Education Section

In It For The Money: Our Schools

My son starts third grade at Pattengill this week. He spent the first three years of his compulsory education riding the big yellow bus to Bryant Elementary – Pattengill’s K-2 sister school, sorta-kinda over by the municipal airport and town dump.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Every day, on the way home from the bus stop, I’d ask what he did that day at school. Invariably they’d done nothing. I’d prod, as directed by the school: “Which specials did you have today? Did you go to the library? Did you have gym? What did you get in trouble for? Did anyone fall out of a chair?” and basically get nothing.

He clearly demonstrated that he was learning things somehow – he was reading ever more voraciously, and suddenly knew perfect squares through 10 and what a rhombus was. If the school accomplished that through long days spent sitting motionless and staring into space, far be it from me to disrupt their zen practice. “Nothing” was, after all, getting results.

But as it turns out, my kid is a damned liar. They hardly did any “nothing” at all at that school. [Full Story]

Column: Fixing College Football

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, I explained why Michigan students are dropping football tickets in record numbers – about 40% in the last two years. It touched a nerve – actually a few hundred thousand nerves. And not just among Michigan fans, but college football fans nationwide, who recognized many of the same flaws at their favorite university that were turning them off, too.

It’s all well and good to criticize Michigan’s athletic administration – and apparently very cathartic for many fans, too. But it doesn’t solve the central problem: How can college programs protect an experience millions of fans and students have loved for decades, before it’s too late?

Yes, winning helps. But when Michigan went 3-9, 5-7, 7-6 a few years ago, they still had a robust wait list. And when USC was winning national titles about the same time, they rarely sold out their Coliseum. Fans obviously love winning, but what they want – what they need – runs deeper than that.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions. [Full Story]

Column: Student Press & the Body Politic

Over the years, school newspapers have played a critical role in raising issues relevant to schools and their students. Since they are generally under the thumb of the school administration, this can sometimes become a little bit dicey.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

When I was a student newspaper writer and editor, the newspaper was part of our extra-curricular choices. Now, most high school newspapers are published as part of a class. As these programs move into the classroom, they come even more under the control of school administration.

In this article, I explore the complex issue of censorship, including local examples of school news controversies, past and present. I highlight some student work that has been published – topics that are important to students, even if they might make adults uncomfortable.

I started writing this column in mid-May, impressed by the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) awards won in April by Community High School and Dexter High School – and to a lesser extent, Pioneer High School and Saline High School. I was interested in the struggles that high school newspapers have to create a (somewhat) free press.

More recently, two local students – Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld – wrote a column published by the New York Times on May 21. Titled “Depressed but Not Ashamed,” the column explains how Halpert and Rosenfeld discovered at a journalism conference that they were both taking medication for depression. They then decided to interview other students with depression for their school newspaper. In the column, they describe how, ultimately, they were not allowed by the school administration to publish an edition focused on students with depression.

Even though I’d been working on an article about the student press, I hadn’t heard about their situation. That fact highlights two truths about the student press – and the media in general. First, we generally know only about the controversies that are ignited when something is reported on – and not when it is suppressed. That may, in fact, be the best argument for a free press.

Second, the areas of most concern to students are also the areas most likely to be censored by administrators. I think they fall into two general categories: school politics and environment, or the body politic; and issues that are more personal to students – the body politic. [Full Story]

Column: Chasing the Brass Hoop

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Nik Stauskas grew up in Mississauga, Ontario – a Toronto suburb better known for its neighborhood hockey games than for a Lithuanian kid spending thousands of hours shooting on his parents’ backyard hoop.

This year, Stauskas was named Big Ten player of the year. It worked.

Glenn Robinson III took a completely different route to the NBA: His father is Glenn Robinson Jr., also known as “The Big Dog,” and was the first pick in the NBA draft twenty years ago. If Stauskas had to work to get attention, Robinson had to work to avoid it.

They became strong candidates to leave college early for the NBA draft, which is their right. This week, both decided to make that jump, and file for the draft this spring. Stauskas is projected to be a high first-round pick, and Robinson not too far behind.

Good for them. They’re both nice guys, hard workers, and serious students. If a violinist at Michigan was recruited by the London Symphony Orchestra, no one would begrudge her for jumping. I might have done it myself.

But I do object to the pundits and fans claiming if the NBA dangles millions of dollars in front of a college player, “he has no choice. He has to go.”

This bit of conventional wisdom is based on one gigantic assumption: that the pursuit of money eclipses all other considerations, combined. [Full Story]

Column: Reforming College Football

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, in a surprising decision, the National Labor Relations Board granted the Northwestern University football players the right to unionize, if they want.

But what does that mean? What doesn’t it mean? And how might this change the future of college football?

