Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It's about time that I showed a little love to some of the other school districts in the county.

Saline is considering all day kindergarten.

So is Dexter. Dexter is also abandoning the trimester system and going back to a traditional semester system in their high school. Why? According to this Dexter Leader article, neither staff nor students liked the trimester system, and switching to semesters will also save them staff time. And, Dexter is still planning on implementing an International Baccalaureate program next year in their high school.

By the way, the Dexter superintendent has a post on how MEAP cut scores are changing (they're going up!). That is going to be a huge challenge for all of the schools.

Speaking of International Baccalaureate programs, Washtenaw International High School opened with a much smaller enrollment than expected. I'm not sure what the Count Day numbers will show, but the initial enrollment was for 109 students (they were expecting closer to 150 students). There are seven partner districts, but I think the most interesting factoid (h/t to an anonymous reader) is that 39% of those registered students were coming from out of county! According to Sarena Shivers of the WISD,
Students who do not reside in one of our consortium partner districts may apply for unfilled slots. They must school-of-choice in to one of our consortium districts in order to attend the school. The foundation allowance follows each student to WIHI.
In other words, a student from the Van Buren Schools (Belleville) might become a school of choice student in Ypsilanti and then, as a school of choice student, choose to enroll in WIHI.
I personally think the low numbers are primarily a result of trying to start up WIHI too quickly. It used to be that a project like WIHI would require a planning process of three years, not one year--and that's probably better.

The Ypsilanti School Board has decided to not renew David Houle's contract. David had been their finance director ever since he left Willow Run school. According to WEMU, they are not planning on replacing his position, at least not immediately.

Ypsilanti and Willow Run are also exploring the idea of sharing transportation, including the consolidation of buses and facilities. Now here's what I don't get about that idea--wasn't the WISD consolidation of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Willow Run transportation a consolidation? So have we concluded that it's not working or saving money? And if that's the case, where will that leave Ann Arbor? Has a report been issued yet? (I'm trying to find out but I don't think so.) I'm very confused.

Speaking of transportation, the state school bus certification results for 2011 have been published. Most of our local districts did quite well (the buses are safe). The "consolidated" districts (Ann Arbor, Willow Run, Ypsilanti) all show up under the Washtenaw ISD, and they did have eight buses red-tagged (out of 185).  You might think that's bad, but for Willow Run and Ypsilanti it is a huge improvement. In 2010, all of Ann Arbor's buses passed; 12 out of 44 of Ypsilanti's buses were red-tagged; and 14 out of 18 of Willow Run's buses were red-tagged. So based on this mark, at least, consolidation has been an improvement for Willow Run and Ypsilanti.

Lincoln High School is also undergoing a transformation redesign project (following in the footsteps of Willow Run and Ypsilanti, because they all found themselves on the "Persistently Low Achieving" schools list--not a fun place to be.)  The district explains what is happening here.  Read the "Frequently Asked Questions" piece here.

State Senator Rebekah Warren has introduced a constitutional amendment banning for-profit charter schools. You can read more about it in, and/or you can read about it at  I definitely like the idea of banning for-profit charter schools; I'm not sure how I feel about a constitutional amendment. But I'm glad she's pushing the issue--currently, four out of five charter schools in the state are for-profit! Why are they making money off of our children?

The cap on charter schools is still being debated, and you still have an opportunity to make your voice heard through Michigan Parents for Schools (or on your own). Get your friends in western and northern Michigan to use the MIPFS link as well and contact their legislators.

The anti-bullying bill has passed the Senate. It's not perfect, but it's better than what was originally proposed, which had huge exemptions. Listen to this Michigan Radio interview with Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing regarding this bill.

Also, if you feel like listening to things, this NPR interview with Norbert Juster, the author of the Phantom Tollbooth, is really delightful. NPR has got this "Backseat Book Club" just started, which is essentially directed at kids, and The Phantom Tollbooth was last month's selection. The December Book Club selection is a book called Breadcrumbs. Read about that here. [Does anyone else remember--and miss--the NPR show Kids America? With characters like Dr. Rita Book? I miss that show.

