October 5, 2014
Three Important Questions and The Story
The Decision – Ongoing Communication – AAPS Commitment
First, it is important to clarify that the purpose of this communication is not to persuade; the intent of this communication is to provide an informational update to our Ann Arbor Public Schools constituents regarding the Whitmore Lake Annexation proposal and to share the rationale for annexation.
You may recall that back in May when our Board of Education began this discussion, we promised to work to clarify information around key questions regarding annexation and, when we obtained answers, to communicate more thoroughly about the details of the proposed Whitmore Lake Annexation.
Annexation is an intricate subject, and our investigative work over previous months has been focused on fully understanding and confirming the salient facts; that due diligence process continues, with support from professionals with specific experience and expertise in this area.
Since late summer, we have maintained a Frequently Asked Questionsdocument, updating this with additional information regularly; for those who would like to read more background information, that document remains posted on the AAPS website at this link: http://www.a2schools.org/aaps/files/faqannex10-17-14.pdf
Throughout this process, the goal has been to ensure that our Ann Arbor community has accurate information and is prepared to make the best decision for our future. At this time, following significant developments over recent days, we now have additional information to share with the community.
Prior to 1958, Whitmore Lake Public Schools was a part of Ann Arbor Public Schools, so there is history and context behind the outreach of Whitmore Lake to Ann Arbor. After a brief, impromptu, exploratory discussion among a few board members from both districts, the public discussion of the current annexation proposal began on May 23, 2014 at a joint meeting of the two Boards of Education. AAPS and WLPS Trustees voted in a joint meeting on July 30, 2014 to place the Whitmore Lake annexation question on the November, 2014 ballot.
Three Important Questions and The Story
There exist three critical areas of questioning around which most inquiry regarding annexation is focused:
1) What will be the tax implications for Ann Arbor citizens?
2) What is the amount of Ann Arbor Public Schools post-annexation per pupil foundation allowance?
Will our recurring state-funded foundation allowance improve, remain stable, or decrease?
3) Will there be monies available to pay for the annexation?
How much money will AAPS gain in the state 21g grant funding allocation to cover the costs of the annexing of the Whitmore Lake district?
In addition to these three areas of inquiry, the overriding request that I hear most often is to understand the rationale, the story of annexation. These questions often go something like this:
– What difference will an annexed district make for my child, for my school, for Ann Arbor Public Schools, for our community?
– How will annexation impact the education that my child/student currently receives in an Ann Arbor Public Schools classroom?
– What is the Ann Arbor story around annexation? What is ‘in this’ for us?
Important Question #1: Annexation Tax Implications
The annexation proposal calls for a ‘shared debt’ arrangement, meaning that while Ann Arbor constituents would assume Whitmore Lake debt, Whitmore Lake constituents would begin, also, to contribute to AAPS Hold Harmless rate and millages, including AAPS Sinking fund and Technology Bond.
According to our financial advisors, Stauder Barch, the estimated implications for Ann Arbor resident homeowners will be an increase of .2514 mills and for Ann Arbor businesses .3 mills. The estimated additional cost to resident homeowners at a $100,000 taxable property or estimated $200,000 market value will be $25 per year and for Ann Arbor businesses $30 per year. These estimates are based on assumptions for a 10.5-year refinancing of Whitmore Lake’s debt owed to the State of Michigan.
Important Question #2: Per Pupil Foundation Allowance in an Annexed District
The current per pupil foundation for Ann Arbor Public Schools is $9,100 and Whitmore Lake’s is $7,126. The current estimated enrollment is 16,838 (AAPS) and 950 (WLPS) respectively. Based on the aforementioned figures and on current law that adds $100 to a blend ofboth districts’ foundation grants, the estimated foundation grant of the new combined Ann Arbor Public Schoolsdistrict will be $9,095, which would apply to all of the approximately 17,788 students in the combined district.
This will equate to an increase of $1,778,800 of state aid for the new district as compared to current funding prior to annexation.
Additionally, there is currently a proposed bill (HB 5848) that has been introduced that increases the blended foundation grant by $150 instead of current law of $100. If this bill is signed into law, then the new foundation for the combined district will be $9,145 (based on this year’s foundation). This foundation amount would apply to all of the approximately 17,788 students in the new combined district. If the bill is signed into law, it is estimated the increase in state aid funding to the new combined district will be $2,667,500 from current prior to annexation funding.
Important Question #3: State Grant Award to Support Whitmore Lake Annexation
Ann Arbor Public Schools has recently been awarded just over $1.4 million in grant monies to support the annexation of the Whitmore Lake district into Ann Arbor Public Schools. Of course, these grant dollars are contingent on positive votes in support of annexation in both Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake.
These grant dollars would be designated to support three primary functions:
1) Align the operations in joining the WLPS district into AAPS – completing functions such as transferring employees into the system, aligning benefits, payroll, finance, facilities, records, services, etc.
2) Engage a project manager (project work will likely extend for approximately a one year transition time) to oversee the fundamental tasks involved in annexation. This individual would serve as the one point of progress in completing the annexation process, interacting internally with both district teams and externally with state and federal agencies to ensure a smooth transition of the Whitmore Lake district operations into Ann Arbor Public Schools.
3) Any remaining funds will be used to align technology, data systems, curriculum and programs across the new Ann Arbor Public Schools district.
What’s the Story? What is ‘in it’ for us?
Many have wondered in what ways this annexation will change or improve things for our children currently in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Certainly, we all seek to understand any benefits that may exist in an annexation decision, and understandably, we want to know in what ways this decision could give an immediate positive for our own students; we want a compelling story to tell.
