “There is not a person who works for this school district who feels good about what we are about to request this evening, but we still need to be responsible in this decision-making,” she said.

Budget: Base Expenditure and Revenue Projections

Deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen reported that since the board’s May 23, 2012 meeting, he had made a $1 million adjustment to projected base expenditures based on additional cost savings from the district’s self-insured portion of health insurance offerings. Allen explained that fewer employees are now on the self-insured plan, so the risk is lower than in past years. He pointed out that this will mean the 2012-13 budget as presented will use $6 million of fund equity, not the $7 million discussed at the previous meeting.

Trustee Glenn Nelson said he is very pleased with the hard work that led to the $1 million savings in health care, but questioned the district’s assumptions about the amount AAPS would receive from the state’s School Aid Fund now that the state had passed the 2012-13 school aid bill. Nelson said that if the house fiscal agency is correct, AAPS will receive $700,000 less than the district projected.

Allen responded that based on the latest information, the MPSERS (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System) offset will be $2.2 million, the best practices incentive will be $900,000, the performance incentive dropped to $700,000, and School of Choice revenue stayed constant at $1.2 million. He agreed with Nelson’s assessment that the district will receive less in school aid than anticipated, but said he did not adjust the budget to reflect that because of other factors that could affect the budget positively, such as the state’s proposed retirement reform legislation, and the excess TIF capture by the Scio Township Downtown Development Authority (DDA). [The Ann Arbor DDA does not capture any of the AAPS millage; however the Scio DDA does. And each year, the Scio DDA returns to taxing jurisdictions – like the AAPS – whatever amount it does not use in the service of its TIF plan.]

Stead added that the MPSERS rate will likely increase, but Allen pointed out that some versions of the retirement reform legislation cap the rate, and would the state picking up the remainder of the cost.

The bulk of the board’s discussion on the budget centered on the use of the $1 million base adjustment made by Allen since the first briefing, and the public hearing on the budget, held at the board’s May 23 meeting.

Budget: Use of the $1 Million Base Adjustment

Thomas suggested revisiting the cuts to four FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) in counseling staff. As of the first briefing on the budget, Thomas pointed out, the board was prepared to spend $7 million in fund equity, but now must tap the fund reserves for $6 million. He asked Green what her priority would be if she had a magic wand, and could resurrect one item from being cut.

Green responded that if there were additional funds available, she would assign the highest priority to three items: counseling staff; the departmental budgets; and the school improvement funds. She noted that these three items directly impact the work on social and emotional learning that she is spearheading in the district.

Nelson, Lightfoot, and Patalan supported Thomas’ suggestion to restore the counseling positions.

Nelson argued that there was urgency to restoring funding for the counseling positions due to the timing of the hiring process. Green agreed, but said that while she stands by her administration’s budget recommendation, she also feel strongly about the role of counselors as critical to the work of the district going forward. Nelson also suggested that if the board agreed to renew more funding than the amount needed for the counseling positions, the administration could split it between reinstating the departmental budgets which are used to deliver professional development and giving money back to the school improvement teams.

Lightfoot said she was amenable to reconsidering the counseling cuts, and that she had several concerns, including how the placement of the remaining counselors would be made by human resources, and how the counseling reductions would impact the neediest students.

Patalan said restoring the school improvement team funding resonated with her, and that the departmental budgets are used to improve what goes on in the classroom for kids. Counseling also affects large numbers of students, she said, and is really very important. Patalan said that while she is nervous about the future of state funding, she is supportive and appreciative of the hard work that Green and her administration have done, and that she is “intrigued” by the possibility of using some of the “found chunk of money” to restore Green’s priority items, and saving some of it. She pointed out that three weeks ago, the board was ready to spend all of this money out of fund equity.

Stead said this discussion made her think of the budgeting experience the district had last year, when not all of the approved reductions could be implemented. She expected the district to face the same situation this year. She said budgeting was not a “perfect science,” but expressed concern that the board was not allowing for some opportunity to experience incremental increased costs. She pointed out that AAPS will not likely be adding much to fund equity in coming years, school aid fund revenue could decrease, fund equity needs to be maintained to manage summer payroll, and special education funding is expected to decrease by almost $3 million.

Stead encouraged the public to “employ common sense” when reading about the district’s budget, and noted that “one of the things [she] saw in anonymous comments on a local media site” is an argument that AAPS is projecting a 5% revenue increase. She pointed out that, in fact, revenue is projected to decrease, and added that the district’s per-pupil funding would be more than $12,000 per student if it had kept up with inflation. [The district’s current per-pupil allocation is $9,020.] Stead said she would be inclined to support putting anything back on the table if the district were in a different situation. “I want us to use our past year’s experience as a data point,” she said, “…[T]o act like we are, with the information we have, is difficult for me to support.”

