Cuts, new revenue proposed as public weighs in on budget

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From AAPSNews Service

Ann Arbor school officials will consider reducing staff pay based on a negotiated agreement, eliminating teaching and administrative posts, and looking at alternative approaches to things like media center services, as the district works on a budget shortfall estimated at $21 million heading into the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

About 100 community members gather on Jan. 7 with school officials at Huron High School to discuss ways to trim the Ann Arbor schools budget. Additional meetings are scheduled for Jan. 12 at Skyline High School, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School and Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School. All meetings start at 6:30 p.m.
About 100 community members gather on Jan. 7 with school officials at Huron High School to discuss ways to trim the Ann Arbor schools budget. Additional meetings are scheduled for Jan. 12 at Skyline High School, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School and Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School. All meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

Information was given last week during the first of four scheduled budget meetings to gain public feedback and discuss possible budget reductions. The second meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12 at Skyline High School.

Privatizing transportation and custodial operations, consolidating busing operations with other Washtenaw school districts, making changes with alternative high school programs at Stone School and Roberto Clemente Center and charging participation fees for athletics are also on the table as options, officials said last week.

Officials also discussed offering more seats in the district’s schools of choice program and promoting the district’s high school Options Magnet as a way to draw more students and revenue to the district.

About 100 community members braved the winter’s first large snowfall Jan. 7 to come to the first of four scheduled budget sessions at Huron High School, where officials proposed a laundry list of ways to balance the budget in light of state funding cuts already made and more that are expected.

“This will be refined based on the feedback we receive,” Superintendent Todd Roberts told the group.

The changes proposed by the district Thursday could add up to more than $17 million in cuts or new revenue for the 2010-11 school year, according to numbers discussed Thursday by Roberts and Deputy Superintendent for Operations Robert Allen.

Roberts told the crowd that the district was forced to adjust the budget $2.6 million midyear after cuts were made at the state level. The proposals discussed Thursday would include some of the same cuts, plus many more to make up the projected shortfall for the coming year.

“The biggest hope is that the state will level off and funding will remain flat,” Roberts said. “But that’s not a given.”

Allen said if no changes are made, the $22 million in the district’s fund equity – kept on hand for handling cash flow and other contingencies – would be exhausted by the end of next year. “But we’ve made cuts over the last four or five years and we certainly intend to continue to do that,” Allen added.

Members of the public took an hour after school officials presented their suggestions to discuss them and comment, with many saying they supported the proposals but wanted more details of how they might be implemented.

One parent suggested the district contact all of the families in the district who don’t send their children to The Ann Arbor Public Schools to find out why. Other suggestions included a review of schools to determine if any could be closed, looking to more philanthropic ways of approaching revenue and considering partnerships with the AATA bus service and the Ann Arbor District Library for services.

In addition to Tuesday’s meeting at Skyline, other meetings to get public input are scheduled Thursday, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School and Tuesday, Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School. All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. The meeting format includes a presentation by school leaders, with attendees breaking into discussion groups to talk about the proposals and make other suggestions.

A survey is also on the school district’s Web page asking for public feedback and suggestions. Visit and find the survey in the budget box on the right.

Some of the proposals made by the district include (details can be found on the budget section of the district’s Web page):
• Reviewing school capacities and increasing seats for non-district children to attend through schools of choice.
• Staff wage and benefit reductions, including reduction in overtime.
• Streamlining administrative functions, and reducing seven positions, including five at central office.
• Privatizing transportation or consolidating it with the 10 other Washtenaw County districts. A consolidated approach is currently being considered countywide.
• Consolidating bus stops, busing for middle and high school students together and increasing the walk zones for high school students.
• Privatizing custodial services.
• More efficiencies among elementary specialists and media specialists.
• Restructuring the English as a Second Language program.
• Making changes with two of the district’s alternative high schools, Stone School and the Roberto Clemente Center, that would provide the students needed instruction to met the new high school graduation requirements but modify these school budgets. A committee is currently reviewing this to make recommendations for change.
• No teacher staffing at middle school Planning Centers.
• More optional online class offerings that would require fewer traditionally staffed classrooms.
• Cutting utility costs through an analysis being doing throughout the district.
• Adding $150 per year at the high school and $50 per year at the middle school as a “pay to participate” fee for athletic programs.

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