The reality is that on an individual child, classroom, or school level, the annexation of Whitmore Lake likely will not have an immediate, direct, or visible impact. If Ann Arbor votes to annex the Whitmore Lake school district into the Ann Arbor Public Schools, beginning on July 1, 2015, our 33 quality Ann Arbor neighborhood public schools will continue as the excellent schools they currently are today.
During the Listen and Learn: We Are Ann Arbor tour last year, the most prevalent, enduring core value shared across Ann Arbor was the priority placed on a quality, neighborhood school. The story of annexation, if there is one, is not about a dramatic change for individual students currently attending AAPS; the story here, as I see it, is the addition of a neighborhood into the AAPS community, a Whitmore Lake attendance area consisting of twocurrent schools.
In adding this Whitmore Lake neighborhood to our collection of neighborhoods across Ann Arbor – as a district system, we expect to achieve an improved economy of scale, capitalized on additional efficiencies by combining operations across the two districts. In an annexed district, we will, as we always have, strive to maximize available resources to leverage an ever-improving, quality education for all our students.
In adding approximately 950 more students into the AAPS system from one additional high school and one additional elementary school, we expect to leverage the AAPS organization for sustainability and growth at the systems level. In addition, WLPS also has a middle school campus, and though it is currently closed, there is capacity for growth at that location as well.
Essentially, annexation would leverage economies of scale to the advantage of the overall school system. Annexation opens the door of adjacent possibility for growth in the future, over time, by increasing the footprint of the district. A decision to annex the Whitmore Lake Public Schools into Ann Arbor Public Schools is based in a vision of longer-term capitalization of possibilities for the Ann Arbor community, not in a one-time, short-term bonus.
When we consider the growth that annexation would immediately achieve across the two districts, however, I would point out that size does matter in this situation – in two key and critical ways. Interestingly, micro and macro perspectives exist.
First, consider perspective around the number of Whitmore Lake students – the approximately 944 WLPS students represent slightly more than 1/18 of our current student population in Ann Arbor Public Schools, and this addition comprises an increase of approximately 5% in overall AAPS student population. Annexation of Whitmore Lake schools into AAPS represents the addition of 2 school campuses into a system of 32 campuses (+A2 Virtual). In terms of Ann Arbor systems change or disruption, the Whitmore Lake annexation proposition is more of a micro-event.
Also, with regard to size from a macro perspective, combining the two districts, at their current enrollments, would position Ann Arbor Public Schools to become the 4th largest school district in Michigan. That is a consideration that some will find of interest. Is there power in existing as one of the largest school districts in the state? Are the two districts stronger together? These are worthwhile questions that will spark interesting discussion over the coming weeks.
Michigan legislators used the word ‘bold’ in their public remarks at a July Board of Education meeting in reference to this community discussion. What is admirable, regardless of whether folks are opposed to or in support of annexation, is that considering annexation is an example of the kind of innovative thinking that is required in order to strengthen and sustain our Ann Arbor Public Schools against the ongoing dramatic reductions in school funding that Michigan school districts have experienced over recent years and continue to face currently.
As an Ann Arbor voter, this annexation decision is yours to make.
What we heard AAPS Trustees state last summer, when they deliberated the value of placing this issue on the ballot, is a strong commitment that the annexation outcome, whichever way it goes, is the result of a community decision. Their commitment indicated a conviction that this annexation vote is a decision worthy of our individual and collective attention as citizens, a determination that represents a confidence in the will of the community. Having the community decide this vote is the right, moral, and ethical choice.
There exists wisdom in the collective decision of our citizens and we look forward to an educated vote on this topic that affects our community; a decision that reflects our shared values is the right decision for Ann Arbor.
Our Ann Arbor Public Schools voters will come to a decision on this important issue through discussion and consideration over the coming weeks. I encourage you to weigh the two alternate opportunities and lead through your vote on November 4th.
Over the coming weeks, we will continue to communicate with our Ann Arbor community in multiple ways including postings on the AAPS website, email communication, and community forums where we can share face-to-face what is currently known, engage in conversation, exchange ideas, and respond to questions. Board of Education Trustees will facilitate these Community Forums during October and the dates and times are currently posted on the front page of our AAPS website.
Whatever our Ann Arbor community decides on November 4th, you should absolutely know, directly from me, that I will continue to be fully dedicated to leadership in the Ann Arbor community to ensure we carry forward our mission to extend and enhance excellent education for all our students.
We have a plan in place for our continuous improvement; it is a plan informed by what our stakeholders shared during our community conversation last year. We are innovating and growing our way forward, and that direction for our improvement will continue. Ann Arbor Public Schools is an exemplary district on the move.
I am privileged to serve the Ann Arbor Public Schools community, and our community will decide on November 4th exactly where the boundaries of our district will be drawn. Whatever that decision, our excellence will continue. Alongside the AAPS team, we will persist in the work to ensure excellent schools that feature a quality ‘whole-child’ education experience, responsiveness in listening and problem solving, and the pride that we all expect in our community. After all, we are Ann Arbor.
It is a great day in Ann Arbor Public Schools, as we are on a pathway of growth, of innovation, of success; we are currently extending and enhancing the quality for which Ann Arbor Public Schools has long been well known, across Michigan and around the world. We are moving forward with exciting new programs for school year 2014-2015 and beyond. Ann Arbor Public Schools is an exemplary district that is on the move.
Thank you for your ongoing support of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Jeanice Kerr Swift
Superintendent of Schools
Ann Arbor Public Schools