And a couple of other notes:
There's so much going on! It's hard to keep up, and not nearly enough reporting going on. (I see my role as a color commentator, as they say in sports news.) Having said that, you should feel free to send me your news tips to rlk234 (at)

If you comment anonymously, think about giving yourself a name in the body of your text (as, for instance, YpsiAnon and Anon4 have done)--that way I know it's "you" when you comment more than once. Thanks!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Avoiding Football Cuts: The Back Story

The Title IX blog (which has had a link on my sidebar blogroll for some time) had earlier analyzed Ann Arbor's first round of proposed cuts to athletics--which you might remember from my own post. The authors of that blog felt that only exempting football was likely illegal under Title IX. (I agreed with them, but had other substantive issues with the plan as well. Read about them here.)

Anyway, today they are reporting that:
I recently learned via personal correspondence from someone connected to the matter, that someone filed complaint with OCR to challenge the cuts, and that OCR commenced an investigation. I further learned that the complaint was eventually withdrawn upon assurances from the school district that it would not put that particular reduction plan in place. 
OCR, by the way, is the (federal) Office of Civil Rights, the department responsible for enforcing Title IX.

The finalized plan is described by here, and in that article, Liz Margolis (AAPS Communications Director) is quoted as saying, 
Margolis said the district is confident that, despite eliminating three girls’ sports and two boys’ sports, the district will be satisfying all Title IX requirements.
“The ADs have looked at these as well as Dave (Comsa, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services) and feel that we’re OK,” she said. “It’s about accommodation and opportunity and we still feel that we fall well within Title IX implications.”
Very interesting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pilgrims and Indians

True, this post is not really about Pilgrims. Growing up in an east coast town where the first European settlers arrived in 1630, and where my neighbor's ancestor came over on the Mayflower, we spent a lot of time on the Thanksgiving story, and the histories of the Pilgrims' descendants were present in the graveyards nearby.

The presence of the Indians, though, was muted. We didn't learn too much about their post-Revolutionary War history, probably because they were mostly eradicated from the Boston to Washington DC corridor. 

In college, though, I spent a month in a tiny town in South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Reservation. [It turns out that this county currently holds the honor of the poorest county in the nation.] While there, I stayed with an Indian (Sioux) family and I learned quite a bit more about Indian history. The mom in the family had gone to one of the Indian boarding schools. I hadn't heard about them, either.

So I wasn't entirely surprised (but I was disturbed) to hear this NPR special on the South Dakota foster care system and how it affects Indian kids.

I also recently got, from a friend, a curriculum/history piece about Indian boarding schools. There was one in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan that her relatives had gone to. The ones in South Dakota, I was surprised to see, are still in operation. Visit this link and scroll down for the curriculum guide. There's also a note that says additional teacher materials are coming.

And/or listen to this NPR story, Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many.

In any case, this Thanksgiving, let's all brush up on the Indian side of the equation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reprise: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Astute readers of this blog will know that I've already written, at length, about the book that I bought my youngest son a couple of years ago for Chanukah, a book that he loves but--at the time--described to me as "inappropriate." Honestly, it's one of my favorite posts, so you should read it.

But you might be wondering, well if she already wrote about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, what more is there to say? Plenty, as it turns out. I think my son has read this book 9, 10, 11 times, and I had read it about 1-1/2 times (what can I say--I'm a skimmer, and some parts of this book are rather painful). The part I'm going to quote is rather painful, and yet it's a part I didn't even notice until I decided to get the audiobook for last year's Thanksgiving pilgrimage out east. (By the way, it is an excellent audio book.)

Sometimes when I listen to a book, I notice parts of it that I didn't notice when I read the book. And so it was that I caught this passage, which is in the chapter, "Because Geometry Is Not A Country Somewhere Near France."

"All right, kids, let's get cracking," Mr. P said as he passed out the geometry books. "How about we do something strange and start on page one?"
I grabbed my book and opened it up.
I wanted to smell it.
Heck, I wanted to kiss it.
Yes, kiss it.
That's right, I am a book kisser.
Maybe that's kind of perverted or maybe it's just romantic and highly intelligent. 
But my lips and I stopped short when I saw this written on the inside front cover.