Mexicotte took issue with the use of the term “found money,” which she said “makes it sound like it fell out of the sky.” She argued that it was due to the conservative work of AAPS administration that it was not included at first, and said that adjustments are to be expected. “What we think will work best, not what we want to do, is here on the table,” she said.

Referring to public commentary made at the beginning of the meeting which argued that board members were motivated by personal agendas, Mexicotte also asserted that “there are no personal agenda around these budget items. The agenda is to try to maintain public education in Ann Arbor. We disagree on how to get there… The only thing that is personal is how painful it is.”

Mexicotte said she agreed that the board has to look forward, but argued that putting some money back into the budget will “neither save us nor doom us,” but may allow some of the critical changes proposed by Green to “see some momentum.” Mexicotte later proposed a friendly amendment which restored $500,000 of funding for use by Green to fund some portion of her priority items – counseling staff, departmental budgets, and school improvement team budgets – at Green’s discretion.

Intermediate outcome: The board accepted Mexicotte’s amendment as “friendly” – that is, without requiring a separate vote on the amendment – to restore $500,000 of funding for Green’s priority items. That resulted in a planned use of $6.5 million from the fund balance reserve, instead of $6 million as the budget was previously briefed.

Budget: 4 p.m. Middle School Busing

Nelson asked for an update on the current status of the late bus serving the district’s five middle schools. Green said the budget still includes a reduction to eliminate those buses, but that the district has asked two organizations to help with funding them. At this time, Green said, the PTO Thrift Shop has agreed to pay for half of the cost to keep those buses running, and the AAPS educational foundation (AAPSEF) has been approached to ask if they would consider funding the othe half.

Patalan said that she is absolutely grateful that the PTO thrift shop and the AAPSEF might be able to help with middle school busing costs, and said it speaks to the “fabulous community we are all a part of.” Green added that she, along with Nelson, sits on the board of the AAPSEF, and that she would be remiss if she didn’t remind people that the AAPSEF is in the midst of its Million Reasons campaign.

Intermediate outcome: The late bus discussion did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Budget Bryant-Pattengill Busing

Thomas asked for an update on the Bryant-Pattengill busing plan. Green said that combining routes to the two schools will eliminate the need for some runs, and will allow students from the same family to take the same bus. She said the goal was to eliminate as many stops as possible, accepting the fact that adding more students to each bus at the remaining stops means the busses will fill up faster. Green also said that AAPS requested WISD transportation services to do some dry runs to see how the proposed times line up with actual times needed to complete each route. Green reported that the dry run times were within a minute or two of the projected times.

Allen added that the numbers used in the proposal are for current riders, but pointed out that 5-10% of the routes are usually adjusted every year when current ridership numbers are established.

Thomas pointed out that the board’s budget vote does not commit the administration to specific plans for enacting each and every one of the reductions the budget contains, and that the transportation plan may end up different from what has been presented so far.

Intermediate outcome: The discussion of Bryant-Pattengill busing did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Middle School Athletics

Regarding the proposed $37,000 reduction of middle school athletic directors, Allen said that alternative approaches to reaching the same cost savings in middle school athletics are still being considered, but at this time no changes to the proposed reduction have been agreed on. Green added that the proposal crafted by the middle school athletics directors could have “ripple effects” on another group, and that it would need to be fleshed out it more detail to be approved. “There is the beginning of the workings of possibly being close to that,” she said.

Intermediate outcome: The discussion of middle school athletics did not lead to any revisions to the budget.

Lightfoot said she was encouraged that staff had been enlisted to help shape the budget, and that she would like to see more of that. Stead said she had faith in the administration that the details would get hammered out. Green responded that she has asked her executive cabinet to develop preliminary action plans for enacting the budget so that those plans are ready to be vetted by the full cabinet as soon as the budget is approved by the board.

Outcome on budget: The budget as amended ($500,000 restored, using fund balance) was passed by a vote of 5 to 1. Mexicotte, Nelson, Patalan, Thomas, and Lightfoot voted yes. Stead voted no. Baskett was not present at the June 13 meeting. The millage resolution supporting the budget was also approved at the June 13 meeting; this includes four millages – a homestead millage at 4.7084 mills, a non-homestead millage at 18 mills, a debt service millage at 2.45 mills, and a sinking fund millage at 1 mill.

