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Posted on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 10:48 p.m.

Ann Arbor parents "somewhat support" proposed school district budget cuts

By James Dickson

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.

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Parents and other community members are shown in break-out groups during the first budget session last Thursday.

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 discussions 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



Sat, Jan 16, 2010 : 10:28 a.m.

@The Grinch DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (EXCERPT) Act 197 of 1975 125.1651 Definitions. (i) Tax increment revenues include ad valorem property taxes and specific local taxes attributable to the application of the levy of all taxing jurisdictions other than the state pursuant to the state education tax act, 1993 PA 331, MCL 211.901 to 211.906, and local or intermediate school districts upon the captured assessed value of real and personal property in the development area for any purpose authorized by this act. This indicates to me that the DDA does NOT get any of the education taxes. I looking thru more of the law, all I can find is reference to the fact that education related taxes are NOT subject to capture by the DDA. If anyone know of a different law that allows the DDA to capture these taxes, please post it here. I only spent about 2 hours looking on the State of Michigan Website, so what I have here may be the wrong law or I may have incomplete information. The purpose of a DDA is to raise the value of their area of the city, which means that more taxes should flow over time from the DDA. As we can see it Ann Arbor the DDA has provided a large increase in tax revenue (gross before the DDA capture) for the city and that money has been used for lots of things like parking, clean up of old buildings, sidewalks, and a business incubator. All of this has helped keep downtown Ann Arbor growing. The net result for the schools - if I read the law correctly has been more, not less taxes for the school district. I look at other towns that did not get a DDA up and running early and many of them struggle with keeping the downtown healthy. We can argue whether DDAs are a good thing or bad, but in Ann Arbor, it seems to have worked.

The Grinch

Fri, Jan 15, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

I didn't think the 35% figure was correct--made no sense to me--and that's why I asked. BUT, you should know that organizations like the DDA do siphon funds away from the schools--they get a percentage of the property tax meant for public schools, WISD, WCC, etc.... THAT is nonsense!

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 8:34 p.m.

Oh, I should say that those percentages are for revenue from state sources to the School Aid Fund. It also receives Federal money, which is about the same in size as the income tax earmarking. (None of this includes the Federal stimulus money, which is counted separately and is temporary.)

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 8:30 p.m.

aataxpayer, Well, the 38% figure is on the margin - we calculated it as a way of comparing the different returns of a 2 mill increase just inside the WISD, and a theoretical 2 mill increase in the State Edu Property Tax. If the tax were enacted statewide, and the proceeds divided equally per pupil in a foundation allowance increase (very likely), AAPS would get back 38 cents on the dollar. It's not accurate to compare what we get from the state to what we pay in the state property tax. For one thing, the sales tax, and not the property tax, is the largest source of funds for the state School Aid Fund: Sales tax: 42% State edu prop tax: 18% Income tax earmark: 17% Mich Business Tax: 7% Lottery net proceeds: 6% along with a bunch of smaller taxes. (House Fiscal Agency estimates for 2009-10 fiscal year, but very close to last year's figures.) Second, on the whole, the state School Aid Fund provides three quarters of all funding for K-12 districts in the state. AAPS is unusual in that we get as much as half of our funding from our local property taxes (the hold harmless and 18 mills on commercial property). While the numbers are not available to absolutely prove it (sales tax is tracked by where it is collected, not where the people who pay it live), it is essentially certain that AAPS is a major donor to the rest of the state. What we get back from Lansing is likely close to that 38% figure. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but we need to understand what the true situation is.

Terence J. Madden

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 12:46 p.m.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the schools and across the nation the central theme of justice rings out. Traditionally, justice meant fair prices and fair wages. Fairness implied a concern for both sides in a transaction. The Jan. 14 article titled, Ann Arbor parents mantra: More with less includes this summary remark concerning privatization, Among the more controversial budget solutions in the eyes of parents were proposals to privatize transportation and custodial services. Well over half of the breakout groups at the meeting cites concerns with privatization. Today justice is less focused on the welfare of the members of the community and more focused on freedom, specifically the freedom of employers (the Ann Arbor Public Schools) to search for the lowest cost in order to provide essential services to operate a school district. Unfortunately the lowest cost is not always the best value. At the 2010 budget meetings, privatization is the carrot offered to the parents as the best solution for painlessly making cuts in next years school budget. Privatization is the stick hanging over the transportation and custodial services workers to accept less for more. Privatization is not the answer. Privatization is not fair. Privatization is not justice. I do not know the AAPS transportation workers nor the custodians except for the day and the night custodians at Thurston Elementary School. As a library media specialist at Thurston Elementary School I can attest to the excellent performance of our custodians. During the 2005 - 06 school year, Renae Borowski, our day custodian, was recognized by the Board of Education for her outstanding customer service. The two classroom teachers who nominated her said, Renae is an amazing custodian. She constantly goes above and beyond the call of duty.... Additionally, she does everything with a positive attitude, is always cheerful and friendly with staff and students and is only satisfied with the very best quality. We are fortunate to have her as part of our school. Inherently privatizations focus is on keeping costs down. Low pay and reduced health care fits that equation. Positive attitude and trustworthiness are great, but secondary in equating cost under privatization. When asked why is works so hard, Renae answers, Its my job. Renae is old school. To do a quality job is who she is. It is how she defines herself and her job. It is only fair to retain Renae Borowski and all the other hard working custodial and transportation workers in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Difficult times provide us with an opportunity to come together. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. remind us its a time to let justice ring!. Terence J. Madden Employee of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Ann Arbor, Michigan


Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 10:17 a.m.

Steve Norton: Thanks for that last post! That is probably the most concise summation I have seen of the true impact of Proposal A on our state's funding of education.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

Just a note on the share of taxes that stay in AAPS: Of the 6 mill State Education Property Tax on all property, which goes to Lansing, we get back about 38% of what we pay. The 18 mills on commercial property, and the 4+ mills on homestead (the "hold harmless" millage), stay local. But they are the expected local contribution to our funding. The state assumes we raise that much, and pays for the difference up to our foundation allowance. Right now, we get about half of our foundation allowance from the state, with half covered by local taxes. Not counted in all this, and very difficult to track, is the huge amount that we pay in to the state School Aid Fund in the form of most of the sales tax, more than a third of the income tax, the real estate transfer tax, and so on. We probably get at best 38% of this back. Why? Because the rest of the money goes to equalize funding to districts across the state, and to pay for charters. Michigan voters chose this system in a statewide referendum in 1994 (Proposal A) and much of it was enshrined in the state constitution. (The proposal included constitutional amendments.) Changing the system will not only take action in Lansing, but will require another state-wide referendum to amend the constitution. People voted for Prop A because it promised to cut property taxes (it did) and to equalize school spending (it has, somewhat - mostly by holding down funding for districts like Ann Arbor). People also thought that this would mean more money would be available for schools overall. That has NOT happened, at least not enough to keep up with costs. So districts across Michigan are fighting over a shrinking pie, the size of the pie being determined by tax policy set in 1994. Just another example of the old saw: be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 : 6:49 a.m.

Arguably, there isnt a lot of disagreement on this page on the substantive issues. The disagreement appears to center on how we treat other members of our community when we have concerns. Do we ascribe bad motives to them without fully understanding the underlying driving forces? Well, o.k., it is a complex situation, very difficult for any one person to fully understand and hugely, hugely frustrating; but understanding that, should we follow our gut instincts and start throwing stuff at other people in the sandbox when we get frustrated, or is there a better way? Are there enough people in this community with enough expertise and common ground that we can work this out if we all give each other the benefit of the doubt and try to listen and understand? Whats more likely to lead to a creative, constructive solution? Which approach better invites all members of the community to row together? There are some fifth members of the rotation here -- people with important messages and true potential to be constructive opinion leaders -- all of whom could be aces of the staff if they would just make an adjustment to their delivery.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 11:59 p.m.

Just so people really understand, there are nine bargaining groups. The largest being the teachers union. Arguably, they drive the Ann Arbor Schools. If the teachers get a raise, the administration feels they should get one as well. Percentage raises are unsustainable the larger the salary becomes. The custodial group which includes skilled and unskilled labor has been called the sacrificial lamb to get to the teachers. This group includes custodians, mechanics, carpenters, locksmiths, electricians, plumbers, equipment repair, and grounds. This is the glue that keeps the district running. Hiring more managers is not the solution. Keeping 7 crew chiefs and two supervisors to do what? The work will not get done and will create unsafe practices. The schools will be filthy. Who is really vested when their health care and pension is completely cut. It sets a bad precedence. Who's next to have their health care or pension cut? Secretaries? Not teachers, principals or administrators; this is gross inequity. The cuts should be across the board.

The Grinch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 9:18 p.m.

aataxpayer, I'm afraid I do not understand your 35% point. Is it that AAPS receives only 35% of the property tax you pay? If so, that's because that various governmental entities have millages (e.g., WISD), not just the public schools. Am I to understand that your solution to the state's budget problem is to break promises made? There's a lesson for our children. And are you aware that the state teacher's pension fund is short several hundred million dollars taken from it during the Engler administration? That said, what happened in auto gives us a hint to a path out--a two-tiered system of retiree benefits, one that moves from defined benefit to defined contribution while protecting those public employees who have "x" number of years in the defined benefit system. But this will take years to implement, and cost savings are decades away. No, I'm not against meaningful reform. But the making up of "facts" (e.g., Annonymou due to Bigotry's post about six-figure teacher salaries) and the bashing of public employees and their unions must stop. Does any sane person really believe that bashing public employees and their unions is likely to result in those unions being amenable to working out these problems? I don't. I firmly believe that whatever concessions public employee unions might give, the bashing will go on and more concessions demanded.

