Sunday, January 24, 2010

Revenue Side

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. 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.)

High 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.


  1. Nice to read some positive ideas. Have you read the discussion on Ann about this topic? Some nasty accusations, almost like people are trying to pick a fight. Another "Open" style school would be well received. The relative flexibility with grade levels, welcome parent involvement, and less MEAP stranglehold are all appealing. We tried to get in K last year but didn't make it--there were at least 80 applicants for 20 spots. Don't know how many of those families ended up going out of AAPS, but we did. There's no question we would have sent our kid there if we had made the lottery.

  2. For Anonymous,,,I would really appreciate knowing why another AAPS school did not meet the needs of your Kindergartner after not getting into the AAOpen lottery? It will help us as a district to know this. Did you visit your elementary school? What was the reason? Curriculum? Staff? General "feeling". These things help us know how we are preceived by parents choosing other educational options.
    Having three kids go through or currently enrolled in AAPS (and a "product" myself), I personally find it useful to know why people choose other options and what we can do to attract and retain families.
    Thank you

  3. Hi Liz--If you look through the schools of choice discussions on this blog, you will see this theme repeated by others.
    For those of you who would like to email Liz directly with your thoughts, her email is margolis [at]
    What I've observed myself are a few of the following reasons (note I am not speaking for anon above):
    1. Parents don't like the local school (either past bad experience, neighbor's bad experience, or current bad experience).
    2. They can't experience the local school (kindergarten roundup/meet with principal does not compete with the open house, orientation, visit the Open School and Private Schools do). I have noted that this would be very easy to fix.
    3. They really want an alternative experience (and don't get into AAO but get into Honey Creek or a Montessori) or a K-8 experience (and don't get into AAO but get into Honey Creek or St. Francis, St. Thomas, etc.)
    4. They don't know there are any other options (internal transfers) within AAPS.

  4. Liz -- I am not the above poster, but if we had not gotten into AAO, we would have gone to Honey Creek. The reason for this is one that Ruth mentioned... the open houses at AAO and the charters and the private schools were amazing. These schools are really marketing their programs, and I had a chance to ask all sorts of questions, about their school philosophy (I liked that they HAD an educational philosophy), bullying, classroom atmosphere, community, etc. Kindergarten round-up was nowhere near equivalent to this. I felt no sense of the school. I couldn't even tour it! I don't know how I could have chosen something I couldn't seem to penetrate. Also, I REALLY wanted a K-8 program for my kids, and a focus on project-based learning. And a school that seemed to cultivate a strong sense of community. I felt AAO and Honey Creek could meet all these needs.

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  6. This is an interesting topic. I have long felt that AAPS is going in the wrong direction, especially with things like the elementary language program (not sure what happened with that). My kids went to a charter school and they had no language, no sports, no science labs, limited music program, no art teacher or art room and on and on. Yet, they are expanding by adding levels and more classes. They draw extensively from people who want emotional and social safety for their children, many of whom they view as different in some way -- adopted, gay parents, social or physical issue like Tourettes or speach impairment, attention issues. Things like that are why people send their kids to smaller schools. It is NOT because they are too smart for what public schools offer.