Ann Arbor parents "somewhat support" proposed school district budget cuts
Most parents who came to Skyline High School Tuesday night for the Ann Arbor Public Schools' second budget discussion agreed on one thing: The district needs to do more with less.
And while most parents said they "somewhat support" the district's plans, not all agreed on the best ways to make cuts.
The meeting began with a short run down of the district's budget issues and its proposed budget cuts, led by Superintendent Todd Roberts.
The district is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $20 million in this school year and next.
Among the proposals on the table to save money: Eliminating 34 teaching positions, opening 150 schools of choice seats, a pay-to-play fee for high school and middle school sports, the elimination of weekend transportation for events in Washtenaw County and the consolidation of some sports.
Parents and interested community members then proceeded to discuss the budget cuts in smaller groups. After those breakout sessions, each group appointed a spokesperson to share the group's thoughts with the entire room. Attendees also filled out individual surveys in which they had a chance to write specific, detailed criticisms of or alternatives to the district's proposals.
The vast majority of the breakout groups said they "somewhat support" the district's efforts - and many cited appreciation of the public aspect of the process - but the participants took aim at certain options in the plan.
Among the more controversial budget solutions in the eyes of parents were proposals to privatize district transportation and custodial services. Well over half of the breakout groups at the meeting cited concerns with privatization.
The proposal, first introduced last week, includes plans to reduce transportation costs districtwide by $1.5 million and reduce custodial and maintenance costs by $2.5 million.
The total cuts announced add up to $16.2 million.
Where bus lines were concerned, several groups mentioned a partnership with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority would be preferable to outsourcing busing service altogether.
Parents also questioned whether the district's previous privatization of lunch service had saved money and why cuts seemed to fall hard on a group of employees with the lowest pay and the least political clout. Prior to the meeting, a few members of the district's custodial and maintenance staff handed out fliers detailing how much they'd already returned in the form of concessions.
Paul Guillen, a locksmith with the district, said: "There's not much left to cut from our end. We make so much less money than the administrators."
One table of parents objected to the cuts entirely. But that was a novel viewpoint.
Most parents agreed cuts need to be made, but expressed concerns that the wrong kinds of cuts - eliminating shuttles between Ann Arbor Huron, Pioneer, and Community high schools, for instance - would diminish the character of the district.
Another group said the district's revenue-generation schemes - largely consisting of picking off students from other school districts and local private schools - were uncreative, uninspired, and would leave neighboring school systems with even more problems.
One idea that captured attention was for the Ann Arbor Educational Foundation to supplement the district's general fund budget. Parents said that would give them a greater role in ensuring that Ann Arbor schools have the resources they need, rather than relying on Lansing, which is increasingly unable to do so. A community as well-off as Ann Arbor would certainly be willing to pay to protect its school system, several parents said.
Christy Perros, a foundation board member, said paying for such expenses as teachers and supplies isn't necessarily within the purview of the organization. But its mission has changed since its 1991 founding, Perros said, and could change again.
In her experience, Perros said, most foundation donors aren't looking to write a blank check. After November's failed countywide school enhancement millage, the foundation sent letters to donors asking them to contribute the dollar amount that their taxes would have increased by. The response was impressive - but many donors asked the same question voters did: What are you going to do with the money?
Two more community discussionsÂ are planned. The next will take place on Thursday at Scarlett Middle School, and the last is Tuesday, Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School.
James David Dickson can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com.