What's next for transportation in Ann Arbor schools? New group to suggest solutions
AnnArbor.com file photo
According to the resolution drafted by President Deb Mexicotte, the board has been concerned that its “transportation decision-making to date has been driven primarily by the increasing demands on (its) operational fund budget, in the face of the decrease in support for public education at the state level,” as well as the rise in energy costs and retirement contributions.
The transportation committee, or “administrative working group” as it is being dubbed since it would fall under the direction of Green and her administration, would be charged with analyzing the district’s current transportation model and developing a short-term and long-term plan for transportation within Ann Arbor Public Schools. The plans would be similar to those that exist for technology.
The purpose of the group is to call all of the stakeholders to the table — students, parents, administrators, board members, city leaders, police and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority — to “deal with some very specific issues that the district and the community need to come to terms with,” in the words of Board Secretary Andy Thomas.
Thomas said the conversation of the committee needs to center around what the impact of further reductions or the complete elimination of busing would be. He said the group should study and determine the student population that would be most affected by large-scale cuts, how traffic around neighborhood schools would be impacted and what the environmental and safety repercussions of such cuts could be.
“It does appear to bite off a pretty big chunk,” Thomas said of the board’s detailed request. “But I would emphasize we should do what we can to keep it on a very tight timeline because I think it is very likely (these busing issues) are going to be coming up again in budget discussions next year.”
AAPS proposed a number of cuts to busing for the 2012-13 school year, including eliminating transportation to the high schools or entirely. However, the board recently shied away from such large-scale cuts in favor of more study and a deeper conversation about transportation as a whole and where the district sees itself going with busing.
The administration made its budget recommendation to the board Wednesday night outlining some smaller transportation-related reductions for a total estimated savings of about $697,228. This would include changing Skyline High School’s start time by 15 minutes to eliminate using a second fleet of buses for the school, combing bus routes for Bryant and Pattengill elementaries, reconfiguring Ann Arbor Open school’s busing system, eliminating mid-day shuttles between Community High and the comprehensive high schools and cutting funding for the 4 p.m. buses for after-school programs at the middle schools.
Vice President Christine Stead has been the only board member to suggest placing eliminating high school busing back on the table. She said last year when this potential cut was discussed, administrators reported about 30 percent of potential bus riders at the high schools actually chose to ride. She inquired about an updated percentage and Deputy Superintendent Robert Allen said he would get back to her.
Many trustees said that while AAPS is avoiding the heavy-handed transportation cuts this budget cycle, they are concerned about next year.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot said the transportation working group should look at the sustainability of busing from a variety of angles, such as how long the district can keep funding busing, the geographical and logistical aspects and the financial aspects.
Trustee Susan Baskett said her biggest concern with launching a busing committee is she wants community members to feel welcome to bring their thoughts, comments and questions freely and openly to the discussions and to not feel like a placeholder on an agenda-driven task force.
The resolution approved Wednesday gives Green the prerogative to either conduct the working group through one of the district’s existing busing-related committees, such as Transportation Safety or City/Schools. Or Green may elect to compile an entirely different set of individuals, the resolution states.
Per the resolution, the administration would report back to the Board of Education with updates on regular intervals. The committee also would be asked to present a thorough report with its findings and recommendations to the board in January 2013.
Mexicotte said she hopes this method of submitting a formal request to the administration detailing what sort of information and action the board would like to see from them can be used more in the future.
“I really like the wording of this and the clear direction we have been given and also the flexibility,” Green said of the request for the transportation work group. “I’d like to go at this not with a road map, but with a compass. Because I think all the stakeholders that we bring together will need to help develop the road map on this.”
Green added the busing topic has momentum now, so she intends to begin moving quickly on this task.