Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Few, Quick Budget Thoughts This Week

I don't have a lot of time to write this week, but here are a couple of thoughts.

1. As a parent at my table at the budget meeting said on Monday (and I agree), "It's important that we don't start ganging up on each other for our own personal interests."

2. It's important that we keep demading answers from an administration that seems not to have very much supporting detail in their proposals. Keep asking for the details. So you want to cut the middle school athletic directors? What is the plan for getting that work done? Who is going to hire and supervise coaches? Schedule fields and games? Is it feasible?

3. I was surprised to hear, the other night, that the staff (well-represented at my table) felt that they weren't able to get information either. That sucks, but it's also poor management. We have a superintendent who is very "green" to the district (pun intended), and much of the cabinet is new. There is a lot of institutional memory in the schools, but apparently there is not much information flow. That does not bode well for implementation of any changes.

4. It seemed to me that there were a fair number of budget cuts that nobody had a problem with. Adjust the starting times of Skyline, or Bryant/Pattengill, by 15 or 20 minutes, to make it easier to coordinate transportation? Go for it. Phase 5 Energy Conservation Services? Awesome.

5. I didn't even hear that much grumbling about cutting 32 teachers, given that most of them would be cuts from retirements--and let's remember that although Plans A, B, and C were presented as cuts of 32, 48, or 64 teachers, it's not really a fixed number. We could agree to have 36 teachers cut instead of 32 or 48. . .

The areas I have been hearing the most conversations about:
1. Closing Roberto Clemente. My questions: Why are we discussing this with six weeks left in the school year? This should be part of a much longer planning process. Why am I hearing *rumors* that Clemente would be put into a wing of Pioneer? Why does Ann Arbor Tech survive over Clemente? How many kids have identified special education needs at Clemente? Who are we trying to serve? One thing I've wondered is, although on paper the Ann Arbor Tech and Clemente students look kind of similar, are they really functionally different populations? Is the Ann Arbor Tech population an older, less-tied-to-a-family kind of population? And please, please, please: can the schools detail where those supposed savings would come from? I've asked for the details, but I haven't gotten it yet.

2. Cutting busing to Ann Arbor Open, Community High School, Skyline, and Roberto Clemente. My questions: Is it legal to cut busing to the magnet programs, but maintain busing for non-public schools like St. Francis? These are magnet programs, not "schools of choice." How many kids would you lose from Skyline, Ann Arbor Open, Community, Roberto Clemente if it was legal and this was done? Would your savings be erased by that? (Skyline did lose about twenty students last year just from the reductions that were made at the beginning of the year.)

3. Cutting middle school athletic directors. It's scheduled to save a miniscule amount of money ($37,000) and how will middle school athletics continue? I'm not saying that it can't, or won't, but I haven't seen any plan. More distressing? The middle school athletic directors have not seen any plan. Even more distressing? From the last round of budget cuts, they had developed a list of possible cuts--but nobody asked them to share the list.

Read these articles, if you haven't already.
From the Ann Arbor Chronicle: 

Budget Forum #2 (May 14, 2012)
May 9th AAPS Board Meeting
Budget Forum #1 (May 7, 2012)


Possible Transportation Cuts
Budget Forum #2 (May 14, 2012)
May 9th AAPS Board Meeting

By the way, as late as these budget presentations are, I think they would have been even later if Board of Education member Christine Stead had not kept asking for the budget presentation to come earlier. Christine also has a blog post detailing a revenue conference about the School Aid Fund that took place in Lansing today. The news is not good. You have to understand this in the context that there are some parts of the state legislature that simply want to destroy public schools. We have let them get the upper hand and they are doing a pretty good job at it. In addition to dealing with individual districts' budget issues, we need to operate on a second cylinder that works on influencing the shenanigans at the state Capitol.

Bottom Line: Keep talking to the school board. Email them at


  1. Copying my comment from the Chronicle:

    I am dismayed that we always seem to be in a “reactive” position to these ongoing cuts. We have a structural deficit, and massive cuts will happen every year in perpetuity until Lansing fixes our funding structure, including pension funding. Until then, we do this every year. We wait until the spring, then scramble around like crazy trying to find cuts.

    Why are we not being proactive? The alternative and magnet programs in the district attract families and have extremely high success rates. Why are we not increasing these types of options? How about, next fall, we take a look at ADDING a K-8 language magnet (Arabic? Spanish? Chinese?). How many families currently outside the district in charters and private schools might come back for something like this? What if we took a currently under-enrolled and/or under-performing building and transformed it in this way? If we fill up a building, and bring in more students, we make more money. We have happy, satisfied families and students. We have high achieving students. We are not continually behind the eight-ball, thinking about cutting the very programs that are most successful. Someone mentioned that Clemente is not fully enrolled. Is this true? Can we make it a school of choice? It is extremely successful as well.

  2. I totally agree.

    Plus I think if the schools administration had asked for feedback and ideas (about busing, middle school athletics, etc.) there would have been a lot less "drama" and better outcomes too.

    And I hope that the school board hears that loud and clear. I understand Pat Green's evaluation is coming up soon.

  3. As you probably know by now, the board chose to leave Clemente the way it is for another year and in the meantime to a full evaluation of both that program and A2 Tech. While the test scores at both programs don't look good, other kinds of data hasn't really been assembled. I'm hopeful that this will spark a constructive conversation.

    But to answer one of your questions, Ruth, the savings from re-locating Clemente would have come half from simply mothballing the building (and removing custodial costs) and half from potentially combining admin for both A2 Tech and Clemente (in other words, eliminate one principal and main office staff). At the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday, officials presented various options they had explored, including simply re-locating Clemente to space at A2 Tech or Pioneer, blending the program with A2 Tech, or distributing the program to all the comprehensive schools. All of this is off the table for now, of course.

  4. About transportation - I may well be wrong, but my impression is that the only transport AAPS is obligated to provide to non-public schools is for special ed students. Otherwise, if they are offering transportation to other schools, I am certain that it's not for free. (Of course, now, it's not AAPS running the system, but WISD. We can only cut things that we are paying for directly.)

  5. Steve--you're wrong about the non-public transportation. I can't tell you why, but 380-1321 states that if a public school district offers transportation to, say, all elementary school students in the district, that they must transport to all PUBLIC and NON-PUBLIC elementary schools within the
    parameters outlined by the district for walk-zone and safety issues. Because charters are their own public schools, it doesn't apply to them (they are like their own districts).

    As for Clemente, I did put in a FOIA request for that information. Haven't gotten it yet. I'm not sure why. . . but I'm happy that the outcome is a longer-term planning process. And I hope they look at more than test scores in the evaluation of both schools.

  6. So AAPS pays for busing to private schools??? How is this possible? Who thinks this is reasonable?

  7. Hey, don't blame the messenger!

    My guess (STRICTLY a guess) is that the law about non-public schools has been around for a really long time, and was intended to support parochial schools. It is yet another thing that could be discussed with the state. But as far as I'm concerned, the issues with the school aid fund and retirements are more important discussions to have.

  8. Ruth is right. Public schools don't have to offer transportation, but if they do, they have to transport non-public school students within the district's boundaries.

    Another thing...when you email boe address, you will reach all of the members, but often only receive an official response from Board secretary Andy Thomas. If you email individual addresses, you have a higher chance of receiving responses from individual members.