2011-12 budget cuts shared, May 6 roundtable with legislators planned

2nd AAPS budget forum is Thursday

What: A second budget forum on the 2011-12 Ann Arbor Public Schools budget
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28
Where: Skyline High School Commons Area. Skyline is located on North Maple Road north of the M-14 interchange.
Who: Members of the public are invited to attend the session, which includes a presentation from AAPS administrators and round-table discussions among attendees to generate discussion and ideas for budget savings
Details: Visit the school district’s website to download a PDF of the 2011-12 Proposed AAPS Budget Plan

Below: Board to host roundtable session with legislators on May 6

From AAPSNews Service

Note: This story originally published a May 5 date for the legislative meeting listed at the bottom of this story. The meeting will be on Friday, May 6.

Long-term changes to public school funding must be made at the state level to allow local districts to continue to operate in a healthy manner, Ann Arbor Public Schools Interim Superintendent Robert Allen said this week.

Allen warned this week that unless legislators in Lansing change the way schools are funded, the problem will persist year after year.

“You can’t cut your way of a structural deficit,” said Allen, who serves as the district’s operations and finance chief – a position he will return to on July 1 when new Superintendent Patricia Green takes the helm. “You’re going to cut your school district to a point where it won’t be attractive to the community.”

Allen encouraged the community to get involved with the state funding issue during the first of two budget sessions on Monday night. He also explained that the Ann Arbor district faces a $15 million deficit going into the 2011-12 year that begins on July 1 and he laid out a plan to save $14.4 million.

The district is searching for another $683,000 in cuts or new revenues and those attending the budget forums are being asked for their ideas. The Ann Arbor Board of Education must adopt a balanced budget by June 30.

Allen noted that the proposed savings do not include the impact from the May 3 special education millage renewal election, which represents $5.8 million to Ann Arbor. A loss of this countywide initiative would create a larger deficit, as more dollars would be taken out of local General Fund for these mandated services.

“If everyone of us does not vote ‘yes’ on May 3, we are in a much more drastic situation,” noted Amy Pachera, a parent and member of the county millage committee, who spoke to the group Monday night.

The district’s budget plan would reduce 79 positions including: 70 teaching posts, three paraprofessional positions and one support position at central office and moving one administrative post to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) grant funding. It would also reduce and combine four administration positions, moving one principal over Abbot and Wines elementary schools and another over Angell and Pittsfield elementaries.

The proposed plan includes a total of $7.1 million in reductions from instructional support services, $2.142 from operational expenses, $1.6 million savings in wages and benefits already negotiated and $1.275 in other districtwide expenses. It also projects $1.3 million in new revenue from 170 new students  in the district’s Schools of Choice program and from increased public parking fees at Pioneer High School on football Saturdays.

“With the structural deficit, we will find ourselves, year after year facing greater reductions,” Interim Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley told parents. “If funding changes in the state of Michigan, some of the proposals in front of you can change or be done differently. At this point in time, that is not the case. We’re trying to balance the budget as best as we know to do.”

The Ann Arbor Public Schools has cut $34 million from its operating budget in five years, including $18 million in the present fiscal year. Some of the lost staffing positions have been covered without layoffs in the past due to retirements; the district has lost 262 positions over the five-year period, Allen said.

“Eighty-five percent of our costs are in people,” he explained. “We’ve been able to achieve most of this through attrition. That gets harder and harder every year.”

About 100 members of the community and school officials who facilitated small group discussions attended Monday’s session. Another budget forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28 at Skyline High School.

From the small group breakouts came suggestions that the district involve more parents in discussion of elementary school principal pairings and that Ann Arbor look to other districts that have done creative things with less. There were also concerns about cuts to high school bus service and how it would impact low-income families who are not close to a public bus line or have no carpooling options. Concerns were also raised about proposed changes to noon-hour supervision, about the number of teaching positions proposed for reduction and that cuts might impact the desirability of the district.

Suggestions for more revenue included more corporate sponsorships, creating a standardized list of supplies and equipment to save money, better marketing of good things in the district, better customer service training for employees and privatizing some positions to alleviate rising retirements costs. It was also suggested that assistant middle school principals be shared, that the district’s Schools of Choice options be further expanded and that additional partnerships with universities be pursued. More distance learning was also suggested.

One parent noted that the district needed to consider more “open education” settings, saying that there is a demand in the community at elementary and middle school levels for programs such as those at Ann Arbor Open @ Mack and Community High School.

Dickinson-Kelley addressed the proposed pairing of principals, saying that the sharing of principals will be challenging, but noting that the district would increase office support and have a pool of teachers for greater flexibility at the schools.

“I am enormously proud of our schools … our teaching staff and our administrative staff” as the district works through the process, she said, adding that the current school funding climate “is going to require that we care for each other, because those resources are pretty tight.”

Two Ann Arbor school advocacy groups are also sending e-mail blasts relating to the school funding problem. Michigan Parents for Schools has an action alert up that allows residents from throughout Michigan to send messages to the governor, state senator and their state representative all in one step.  The alert and message form can be found here.

The Ann Arbor PTO Council Advocacy Committee is also alerting parents about school funding, asking them to pass out fliers, make calls and contact legislators to let Lansing hear from local parents on funding issues.

Editor’s Note: Once comments are compiled from the budget forums, they will be put up on the school district website www.a2schools.org. Watch the main home page for updates.


Board to host roundtable session with legislators

A session about state school funding with The Ann Arbor Board of Education and area legislators is scheduled for Thursday, May 5 Friday, May 6  from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Pioneer High School cafeteria.

The sessions will include a history of AAPS budget, Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget implications, ideas for reform and public commentary. The event will be telecast on CTN Education Channel 18.

Public comment time will be limited, so those wishing to speak are asked to sign up in advance at 734-994-2232.

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