The NLRB’s ruling made a big splash, but it’s actually very narrow. The decision applies only to private schools. There are only a handful or two that play big time college football – usually about one per major conference – a short list that includes universities like Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, Stanford and USC. Further, the Northwestern players still have to vote to unionize – not a given – and no matter how they vote, the university is going to appeal the NLRB’s decision.

But the Wildcat players have been very shrewd, and will be hard to dismiss. That starts with their leader, senior quarterback Kain Colter. I got to know him pretty well while researching my latest book, “Fourth and Long,” and I can tell you he’s one of the more impressive young men to play the game today.

Colter is a pre-med major who often had to miss summer workouts to attend afternoon labs. The group he’s formed – the somewhat redundant College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) – is also wisely not asking for money, but post-graduate health care for injuries suffered while playing. Seems to me it’s pretty hard for any university – created to improve the lives of its students, after all – to argue against that. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Stadium’s Big Open House

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

One debate I could do without is the question of who is a real Michigan fan, and who isn’t?

On the face of it, the question is pretty stupid. A Michigan fan is a fan of Michigan. And beyond the surface, it’s still pretty stupid. But let’s play it out.

The argument goes that only those who attended Michigan can call themselves Michigan fans. The rest? They’re mere “Walmart Wolverines” – fans who could have picked any school to cheer for, as well as any other, just like we pick the pro teams we want to follow, with no other connection than geography.

Why shouldn’t hard-cord alumni turn their backs on their non-degreed brethren?

There’s a history here, going back to James B. Angell, Michigan’s longest serving – and most important – president. [Full Story]

Column: Good Ideas, Flawed Process at AAPS

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen good news and bad news coming out of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

Good news has come in the form of a new, enthusiastic, positive-energy, forward-looking superintendent in Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift. Her “Listen and Learn” tour was thorough and well-received by the community, followed by some quickly-implemented changes based on feedback from parents, teachers and staff.

Swift also brought forward some longer-term initiatives that required approval from the AAPS board. Those include plans to address underutilized buildings, a new K-8 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program, more language programming, and opening up AAPS to students outside the district through the Schools of Choice program. Those ideas are all positive.

The bad news is process-related, tied to actions by the AAPS board. Mistakes of past years are being made again, as the school board fails to follow its own policies when implementing major changes to the schools. Specifically, the board continues to make important decisions after midnight, with scant information about costs or implementation. Some final votes are rushed through at the same meeting when the items are introduced, not allowing time for sufficient public input.

In this column, I’ll look at both the positive actions by the administration as well as the board’s flawed process. And I’ll ask you to weigh in – letting the board and superintendent know what you think on all of these issues. [Full Story]

Column: The Aftermath of Brendan Gibbons

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The University of Michigan named a new president last month, and the football team landed another great class of recruits last week. But there’s another story that keeps eclipsing those two.

I’ve been reluctant to write about Brendan Gibbons, because so little is clear – from the incident that started this saga five years ago, to the various responses since.

A few things are clear, though, starting with this: the athletic department continually fails to follow the advice of legendary athletic director Don Canham, “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.”

This story starts back in 2009, when Wolverine kicker Brendan Gibbons had an encounter at a party with a female student. Ultimately, only two people know what happened, but we do know she contacted the Ann Arbor police, then decided not to press charges.

This put the university in a tough spot. In 2009, it was a tenet of university policy that it would not look into such situations unless the alleged victim came forward. But in 2013, the university revised its code, no longer requiring the alleged victim to start an investigation.

That’s why it wasn’t until November 20 of 2013 that the Office of Institutional Equity concluded that Gibbons “engaged in unwanted or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, committed without valid consent, and that conduct was so severe as to create a hostile, offensive, or abusive environment.”

From everything I’ve seen, the university played it straight, and the athletic department never attempted to interfere with the process. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, having gotten the hard part right, the athletic department seemed determined to get the easy part wrong.  [Full Story]

Column: Is Public Education A Charity Case?

If you’re like me, then every January you think to yourself, “This year, I’m going to spread out my charitable giving over the course of twelve months. It would be so much better for my cash flow, and probably it would be better for the nonprofits as well.”

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

And then, come November and December, I realize that once again, I failed to spread out my giving – and I had better pull out my checkbook. Writing the bulk of these checks at the end of the year has a benefit, in that it allows me to look at all of my donations at once. But it also means that I’m in a rush and I don’t always take the time to reflect. So this is my opportunity.

Like many of you, we make donations to local, national, and international groups that focus on a wide range of issues. For us, those organizations do work related to health, the environment, politics, women’s issues, Jewish groups, social action, human services, and more.

