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Posted on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

Ann Arbor school board debates: Make bold moves, dip into fund equity or both?

By Danielle Arndt

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education discussed taking a balanced approach to eliminating the district’s $14- to $16-million budget shortfall Wednesday.

That approach could include a variety of bold moves as well as dipping into Ann Arbor’s nearly $19.7 million in fund equity.


Superintendent Patricia Green

“It’s called a rainy day fund. We have one. And it’s pouring,” said Superintendent Patricia Green.

She said she will be recommending the district use a significant portion of its fund equity to balance the budget for 2012-2013. Green contributed to that fund balance by returning $1.4 million in Medicaid reimbursement dollars to Ann Arbor from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Trustee Andy Thomas is in favor of this approach. He would like to see AAPS use $7 million from its fund balance, he said.

He added the district is expecting another $1.6 million for meeting Gov. Rick Snyder’s "best practice" standards, bringing the fund equity to about $21 million or 11.5 percent of Ann Arbor’s current $183-million operating budget.

“($7 million) would still leave us enough in there, but would buy us a year of not having to implement draconian budget cuts,” Thomas said. “The downside to that is what happens the following year. We will have the $7 million to make up and probably another $7 (million) or so in additional cuts.”

Trustee Susan Baskett expressed a desire to put it all on the table, including redistricting, although she said the “R-word” cautiously. Redistricting would require looking at neighborhoods and transportation in Ann Arbor to ensure children are attending the closest schools using the most efficient routes.

Board President Deb Mexicotte was gung ho with this method of thinking.

“We’ve been incrementally trying to hold on with both hands to this top-notch education system, but I feel like at every turn we are being thwarted even by those we are in consortium with and those that have the same interests as us,” Mexicotte said, referring to Willow Run and Ypsilanti who may be backing out of a consolidated transportation system with AAPS.


Deb Mexicotte

She said board members need to “free their minds” and “be bold” in their thinking this year, explaining that as a group they traditionally have taken things off the table because they were deemed unheard of, complex or extreme.

Mexicotte would like to see the district look at school-day start times, holding the seventh hour of class online, closing schools and decreasing class sizes.

“We have to do the business of education,” Mexicotte said. “If that means shifting resources and spending more money or something, then we need to look a little more boldly.”

She said if redistricting, changing the high school start time or making the seventh hour online would result in smaller class sizes and allow for renewed spending on opportunities for education, then she is “on board.”

She said she is at least interested in learning the potential cost savings of these cuts.

“Let’s find the money,” Mexicotte said. “Change is hard, but we have been so careful about keeping things under wraps. … I’m not interested in being an incrementalist anymore.”

Mexicotte’s sentiments generated applause from Baskett and nods of approval from the rest of the board. Members agreed the district may not be able to make the necessary big changes prior to the 2012-2013 academic year, but said using some portion of the fund equity would give the district more time to act.

The idea of hosting more community forums on the budget also came up Wednesday. Both Mexicotte and Vice President Christine Stead did not see the need to solicit more opinions from the public.

Thomas said it’s difficult because most of the parents that come forward with ideas don’t want to cut programs their children participate in, but they are willing to throw other programs on the chopping block.

Stead said sooner rather than later, she would like to see the board shift gears from listening to “helping people focus on the areas we know are going to be impacted, most likely.”

“So from ‘give us an idea’ to ‘what do you think about x, y or z,’” Stead said.

Green and members of her executive cabinet are expected to make their budget presentation and recommendation to the board in February.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

I love it......Free Your Mind!!! Lay off some of those administrators in Balias. You will say a boodle of money. Leave everyone else alone.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 4:55 a.m.

Things to do: 1) stop spending any remaining bond money or sinking fund money on new facilities - spend it to make the existing ones more energy efficient - you get a 5 year pay back on that kind of spending and structurally change the cost of the building to run. 2) rethink building administration - $12 million is a lot to spend on building administration 3) consolidate the two small high schools in one building 4) Sell surplus real estate - including the Dixboro School and other buildings that the district is leasing out at under market rates, while paying maintenance and heating the buildings for others 5) Start using on-line solutions for smaller electives. There is no reason to tie a teacher up for 5 or 6 students, but you should not cut the options either 6) Dump the pre-school back to head start - it was supposed to make money or at least break even it is not 7) Reduce the coaching staffs for sports. There is no reason to have 6 or more coaches for a team, at most 2 are needed - if you want more, let the volunteer their time 8) Reduce the number of people in Balas - determine what paperwork currently being done by administrators could be done be clerks instead 9) Stop the bussing from Community for any reason to anywhere - if you chose to attend Community, transportation is on you. 10) Stop the social promotion in grade schools - that will reduce the need for aids and others at later grade years, because students promoted will have a demonstrated capability in core subjects 11) Have a heart to heart with all the professional unions and fix the benefit cost issues. 12) Consolide the school calendar - more consecutive weeks of school, fewer days off - that will reduce the cost to run buildings - take 4 weeks out of the calendar time it takes to have a school year - you don't have to drop a single class day 13) State school later in the day, let the sun do some of the heating in the winter time, that will also give the roads time to thaw 14) ...


