By Tara Cavanaugh
At the Community Budget Forum Thursday night at Huron High School, the crowd of parents and staff listened attentively as the administration laid out the 2013-2014 budget and the suggested cutbacks. The atmosphere was civil, constructive, and most of all concerned.
There is plenty to be concerned about. The Ann Arbor Public Schools district is facing a $8.6 million shortfall next year, and large budget deficits are projected to continue in the coming years.
AAPS Superintendent Dr. Patricia Green asked the crowd to understand the source of the cutbacks, and to offer constructive feedback.
“This is a serious situation, and it’s not new,” Dr. Green said. “Tonight’s not about: Don’t cut this, or don’t cut that. Folks, I’m being as honest as I can: Things are going to be cut. We don’t want to do it. But we have to balance the budget by law.
“So we need you to join with us in your very best thinking, to help make sure the survivability of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, as we know it and love it, goes on for many, many years.”
Director of Finance Nancy Hoover laid out the sources of the financial difficulties. Per-pupil funding from the state has not increased since 2002. Per-pupil funding in 2012 was $9,020; in 2002 it was $9,034.
As per-pupil funding has not increased, other costs have increased, such as transportation and health care.
To address the budget deficit for the coming year, the administration has made the following recommendations for instructional services, totaling a reduction of $6,246,068:
- Reducing 32 teaching positions, a cost of $3.2 million
- Eliminate Reading Intervention Teachers, a cost of $1 million
- Reducing fine arts/PE positions through attrition, a cost of $200,000
- Reducing counselors, a cost of $300,000
- Reducing theater funding, a cost of $77,000
- Eliminating Theater Technician Position at Pioneer, a cost of $50,000
- Eliminating 7th hour, a cost of $500,000
- Reducing noon hour supervision, a cost of $71,000
- Moving Skyline to semesters instead of trimesters, saving $300,000
- Freezing library purchases for a year, saving $100,000
- Eliminating high school transportation, a cost of $466,000
Overall, 52 staff would be removed in the listed cuts to instructional services.
The administration has made the following recommendations for athletics, totaling a reduction of $512,685:
- Increasing fees of ice hockey rentals to $600 per student, saving $36,000
- Increasing fees to $225-$400 for golf players to cover course rentals, saving $21,000
- Reducing overall equipment purchases by $30,000 (Hoover noted that this would not affect the purchase of necessary safety equipment)
- Reducing athletic transportation by $120,000-$300,000,
- Reducing middle school clubs by 16 percent, for a savings of $18,989
- Eliminating middle school baseball and softball, saving $31,000
- Eliminating 7th grade girls and boys basketball, saving $30, 696,
- Increasing pay-to-pay middle school fee to $150 (current fee is $50), saving $75,000
- Increasing pay-to-play one-time fee at the high schools to $250 for all sports, for a savings of $150,000 (current fee is $150 for first sport, $75 for second)
The administration has made the following recommendations for district operations, totaling a reduction of $1,230,000:
- Freezing furniture/fixtures purchases for one year, saving $200,000
- Reducing natural gas purchases, saving $100,000
- Energy saving actions, saving $200,000
- Reducing grounds personnel, saving $50,000
- Restructuring custodial services, saving $600,000
- Eliminating the crew chief, saving $80,000
Overall, 17 staff members would be removed in the listed cuts to district operations.
The administration has made the following recommendations for district-wide reductions:
- Reducing food costs for meetings, saving $70,000,
- Reducing conferences and travel, saving $50,000,
- Closing middle school pools (this would eliminate the Rec&Ed swim program), saving $70,000,
- Suspending table rentals, saving $15,000
- Reducing central office positions, saving $477,540
Overall, 6 staff members would be removed in the above cuts.
In addition to these recommended cuts, Hoover outlined concessions that have already been taken this year to address the deficit: teachers and three bargaining units have agreed to a 3 percent salary reduction.
Hoover also addressed the cuts and restructuring that has taken place in the past five years to address previous deficits: A total of 65 FTE teaching positions have been eliminated, assistant principals were reduced by 1 FTE per each comprehensive high school, principals and directors were reduced by 5.5 FTE each time, office professionals were reduced by 8.7 FTE, 7th hour busing has been eliminated, transportation was referred to WISD in 2010, and more: see the power point presentation, slide 21, for details.
Even with the cuts over the past five years and next school year’s suggested cuts, the district still faces a projected deficit of $8.18 million in 2014-2015 and $14.25 million for 2015-2016.
After Hoover’s presentation, attendees talked at tables about ways to address the budget and their concerns about next year’s proposed cuts.
Many of the concerns surrounded equity, especially in regard to eliminating high school busing and reading intervention specialists.
Communications Director Liz Margolis said that this year the district gave students AATA passes for three bus routes. “It worked very well, but I will tell you the AATA service is limited. Where we need it the most is in the rural areas and AATA does not provide service there.”
Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye said that the elimination of reading intervention specialists means that the additional reading support would need to be provided by teachers, and some schools with Title I funding might be able to provide extra resources for the students who need the support.
A group of Huron students who attended the meeting suggested that eliminating some middle school sports is also an issue of equity. The students whose parents can afford paying for non-school club and travel sports during middle school will get more experience, so by the time they are in high school they will be more likely to make sports teams than the students of lesser means.
Many were also concerned that the elimination of seventh hour would affect students’ course options or even increase class size. AAPS Director of Student Research Jane Landefeld said that class sizes would not be affected by eliminating seventh hour. “If we need to move to having seven classes during the day, we would do that,” Landefeld said, but the extra seventh hour would not take place after school. Instead, seven hours would be offered during the regular hours.
Attendees offered suggestions for raising revenue, including promoting the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, offering corporate sponsorship of athletic teams, increasing fees for all extracurricular activities, and allowing paid advertising in schools.
Although the attitude of the evening was civil, attendees were clearly frustrated with the lack of state support for public education.
“These people are just trying to do their jobs,” said Michael Elliott, a parent of a Huron junior. “We should put the pressure on Lansing.”
Chuck Hatt, the AAPS coordinator for literacy and social studies, said he hoped the community could work together in distributing the sacrifice.
He also added that the pressure should be directed at the state: “If we don’t act now politically, this is just the beginning.”
The next Community Budget Forum takes place at Pioneer High School on Tuesday, May 7 from 7-8:30 p.m.
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