Okay, now you're probably asking yourself, "Who is Agnes Adams?"
Well, let me tell you. Agnes Adams is my mother. MY MOTHER! And Adams is her maiden name.
So that means my mother was born an Adams and she was still an Adams when she wrote her name in that book. And she was thirty when she gave birth to me. Yep, so that means I was staring at a geometry book that was at least thirty years older than I was. 
I couldn't believe it.
How horrible is that?
My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. That is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.
And let me tell you, that old, old, old, decrepit geometry book hit my heart with the force of a nuclear bomb. My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud. What do you do when the world has declared nuclear war on you?

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I--and my kids--have never had 30-year-old geometry books. So may it always be.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Administrative Cuts: Easy to Be Hard

Recently, I had two conversations with people who are actively involved in the school district about the district's administrative costs. Neither person works for the district.

One person told me that he feels the district is very hard pressed to get anything done because they have cut so much administrative staff, perhaps too much.
Another person said to me, at one of the recent budget forums, "What do all these administrators do?" [There were an awful lot of administrators at the budget forums. I assume they had been directed to be there.]

I don't know this for sure, but I think that the second commenter's opinion is more common in the district, and of course, I've been curious myself as to whether the district had actually cut a lot of administrative staff.

So, back in the summer, I asked the Ann Arbor school district for information on administrative staffing during the 2005-2006 year and the 2010-2011 school year. It was my first ever FOIA request! (And it really wasn't that hard to submit--thanks Ed Vielmetti for all those FOIA Friday posts.)

The reason that I picked 2005-2006 as my baseline was that I had heard that it was the year that the district got the most per-pupil funding. (Not true, as it turns out--that was 2008-2009.) It also gave me a five-year span to compare.
In 2005-2006, per-pupil funding was $9,409;
in 2008-2009 per-pupil funding was $9,723;
and in 2010-2011 per-pupil funding was $9,490.
But per-pupil funding has fallen to $9,020 in 2011-2012, which brings us back to 2001-2002 in actual dollars (not taking into account inflation).

Anyway, I digress. I asked for information about administrative salaries during 2005-2006 and 2010-2011--everything from the assistant principal level on up. As you shall see, I might have asked for the wrong thing. It's still interesting data, though! What I got was the district's "Cabinet" (Superintendent plus top administrators), all the principals and assistant principals, and the athletic directors--who are considered to be at an assistant principal level.

By using 2010-2011 instead of 2011-2012 I got actual staffing expenses rather than budgeted expenses. I also have the (lower) Superintendent's salary of 2010-2011.

In 2005-2006, the district had 20 elementary schools, 1 K-8 school, 5 middle schools, and 5 high schools. Five years later, the district has the same configuration, except that now Skyline High School has been built and has three of its grades.  And based on my notes below (which I put into a table for you), it doesn't seem like very much administration has been cut at all. But that might be due to me asking for the "wrong" things.

First of all, it's hard to compare the Cabinet. Each superintendent decides who should be in the cabinet, and the cabinet has been significantly reconfigured. For example, currently there is a Director of Physical Properties in the cabinet--that is Randy Trent. His position was made cabinet level after two lower-level positions (of which he had one) were combined into one position following someone's retirement. In 2005 there was nobody from special education services in the cabinet, and now there is--which is definitely a good thing for special education services. In 2005, I believe that all legal work was done on contract. Now we have a legal voice (David Comsa) in the cabinet. All cabinet positions are non-union.

But--why do the cabinet level position pay increases exceed the increases of the unionized administrative staff?  That seems wrong. And I believe that the district just filled at least two fairly high-level administrative positions. I wonder how their pay compares.

Second of all, I only asked for the positions of assistant principals on up.
There were, I believe, several positions in administration cut, but they were obviously at levels below what I requested in my FOIA request. At the levels I requested, it doesn't look like there has been very much administrative cutting at all. It does look like the raises--below the cabinet level--have been reasonable (and at a rate less than inflation).

