I was looking at my cell phone bill, and the bill was higher than I expected, because the "usage" was higher than expected. Uh oh. We have four phones on our account, and I immediately assumed that it was my college-age son, because we've had some over-usage issues before. But I thought we had resolved them. So I took a look at the bill, and it turns out that the culprit was. . . my husband! Which was a nice reminder to me that there is a reason we collect data, and that reason is that it (hopefully) enables us to make more intelligent decisions. In the case of the cell phone overuse mystery, that meant calling attention to the issue with my husband, not my son.
In the case of school budgets, it means using the data that is available. With that in mind, I've had ideas for budget cuts, and so have lots of other people, and some of those ideas--when scrutinized with data in hand--might turn out to be really really good ideas or really really bad ideas.
By the way, I'm all for lobbying the state to get more money from the school aid fund, or to change the way school retirements are funded. I just don't think we can plan on those issues resolving as the solution. I'm also hoping that we will try for another countywide enhancement millage.
I'm going to share some of my ideas, and some of the ideas that I thought sounded intriguing. Given the size of the needed cuts (probably $14 million!) and the size of the school budget (close to $200 million), the cuts needed are large but not super-large (7% of the budget).
So, for instance: given the number of staff involved in the school district, it seems likely that some of the cuts will need to come from the staff end. I need data to better understand a) how much have employees already given up in concessions? b) how much would we save for every increase in class size? In other words, if high school classes go up on average by one student, what would that save?
Some ideas that I heard from other people that intrigued me:
If the school day were lengthened, but the number of days in school shortened, would that save money? How much? [What if it were the other way, and the school day were shortened, but the number of days in school lengthened?]
Over the past several years, Rec & Ed has moved from a department that was heavily subsidized to a department that stands (financially) on its own. I was intrigued by someone's idea that perhaps Rec & Ed could turn into a department that brought in money to the district, and I wondered: a) (how) could that happen and b) do any other Rec & Ed departments in other districts do that successfully?
Would it be possible to ramp up fundraising from Ann Arbor school alumni? What would that cost to get started, and what could we expect to make in income?
Does the district own property that it should sell or lease?
Here are some of my ideas--I don't know if they are feasible--that's what data is for--but don't dismiss them out of hand:
If we open the district high schools as schools of choice, how would our
income increase? What would be a reasonable expectation? Is there a downside to that?
Would we save money if we closed Ann Arbor Technical High School
(formerly Stone School) and worked with those students on a six-month
GED program? Or would that cost us more money because we would lose
those students from the almighty per-pupil count? How much would we gain or lose?
Would we save money if Skyline High School went to a semester system (block scheduled or traditional schedule). I have other reasons for wanting this, but in the budget savings area, I have this idea that if every school used semesters, we could set things up so that some schools offer some (more unusual) offerings. For instance, right now, Skyline is the only school to offer Chinese. What if only Pioneer offered Latin? We could have students inter-enrolling, with a midday bus (including Community), but no inter-school buses at other times of the day. So just as a student could now split-enroll at Huron and Community, they could split-enroll at Huron and Skyline, in order to take classes only offered at one school. Would that save money on a) transportation; b) class consolidation?
My sister's kids go to school in Newton, Massachusetts. It seems that many of the districts in the Boston suburbs do not provide any daily substitutes for high school students. (They do provide long-term subs, and short-term subs for K-8.) If a teacher is out for a day with the flu, those students go to a study hall, held in a large room with one supervising person--not a teacher--for up to 4 classes worth of students. (The kids, by the way, love this, because they often get a chance to do their homework during school hours.) It would be worth looking at these districts to see if that is something we could adopt, because it would certainly save a lot of money. (How much?) Don't dismiss this out of hand. Newton schools are similar in many ways to Ann Arbor schools.
Scarlett Middle School's building is large enough to combine Scarlett and Mitchell into a K-8 school, in the single building. It is already a goal to have a K-8 campus, and this would allow us to save on the cost of a principal, heating costs, etc. Plus, it has been my observation that one of the attractions of Ann Arbor Open (which has a long waiting list) is the K-8 option. What would we save by closing Mitchell? What if we turned that school into a magnet school? Would that cost money or save money?
What is an appropriate ratio of a principal to students at the middle and high school level. Should some of the middle schools not have an assistant principal, or only have half of an assistant principal? Can an assistant principal be half-time and also teach a couple of classes? Does that violate any union contract? Is that negotiable?
What if we offered fewer sports? At the middle school level, would we save money by having only three or four seasons of sports instead of five?
Could a district-wide volunteer coordinator utilize parent volunteers to help with administrative tasks? For instance, I know several parents who work in statistical or financial units at UM and have very high-level skills. Instead of asking those parents to volunteer at a school fundraiser, could we put them to work for the district? Maybe parents who work in development could help ramp up a development campaign targeted at alumni. This would obviously require coordination.
Then, of course, there are the ever-present questions:
What do all those administrators do? Is the district really a lean machine, as they tried to represent at the budget forums, or is there still some fat at the administrative level? (I will try to analyze this, next.)
What are other districts doing? Let's analyze what they have done, and see if there are ideas out there that we should adopt.
Last, but not least:
Did we evaluate the purported budget savings from past years, and see if the plans met their targets? Did any of them exceed their targets? Which fell short?
AAPS: How and when are you going to roll out additional information? How are you going to involve parents?