Food Service Contract Renewal

Green introduced the contract renewal to the board, saying that this was an opportunity for them to ask questions about the program, now in its third year in the district. AAPS director of purchasing, grants, and business support services Linda Doernte said that this was the third renewal of a five-year contract, and that the contract has not changed much. Doernte did note that Chartwells’ administration and management fees have increased based on the consumer price index. She also said AAPS has been receiving checks from Chartwells honoring the guaranteed minimum $500,000 that is owed to AAPS, regardless of the revenue that the program generates.

Chartwells new district manager Ann Smith and new food service director Heather Holland introduced themselves to the board, and gave a brief presentation on the food service provided this year. Holland said Chartwells has seen a 3% increase in lunches served in the district this year, and attributed that success to the introduction of new programs, and to creating an environment in which students enjoy the dining experience. She also noted the success of Chef Neil going to all the middle schools and teaching students how to create yogurt parfaits.

Holland said that students have been excited by the improved look of the service area, and the transformation of the food service setting from an “institutional look” to more of a “restaurant look.” She also noted that fresh fruits and vegetables are served at all schools four days a week from September through November, and that the overall menu is phasing out trans fats, decreasing sodium, and increasing whole grains.

Holland also reported that, effective 2012-13, the USDA will require that students select a fruit or vegetable for their meal to be reimbursable through the federal school lunch program (for students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program), or for students to qualify for the lower “meal rate.” Students who do not select a fruit or vegetable with their meal will be charged a la carte for their items, which is generally higher than the “meal rate.”

Thomas questioned the process for ensuring that students choose a fruit or vegetable, and Smith said that cashiers are trained to ring up the selections properly. She also said the district is considering creating a “share table,” where students can leave food they do not want for other students. Thomas said the idea of charging students more money if they do not select a fruit or vegetable “seems a bit intrusive” but that the district would “roll with it.”

Smith noted that in kindergarten through 8th grade, students can be served a fruit or vegetable, but that in 9th through 12th grades, “we can only offer, not put it on their plate.” She said while she looking forward to the fact that students are being encouraged to make healthier choices, she’d be lying if she said she did not have the same concerns as the board about this new mandate.

Lightfoot asked if the increases in the Chartwells contract come automatically, and Doerte explained that yes, the management and administrative fees have increased every year due to the CPI. Lightfoot also verified that the district receives $500,000 no matter what – so that if the net income from the program is only $300,000, Chartwells will write AAPS a check for $200,000, and Doernte said that is correct. Allen pointed out that food service money is a separate fund that can only be applied to certain expenditures.

Finally, Lightfoot asked how the district tells the difference between legitimate and non-legitimate complaints about the food. Allen said that he and Doernte will sometimes arrive unannounced at the schools and eat the food being offered to the students. Smith suggested that the district could do student surveys. Holland said the trustees were welcome to eat in any of the district’s 33 lunchrooms anytime.

Nelson encouraged the sharing table, and Patalan said she is happy with the food education that is going on.

Outcome: The food service contract renewal was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

Administrative Software Upgrade

Green explained that the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is considering having a uniform software platform for human resources and finance across the county. She said a recommendation for New World Systems Logos.NET for K-12 has been made after a year-long study. Green thanked Allen, Comsa, and director of human resources Cynthia Ryan for their work with the WISD selection process, noting that AAPS wanted to select software that would be fully vetted to work on both Apple and PC machines – because AAPS is an Apple district.

Green noted that the board would need to approve the purchase of this software by the end of June for the current pricing to be guaranteed. Allen drew the board’s attention to the cost summary in the board packet, pointing out that the cost would be $468,000 over the first five years, which would be entirely covered by the recently approved tech bond. In year six, Allen said, the district would have to bear the software support cost, which is estimated to be $51,000 annually. Due to the ongoing costs just in the finance department related to the current software report generation costs, Allen said the new software would not cause additional expenses, but rather would shift current costs.

Thomas confirmed with Allen that the district is positioning itself to take advantage of the scale effects – to be realized if AAPS offers its services in finance and human resources to other districts – and that would eventually drive down costs.

Stead said she was concerned about switching to a PC-based system, even though the software is supposed to work on both platforms. She asked what the cost will be if in the end, if not all the other districts in Washtenaw county sign up. Stead noted that the original WISD transportation consolidation was supposed to include all ten districts as well. Green said it was her understanding that the other districts are also in the process of  approving the platform. But Stead questioned how other districts will pay for it – because they have not all just passed technology bonds. “I think good will is good, but we have been here before,” she said.

