Wednesday, January 6, 2010

AAPS Budget Analysis and Ideas--Part 1

I'm going to wait to give a fuller analysis of the AAPS budget until after I've been to one of the budget meetings (listed here), but I have downloaded the "user-friendly budget information" and I have a few comments about that. (You want the file, Understanding the 2009-2010 Budget, on the front page of the AAPS web site. And you may feel that you need to print it out--it is hard to read online.)

1. The document is a large file, and given that, I think they could have cut the pages with mission, vision, etc, as well as the little pictures of people walking. The mission, vision, strategic planning could have been a separate document. [There is, actually, quite a lot to be said about the strategic planning plan, which attempts to be all things to all people.]

2. There is lots of good information in here. A couple of basics are missing. I believe that this is the 2009-2010 budget, which runs from July 1 2009-June 30 2010, but I didn't see where it says that. This is important because if they are discussing the approved budget, that had a different level of school aid fund revenue expected than what we are actually getting. There is also a FY 2010 proposed budget (income side) but there is no comparison on the same page to the FY2009 budget. The 09/10 per-pupil allocation shows the (old) expected numbers, which were flat, and since this was done in December I don't know why it doesn't show the actual numbers we now know we will be getting.

3. Approximately two-thirds of teachers in the district are in the top 3 levels of the teacher step ladder, which means that they have been teaching for at least 10 years. So yes, they are more expensive. That is the bad news, but in my opinion there is some good news there too. Teachers with older teaching certifications tend to have broader certifications--they are more likely to be certified to teach K-12, as opposed to K-5, K-8, 7-12, or 9-12.  What this should mean is if the district implements a hiring freeze (which is one of the first things I would recommend), it is likely that there are teachers who have adequate certifications to fill some of those positions. And yes, I know about the down sides of hiring freezes. But the district hired quite a few teachers last year, and not just for special education positions.

4. Medicaid is listed as a one-time reimbursement. I don't understand that--it's my understanding that school districts can get reimbursed for certain special-eduction Medicaid-related services on an ongoing business. Is this a possible place for an increase in revenue?

5. You can see that this was written with a certain point of view when you get to a chapter that is titled, "Dispelling the Centralized-Cost Misconception." Really? Are you trying to convince me of something? Of course I understand that many of the costs assigned to the central office, such as repair and maintenance, or reporting & evaluation, benefit the whole district--on the other hand, that could probably be broken out in some other ways. I would take a particularly close look at the "Centralized Instruction Services" and "General Administration," for example.

6. There is a large section devoted to individual school budgets. and at the end of that there is additional data related to things like individual school capacity. Now, every time I open up the comments at (which I try to do rarely as some of the commenters make me nauseous), I see someone advocating closing Community or Skyline, and I hear friends of mine nervous that Pioneer will be closed! I'm not necessarily a fan of closing schools, and it doesn't necessarily save that much. But if I were a fan of closing schools, I wouldn't choose to close the schools that are a) successful and b) drawing families into the district. Yes--those extremely successful schools include Pioneer, Huron, Skyline, and Community.   I would choose schools that are a) consistently underutilized and/or b) consistently not very successful.
The alternative is to reinvent those schools.

On the high school level, the answer to that question is Stone School, which is consistently underenrolled and deals with a very at-risk population. Based on MEAP scores and enrollment levels, this program is not working. Given the change in the dropout age (state law), and other changes, this is the school to look at first. Can we serve these kids differently?
On the middle school level--which is typically considered to be the weakest link in the district (although that may be true in every district), 4 out of 5 of the schools could fit quite a few more kids (the exception is Forsythe, but even it has some excess capacity). The most underenrolled school is Scarlett.
I've also noticed that many of the people looking at Ann Arbor Open are being attracted primarily by the K-8 option. It could be possible to reduce the middle schools to 4, and add one or two more K-8 programs at another elementary school (or convert one of the middle schools into a K-8 school). This K-8 option is important because there are some private and charter K-8 schools nearby.
OK, I am thinking out loud here, but the K-8 question also fits in with the fact that some of the elementary schools are seriously under-enrolled, and the school with the lowest enrollment is Pittsfield. I like a lot of things about Pittsfield, including the fact that an awful lot of the kids can walk to school, but I've been told that (because there are a lot of Arabic-speaking families in that district) when Central Academy (charter school that teaches Arabic) opened, a lot of kids left the school, and the school has not recovered from that. So obviously one option would be to cut a school like Pittsfield. Another option would be to make it a Language Magnet school (Immersion Spanish, starting with grades K-1, perhaps.) I think that would attract people to the school and the district, and it could co-exist with the neighborhood school because there is space there.

7. Principals and Assistant Superintendents: If you have to make cuts, I think middle management is a natural place to look. From this budget information, you can't find out too much about the jobs of the assistant superintendents and directors, but you can tell something about the principals. This is definitely an area where there can be cutting--particularly at the high school level, and maybe at the middle schools as well. Looking at the 3 main high schools--in the pre-Skyline era, Pioneer and Huron each had one primary principal and 4 class principals (total=10). Now, Skyline has 3 principals (4 next year?) and Pioneer and Huron still have 5. I think they could probably get by with one primary principal and 2 assistant principals (one grades 9-10 and one for grades 11-12). Compared to a few years ago, that would only be a reduction from 10 to 9, instead of an increase from 10 to 13, 14, or 15. In other words, we have to look at the need for class principals as the school size decreases. And it is likely this could be achieved by attrition and principals retiring. For isntance--Principal Michael White is returning to the armed services and taking a leave from the district--so Pioneer has an opportunity right now to reassign and eliminate one of the class principal positions.

8. In the additional documentation section, there is information about the status of union contracts. That is where you can see that the bus drivers and custodian contracts are "In Mediation," having expired in 2008. That makes me suspicious that the threat of privatization is a union-busting technique (in addition to being a bad idea on its own merits).  Perhaps it is a way to get the unions to accept draconian concessions. This definitely deserves its own post.

9. I would also have liked to know--what budget cuts have been made in the last three years? There are models for how other organizations deal with cutting. For instance, the county went through this last year, and asked department heads to propose how they would cut (I think) 10, 20, and 30% from their budget. And some departments figured out how to raise revenue. 

Anyway, I hope to have more information after I go to a budget presentation in the next week or two, and I hope you will go too.  Bring your questions. All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

  • Thursday, Jan. 7 at Huron High School, 2727 Fuller Road.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12 at Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple Road.
  • Thursday, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School, 3300 Lorraine.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd.

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