What happens when one gets raises at a rate less than inflation is that one constantly feels like one is getting cut. While this is true in terms of adjusted dollars, in terms of actual dollars it is not a true cut. The same thing is happening with principals, in a different way. I know that Pioneer and Huron *feel* like they have lost a lot of asst. principal positions. Really, those positions have gotten transferred to Skyline, and the ratio of principals to high school students at the big schools is fairly stable. 

In this data, it is also possible to see some areas where there could--and probably should--be changes.

1. Skyline has an athletic coordinator and not an athletic director (therefore, he doesn't show up on this chart) because I was told that the plan is that, after one of the other ADs retires there will only be one AD and two athletic coordinators. Here's how I think about it. The Athletic Directors are at the level of Asst. Principals, and every year there are asst. principal positions open. Why not move one of the ADs into an assistant principal position now and replace her or him with a lower-level athletic coordinator? Why wait until someone decides to retire? If we only need one athletic director, why wait?

2. Should a couple of schools be closed? Candidates that would come to mind to me: Pittsfield (size--disperse the school. Downside:  it does draw a huge number of kids from the neighborhood); Mitchell (make Scarlett a K-8); Scarlett (without Mitchell--disperse the school to the other middle schools); Ann Arbor Technical School.

3. Could assistant principals be only part-time principals and work in the classroom?

4. Now that the comprehensive high schools are so much smaller, do we need as many assistant principals as we have? Could we live with one principal and only one or two assistant principals at these schools?

5. Does the preschool need a full-time principal?








Number of Students



Down 327 students
The preschool nearly doubled in size from 95 to 162 but that doesn’t show up in this per-pupil funding count. It does, however, have separate funding. Both times, Pittsfield is the smallest elementary school and Scarlett is the smallest middle school.

Per-Pupil Funding

$9,409/ student

$9,490/ student


That increase does not cover inflation

Number of Cabinet Level Staff



See text

The Superintendent chooses who should be in the cabinet. All these positions are non-union.

High School Principals



Skyline opened

Huron, Pioneer, Community, Clemente, Stone, and then Skyline

High School Asst. Principals



In 2010-2011, Huron had an asst. principal who retired partway through the year and wasn’t replaced. Both counts include Athletic Directors at Huron and Pioneer. Skyline has only an Athletic Coordinator.

Middle School Principals




Middle School Assistant Principals




See elementary school notes

Preschool, Elementary, K-8 Principals




In 2010, the Mitchell principal was pulled out of the school to organize the Mitchell/Scarlett K-8 program for a year and is still counted in this count.

Pay Range for Assistant Principals

$86,660-$97,705 (103,200)


+5% to 6% over 5 years

I think in 2005-2006 one asst. principal was getting a principal’s salary based on past service.

Pay Range for Principals



+2% to 6% over 5 years
2005-2006 Comprehensive HS principals: $120,470
2010-2011 Comprehensive HS principals: $127,840

Pay Range for Cabinet



Increases up to 12% for staff who were in the cabinet at both times.

*Excludes Director of Communications who sits on cabinet but is paid significantly lower rate.

Superintendent Salary

$144,200 (Fornero)
(Roberts, then Allen)


Roberts left part way through the year and the interim supt. was paid the same rate. 2011-2012 Supt. Green’s salary is about $245,000. Compared to 2005-2006, that is an increase of 70%.

Budget Ideas: Forums and Beyond

I was looking at my cell phone bill, and the bill was higher than I expected, because the "usage" was higher than expected. Uh oh. We have four phones on our account, and I immediately assumed that it was my college-age son, because we've had some over-usage issues before. But I thought we had resolved them. So I took a look at the bill, and it turns out that the culprit was. . . my husband! Which was a nice reminder to me that there is a reason we collect data, and that reason is that it (hopefully) enables us to make more intelligent decisions. In the case of the cell phone overuse mystery, that meant calling attention to the issue with my husband, not my son.

In the case of school budgets, it means using the data that is available. With that in mind, I've had ideas for budget cuts, and so have lots of other people, and some of those ideas--when scrutinized with data in hand--might turn out to be really really good ideas or really really bad ideas.