Although I do give to some groups that, loosely speaking, fit the category of “education,” those entities do not make up a significant proportion of our donations. I confess to a certain ambivalence to giving to such groups – because, in many ways, I’m already a big contributor to public education. And it’s likely that you are, too. [Full Story]

Column: How Football Helped Build MSU

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Every university has its giants, of course, but those schools born around the Civil War needed bigger men than most to carve these campuses out of forests, then build them to rival the world’s greatest institutions – and to do it all in mere decades.

The list of icons includes the University of Chicago’s President William Rainey Harper and Amos Alonzo Stagg, who put their new school on the map; Michigan’s James B. Angell and Fielding Yost, who made Michigan what it is today; Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, who made Notre Dame famous, and Father Ted Hesburgh, who made it great.

At Michigan State, that man is John A. Hannah. [Full Story]

Happy Thanksgiving: Let Us (Not) Flip the Bird

Flipping the bird to someone on Thanksgiving Day would be rude. Unless you’re the University of Michigan Library. When the library flips the bird, it is an occasion to give thanks.

Birds of America

Screenshot of University of Michigan website on Nov. 28, 2013.

By way of very brief background, the Audubon Room at the UM Hatcher Library is named after the first book of any kind – special or otherwise – acquired by UM in 1838: “Birds of America,” illustrated by John James Audubon.

It is not a tradition at Thanksgiving to turn the page of the book on display to the page that shows a turkey. I’m a little disappointed about that. But a few years ago the stars aligned, and the routine flipping of pages in the book allowed the happy coincidence of Thanksgiving and a turkey page in Audubon’s book.

If the stars align again sometime in the future, that will make it all the more special to have the turkey page displayed on Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, this year library staff have given a nod to the turkey page by including a plug for the book on its website as a part of the library’s Thanksgiving message. And I am thankful for that.

I am also thankful to our readers. So here’s wishing all of you and everyone you care about a Happy Thanksgiving! [Full Story]

Column: Taking a Long Look at Redistricting

The new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, is on her “listening tour,” visiting each and every one of Ann Arbor’s schools. If you haven’t gone to one of those sessions yet, I encourage you to go. Here’s the schedule.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

One thing that has come up in discussions at some schools is the possibility of school closings. This is a natural outgrowth of the fact that in the AAPS district, the prospect of school closings was raised explicitly by the school board in the spring, and by the fact that the Ann Arbor schools have been under financial pressure for several years. (As has every school district in Michigan. You can visit Michigan Parents for Schools to find out more about why that is.)

In fact, in the spring of 2013 the district issued requests for proposals for consultants to help on redistricting. Eventually, they began discussions with the University of Michigan to help the district decide what schools, if any, should be closed. Since nothing has been fully negotiated, I can’t say whether the University of Michigan’s proposal is a good plan or not. They may have a role to play. But I can say this: parents and community members have “skin in the game” when it comes to discussing redistricting schools, and I believe there is an effective way to make these decisions.

As it happens, shortly before I moved to town in 1985, Ann Arbor went through a redistricting process. It was thoughtful, involved a broad sector of the community, and resulted in significant realignments and school closings – with long-lasting benefits. It’s worth taking a look at what happened then. If redistricting is in Ann Arbor’s future, this process may be worth copying and updating. [Full Story]

Column: The Case for Free Public Schools

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan – along with two plaintiffs – filed suit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools for the school district’s plan to charge students who want to take a seventh class in a semester.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

The lawsuit argues that the Michigan Constitution requires a free public education for all Michigan students, and that charging for a seventh hour is unconstitutional. Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director, outlined the position in an ACLU press release: “Allowing this model to continue will open the floodgates for any district in the state to charge for every conceivable part of their students’ education creating a two-tiered system in which students who have money get ahead, while those who do not fall behind.”

In early June, I wrote my first column for The Chronicle, about three aspects of the AAPS budget proposal. ["Column: Disparate Impact of AAPS Cuts?"] One of the areas I wrote about was seventh hour, a term that refers to the option of taking a seventh class during a semester, rather than the more standard six classes.

I was concerned about issues of equity – about Skyline students being able to acquire 7.5 credits in a year without paying, while Pioneer and Huron students could only earn 6 credits in a year for free. I was concerned about students losing access to the arts. I was concerned about disparate impacts.

I assumed that – as with many other proposals – this idea was poorly conceived, but legal.

A couple of days after my column was published in The Chronicle, I talked with the ACLU’s Kary Moss. (Full disclosure: Kary is a friend of mine, and we frequently discuss education issues. And that first Ann Arbor Chronicle column ended up as “Exhibit 4” in the ACLU complaint.)

Kary suggested to me that she was concerned about seventh hour, too – because she believed the move to charge tuition was unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional?! That thought had not even occurred to me. [Full Story]

Column: Disparate Impact of AAPS Cuts?

