Thursday, April 21, 2011

Local Budget Blues

Someone asked me what I thought of the proposed budget cuts to the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and obviously I haven't yet seen the full proposal, so this is just my first impressions based on what I've read.

And Budget Forums, coming next week, are for our edification!
Ann Arbor Public Schools Budget Forums:
Monday, April 25 at Pioneer High School - Cafeteria Annex, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 28 at Skyline High School-Commons area, 6:30 p.m.

Also, it is worth noting that the proposed budget cuts are BEFORE any cuts that might occur if the special education renewal millage doesn't pass. Please vote for that county-wide millage on May 3d.

So, anyway, from what I have read there are three large pieces to the budget cuts: cut teaching staff, share principals, and cut high school transportation. The district is estimating a need to cut $15 million.

As far as cuts to teachers go, I think that is no surprise at all. If you have a program that has, as its largest share of expenses, staffing; and if, as in the case of the schools, the largest share of staffing is teachers, then of course teacher cuts will naturally follow major budget reductions. Either that, or teachers will have to volunteer to take cuts. Personally, I think that the cuts in teaching staff and the resulting larger classes are more likely to get parents and others upset sooner, and perhaps advocate for some change at the state level. Also, if I were part of the teachers' union, I wouldn't be in a big hurry to give concessions when a) the teachers gave them last year and b) the new Superintendent is coming in making a whole lotta money.

The second piece, cutting high school transportation, raises a lot of questions--both practical and philosophical. It's true that a lot of high school students don't take the public school buses. So does that make it okay to cut? Philosophical: on the other hand, are we trying to serve the kids who have cars or parents available to drive them, or the have nots? What would it mean if a child literally couldn't get to school? Practical: because my daughter has been taking a Community Resource class after school, she takes one less class during the school day. We live about a ten-minute walk from a public bus stop, and we tried to get her to take the public bus. Day, after day, after day, that bus was 15 minutes late. The idea of taking the public bus system ended up being more idealistic than ideal, and now most days she gets a ride. But we have flexible schedules...

Third--Cutting out principals by having four schools share two principals. I guess that I would ask that question in reverse. If that is a good idea, why don't we do it with all of the schools?! Hmmm. Maybe because it is not such a good idea? Those combined schools are bigger than some of the middle schools, all of which, right now, have a principal and a superintendent an assistant principal... In fact, those schools are some of the districts' larger schools. Can we look at making different types of cuts among administrators? Cutting assistant principals at the middle schools? Cutting staff in the administrative offices?

Another alternative--The Interim Superintendent went on record in saying that the district couldn't consider closing a school because it would require redistricting.  Hmmm. In some cases, that could be true. In others, it wouldn't be. Here are two school closing options to consider that would not require any redistricting at all:
A. Close Stone School, and move that into a wing of another school (say, into Pioneer or Huron). That is an alternative program that could be housed anywhere.
B. Close Mitchell School and merge Mitchell School into Scarlett Middle School. This would make sense to me because the district is already trying to start a K-8 Lab School with those two schools together, and Scarlett actually does have room to house all of the Mitchell kids, because Mitchell is one of the smallest schools in the district and Scarlett is the smallest middle school! I also like the idea of having an east side K-8 program; Ann Arbor Open's K-8 program has proven to be very popular.

Come to the forums. Find out more, share your opinions. Share your opinions with the school board as well.


  1. Maybe housing Stone at Skyline or Huron makes sense, but please don't put more kids at Pioneer. It has been such an upheaval with all of the changes and next year will be the first year that it won't be overcrowded. Every year they move teachers and guidance counselors out. Enough already. Rec Ed took over an entire wing, and had it remodeled while students were still in portables. Yes, even this year there are still portables in use. Please don't move anyone else in there!

  2. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around ANY cuts, seeing as the state's School Aid Fund is actually quite flush, and could fund an INCREASE in per pupil funding if it weren't being pillaged for other uses. This budget "crisis" is totally voluntary, created by Snyder and the legislature. They control expenses and revenue, and if they need to collect more revenue in order to adequately fund basic services, then that's what they need to do. That's their job.

  3. I'm not happy about these proposed cuts either, but one important thing to remember is that the district is probably cutting in places that could be put back in place relatively quickly (in hopes funding improves). Sharing principals would be fairly easy to unwind, consolidating schools less so.

    I'm also wary of moving Stone School into a building with a "traditional" student body. The students at Stone are there because they have fought to get back into school after a serious interruption to their lives. On the one hand, they could teach worthwhile lessons to the (generally younger) HS students. On the other hand, it might be hard to keep the program coherent if it shared space with a traditional program that did not serve them well the first time around.

  4. Steve, I doubt that if they cut high school busing, they will reinstate it. I've been trying to envision how AATA would handle 200 kids trying to leave Skyline or Huron by AATA bus after school. Usually one runs every half hour, and it doesn't fit 200 kids!

    I'm not really proposing that Stone School be moved (in my opinion, it would be better to close it altogether), but I suggested it because I wanted to examine the assumption that you "couldn't" close a school without redistricting. Budgeting is (of necessity) full of assumptions, and I think it's important that we examine them. Also, so many Stone School kids do take the AATA bus that it would definitely need to be on a major bus route! (I'm not sure if Huron would qualify, but Skyline would definitely not qualify.)

    I do think it's very feasible to move Mitchell into Scarlett. They want to create a K-8 program anyway! [And--for instance--we should examine the assumption behind the K-8 lab program--that Title 1 funds will help with most of the enrichment--because if it is a successful program, everyone will want to get in, and then it won't be a Title 1 school anymore...]

  5. AATA can just run more buses, and it's possible this is a good deal for them.
    I think the split principal thing is a bad idea, because things happen all day long in schools, and the principal and the "lead teachers" might not agree on how to handle something, or things wait to get done, and all that kind of stuff.
    It'd be better to take a salary cut across the board for the principals and keep the number the same, or
    close two schools and redistrict.
    Pittsfield is pretty small, or break up the Bryant Pattengill pair, and change the demographics at Burns Park, and make things fairer.
    Far better overall is concession from the union, yes, I know it stinks, and not lose any staff. This isn't the administration's fault. Who say a $700/kid decrease in one year?

  6. Anon4, You might be right that AATA can just run more buses. I'm not sure, though, because it means there's a "spike" in time between 2:30 and 3:30...

    And I don't understand your last sentence, "Who say a $700/kid decrease in one year?"