By the way, I'm all for lobbying the state to get more money from the school aid fund, or to change the way school retirements are funded. I just don't think we can plan on those issues resolving as the solution. I'm also hoping that we will try for another countywide enhancement millage.

I'm going to share some of my ideas, and some of the ideas that I thought sounded intriguing. Given the size of the needed cuts (probably $14 million!) and the size of the school budget (close to $200 million), the cuts needed are large but not super-large (7% of the budget).

So, for instance: given the number of staff involved in the school district, it seems likely that some of the cuts will need to come from the staff end. I need data to better understand a) how much have employees already given up in concessions? b) how much would we save for every increase in class size? In other words, if high school classes go up on average by one student, what would that save?

Some ideas that I heard from other people that intrigued me: 

If the school day were lengthened, but the number of days in school shortened, would that save money? How much? [What if it were the other way, and the school day were shortened, but the number of days in school lengthened?]

Over the past several years, Rec & Ed has moved from a department that was heavily subsidized to a department that stands (financially) on its own. I was intrigued by someone's idea that perhaps Rec & Ed could turn into a department that brought in money to the district, and I wondered: a) (how) could that happen and b) do any other Rec & Ed departments in other districts do that successfully?

Would it be possible to ramp up fundraising from Ann Arbor school alumni? What would that cost to get started, and what could we expect to make in income?

Does the district own property that it should sell or lease?

Here are some of my ideas--I don't know if they are feasible--that's what data is for--but don't dismiss them out of hand: 

If we open the district high schools as schools of choice, how would our income increase? What would be a reasonable expectation? Is there a downside to that?

Would we save money if we closed Ann Arbor Technical High School (formerly Stone School) and worked with those students on a six-month GED program? Or would that cost us more money because we would lose those students from the almighty per-pupil count? How much would we gain or lose?

Would we save money if Skyline High School went to a semester system (block scheduled or traditional schedule). I have other reasons for wanting this, but in the budget savings area, I have this idea that if every school used semesters, we could set things up so that some schools offer some (more unusual) offerings. For instance, right now, Skyline is the only school to offer Chinese. What if only Pioneer offered Latin? We could have students inter-enrolling, with a midday bus (including Community), but no inter-school buses at other times of the day. So just as a student could now split-enroll at Huron and Community, they could split-enroll at Huron and Skyline, in order to take classes only offered at one school. Would that save money on a) transportation; b) class consolidation?

My sister's kids go to school in Newton, Massachusetts. It seems that many of the districts in the Boston suburbs do not provide any daily substitutes for high school students. (They do provide long-term subs, and short-term subs for K-8.) If a teacher is out for a day with the flu, those students go to a study hall, held in a large room with one supervising person--not a teacher--for up to 4 classes worth of students.  (The kids, by the way, love this, because they often get a chance to do their homework during school hours.) It would be worth looking at these districts to see if that is something we could adopt, because it would certainly save a lot of money. (How much?) Don't dismiss this out of hand. Newton schools are similar in many ways to Ann Arbor schools.

Scarlett Middle School's building is large enough to combine Scarlett and Mitchell into a K-8 school, in the single building. It is already a goal to have a K-8 campus, and this would allow us to save on the cost of a principal, heating costs, etc. Plus, it has been my observation that one of the attractions of Ann Arbor Open (which has a long waiting list) is the K-8 option. What would we save by closing Mitchell?  What if we turned that school into a magnet school? Would that cost money or save money?

What is an appropriate ratio of a principal to students at the middle and high school level. Should some of the middle schools not have an assistant principal, or only have half of an assistant principal? Can an assistant principal be half-time and also teach a couple of classes? Does that violate any union contract? Is that negotiable?

What if we offered fewer sports? At the middle school level, would we save money by having only three or four seasons of sports instead of five?

Could a district-wide volunteer coordinator utilize parent volunteers to help with administrative tasks? For instance, I know several parents who work in statistical or financial units at UM and have very high-level skills. Instead of asking those parents to volunteer at a school fundraiser, could we put them to work for the district? Maybe parents who work in development could help ramp up a development campaign targeted at alumni. This would obviously require coordination.