Editor’s note: This marks the launch of a new column in The Chronicle, focused on Ann Arbor Public Schools and other educational issues. Readers might know Ruth Kraut from her commentary on Ann Arbor Schools Musings, where she’s been writing about these issues for several years. For recent background on The Chronicle’s coverage of AAPS, see “Milestone: Why You Keep Running a Marathon.”

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

Next week, the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools will need to cut about 5% from the district’s budget. That’s a reduction of about $8.6 million. Teachers have already taken a 3% pay cut.

Per-pupil funding for next year ($9,025) will be less than the per-pupil funding of 12 years ago in 2001-2002 ($9,034). So it’s no surprise that we’re at the point where cuts are painful. Cutting teachers, cutting programs – none of it is happy news. There will be consequences. The question is, what kind of consequences?

In the civil rights world, a “disparate impact” occurs when a policy is non-discriminatory in its intent but affects a “protected class” of people in a disproportionate way. In Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, for example, these protected classes include race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, and marital status.

AAPS is a district with a large achievement gap – between white students and African American and Hispanic/Latino students. And this gap has persisted for many years. Although in state civil rights law, income is not a protected status, income is highly correlated with race, age, and marital status. District-wide, there is also an achievement gap that is related to income: Poor kids are more likely to do poorly in school.

So it’s important to consider the AAPS budget from a perspective of potential disparate impacts. On the surface, the proposed budget cuts treat all students equally. But if we look deeper, would we find that certain budget cuts worsen – or perhaps improve – the achievement gap?

Three proposed budget cuts have raised a significant amount of opposition this year: (1) eliminating high school transportation; (2) cutting reading intervention teachers; and (3) cutting seventh hour or making it a tuition-only option. Together, these three account for just under $1.5 million of the $8.6 million in cuts. Do these cuts, in particular, have a disparate impact on any groups? [Full Story]

Column: Gordon Gee’s Greatest Gaffes

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Ohio State University president Gordon Gee’s ability to put money in the bank – both his and his university’s – was equaled only by his ability to put his foot in his mouth. Well, this week he was finally fired – er, retired. Entirely voluntarily, of course. Not pushed at all. Nooooo.

Over his long career as president of West Virginia, Colorado, Brown, Vanderbilt and Ohio State – twice – Gee has raised billions of dollars, while delivering a seemingly endless stream of gaffes, slanders and just plain stupid comments, which culminated in his unexpected departure.

In politics, they say, when a man is shooting himself in the foot, don’t grab the gun. In that spirit, I’ll let the man’s words speak for themselves.

In 1992, when the Buckeyes ended their four-game losing streak against Michigan with a 13-13 tie, Gee said, “This tie is one of our greatest wins ever.” Ooo-kay.   [Full Story]

Column: Good News for Book Artists

A group of people in this city care so much about the art of making books that they’ve launched a center dedicated to it, one that will pass down an artistic tradition while incorporating cutting-edge technologies to widen its boundaries.

Jim Horton, boundedition, bookmaking, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Printmaker Jim Horton at the boundedition studio on May 16 with his Chandler & Price letterpress, made in Cleveland in the 1930s.

Its founders call boundedition a “member-based community resource for the preservation, practice and expansion of the book and paper arts.” They call themselves its managing members: bookseller Gene Alloway, book artist Barbara Brown, graphic designer Laura Earle, printmaker Jim Horton, and product designer Tom Veling, a retired Ford Motor Co. engineer.

They were moved to act when Tom and Cindy Hollander announced last summer that Hollander’s School of Book and Paper Arts would close its doors after the spring 2013 session. The school operated on the lower level of the Hollander’s Kerrytown store for more than 10 years.

Brown, a longtime teacher of bookbinding classes at Hollander’s, reached out to fellow teacher Horton as well as Earle, Veling and others who met weekly at the open studio there. Serious discussions began in February, Horton says, when “we decided that what we’d done at Hollander’s was too good to give up.”

Earle, whose family has been involved with Ann Arbor’s Maker Works, was instrumental in finding a home for boundedition inside the member-based workshop at 3765 Plaza Drive. Maker Works’ managers were receptive to letting boundedition rent some space, and Brown says Earle, her husband and her son “pretty much built the office singlehandedly” – including a set of modular work tables that can be arranged according to the requirements of individual classes.

Brown credits Earle’s energy and determination for the speed with which boundedition took shape. “It would have happened,” she said, “but Laura made it happen now instead of later.”

Ann Arbor’s community of book artists and book lovers got a chance to look around at a May 16 curtain raiser. Tom and Cindy Hollander were in attendance; Horton reports that they’ve given boundedition “a thumbs up” and Brown says “Tom has really been very supportive.”

