Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 AAPS Board Candidate: Jack Panitch

Read more about Jack Panitch at:

Staff morale has been an issue in the school district. How do you think the board should monitor and respond to staff morale issues, if at all? Given that the majority of district staff are teachers, should teachers be treated differently (better OR worse) than other staff people in the district?

Morale issues are real and critically important.  Our teachers have shown patience time-after-time while District Administration works toward a better future for all.  The promise of a better future and flexibility on non-economic bargaining terms diminishes good will.  This particular effect of legislatively induced funding anemia is crucial to address now during talks about annexation.  Bringing Whitmore Lake teachers up to the Ann Arbor pay scale is important: entering this new relationship with an "us" and "them" mentality would create new morale issues over time.  Still, this part of the proposal is controversial, as, once again, we have to ask our AAPS teachers, to be patient and assess the issue on its merits, so that we can work toward that "better future" that never seems to come.  Go or no-go, neither alternative provides a present benefit, so the choice augments the political crisis, but the outcome won’t change a thing about AAPS teachers’ take-home pay or benefits.

So, we have to frame the need for continued present sacrifice to explain it in clearer terms.  The alternative is the compromised future of a generation of AAPS school kids and their teachers, as the K-12 population begins to reduce and we have to cut to the bone again to address it.  If we change our District’s footprint and place it closer to the edge of northern population centers, this does not have to be our future.  We may not like Schools-of-Choice, but we know that if we do not take advantage of it, we shrink.  The appropriate perspective is a future of cutting important programs and the attendant community strife, versus a picture of self-reliance and sustainability.  The best way to show support for our teachers is a renewed, broad-based coalition for K-12 funding advocacy in Lansing, coupled with maximized use of the dollars we have.  That approach would better recognize Ann Arbor teachers’ selfless contributions and sacrifices.

Educator effectiveness law treats teachers differently than other staff people in the District.  We need to advocate for our teachers as best we can to reduce the importance of standardized tests in this equation, or no educator will want to teach the kids who need the most support.

What is your position on the amount of standardized testing currently conducted by AAPS (Too much, just right, too little)? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are not state-mandated? What is your attitude toward parents opting out their students from standardized tests that are state-mandated?

I support the proposition that, subject to the requirements of state or federal law, parents should be able to decide unilaterally whether their children are subjected to standardized testing.  There should be an informed choice requirement, though.

Aside from the budget, what are your two top priorities for the Ann Arbor schools?

Achievement and ensuring that all students receive a quality education.  For example, supports need to be established to ensure that at-risk students are represented among IB diploma recipients. Ensuring that new curriculum for new initiatives is effective, high quality and aligned with this community’s decision of how to achieve a quality education for each of its students on her or his chosen educational pathway is also crucial.

What is your opinion regarding the annexation by AAPS of the Whitmore Lake school system? If you had to vote today, how would you vote? What's good about the annexation and what challenges do you anticipate if the annexation is approved?

I favor annexation.  Yes, our taxes would go up slightly (and it is appropriate to provide full disclosure that while taxes will only increase .25 mills, they were scheduled to decrease .19 mills, so the total difference is .44 mills) but we get in return: 
1) an enhanced footprint that provides us the opportunity to out-compete others in the Schools-of-Choice market and protect against future shrinkage and program cuts, despite the region’s overall forecast reduction in the K-12 population rate; 
2) students and buildings as part of a going educational concern; 
3) avoidance of a community economic and social disaster right on our border; and 
4) net additional cash of approximately $1.7 million, due to the rules for computing the post-annexation foundation allowance.  