Then, of course, there are the ever-present questions:

What do all those administrators do? Is the district really a lean machine, as they tried to represent at the budget forums, or is there still some fat at the administrative level? (I will try to analyze this, next.)

What are other districts doing? Let's analyze what they have done, and see if there are ideas out there that we should adopt.

Last, but not least:

Did we evaluate the purported budget savings from past years, and see if the plans met their targets? Did any of them exceed their targets? Which fell short?

AAPS: How and when are you going to roll out additional information? How are you going to involve parents?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From Michigan Parents for Schools: Act Today on Charter Schools Cap

From Michigan Parents for Schools:
We need your help! Speak out against dropping the charter cap today!
Charter school bill to move soon [updated]
Take Action!

Contact House Education Committee members today!

Dear Friends,

Our community-governed public schools need your help.

As most of you know, Michigan Parents for Schools has been following a package of bills that would remove nearly all limits on charter schools, "cyber" charters and other forms of publicly-financed charter education. The first and probably most important bill in the package, Senate Bill 618, has already passed the Senate and is likely to be voted on in the House Education Committee shortly after the Thanksgiving break.

[Update: Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc), who has been chair of the House Education Committee, lost a recall election on November 8. As a result, his seat is temporarily vacant, and the new interim chair of the education committee is Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills), widely considered one of the most conservative members of the House. It's not clear how quickly the committee will conclude its work on SB 618.]
For our analysis of the bill, please read this article and the attached document; for our Senate testimony on the bill, please read this article.
We have testified before the committees in both the Senate and the House in opposition to the bill, and we have already asked you to contact your state Senator about this legislation. We'd like to ask you to contact your Representative today, asking them to urge their colleagues on the Education Committee to set the bill aside or at least agree to critical amendments that would ensure this legislation would not end up devastating our public schools.

Why do we oppose this bill?

The bill removes all numerical and geographical limits on charter schools, but does little to ensure that new charters actually deliver a better education. Research in Michigan and nation-wide shows that only a small percentage of charters do better than similar public school districts.

The bill makes no effort to mitigate the financial damage and stress more charter schools would inflict on our community-governed schools, caused by our rigid system of per-pupil funding.

Instead of focusing on improving education for all children, the bill focuses on allowing a select few families to "escape" - and makes it easier for unaccountable, private for-profit companies to make a tidy profit on the backs of our children in the process.

What do we support?

We support a renewed effort to make sure that all children have excellent educational choices, beginning with giving our public schools the resources and funding they need to serve their student populations well.

We support efforts to foster innovation inside our community-governed public schools as well as outside.

We support rules that will ensure that all schools funded by the people of Michigan are focused on providing a quality education rather than generating a profit. We demand measures to guarantee that public money is being used for a public purpose.

We expect some lawmakers on the House committee to offer amendments to the bill which would accomplish at least some of these things. Most critical, in our view, is an end to public funding for charter "management companies" that are private, for-profit firms which are not at all accountable to the public. These firms need not open their books, or even report the profits they make on operating charter schools (which have been reported to be around $1,000 per student in some cases).

Please join us in insisting that our lawmakers focus on creating excellent educational opportunities for all students rather than business opportunities for private entities to profit on the backs of our children.

Use the link above in this message to contact your Representative today!

Steven Norton
Executive Director, Michigan Parents for Schools

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Post-Budget Forum Thoughts

I was at one of the AAPS budget forums that happened over the past week, but in case you were not, you can brief yourself in two parts.

Part I: Download the budget presentation information from the Ann Arbor schools website. It's a pdf found (right now) on the front page. [I still haven't figured out how to set a pdf link from a mac without having the pdf automatically save to my computer. I'll take pointers though!]

Part II: Read the excellent summaries of both budget forums in the Ann Arbor Chronicle.
Budget Forum #1 (Thursday)
Budget Forum #2 (Monday)

Feel free to make comments on the article too--somehow the City happenings always seem to get more comments than the School happenings, and that kind of bums me out. [Also, think about subscribing to the Chronicle so they can keep up this excellent coverage.]