An open house is coming up on Sunday, June 2, from 1-6 p.m. “The whole community is invited to come out to see the space,” Horton says, “to sign up for classes, to let us know if they’re interested in teaching classes.” [Full Story]

AAPS Trustees Get Draft FY 2013-14 Budget

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education study session and regular meeting (April 24, 2013): As the main event of the meeting, AAPS administration unveiled its proposed budget to the board. Director of finance Nancy Hoover gave a presentation on district expenditures, then walked the board through proposed cuts of $8,689,293.

Tappan Middle School orchestra students performed for the board.

Tappan Middle School orchestra students performed for the board.

Four community dialogue meetings the board held regarding the budget were summarized by board president Deb Mexicotte and treasurer Glenn Nelson. The trustees will be working to divide some of the suggestions they heard from the public into short-, mid-, and long-term action items.

The board also met during a study session before the regular meeting to address some of the most pressing needs of the superintendent search: identifying a salary, determining a superintendent profile, confirming the superintendent search timeline, and approving an advertising schedule.

The trustees hope to have a candidate in place by the end of July. They decided on a salary range of $180,000 to $220,000, commensurate with experience.

Also at the meeting, Mexicotte made standing committee appointments. The trustees recently moved away from a committee-of-the-whole structure to planning, performance, governance, and executive committees.

Additionally, the board heard first briefings on paving contracts, tech bond purchases, and the Freeman School lease renewal. Trustees voted to approve the 2013 spring grant awards. [Full Story]

Smaller Deficit to Inform AAPS Budget Talks

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting  (April 10, 2013): Editor’s note: Since this board meeting took place, the board of trustees has held a study session – on April 17. And several community meetings on the budget have taken place. The Chronicle anticipates being able to provide coverage of those events as well.

 Wines Elementary 5th grade chorus

Wines Elementary 5th grade chorus performed during the board’s April 10, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At the meeting, the board of trustees was presented with a revenue projection report that now forecasts just a $8.67 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year, compared to the previously-projected $17-20 million shortfall.

The trustees were pleased that the numbers were “less bad” than was initially projected, but they acknowledged that the remaining $8.67 million was still a daunting amount to cut. Concessions totaling $3.4 million have already been made by the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA).

The board heard extensive public commentary on several possible budget cuts.

The board also finalized policy changes that had been brought forward by president Deb Mexicotte. The policy changes include placing time limits on board meetings, imposing time limits for item discussions, and changing the board’s committee structure.

After some discussion, the trustees settled on their previous standing committee structure of a planning committee and a performance committee. They also voted to add a governance and an executive committee.

Additionally, the trustees approved a purchase request for software licenses in the amount of $232,486. They also heard a first briefing of the spring grant awards. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Not Safe for Work

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has recently written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This was going to be another column about “gun control.” Despite my repeated threats to be “done talking about guns,” it turns out I had another roughly 8,000 words worth of opinion, math, and legalistic nitpickery. (Spoiler alert: Prospects are bleak for “gun control” fixing the problems we want fixed.)

But then events unfolded in Boston, and it was the opinion of this fine publication’s editor that maybe we should go with something a bit more “light and fluffy” to break up our unbearably bleak march to the grave.

To this I assented [1]. It’ll be back to guns next month.

So for this month I’ll return to a topic I’ve written about before: education. This time I’ll start by asking: How do school books get written? And who writes them?

I can shed some light on the first question, because the answer to the second one is: This guy! And not all of them are classroom reference works on Internet pornography.  [Full Story]

AAPS Board OKs Labor Deals, Mulls Policies

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education regular meeting (March 27, 2013): The main agenda item for trustees was agreements with the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), representing the district’s teachers, paraeducators, and office professionals. The agreements, which were approved unanimously by the board, will save the district approximately $3.4 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Mitchell Elementary students prepare for their musical performance

Mitchell Elementary students prepare for their musical performance. (Photos by the writer.)

Teachers agreed to a 3% pay cut for the 2013-14 year, while paraeducators and office professionals agreed to mandatory furlough days for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. The trustees and district superintendent Patricia Green expressed their appreciation for what they called the “shared sacrifice” of the AAEA members.

The board heard extensive public commentary on several possible budget cuts. The board is facing $17-$20 million of cuts for next year’s budget.

The board also spent a significant time reviewing policy changes, brought forward by president Deb Mexicotte. Some of the policy changes included placing limits on board meeting times, adding items to the agenda, and changing the board’s committee structure. The board is considering a change from its current committee-of-the-whole to its former committee structure of two different standing committees. Previously the board had a committee for planning and one for performance – but it’s not clear if the board will settle on those committees. The board will consider the  raft of policy changes at its next regular meeting, on April 10.