The Grinch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:14 p.m.

Six-figure salaries for teachers? On what planet?

The Grinch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:12 p.m.

aataxpayer: The school can say all they want about what they WANT to do. You will note that nowhere has the school district made public its official proposal to AAEA. It therefore makes no sense for the AAEA to comment on a "plan" that might, in fact, not reflect the proposal that is brought to the table. Once the AAPS puts something on the table, the AAEA cannot comment on it or on their counterproposals, if any. The taxpayers have a voice in this. It is in your elected officials. If you don't like how they're doing their job, vote them out. Better yet, run for office. That you are so concerned that teachers might have decent pay and benefits (and that is all they are) that you want to revise Michigan's labor laws tells me that you are missing the point. The way this state funds its schools is broken. This crisis has been nearly a decade in the making. The school aid fund has been declining for years. Local school districts have been cutting their budgets for years. People are only noticing it now because schools have spent down their reserve funds and have made cutbacks that aren't obvious and painful. But we are now down to the obvious and painful. Those who want to cut school budgets further are endangering their communities' and the state's future. We have to invest in our schools, invest in our roads and transportation network, invest in public services, and invest in our colleges and universities, if we wish to attract businesses to this state on a scale largeg enough to replace the hundres of thousands of jobs we have lost over the past decade. Disinvestment makes sense only if one want to see the state become Mexico. Beyond this, we need to rationalize the state's budget process. Businesses are far less concerned about "high taxes" (whatever that means, and our state's per capita tax burden is 25 of 51, including DC) than they are about an uncertain business climate. And outside of California we have the nation's worst business climate due largely to the fact that we have been a fiscal basket case for five years. The state's budget process has gone beyond the start of the fiscal year for two of the past three years. Prospective businesses KNOW that, at some point, the state is going to need to raise taxes in order to stabilize its budget and, until that happens, they won't come here because they will not be able to predict accurately their costs. Thney will also be remiss to move here until the budget process stabilizes. Continuing to live the fiction of low taxes will accomplish neither. It's time to grow up and act like adults. We need to start investing in our state's future.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:10 p.m.

Anonymous: Teachers do not get 6-figure salaries, and incompetent teachers can be fired, as described in their contracts. Please check your facts before posting.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

Anonymous: Teachers do not get 6-figure salaries, and incompetent teachers can be fired, as described in their contracts. Please check your facts before posting.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:03 p.m.

Don--I missed seeing you at the meeting. Were you there?

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 7:55 p.m.

The unions need to go. Six figure salaries for teachers? Ridiculous. Inability to fire incompetent teachers? Ridiculous. I'm surprised that teachers can still be fired for abusing students. The unions destroyed the American auto industry and now they're working on the American public educational system. We can live without the auto industry, but the country will be destroyed if they're allowed to destroy education. With that said, why not cut some administrative positions instead of teaching positions?


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

A typical custodian used to clean just under 25,000 square ft of area every night. Now they're asked to clean up to 50,000 square ft. every night. Imagine cleaning a 1000 square ft home 25+ times every night, securing every door, cleaning every toilet ect. with a custodial staff making no more than 10.85 an hour in the next 10 years (due to attrition). The Labor Group has already scheduled cuts; mind that the physical prowess needed to do such work. The race to the bottom does not work. The in house employees are dedicated. The maintenance staff has been cut immensely. The institutional awareness is irreplaceable when it comes to electrical, carpentry, plumbing, healthy pools, bus repair, the cleanliness of your children's classroom, safe buildings, snow removal, lawn care, playground equipment inspections etc. These are just as vital to a district and outsourcing these areas creates another layer of management and subcontractors resposnsible for less with no dedication to the workplace. The district is left purchasing a la carte, for example, moving furniture. Currently custodians and grounds move classroom furniture school to school. There is no magic to creating a solution, but the district in the past has benefited and won significantly in negotiations. The proposal to cut transportation and custodial 2.5 and 1.5 million is grossly unbalanced compared to the rest of the cuts. It effects too many families that have children that attend this district. These are folks that have a long term commitment or outlook and aren't looking in neighboring state districts for their next leadership role. These jobs affect the whole school community, 6 high schools, 5 middle schools, 22 elementary schools.

The Grinch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 6:15 p.m.

Gentlemen, Labor law prevents negotiators from discussing publicly what happens in negotiations and from stating publicly the positions one intends to take in negotiations.

