I'm reflecting on the Ann Arbor school district's budget study session, and the recommendations that have come out of it.
And it just makes me wonder--are we operating in a data-less world?
It's a little hard to get a fix on exactly how much needs to be cut, and it does need to be cut. I might make some people unhappy by advocating for more cuts rather than fewer, but given the uncertainties in the budget that would make sense to me.
How do you go from needing to cut 20 million to 8.6 million. . . and then back up again. . .
In any case, I accept that there will be teacher cuts. [Speak to the legislators and tell them to restore funding to the School Aid Fund.] I don't have any trouble with cutting a staff person from the Pioneer theater program. [Have you seen how much money Pioneer Theatre Guild makes?] I accept that pay to play sports will cost more for my son next year.
But it seems to me that we are making decisions without data that the district should be able to provide.
For instance, I asked a couple of weeks ago, when the proposal to cut all of the Reading Intervention teachers came up, "But is the Reading Intervention program working?" [Not surprisingly, the Reading Intervention teachers say yes, and here is their web site.]
I argued, if the program is working, we shouldn't cut it, because early interventions for reading are important; and if it isn't working, we should have cut it earlier.
And then. . . the school board decides to cut it. . . in half. To my mind, this is the least satisfying thing they could do. Is the program working, or not? I am sure that there is data that shows that it is or isn't working. But maybe the data doesn't exist. If it doesn't exist, then that's a different problem. Cutting the program in half appears to show that you have no idea if the program is working or not.
The school board is deciding to cut high school busing. I think this is a terrible idea, at least in the mornings. (I saw an interesting suggestion to keep busing in the morning, and cut it in the afternoon--I liked that idea but I'm not sure if it is legal.)
But what I really want to know is this: how many low-income kids live in areas that are too far from their high schools to get there without high school busing? Many of the complexes with large numbers of low-income students are not on bus routes.
If we assume that most middle class kids would, in fact, be able to find a way to school (and I'm not sure that's true, but let's make that assumption), how many low-income kids would have trouble getting to school? I'm thinking, for instance, of kids who lives outside the bus lines at Scio Farms, Orchard Grove Village, or Lakestone (formerly Eagle Pointe) Apartments. How would they get to Pioneer or Skyline? What about kids who live in apartment complexes that are on bus routes--say, for example, Glencoe Hills? Would we pay for them to have bus passes?
Do we have this data? I would think we should use it to inform our decisions. Do the supposed cost savings account for paying for kids (at least low-income kids) to have bus passes? Does it account for some number of low-income kids dropping out? Do we even know how many kids we would put at risk of dropping out?
Where is the data?