The trustees also adopted an affirmation of boardsmanship, which is a “shared belief of values” that Mexicotte presented. The hope is that such a shared set of values would help guide them in their interactions with each other and the community. The affirmation came about as a result of their August 2012 board retreat, when board members decided that their number one board goal was to work on building trust with each other. [Full Story]

AAPS Begins Superintendent Evaluation

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole (March 20, 2013): At its committee meeting the trustees focused on identifying the metrics they will use for the formal evaluation of superintendent Patricia Green.

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green

Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green. (Photos by the writer.)

Green is the one district employee for whom they are directly responsible. Earlier that evening, the trustees met in closed session with Green to go over her interim mid-year evaluation. Because it was an informal evaluation, the board did not release an official statement.

Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, at least 25% of the superintendent’s annual year-end evaluation must be based on student growth and assessment data, according to a state mandate. In 2014-15, that percentage increases to 40%, and in 2015-16 school year, at least 50% of the evaluation will be based on student growth and assessment data. This mirrors the criteria in place for teacher evaluation. Up to now the superintendent’s evaluation has been largely narrative.

Board vice president Christine Stead noted that the board was implementing the metrics ahead of time, since they were not legally required to be in place until the next school year. [Full Story]

AAPS Reviews Special Ed, Clemente Center

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of Education (March 13, 2013): The meeting was highlighted by reviews of two district programs: (1) the Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS) program; and (2) the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.

Performance art by Lawton Elementary teacher Susan Baileys 2nd grade class at the AAPS March 13, 2013 board meeting.

Performance art by Lawton Elementary teacher Susan Bailey’s 2nd grade class at the AAPS March 13, 2013 board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The trustees seemed to be unimpressed with the SISS report – because not enough quantifiable data was presented. They asked the SISS team to come back with a more data-rich report at a future meeting.

Alesia Flye, deputy superintendent for instruction, presented the review of Roberto Clemente. The administration’s ultimate recommendation was to relocate the Clemente program to Pioneer High School beginning the fall of 2013 – for an estimated savings between $127,379 and $348,677. This was presented to the board as an information report. No action will be taken until the budget is finalized later on this year.

The board also discussed and unanimously approved a resolution to support three students who are currently facing criminal charges for their alleged roles in the Huron Pioneer football brawl.

Also at the meeting, the trustees also approved 2013-14 School of Choice (SOC) openings, which will be opened up on April 8 until May 8, 2013. Despite recommendations from the administration against it, the trustees approved 25 spots to be opened at Skyline High School for incoming ninth graders.

The board also formally approved a $2.5 million budget adjustment to cover lower-than-projected revenues and greater-than-projected expenses through the first half of the current budget year.

Upcoming budget decisions and anticipated cuts were also a prominent theme of the meeting. The board set a schedule for public forums to take place over the next month. And students who participate in the theater program addressed the board asking trustees not to cut support to that program. [Full Story]

AAPS Weighs Future Cuts, $2.5M Gap Now

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Feb. 27, 2013): At a meeting that lasted until 3 a.m., the Ann Arbor Public School (AAPS) school board covered a variety of topics, including: an extensive report on high school issues; budget shortfalls; and budget reductions.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations delivered a second quarter financial report that showed the district is nearly $2.5 million over budget.

A report on high school scheduling got a mixed reaction from the board. While many trustees appreciated the work that went into the report, there was disappointment that no hard recommendations were made by the committee. No decisions were made on the issue of moving high school start times or moving Skyline High School from a trimester to a semester schedule.

And Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations, left the board reeling when he reported the district was just under $2.5 million over budget and needed to adjust the 2012-2013 budget. The discrepancy resulted from staffing adjustments and changes in funding from the state of Michigan.

Having been directed by the board at a previous meeting to explain better the implications of each item cut, Allen again reviewed some budget reduction options for the coming year.

The board was also briefed on the condition of physical properties and updated on the capital funding plan. Executive director of physical properties Randy Trent suggested the possibility of placing a combined bond and sinking fund millage on the ballot, instead of asking for a simple renewal of the sinking fund millage, levied currently at 1 mill. The idea would be to ask voters for the same amount – to cover the combined proposal – with the advantage that the bond revenues can be spent more flexibly.

The board was briefed on major purchases for projectors and copiers and voted to approve some purchases on which they’d already been briefed a their previous meeting – for AstroTurf and laptop computers.

The board also voted to place a discussion of a resolution on its agenda for March 13, which would express the board’s support for three district high school students who now face criminal charges as a result of a brawl at the conclusion of a football game last year.  [Full Story]

AAPS Mulls Goals of Rising Scholar Program

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Feb. 13, 2013): A highlight of the meeting was a presentation to the board on the Rising Scholars Program.