Nelson asked if the district was pleased with its current human resources and finance software. Allen told him AAPS was not pleased with the current software. Allen explained that support has been dwindling over the years, and that AAPS often has to pay extra for a software developer to write code to generate reports that are not part of the package. Allen added that the new software will be web-based, and have drop-down menus that allow users to create reports. “From an efficiency standpoint, we have to make a change,” he argued, adding that it would cost AAPS much more to purchase new software outside of the group rate being offered as part of the WISD. Nelson pointed out that the cost of this upgrade would have needed to come out of the general fund, if the community had not passed the tech bond.

Stead said she was in favor of the software purchase, calling it “directionally correct,” but said that she would have liked to see a business case made for how much AAPS can potentially gain, depending on the number of districts that actually sign up.

Lightfoot asked if more districts in the county are likely to participate in transportation if they are first participating in this shared software purchase. Allen responded by saying there is still talk of consolidating special education transportation services.

Mexicotte suggested a friendly amendment to remove the word “irrevocably” from the resolution to approve the resolution, since nothing can prevent a future board from making different choices. There could be circumstances that the board can not anticipate which would make AAPS want to revisit this choice.

Green added that she would like the district to move toward zero-based budgeting, and that such a move would be difficult with the current software. She pointed out that zero-based budgeting allows for more transparency, and Allen added that it can also allow for more precise budget projections, because the majority of the district’s costs are in human resources.

Stead asked how friendly the user interface is, and Allen said it is very easy to use. Green added that the ease of use can make it more helpful at the school level too. Stead said she liked the fact that the software will allow more staff to meet more reporting requirements as those requirements continue to increase.

Outcome: The administrative software upgrade was approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

AAPS Policy Review

Mexicotte noted that the policies being reviewed that night were being treated as special briefing item – in the hope that the board could cancel the June 27 regular board meeting. [The board will be meeting in executive session at 5:30 p.m. on June 27 to evaluate Green formally in a closed session. Around 70 members of the community have been surveyed for the purposes of the evaluation: .pdf of survey form contents. For Chronicle coverage, see "AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation."]

Mexicotte reviewed the eight policies being presented – the entire 7000 series, regarding communication and community relations – most of them with no changes. The policies were reviewed only because they were nearing expiration. She noted the few minor changes being presented, and asked trustees asked a few clarifying questions.

The board made a few small wording suggestions to clarify meaning in the set of policies without much discussion.

Outcome: Policies in the 7000 series were approved unanimously as part of the consent agenda, which – in addition to the items above included the third quarter financial report, and donations.

Board Action Items – Contracts

The board took action at this meeting to renew a contract with one of its bargaining units, and to ratify the employment contract of a new administrator.

Contracts: AFSCME Extension

AAPS deputy superintendent of human resources and general counsel Dave Comsa recommended that the board approve a contract extension with AFSCME Local 1182, which primarily represents the district’s custodial and maintenance staff. Comsa added that AFSCME members have already ratified the contract.

Outcome: An extension of the AFSCME contract was approved unanimously.

Contracts: Asst. Superintendent – Robyne Thompson

Green requested that the board approve a contract which had been extended to Robyne Thompson. Thompson will be joining the district in the role of assistant superintendent for secondary education following the retirement of longtime AAPS teacher and administrator Joyce Hunter, who currently holds that position. Green read a statement about Thompson, highlighting her work with social and emotional learning, her doctorate degree, and her extensive professional experience. Thompson is currently a middle school principal in the Utica Community Schools district.

Lightfoot asked if Thompson had signed the employment contract yet. Green reported that Thompson has signed it, but Green has not signed it and would not do so until after the board approved the contract. Green also noted that Thompson would be paid the same rate as Hunter, and that Thompson would be taking a pay cut to join AAPS. Lightfoot also asked if Thompson was planning to move to Ann Arbor to take this position, but Green said she did not know, and that AAPS did not have a residency requirement for staff members.

Stead asked about a phrase in the contract that ensured Thompson’s salary would not decrease, and asked how that could be affected by future administrative salary budget reductions. Mexicotte added that there have been periods in the district where cabinet members have agreed to “share the pain” of budget reductions.

Comsa said the contract is a two-year agreement, which is standard for Class 1 personnel. He said lowering Thompson’s salary before the contract expires would require the district to enter into negotiations with her, and Lightfoot pointed out that that would be the case for all Class 1 employees. Comsa agreed, and said it would be true for employees covered by union contracts as well.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the proposed contract with Robyne Thompson.