If we stand by and allow Whitmore Lake to go through dissolution, we might get a few hundred students but at a foundation allowance that is lower than the per pupil amount we would receive through annexation (this is due to the lack of the hold harmless millage in WLPS), and we might get a building, based on proximity.  We need the entire WLPS district at a Foundation Allowance virtually equal to our current foundation allowance ($9,095, instead of $9,100), we need the enhanced footprint to compete for Schools-of-Choice students from northern population centers, and the longer we wait, the less direct and immediate control we will have, the less likely we will be able to accomplish a favorable result and the less attractive the task of accomplishing it will be.  Right now, we have complete local control over the outcome.  That won’t be the case if WLPS is dissolved.  The biggest challenge will be the process of incorporating two schools and two school communities into the Ann Arbor Public Schools system and ensuring a smooth transition.  This is a low impact event from our standpoint, but a complete change for these two learning communities (the two WLPS operating schools).

For much more analysis, please visit and click on “On the issues.”

Hindsight is perfect, but whether you are an incumbent, or not: Name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you think was a very good decision; and name one decision that the school board made in the last six months that you wish had been decided differently. (Incumbents may wish to say how they voted on that issue. It's ok if you changed your mind after the fact...)

The Board’s decision to increase its advocacy efforts in Lansing in the past six months is key for several reasons:

1)     It shows leadership in an advocacy role, and although we have to demonstrate solidly to our entire community and region that the Ann Arbor Public School District can live within its means, we have to advocate for a better funding mechanism and for reversal of the statewide disinvestment in K-12 education, the most important pillar of our democracy.  Our parents made and kept a promise to us, and now we are breaking that promise to our kids.  I am not about broken promises, and I’m inspired to see that the AAPS BOE, particularly incumbent Christine Stead and outgoing member Glenn Nelson, will fight as effectively as any advocate can for our kids.  I will also give a shout-out here to an unsung hero of mine, Steve Norton, Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools, who spends countless hours on advocacy for our children in Lansing, and I would like to ensure continued coordination and partnership of our community with his efforts.

2)     It shows support for State Board of Education President John Austin’s efforts to increase the Board’s role of leadership on educational issues under our Michigan Constitution.  The State Board is in the middle of a struggle with the Michigan legislature over framing the statewide discussion of a quality education and a stable means to fund it, and our entire community should be vigilant to jump in and support the Board in bringing an expert, non-partisan voice to the conversation.  Term-limited legislators will never develop the expertise necessary to guide this discussion to a meaningful conclusion without the leadership of the State Board and its extended network and partnerships with educational experts around the State, e.g. Professor Arsen and Dean Ball.

3)     Legislators need to bear in mind that the Ann Arbor Public School District and the excellence in educational programming it offers is critical to attracting talent to the region and ensuring that Ann Arbor continues its leadership in driving Michigan’s future prosperity.

I respectfully disagree with the Board’s decision on the $14,861 tuition rate for out-of-WISD or out-of-SOC-window students.  I also respectfully disagree with Trustees Baskett and Thomas that the rate should have been set even higher.  I would not charge a dollar over our actual cost of educating a student $11,889.  If there is a potential market for students of commuter parents out there, I believe we should be setting our tuition rates low to foster this market.

Assuming that you are elected, name one or two other board candidates that you would like to see serve beside you, and explain why.

I will honor the voters’ choice and work effectively and constructively with all of my colleagues, should the electorate accord me the privilege of serving this community.  In fact, whether or not the voters elect me, I will have the privilege of working constructively with all District officials.  I may be unique in this regard: if I lose, I win, because I would get to continue chairing the PTO Council.
But since you are directing us to select and explain the choice, and since I display my choices in my yard for the whole world to see, I’ll name two people: Christine Stead and Donna Lasinski.  We have each demonstrated a strong commitment to the Ann Arbor Public Schools, as well as a commitment to advocacy, a commitment to self-reliance and a commitment to fiscal responsibility.  Moreover, we know through four years of experience working together that we can rely on one-another to act under pressure as supportive and ego-free team members to do only that which is in the best interests of the students of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  We each have unique skills and experience, and that enhances our discussion.  We have a track record of effective leadership together as concerned parents, and we will leverage that leadership on behalf of our public schools community.

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