Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rest of the Story: AAPS Budget, Part II

I think I addressed the largest chunk of the budget with my recent post on personnel costs and my post on revenue enhancements, including a look at whether we can increase Medicaid reimbursement. Here are a few other thoughts.

1. Efficiencies--Some of the reductions--for instance, finding efficiencies in ESL teaching and other "split" positions--seem like they should have been done long ago, if they are feasible. (Which makes me a little suspicious. Are they?)

2. Transportation--I've written about my opposition to privatization. There is no reason at all to balance the budget on the backs of the lowest-paid staff in the district. But there were three other transportation issues raised in the budget forums:
  • We should not eliminate Kindergarten midday bussing. That sure would make it hard for working parents to send their kids to district schools, unless they replaced it with full-day kindergarten (which I think probably costs more than the savings). When my oldest started kindergarten, I was considering a private school with a full-day kindergarten, and if I had started him there, and if I was satisfied. . . I doubt the public schools would have seen me for several years.  [At the forum, I was asked by my group's facilitator, "Well where did your kids go then, at midday, if you were working?" Answer: to their preschool, where my second child was enrolled all day.]
  • We should be working with AATA. For my high school-aged kids, the walk to the AATA bus route is not any further for us than the walk to the AAPS bus stop, and it doesn't take any longer to get to school. I think many routes could be eliminated for high school students, if we can make it easy. UM students just show their student IDs. Can't high school students do the same thing? Then we would only need to bus those kids who are not reached by AATA.
  • I question expanding the walk zone to two miles. It may come to this, but I'm not a big fan of my daughter walking two miles in the dark in a Michigan winter. I don't want my kids to have to drive to school. I don't want to encourage the culture of driving everywhere, and in any case, cars are expensive.
3. Reducing high school noon hour staff. This seems impractical, if Pioneer and Huron are closing their campuses at lunch time, even to upper class students. 

4. Reducing substitute expenses--can we do more? I understand this refers to changing the scheduling of professional meetings that take teachers out of classes, and that might be fine. In addition, though, I recently read a study that assessed teacher absenteeism. I have no idea if it is high or low in Ann Arbor, but probably that should be assessed--and if it is high, maybe there is a way to make it lower. I have also wondered if it would be less expensive to assign a building substitute in each elementary school building (and more in the middle/high schools).

5. Reducing administrators--can we do more? It is convenient for the district that Maggie Jewett and Michael White are both leaving high school principal positions, and it makes it easy to propose reducing one class principal at Huron and Pioneer. For mid-year reductions, it makes sense to stop there. But for next year, I believe that we could get by with 1 principal and 2 assistant principals at each high school. Before Skyline was established, there were 5 at each high school (or 10 total). Rather than saying that we now need 4 at each high school (for a total of 12), why not say that we can get by with 9? I'll bet that it can even be done by attrition. And is it possible that some of the higher-level departments can be consolidated, thus allowing us to eliminate some management positions?

6. The high school cops. Susan Baskett raised this issue as a question at the budget forum I attended. Do we need them? I will add my confusion about them: What are they there for? What do they do? Can we do it for less? I don't know the entire costs, but I do often see an empty police car, just sitting there, even late at night, at Skyline, and it seems like a waste to me.


  1. Ruth,
    I have to disagree on the kindergarten busing and the expanded walk zones. Consider for a moment parents who live within the current walk zone, but are really too far away from school for their young children to walk alone. Would you allow your 5, 6 or 7 year old go 1.5 miles without an adult? How close would you need to live to allow them to walk without you? 1 mile? Half a mile? What about in the rain? In the snow?

    We're about a mile from our school. On nice weather days, I walk to pick up my 6 year old, with my 3-year-old in tow. (I drive her in the mornings, and then head to work). On not-so-nice days, I drive to pick her up. I don't have the luxury of waiting for her to arrive home on a bus, which can be very frustrating when my three-year-old son just doesn't feel like going back to the school once again to pick up his sister (which happens often).

    My point is, for those of us who live within the walk zones, it's our responsibility to get our kids to/from school. The school is not serving our transportation needs. At the lower elementary level, very few children actually live close enough to school to go by themselves. Is it fair/equitable for the district to provide transportation for some, and leave it to the parents for others? What would be wrong with requiring parents who live .5 miles away from me, and parents of kindergartners, to assume the same responsibility that I and my neighbors already undertake?


  2. Jen, I have three reactions to what you say. One is that probably the walk zones should be differentiated by age--they were in the district I grew up in, where kindergartners had a much smaller walk zone (3/4 of a mile, maybe) than older kids. Obviously, a mile is a lot "further" for a first grader than a tenth grader. Having said that, individual parents have very different tolerances for what kind of a walk seems bearable for a child of a certain age. The transportation department should ideally be responding to end users (in practice, I don't believe they do).
    Two is that I think the mid-day kindergarten issue is really different from before and after school bussing. The half-day school day is around 3 hours long, and is much harder to negotiate for working parents than the end of day schedule. In fact, some of the schools don't even have the option of additional day care to make a full school day for the kindergarten kids, and if you work, they have to go somewhere. So how you get them there can be the difference between being able or unable to work.
    Three is that--in a per-pupil environment--any cost savings from transportation can quickly be eaten up by just a few parents choosing to move their kids out of the district, and transportation is often a part of that decision-making. A savings of $100,000 can be negated by just 10-15 kids in the entire district choosing a different (private or charter) school. It is especially easy for me to see that happening with the midday kindergarten issue.

  3. It was my understanding that part of the administrative cuts was to make it one principal and two assistants at all three high schools, which is what you suggest. So I think they may be doing just what you and many others have suggested.
    - Steve Norton

  4. Steve, The budget presentation that they handed out at the forums and put on the school web site says, "Reduction of 5 positions in central administration and 2 HS class principal positions." Since there were (at the beginning of this school year) 4 HS class principals at Huron and Pioneer, I understand this to be a reduction down to 3 asst. principals and 1 head principal at both Huron and Pioneer. But I hope you are right.

  5. For working parents, there are many local day cares that offer shuttle buses. I see Tutor Time, Gretchen's House and the Y picking up kids from our school every day. As for all schools not offering K-care, I'm surprised, but I'm sure that's based upon demand. If more parents needed it at those schools, it seems likely that it would be offered.

  6. Yes, K-care is based on demand. The problem is, if you are someone who needs the K-care, but are at a school that doesn't have enough "demand," you are kind of stuck.

    There are local day cares that do pickup. I don't believe they pick up from all schools, I think it depends on the school--and that doesn't address people who have friends or relatives watching their kids--which is a sizable chunk of the kindergarten population.

    Sigh. I think we'll just have to disagree, because this is one of those areas where fairness and equity may not be the same.

    On the other hand, the whole problem of noon-time bussing could be solved with full-day kindergarten, which will be required by the state in a few short years, and which many districts already offer.

  7. If your school does not offer K-Care, AAPS buses will deliver your child to a K-Care program.