Mexicotte stated that she was happy to be among the first people to welcome Thompson to the district.

Association 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 only from the Youth Senate. Priyanka Menon said students receive a world class education in AAPS, and that being at Skyline has been “phenomenal.” She said as long as every voice is heard, there is no problem the district cannot solve, and said she hopes AAPS continues to maintain high standards. Blaire Crockett called AAPS a “close-knit community” that she has been grateful to be a part of. She noted that AAPS cares for its students, and is loyal to them.

Awards and Accolades

Numerous individuals and groups were praised for their accomplishments at the June 13 meeting, including the 2012 graduates, individual students, and two retiring members of the superintendent’s cabinet.

Awards/Accolades: Graduations

The meeting began with a graduation video montage celebrating the successes of graduating seniors at Community, Skyline, Huron, Pioneer, and Ann Arbor Technological high schools. Multiple trustees pointed out that this was the first time there were five different graduation ceremonies in the district, and congratulated Skyline for graduating its first class. During the “items from the board,” section of the agenda, Stead pointed out that Skyline did a great job of highlighting the comprehensive experience students have there, as well as “establishing their legacy.”

Awards/Accolades: Envision Michigan

Two AAPS seniors– Priya Menon and Aoxue Tang– were awarded $500 Envision Michigan scholarships by state senator Rebekah Warren. Warren staffer P.J. Petitpren was on hand to present the awards, and noted that the application for the scholarship was simple, requiring only a 750-word essay on the topic, “If you were governor, what would you do?”

Calling Menon “a woman ready to go forward,” Petitpren noted Menon will attend Harvard in the fall to pursue her interest in law and politics. Petitpren noted that Tang, was unable to attend because she has gone to China with her family for the summer, will be attending Stanford in the fall.

Mexicotte said she was pleased to have Petitpren come and present these awards.

Awards/Accolades: Jay Jondro

Green introduced longtime AAPS staff member and master plumber Jay Jondro, who on two occasions has saved the lives of others. Saying that Jondro has been a role model for students, and has distinguished himself as an asset to AAPS, Green said he was being presented with a special recognition for acts of heroism and acts of service to the community and the district. Jondro thanked the board for its recognition, but said it was part of his duty.

Green also thanked AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent for bringing to the board’s recognition that one of his employees was deserving of this special recognition.

Awards/Accolades: Retirements

Green recognized two members of her cabinet who were retiring – director of community education and recreation Sara Aeschbach and assistant superintendent of secondary education Joyce Hunter.

Green praised Aeschbach for having transformed the Rec & Ed department into becoming self-sustaining, and noted her long tenure with the district. Aeschbach has worked for AAPS since 1981. Lightfoot added that Aeschbach was very gracious to her when she became a trustee, and said she was inviting, informative, and passionate about her work. Mexicotte extended her appreciation to Aeschbach as well, as did Patalan, who said that Aeschbach was “calm, funny, personable, kind ,and a treasure” and that she was happy to have had the chance to work with her.

Green said that Hunter has had an illustrious career in AAPS beginning as a teacher in 1974. She became class chair, then a principal, before moving to central administration, Green said, and has been instrumental in the career and technical education program, which allows students to receive on-the-job training while still in high school. She noted Hunter’s graciousness, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Green also noted Hunter’s many activities beyond her work in the district, and said, “You are a significant leader, and I know that we will still be seeing you in the district, and in the community.”

Mexicotte also extended her appreciation to Hunter, who was present at the meeting and enjoyed a standing ovation from the entire room. Lightfoot added that she loved Hunter in many capacities, and called her a “saving grace” for many students at Huron in the 1980s, including Lightfoot herself. “I’m glad you’re still so young and pretty that you can get out and do your thing… I’m looking forward to what you’re going to be doing with that museum,” she said. [Hunter is a founding member of the African-American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.] Finally, Patalan also praised Hunter, saying she was happy to have been able to work with her, and that she goes back the longest with Hunter compared to anyone else in the room, having served with her on a high school review committee in the mid-1990s.

Awards/Accolades: Superintendent’s Report

In addition to some of the items listed above, Green praised the students who participated in the Special Olympics games, saying it was a wonderful achievement, and noting they brought home many medals. She also expressed thanked the staff, the community, and the board for supporting students this year, and her staff who helped her go through her first year in AAPS.