Jack Panitch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 5:56 p.m.

shawnsbrain -- you're right. I did all my talking about what's best for the kids last night when I attended one of the budget meetings and spoke on behalf of my table with members of the AAPS community, including four trustees, the superintendant of schools, a reporter from, an official from the AAEF and many others present and listening. Right now, aataxpayer and I were discussing why the president of the AAEA remains silent,and I was just explaining that it probably is his professional duty to remain so.

The Grinch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 5:42 p.m.

What's best for the kids? Well paid and highly qualified teachers. Classes with small numbers of students in them so that students can receive individualized instruction. So, let's pony up the money and do it.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

Jack, You talk about fiduciary responsibility and sound negotiating. Funny, you don't talk about what is best for the kids.

Jack Panitch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 3:33 p.m.

aataxpayer I did, indeed, notice that the AAEA President is not commenting. I also noticed that his silence is consistent with his quote, contained in the December 6, 2009 article entitled Washtenaw County teachers wont reopen contracts or take pay cuts, at least for now. As a fiduciary with members livelihoods at stake, hes not going to start negotiating until the offer stops moving and he knows what it is hes negotiating over. Ethics, integrity, fiduciary responsibility and sound negotiating strategy dictate silence at this point. So no matter how many times you try to poke a stick into the silent tigers cage, its my bet he will remain silent.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

I'm worried about the other employee groups, too, and I do think the budget cuts have to pass a certain level of fairness, just because of the kind of community we are. But it's also true that anything that would cause families to leave the district is self-destructive. Let's say that our per pupil funding falls to $9100. That means that every child that leaves the district removes $9,100 from the AAPS budget. The problem is that losing one student does not generate savings anywhere near that number. So losing a student makes the budget deficit WORSE than it already is. Things like closing alternative programs and increasing class sizes may well end up nullifying any savings by driving families away from the district. That's just the reality of our situation.

Jack Panitch

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

aataxpayer I cant believe it. I fell asleep and missed the negotiations. Dont some things have to happen before you conclude that the AAEA threw other bargaining units under the bus? And is it possible that you have it all wrong here? Could it be that the union isnt the motivator for keeping the cuts away from the classroom? Could it be that its the Foundation Allowance itself? Could it be that its the administrations understanding that if excellence is diminished, parents will walk, and the lowering enrollment from lowering dollars will play more havoc with the budgetary process? I'm just asking....

Andrew Thomas

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

Don: The proposed budget cuts include a 4% decrease in salaries/benefits for all district employees, including teachers. Top administrators have already taken a 4% cut, the superintendent has voluntarily taken an 8% cut.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

The discussions are a joke. I went to the Ann Arbor public schools many moons ago-back when driver's education was free; when participation in school sports was free; when buses took us to sporting events. For the past 30 years, it's been more of the same-take things away from the kids, make the parents pay more for the kids' extracurricular activities. Protect teachers and administrators' wages, salaries and benifits at all costs! Shaft the kids! Shaft the community! Shaft education! Turn down the heat, bus 1st graders with seniors, get rid of the lunch superviors! Protect the interests of the teachers and administrators first and foremost above anything else! Ann Arbor's school board has way too many administrators. Scale the number down. It is only ok for teachers to make six figures if we have the money. At the moment, the county doesn't! The state doesn't! The country doesn't! We don't have the money! By the way, pay means things like health insurance and retirement. Reduce all employment wages and benefits to make the cuts. Reduce health and benefit costs. Re-open the the union contracts and do some real cost-cutting! Almost no one has benifits and pay packages as good as the teachers. Over the last 10 years, my real income has been down almost 50 percent because of Michigan's economy. Everyone in our company has faced cuts. but we still are working. When 85% of the cost of running the schools is in salaries and benefits, don't you think you should seriously address these issues first? Until you do, the public perceives the actions of the school board nothing more than mere posturing. It has never failed that everytime there is a money problem, the school board threatens to cut classes or activities for the kids. I am not saying that teachers and administrators should not make a decent living. I am just saying that every full-time employee in the school system should be willing to accept cuts in their pay, and especially their benefits until the money situation gets better. It is infuriating to read that teachers are getting pay raises when our state's economy is in a fiscal bind!

Andrew Thomas

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

Roadsidedinerlover: The proposed plan DOES include significant cuts to administration. The idea that the District could balance its budget simply by cutting back on administrative overhead is a fairy tale. You didn't really think this was going to be painless, did you?


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

If these parents etc really want to help those employees in the "group of employees with the lowest pay and the least political clout" they should have been offering the idea of CUTS TO THE ADMINISTRATION! They should be laid off or take a pay cut. Why is it the only way to cut costs by laying off bus drivers, teachers etc? Cut the fat on top people!!!