Ann Arbor school board candidates detail thoughts on district budget crisis
The individual selected to replace Helen Gates-Bryant on the Ann Arbor school board will step in at a critical juncture.
The district is facing an $8.5 million budget shortfall for this school year and a projected $20 million hole in the 2010-11 school year.
So it wasn’t a surprise that as existing school board members interviewed seven candidates to join them, they asked them about the district’s financial mess.
And the candidates came prepared with ideas - ranging from looking for new revenue sources to doing a good job of defining what is really important to the district.
The school board asked each of the seven candidates to return to the board on Dec. 16 with a five-minute presentation on the top three issues - excluding finances - facing the district. The board will then vote on a replacement for Gates-Bryant, who resigned last month.
Each of the seven candidates had a slightly different take on what the district should be doing as it looks to cut large chunks out of its budget.
Simone Lightfoot said she’d like the district to look at things like grant dollars to generate more revenue. She also said it's important for board members to talk to folks who have been through similar situations to see what wisdom they have to offer.
Jack Panitch said he hopes the board uses a good process to get community input and weigh it carefully. He also said he wants the district to work on keeping the process very successful, noting that it’s important to make sure teachers are valued as cuts are made.
Kim Callahan Lijana said setting priorities is key, and the district needs to really focus on the most important things it does. She also said the district needs to reopen the teachers' contract to look for savings.
Christine Stead said she’d like Ann Arbor to find other districts in the state and beyond similar in funding, expectations and performance to see what best practices the district can take from them. She also said it should look at strengthening its ties to the local business community.
Elizabeth Nelson focused on revenues in her answer to the budget questions. Specifically, she suggested looking at implementing some sort of fee for services with local non-profits pitching in to help those who couldn’t afford the fee.
Margy Long also said the district needs to be focused on what services it wants to provide. “What do we want the district to be about?” she asked.
Andy Thomas presented the most detailed answer to the budget question. He laid out five areas to look at - administrative costs, support services, looking at programs to see whether they're providing benefits to a small group of students and if they can be consolidated, looking at some sort of fees for participating in things like music and sports, and looking at some sort reduction in salaries for staff, including teachers.
Six of the seven candidates - Lightfoot, Panitch, Stead, Nelson, Long and Thomas - have children in the schools. Currently, only board President Deb Mexicotte has children in the district.
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2534.