Agenda Planning

Stead requested that the board discuss Skyline’s trimester system, and said that some parents are concerned that their students do not have the flexibility they expected regarding the ability to dual-enroll in Skyline and Community high schools – because the two schools are on different schedules. Mexicotte asked Green how she would recommend approaching this issue, and Green said this is a topic that is already under discussion. She suggested that the board take up the discussion at a future committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Lightfoot said that she, too, was looking forward to hearing about the trimester issue, and noted that she loves it for the mastery approach it fosters. “Because [students] have so much room in their schedule, they are able to catch up,” she asserted.

Lightfoot said she also wants to be sure that summer school meets the district’s needs as it moves to close the achievement gap, and that Green has led her to believe that summer school is being evaluated that way. She questioned why students who have not actually failed, but have received a D- for example, are not included in summer school.

Nelson said he misses the old days where the board sat down with everything in front of it and set priorities. He said that every time there is a board meeting, one to four ideas come out, and all of them take up significant staff time. “I want this great professional staff that we have to be focusing on really important things,” Nelson said.

Mexicotte said the board is looking to have a retreat about superintendent and board goals in August, and that such a retreat might be the time for “setting those broader directions.” She said she was considering flipping the committee-of-the-whole and regular meetings in August, so that the August 1 meeting would include retreat-type activities, and the August 15 meeting could address business that comes up just before school begins for the next year. Mexicotte closed by agreeing that that board does not yet have the committee-of-the-whole process streamlined, but that the board will keep working on it.

Items from the Board

Thomas said he had attended a concert put on by the community outreach music program, which is sponsored by the Ann Arbor School of Performing Arts in cooperation with the district. The program allows students who would not normally be able to have private music lessons to take them at a greatly reduced cost, Thomas said. He recognized the contributions of AAPS staff members Robin Bailey, Fred Smith, and Abby Alwin for their role in the program.

Thomas also encouraged everyone to participate in the AAPS Educational Foundation’s Million Reasons campaign.

Nelson said that he was pleased to say he’s the proud owner of a medal from Northside Elementary, as he was the honorary starter of a 5K race at the school.

Lightfoot shared that she was invited by the Wayne State Board of Governors to join an oversight board there, and pointed out that higher education is facing some of the same challenges as K-12 education. She also said she has been in contact with many of the community assistants in the high schools about how they see their role changing with the reduction of the three dedicated police officers. And, finally, Lightfoot congratulated the Logan 5th graders, and thanked all the schools for holding “phenomenal” graduation ceremonies.

Patalan said that as she was reflecting on the graduations held throughout the district last week, she had to pause and think, “What a fabulous group of young people who are now our future.” She said she was so proud of AAPS, and noted that each graduation had its own “flavor, and was fabulous, and beautiful, and delightful in its own way.”

Patalan said that while the board has been hearing a lot in the past 60 days from people who are upset or concerned, the district really is doing a good job. Patalan asserted, “There is nothing like education – it is worth putting all of our time and energy into.”

Stead quipped that there would be a “little jog through town on Sunday,” referring to Ann Arbor’s inaugural marathon. She said it primarily benefits AAPS through the AAPS education foundation, and said that if people are not running themselves, she hoped they would come out and support it. [Stead ran the marathon herself, and finished in 7th place among female participants, with a time of 3:40.]

Mexicotte reported that her son participated in the recent Special Olympics on a team sent by Pioneer, and thanked the parents and staff who supported that effort.

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Christine Stead, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Simone Lightfoot (arrived at 7:50 p.m.) and Glenn Nelson.

Absent: Trustee Susan Baskett.

Next regular meeting: Wednesday, June 27, 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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One Comment

  1. By Eric
    June 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm | permalink

    So the AFSCME contract is renewed, like for how long, what are these people being paid, did the management get any concessions in these times of unprecedented financial difficulty? Like everyone else at AAPS they probably get two or three times as much money as private sector people doing the same work. The public isn’t even supposed to be interested or know about such things apparently.
    Perhaps eventually the administration will wake up and tell AAPS employees that the great “education” gravy train is over. The only way AAPS will survive more than a few years is with big pay cuts for everyone, like 20% for AFSME, 40% for teachers, 60% for administrators. Not just for new hires or temporarily or phased in over umpteen years but for everyone NOW.
    If the unions don’t like it let them strike, shut the system down for a year, that would save a lot of money. The greediest and most overpaid would eventually leave and could be replaced with much cheaper people. The quality of teaching would not suffer much, it is all ready lousy.