Robyne Thompson, assistant superintendent for secondary education

Robyne Thompson, assistant superintendent for secondary education, gave the board a report on Rising Scholars, meant to provide support for high-achieving but underserved students. (Photos by the writer.)

The program is meant to provide support for high-achieving but underserved students. It’s a part of the district’s strategy for addressing the achievement gap between different ethnic groups.  The presentation prompted some discussion about the overall goals of the program and the inequitable resources across the three comprehensive high schools. Several trustees expressed their frustration that not much had changed in the past two years.

The board was also presented with three purchase requests – two requests for purchases for new iMacs and new MacBooks for a total of $2,431,700. The computers would be paid for out of the technology bond. If the board approves the purchases, there are additional costs associated with the new computers. New software would also need to be purchased, and the cost of which would come out of the general fund. The third purchase request was for a new artificial turf field at Skyline for a cost of $858,056. The turf would be paid for out of the sinking fund.

Thirteen students, parents, and staff were present during public commentary to speak in favor of maintaining the trimester system at Skyline High School. This came in response to a request trustee made by Christine Stead at a recent meeting to hear from the members of the school community who favored trimesters. The board has in the past heard complaints about the trimester approach and calls for Skyline to adopt semesters, which is the scheduling approach used by Ann Arbor’s other two comprehensive high schools.

Also at this meeting, state representative Adam Zemke was on hand to talk about the impact Governor Snyder’s proposed budget would have on the district. He also heard the concerns of the board regarding changes in legislation. [Full Story]

AAPS Talk: Contracts Policy, Strategic Plan

Ann Arbor Public Schools committee of the whole meeting (Jan. 23, 2013): At the board’s committee of the whole (COTW) meeting last week, trustees received an update on the district’s strategic plan from the executive team and other district administrators. Trustees also discussed reviewing the district’s contracting policy.

Alesia Flye and Arthur Williams, Huron High School principal

Deputy superintendent for instructional services Alesia Flye and Huron High School principal Arthur Williams. (Photos by the writer.)

While trustees received a comprehensive update on the eight points of the strategic plan, they focused their attention on aspects of international standards, personalized learning, and how best to market the district. President Deb Mexicotte argued that the district needed to co-opt the “language of the rhetoric” used by Lansing and demonstrate how the district is a better choice for students than the alternatives.

After hearing from six union-friendly members of the public during public commentary, trustees spent a significant amount of time discussing how, if at all, they wanted to change the district’s contracting policy. Currently, the board tends to accept the lowest qualified bid. But other factors discussed at the meeting included prevailing wages, historically underutilized businesses (HUB), and local contractors.

The conversation led to the creation of an ad-hoc committee to gather more of the information the trustees felt they needed before they could alter the contracting policy. Members of the committee were not yet appointed at the meeting. [Full Story]

AAPS Starts Year with Extended Agenda Talk

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Annual Organizational Meeting (Jan. 16, 2013): Matters of organization dominated the board’s discussion at its annual organizational meeting.

President Deb Mexicotte and vice president Christine Stead are sworn in as board officers.

President Deb Mexicotte and vice president Christine Stead are sworn in as board officers. (Photos by the writer.)

The agenda planning process was at the heart of the conversation, as was the issue of committee restructuring. The board also observed a moment of silence for Scarlett Middle School math teacher Scott Turner, who passed away Monday, Jan. 14, 2013.

The board launched into its first meeting of the new year, beginning with trustee Deb Mexicotte taking her oath of office after winning re-election for a four-year term this past November.

The board’s first order of business was to elect its officers. All four board officer positions were uncontested and were approved unanimously. Mexicotte was re-elected president; Christine Stead, vice-president; Andy Thomas, secretary; and Glenn Nelson was elected as treasurer.

The four officers took their oaths of office, and Mexicotte reappointed Simone Lightfoot as parliamentarian.

After establishing that the board would review the agenda for future meetings at the conclusion of each board meeting, and that agenda items would need a majority vote to be added to a future agenda, the board voted on several possible future agenda topics.

The topic of semester versus trimester scheduling at Skyline did not make it onto a future agenda; but the board is expecting a recommendation from administration on that topic in February. A review of school security will be placed on a board agenda sometime this academic year. Budget forums will be scheduled in the first half of the year, after the administration receives more direction from the board. The superintendent’s performance evaluation will take place in February and March. And options for the future of the Roberto Clemente Development Center will be scheduled for February or March. [Full Story]

AAPS Mulls Redistricting to Save Costs

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Dec. 19, 2012): The board opened its final meeting of 2012 with a reflection offered by board president Deb Mexicotte on the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a moment of silence to honor the families and community affected by that tragedy.

Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools

Before the meeting started, Robert Allen, deputy superintendent Ann Arbor Public Schools, distributed spiral bound copies of the report from a transportation working group.

The board received two informational reports — one from a cross-governmental working group charged with assessing the viability of continuing to provide non-mandated school transportation, and another one on the district’s partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC).

The transportation report generated significant discussion, as the board examined the working group’s recommendations and considered the impact of making significant reductions to transportation. Even if the district were to eliminate all except mandated transportation for students, that would save only about $5.5 million of the roughly $17 million gap projected in next year’s budget.

A key element of the transportation discussion was a suggestion to consider redistricting – that is, reassigning some students to different school buildings based on where they live. Trustees discussed redistricting in the context of possible steps like eliminating some or all busing and closing schools.

The board directed administration to begin looking into a redistricting process. [Full Story]

AAPS Sets Stage for Budget Talks

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education committee of the whole meeting (Dec. 12, 2012): Faced with another looming budget deficit, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board used their committee of the whole meeting to review a list of potential budget reductions.  The board tried to get a handle on the estimated savings that each reduction would bring the district.

Ann Arbor Public School trustees, Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees Glenn Nelson and Susan Baskett. (Photo by the writer.)

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green stressed that the list brought by administration for review was in no way a list of recommendations – it was just a list of savings estimates, which trustees had requested at a previous meeting. The estimates totaled nearly $26 million in potential reductions. They included: reducing teaching staff; reorganizing human resources; eliminating funding for some extracurricular activities; and closing buildings.

As part of the budget discussion, trustees also reviewed their plans to begin a series of one-on-one and small group meetings with key community leaders, school groups, and other partners. Trustee Glenn Nelson described the plans as first sharing information about the funding situation currently faced by AAPS, and then engaging in an open discussion with a lot of listening. Trustees then plan to bring back the information gleaned from their discussions, and use it, as trustee Andy Thomas put it, “to put together a message and a campaign on how to keep these schools excellent – a message that will resonate with people … and will respond to their hopes and their fears.”

The bulk of the Dec. 12 meeting was spent discussing some preliminary recommendations on high school start times. The recommendations were made to the board by an administrative committee charged originally to look at that issue. Green explained how the scope of the committee had broadened beyond start times to include review of high school scheduling. The committee had also looked at the possibility of opening up the district’s comprehensive high schools (Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline) to in-district transfers and school-of-choice students.

The board also weighed the issue of semesters versus trimesters at Skyline High School, and seemed favorably inclined to consider a shift to semesters. No decision was made at the meeting on that topic. [Full Story]

Column: The True Cost of Football Tickets

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This week, the University of Michigan announced an increase in the cost of “seat licenses” for football season ticket holders.

Before I dive into what all this means, let me explain what a “seat license” is, because, if you’re a normal person, it won’t make much sense.

A “seat license” is a fee that teams make their fans pay just to reserve the right to buy the actual tickets. They call it a donation – which is a stretch, since every fan apparently decided to donate exactly the same amount, or lose our tickets. But that allows us to claim it as a gift to a state university, and a tax deduction.

It’s hard to call that honest. Thanks to the latest hike, it’s hard to call it cheap, either.

In fairness, Michigan was the last of the top 20 programs, ranked by attendance, to adopt a seat license program, in 2005 – even though Michigan always finishes first in attendance. And the seat licenses started gradually: $250 for the best seats the first year, then $500 the second. They were nice enough to spare the folks in the endzone.

But this week Michigan pushed the seat license for the top ticket up to $600 each, and even the folks in the endzone will have to pay $150 per ticket, just for the right to buy them. In the past decade, the total cost of my two tickets on the ten-yard line has more than tripled, to over $1,700. But my seats are no better, and the schedule keeps getting worse.

It makes you wonder how we got here. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Lambastes Education Legislation

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Dec. 5, 2012): At its regular meeting last Wednesday, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education passed a strongly-worded resolution opposing current education legislation under consideration by the state legislature, and arguing for adequate state funding of public education.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

The resolution was written by trustee Christine Stead, and targets a handful of state senate and house bills, as well as the governor’s proposed rewrite of the School Aid Act.

On a long list of statements objecting to various pieces of legislation is one opposing ”the lack of local funding control so that communities might be able to break free from the state’s efforts to demolish public education …”

At the meeting, the board also approved an upgrade to the Argus/IMRA planetarium theater system, the appointment of Cameron Frost to the Recreation Advisory Commission (RAC), two sets of grants, and a set of financial reports brought as second briefing items.

As part of a comprehensive schedule of regular reports to the board, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green also asked three top members of her staff to report on enrollment, facilities, and all-day kindergarten.

The board held brief discussions on each topic following the presentations. [Full Story]