Now that you've briefed yourself, here are a few thoughts.

1. I, like almost everyone in the room, was surprised by the amount that we have to contribute to the state retirement funds--an amount that has been accelerating, and probably will accelerate even more as more and more teachers retire (without hiring replacements) and as more school employees (statewide) have their jobs outsourced, which means they don't contribute to the retirement fund anymore.  In other words, fewer employees are supporting an ever-larger retiree pool.

2. There was disagreement at my table as to whether the principal-sharing idea last year was proposed as a genuine suggestion or as a red herring. I maintain that it was proposed as something that the district leadership knew would not be tolerated, and as a distraction, it allowed other proposals (the changes in bus transportation, for instance) to go practically unnoticed. Some people at my table disagreed with me, and felt it was sincerely offered. So I'd suggest to the district--if it was a red herring, don't do that again--treat parents and taxpayers as equals. And if it wasn't a red herring, then I'd ask the district staff to be more thoughtful in proposing this kind of thing, and in actually vetting the savings. If the district had gone to principal sharing, then we undoubtedly would have lost some kids out of the district, so what would the net savings have been?

3. There was clearly an emphasis on getting people to recognize that the state contains the power to change the school funding formulas, and that we should work on influencing the state. Obviously, that is true, but it also seems slightly diversionary to the budget forum work on the immediate problem.

4. I had hoped to see more of Pat Green in action. She did give the introduction but mostly Robert Allen (former interim superintendent, and whom I like) did the presentation. There were a gazillion administrators there--okay, maybe not a gazillion, but close to fifteen--and my friend said to me, "What do all these administrators do?" And I wondered why so many of them were there. Did they need administrators to be facilitators? Is that how we spend our administrative time? The district always says they don't spend a lot on administration, but I left feeling that the district really needs to explain what the administrative staff does, and which of those services are required by state, federal, or local law.

5. Let's take a look at the budget cuts over the last several years (this is taken from the budget presentation):

I'm not completely clear as to how these budget reductions are calculated and I would like some explanation of it. Do the numbers represent the savings/cuts the district thought would happen, or the actual savings? I was also really surprised at the way in which staff reductions were so high, but employee concessions were so low. I think a lot of the staff reductions came from outsourcing/privatization but I'm not sure about that.

If we were to use the county budget as a comparison, the county has a general fund budget close to $100 million, and this year they hoped to cut up to $8 million in employee concessions.  (Information taken from this article in the Chronicle.)
The schools budget is almost twice as large, but the employee concessions appear to have been much smaller--at least based on this chart. The relatively low amount of employee concessions suggests a few things: maybe the district didn't ask for them soon enough, or maybe they didn't ask for them deep enough. And maybe they were asking for the wrong things in the past. I say this, because it's hard to keep going back for concessions over and over. It's especially hard when the new superintendent is starting with a large salary (and so it will be hard for her to do the negotiating unless she leads by example.) In any case, maybe it would be helpful for the schools to set and share a $$ target for employee concessions.

It would also be good to show the cuts as a percentage of the line item. In other words, if over the past few years 1.5 million was cut from the athletics budget, was that a 2% cut or a 20% cut?

Obviously there are a lot of strong feelings about increasing class size. I'd like to know, can we increase some class sizes (say, upper level high school classes) and keep the line on others (say, 9th grade English?) How much would we save for every single student increase? If high school classes went from an average of 28-30 to an average of 29-31, would that save $1 million? $100,000?

If we open the district high schools as schools of choice, how would our income increase? What would be a reasonable expectation?

Would we save money if we closed Ann Arbor Technical High School (formerly Stone School) and worked with those students on a six-month GED program? Or would that cost us more money because we would lose those students from the almight per-pupil count? How much?

You get the idea. I'm looking forward to those estimates. . .

Last, but not least, I'm sure the administrative staff has their own ideas about how to get to $14 million. I'd like to see their ideas, along with ours. I don't think the budget forums adequately captured my ideas (and maybe not yours either), so I'll hope to be posting some ideas soon...

But next week, look for some Thanksgiving-related posts.