Ann Arbor community pushes state legislators on school funding issues

2011-12 AAPS Budget Hearing

What: A public hearing on the 2011-12 Ann Arbor Public Schools budget is scheduled.
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 25.
Where: Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
Details: Copies of the proposed budget are on file with the Secretary of the Board of Education and can be reviewed at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State Street, Ann Arbor during regular business hours.

Download the proposed 2011-12 budget here.

Public Forum on Education

What: One of several regional education forums offering an opportunity for stakeholders to meet with Michigan Board of Education members, discuss education conditions, reform and budget proposals and the future direction of education in Michigan.
When: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, May 26.
Where: University of Michigan League Hussey Room, 911 N. University Ave.
Details: Full listings of regional forums an be found here. Participants are invited to make oral or written comments. Contact Marilyn Schneider, State Board of Education executive at or State Board of Education President John Austin at

From AAPSNews Service

Ann Arbor school officials have given state lawmakers a laundry list of ideas for specific action to assist public schools and the way they are funded.

And they have made it clear how angry they are about the state proposal to shift $900 million from the School Aid Fund to higher education. The School Aid Fund has always been used solely for K-12 schools funding, but proposals this year would change that.

When Proposal A was passed in 1994, “we were assured there would be a continuing and reliable form of funding,” said Ann Arbor Trustee Andy Thomas during a roundtable discussion at special Board of Education meeting at Pioneer High School on May 6. “This is a gross violation of the public trust.”

During an interview Friday on Michigan Public Radio, Snyder said that the action is “constitutionally allowed” and that he is proposing the use of the School Aid Fund in this manner for at least the next two years. He also said “we’ll have to address that,” when talking about school districts that have already taken action to consolidate service and cap costs and are still struggling.

Trustee Christine Stead represented the school board at the roundtable at Pioneer High School in asking state officials to:

  • Address the structural deficit – in Ann Arbor’s case that represents about several million dollars each budget year. Retirement costs can only be addressed at the state level; the increase this year will cost the district $5 million. “We get handed a percentage that we can do nothing about,” noted Stead. “Something has to be done and it can only be done at the state level.”
  • Reduce budget cuts for districts that have demonstrated cost-effective resource management – Ann Arbor has capped health care costs and consolidated many services with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District including substitute teaching, busing, International Baccalaureate program, and software. It is also implementing performance-based teacher and administrator compensation, Stead said.
  • Allow local districts authority to levy local property taxes for schools – Districts have not been allowed to do that since the passage of Proposal A, which moved the state from a local property tax-based system of funding schools to a centralized State Aid Fund which distributes taxes back to local districts. Stead noted that Ann Arbor is a “donor district” meaning that Ann Arbor district residents pay more property tax money to the state than is returned to Ann Arbor Public Schools each year.
  • Revise rules for Sinking Fund dollars to give districts more flexibility in spending – Currently, rules allow Sinking Fund dollars to be used only for purchasing, completing, remodeling or repairing facilities, site acquisition of improvement and technology infrastructure.
  • Allocate any additional funding available to the School Aid Fund to offset proposed reductions – Stead said that money should come to public schools instead of being put in a state “rainy day” fund. “We are not able to raise tuition (as universities and colleges can),” she noted.
  • Implement performance-based funding and student count day adjustments for public charter schools – Stead said many charter schools encourage students attendance for student count days (allowing them to get state funding) and then send students back to their home public school districts which do not get compensated. “Please look at that, hold them accountable and help us out here,” she said.
  • Implement a value-based budgeting approach for school districts that make progress in closing the achievement gap and have high-performing students based on graduation rates and student testing scores.

State legislators representing the AAPS area including state Sen. Rebekah Warren and state Reps David Rutledge of the 54th District, Mark Ouimet of the 52nd District, Jeff Irwin of the 53rd District and Rick Olson of the 55th District all attended and took part in the discussion.

The Legislative Roundtable session was taped by CTN Channel 18 and is scheduled to be rebroadcast on Monday, May 16 at 10 p.m., Tuesday, May 17 at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Wednesday, May 18 at noon.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot told parents and community members to continue the fight. “If we don’t do something different, we’re going to have structural changes,” she said. “Keep the letters coming, keep the e-mails coming, keep the protesting coming. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Added board Vice President Susan Baskett:  “Make noise. We are in a dire strait here.”

The roundtable agenda included a budget history of Ann Arbor schools, what Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget and legislative action means for the district, a discussion of reforms and time for public comment.

Snyder has proposed decreasing state school spending by at least $470 per student, while the Senate plan would drop that to $340 per student and the House per-pupil decreases would range from $426 to $467. The final education budget must be worked out between legislative committees of both chambers and the governor.

Irwin and Rutledge voted against the state House measure that passed on May 5; Olson and Ouimet voted in favor of the cuts. Rutledge called the measure a “divide and conquer plan” and said it was a strategic decision. “I think it was by design – to pit you (K-12 public education and higher education) against each other,” he told Ann Arbor officials. “It is a betrayal of trust.”

Last month, Ann Arbor officials revealed cost-cutting measures to fill a $15.1 million budget deficit for next year, including the elimination of 70 teaching positions and the elimination of high school transportation. A proposal to combine the principals of four elementary schools was taken off the table by the board at its May 11 meeting after concerns were raised by elementary parents; officials said they would need to find the money elsewhere.

“We’re looking at overall increased class sizes,” noted Interim Superintendent Robert Allen. “We’re no longer able to keep the cuts out of the classroom.”

The district has cut $34.4 million from its general operating budget in the past five years. Allen said under Proposal A, 70 percent of revenue raised in the Ann Arbor community funnels through the state to other districts, yielding a reduction of $52 million in general fund dollars since 1994.

Brit Satchwell, an AAPS middle school math teacher and president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, the district’s teachers union, made an impassioned plea to state legislators. “We have no need to be pitted one interest against the other,” he said. “It’s time the legislature paid attention to us and got us out of this structural deficit.”

Steve Norton, an Ann Arbor parent and president of the Michigan Parents for Schools, called the state action raiding the School Aid Fund “shameful.”

“The funds for the School Aid Fund have not been adequate to fund K-12 education,” he said. “They have fallen for a decade. We have believed that prosperity must come before good schools rather than the other way around.”

Parent Scott Ellsworth, who teaches History at the University of Michigan, noted “a good school system is how we define ourselves as a society. Every great society … had a good, solid school system. That’s where it begins.” He encouraged state legislators to give local districts the power to raise money and the “tools to do the job.”

Olson said a May 16 state revenue estimating conference will put a more realistic face on tax revenue numbers and allow the state to move forward with final education budget decisions.

Note: 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.

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