Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Budget Notes: How Would Sharing A Principal Work?

I've got two posts on the AAPS budget proposal, but let's start with this: all of the local school districts are having budget forums. At the Ann Arbor forum on Monday, the majority of parents were parents of elementary school students. Besides me, there was only one other Ann Arbor Open parent. Parents of middle and high school students. . . interested community members. . . PLEASE. SHOW UP! Share your thoughts. The next forum in Ann Arbor is this Thursday (tomorrow!) at 6:30 p.m. at Skyline. You can also write the Board of Education at

One of the ideas that has been floated by the administration is that four schools would have to "share a principal." The proposed pairs are Abbot/Wines (both on the northwest side of town) and Angell/Pittsfield. At the Monday budget meeting, I sat with a table that was (aside from me) all Angell parents. The table next to us appeared to be nearly all Abbot parents. They were none too happy. They were extremely skeptical that the savings projected by splitting a principal would materialize. I'll explain why, but let's start with the way it was sketched out to us by the Interim Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, LeeAnn Dickinson Kelly.

1. The principal would split his or her time between the two schools, perhaps--but not necessarily--50/50. The "savings" is generated by saving the salaries of the two principals, estimated at about $100,000/year.

OK, so they're saying this will save $200,000. I assume that it might not be 50-50 because, for instance, Wines is quite a large school. So that would then mean that Abbot would suffer even more, right?

2.  Right now the teachers' union contract stipulates that if there are reductions in staffing, that ten teachers who would have been laid off will be retained as in-building subs. That way there is no cycle of layoff and recall for those teachers when a position opens up. SO: In this scenario, four of those teachers would be assigned as in-building subs to those four schools. Ostensibly, there is no cost to this, because those teachers would "need" to be assigned anyway.

Not so fast, I say. First of all, it is much more likely that these in-building subs would typically be assigned to a big school (say, Huron or Tappan) than a small school like Angell. Second of all, they don't really know the number of retirements/leaves at this point. IF, instead of retaining those ten teachers, they actually needed to retain twelve or fourteen teachers because of this scenario, there goes the savings (figure $50,000/teacher--these are typically low-seniority teachers). This would typically happen if they needed to recall teachers with a certain certification, or more teachers than they expected. In past years, I think most of those teachers have been re-assigned by October, at least into long-term sub classrooms.

3.  Dickinson-Kelly says that they will increase teacher-clerk time in those schools. Teacher-clerks are paid in the range of $15-$17/hour. This, she implied, is a cheap alternative to having a full-time principal.

Really? I like the teacher-clerks in my kids' schools, but I don't think they are up to the task of being principals! (And if they are, they should get paid better.) Are we really expecting them to intervene in cases related to discipline; calm down upset parents; assist with the child having an emotional outburst; plan with, and supervise teachers? Are we expecting them to do some of the endless paperwork related to No Child Left Behind? Oh, I didn't think so.

4. When a principal is out of the building, there is a designated lead teacher who is responsible for "overseeing" the building. This is true in every building. If a principal has to go to an afternoon meeting at the Administration, the lead teacher is in charge. And that's fine every once in a while, but in this situation, we'd be talking about the lead teacher being in charge at least half of the time--and in reality, likely more, because the "shared" principal will still have to go to meetings in Administration buildings or have the occasional doctor's visit. Well, those "lead teachers" will then often need to be pulled out of their classrooms, which means that someone will need to sub for that teacher.

Whether that is an in-building sub, or another sub, I'm sure that is going to mess up that teacher's classroom. 

Here is another thing that parents brought up. For instance, all of the savings are predicated on the idea that families will stick with "their" schools, even if they lose (half) a principal. The parents from Angell felt it was quite possible that they could lose 10 or 15 students to private schools. I would guess that could also be true at Wines, another school with many wealthy families. So if 20 students left the school district over this, we would lose close to $180,000 in revenue.

Do you see the savings start to evaporate? 

So much so, that I actually have to wonder if this was proposed as some kind of a red herring. In the same way that last year the Saline Superintendent proposed cutting all of the high school math department, and going to an all-online program.

Why do I say that? The idea would be: a) distract people by getting them focused on something that "we" (the administration) already know is a really bad idea, and that we can retract, and then b) all those other things. . . like cutting 70+ teachers (or in Plymouth-Canton, 269 teachers). . . like cutting high school transportation out. . .

Well, all of a sudden those don't look so bad, do they?

Yeah, I'm an optimist usually, but today? Today, I'm a cynic.

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