It is, in fact, more pleasant to talk about how AAPS can increase its revenue stream than to talk about how it can cut. So here are a few places that I would look.
1. Pay to Play for athletics: This has already been proposed by the district, and I don't have a problem with it, IF there is a way for students who are income-eligible to get the fees waived. Annarbor.com had a little chart of what other districts do. I liked the way that Plymouth-Canton has fees set up, with a larger fee for the first sport, and a smaller fee for additional sports.
What I would add: I would add a smaller fee for middle school sports. The seasons are much shorter, but perhaps a fee along the lines of $30/first season and $20/additional seasons would be reasonable.
I would also add fees for other extra-curricular activities, in particular theater and music activities.
2. Grant Opportunities: Currently the district does not have a grant-writer. In a district the size of Ann Arbor's, I think this is a mistake. Although one district official told me that AAPS "couldn't" hire a grant writer without funding from an outside source, I have two reactions to that. First, that yes AAPS could--if the administration wanted to, they could reassign staff to 100% grant writing. Alternatively, they could ask the Educational Foundation, or the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, for two years worth of funding to get that going. This will not affect this year's budget--even successful grants take a while to come to fruition. Investing in a grant writer is an investment in the future.
3. Facility Rental: I'm not convinced that the district has fully exploited the opportunities for facility rental to outside groups. I would like to encourage the district to get a group together to tweak both the pricing and the way that facility rental is promoted. That group needs to include potential end users and people with marketing/business acumen, as well as school facilities people.
4. Medicaid Reimbursement: Some of the district's special education expenses are Medicaid billable. Currently, that billing brings in about $1 million each year, and is largely handled by social workers. I believe that this is an area where the school district needs to be absolutely sure it is maximizing its billing, and if the billing is spread out, it is likely that it has not been maximized. I don't have local statistics, but a study in New York State of 8 districts found that they were only being reimbursed for about 1/3 of the Medicaid monies that they should be reimbursed for. In the study, some of the reasons that the districts did not get reimbursed included: a) not checking students' Medicaid status regularly (so they would be kicked off Medicaid, and not get back on even though they were still eligible, and the districts would not know); b) waiting too long to send in the claims; and c) not appealing claims that were denied, even if they believed that denial was in error. In those districts, the estimate was that they could triple their reimbursement level! The Medicaid claims submission process should be reviewed from the point of service onward, even if the increase would add $100,000 and not $2 million to the AAPS budget. (And this is true for every district in the county.)
5a. I feel ambivalent about one area: Schools of Choice.
On the one hand, I have felt for a long time that AAPS should have schools of choice. On the other hand, coming into this now, feels a little like we are robbing Peter (the other school districts) to pay Paul (our school district) and I don't feel very good about that. I also wonder whether opening schools of choice to Stone (which I don't think works as a school) and Clemente (which does work, but is our most expensive school) makes any sense at all. Will that entice high school students? Stone was a school of choice before, and I don't think it really got that many people choosing to go there. We would definitely have school of choice applications for Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline.
On the elementary school level, I have found that generally, people who are unhappy with schools are often unhappy after a couple of years, so opening to schools of choice only in grades K/1 does not make sense to me. If we are going to have schools of choice, let's open up a certain number of spots in every grade, K-12.
If we are going to open to schools of choice.
5b. I have another idea for Schools of Choice/Recruitment
There is a whole other part of me that says, we should not be recruiting from other school districts. We should be recruiting from the people who live in our district and are choosing to send their kids to other schools. That also maximizes the amount of money we get (since our per-pupil rates are higher than the surrounding districts, kids from within the district bring in more money than kids from without the district.) My friend told me that in some of our elementary school districts, 1/4 of the students go to other schools.
What will reverse that trend? I think that magnets can do that. Anyone who goes to the Community, Skyline, or Ann Arbor Open orientations can see that magnets get people interested. And they don't have to be more expensive. As a school district, we need to get those families to see AAPS as a viable choice because they offer what the families want (for instance--K-8 school, intensive language, Montessori practice). Here are some of my ideas (just a taste) that directly target individuals who are choosing other schools. [This is not a budget proposal for this year, but some of these things could be implemented fairly quickly, certainly within two years.]
Another K-8 school, on the east side.
A Montessori school (could be combined with a K-8 school).
A language immersion program. (Start with a K-1 Spanish or Arabic or Chinese or Japanese program, and increase from there. Could be combined with a K-8 school.)
Magnets at all three large high schools. We already have 4 of them at Skyline.
For Huron: Orchestral Music magnet and Foreign Language magnet and/or Science magnet.
For Pioneer: Theater magnet and Voice magnet and/or Sports Management magnet.