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

A2comments - Note I said professional unions (e.g. AAAA and the AAEA). Not the clerical unions, or other blue collar unions.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

While benefits may be an issue for some, the teachers have different benefits than staff. I know a staffer that pays, out of pocket, over 25% of their salary for the middle level Blue Cross PPO plan.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:45 a.m.



Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 3:52 a.m.

Gee whiz Stop spending money you don't have

say it plain

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 2:49 a.m.

I like the ideas that Stead and maybe Mexicotte (I can't quite figure out if her statements mean the same thing) were advocating-- enough with the pretend 'community input' sessions... Tell us what you've been 'keeping under wraps' in terms of cuts you're interested in making... And ask us "what do you think of x or y or z?" and maybe give us some options too, like "okay, we could cut X and save this much or cut Y and save this much or some of each and save this much" . Then consider the community input about what you are *actually* willing to consider doing to balance the budgets. Seems more honest and less time-wasteful...

Jim Mulchay

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 12:18 a.m.

I'm intrigued by the "making the seventh hour online" plan. Not in favor of it, but intrigued. Is this for all levels or just high school or just high and middle schools? Where would this take place and on whose computers? If this is a good way to teach, why limit this to one class hour? Who monitors the activity, answers questions, etc? I personally believe teaching is better where there is a professional directing the activity and available for questions, corrections and overall supervision (of course there are exceptions); But I may be "too old fashioned" to accept online classes, or maybe I was lucky to be old enough to have avoided them. As far as public meetings - I'd agree that most comments seem more about protecting "turf" than saving money - but maybe a lot of that is a result of the way the sessions are conducted - how about this: *Hold the meeting; *everyone gets a printed list of budget choices - say 10 - (not an open discussion); *A brief presentation of each "choice" is given; *Then the attendees have 15 minutes to mark down 3 solutions (or cuts) they are willing to accept; *Print the results on the district site the next day; By the way - if "online classes" is really a good way to learn, maybe the "home-schoolers" are just ahead of the curve?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

There is something called a Moodle that Community Hi School created for on line children. We are a part of it. Removes 2 hours of actual in class time and more time for other ventures. Ours does go to school and so do others I have talked to for maybe 4 or 5 hours of in class time. The rest is either on line or working on homework. I hate to say it, but I do see a lot of children doing a lot of on line instruction within the next 10 years because no one can come up with a solution to the education crises. On line is going to be the way to go one day.

Danielle Arndt

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 4:21 a.m.

Jim, good questions! We'll try to look into this for you as the budget talks continue. My personal feeling is a specific plan for rolling something like this out probably does not exist yet. But we can try to raise those questions if/when the board begins to look seriously at online classes as a possible solution to the budget woes. Thanks for your comment and insights. Your suggestions sure would help the meetings to move along more quickly! ;-)


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

My experience of my kid's successful online class was this: she did fine as long as I read the material and helped out. Online classes are a back door way to push parents into home schooling. I can just imagine what it will do to the achievement gap--we'll have an achievement chasm.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

Here is the list of districts whose school boards decided to raise their unproven superintendent's pay by a hundred grand and then give twelve percent raises to its top administrators in a midnight session just before asking taxpayers to pay for a technology millage: Ann Arbor. We need some sensible folks to run for school board.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

Who voted for these people? They should be required to wear clown outfits. I doubt any of them could balance their own checkbook much less make responsible decisions for a multi-million dollar business. Electing extremist liberals (aka ELITES) to these positions has predictable results, that is, highly paid employees and budget deficits.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

give me a list of any school districts not running a deficit this year, smarty pants. Give me any Republican-dominated school districts. Got any? I'm waiting. still waiting.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

Enough with the busses. You have people working for a living. Trying to make ends meet. You start with a small amount of no busses. Then you take more. Then you take more. Kids need to get to school. Find other ways of saving money.

John of Saline

Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

How about canceling the Pacific Educational Group contract (if that hasn't been done already)?