Ann Arbor school board removes controversial principal-sharing plan from 2011-12 budget cuts
The Ann Arbor school board voted to remove the controversial principal-sharing portion of the district’s proposed 2011-12 budget from the final plan Wednesday after numerous complaints from parents at the four affected schools.
The vote came after two community forums, numerous emails and a lengthy public commentary at Wednesday’s meeting during which parents from Abbot, Wines, Pittsfield and Angell elementary schools spoke against the proposal. The original plan called for Abbot and Wines to share one principal, as would Pittsfield and Angell.
“This amounts to about 1.3 percent of the amount we’re trying to save,” Thomas said. “We can find other ways of saving that money.”
The board approved trustee Glenn Nelson’s motion to advise district administrators to hire five principals to fill the positions vacated at the end of this school year and for the presentation at the next board meeting on May 25 to show the adjustment in the district’s fund balance for the next school year. Thomas added the amendment to state the district will not pursue the option of sharing elementary principals in the 2011-12 school year.
The possibility of sharing principals remains open for future years. The motion passed by a vote of 5-2, with trustees Christine Stead and Irene Patalan voting against.
Stead said she disliked the principal-sharing plan as much as any of the other trustees, saying that all the cuts presented by district administrators were not exactly palatable. However, she said the district would be best served by not taking any option off the table until more evidence is given from lawmakers in Lansing about what revenues can be expected to go into the School Aid Fund.
“I can’t take things off the list today when that has to be replaced by something else,” Stead said. “Any action by the board right now would be reactionary more than anything else. If we want to demonstrate good accountability and leadership, we will wait until we’re more informed on what we’re talking about.”
Trustee Glenn Nelson said district administrators should set aside $2 million of fund balance, commonly known as the district’s rainy day fund, to attempt to assure staff in the district that there will be no layoffs in the 2011-12 budget. Of the 70 full-time teaching positions set to be eliminated, about 45 are slated to be retirements.
Nelson said the state is holding back on giving money out this year because there are no elections for state lawmakers in 2011. However, more funds will likely become available in 2012 because of the election looming during November of that year.
He said the district’s second quarter financial report also shows additional revenue of $4 million which would be added to the fund balance that could help fill the gap created by removing the shared principals option.
“My feeling is that both of these things, the sharing of principals and the potential of layoffs, are extremely disruptive to the organization,” he said.
Many of the parents who spoke during the meeting said the sharing of principals at the four schools would be targeting student bodies that are among the neediest in the district.
Terrisca Desjardins, the parent of first-grade and third-grade students at Abbot, said she knows district leaders have tough decisions to make on the budget but believes they were looking in the wrong place.
“The recent proposal is ill advised, unacceptable and frankly potentially (damaging) to the lives and futures of our students,” she said.
Other parents pointed out the extra responsibilities that would be put onto the schools’ teachers, who would have to deal with discipline issues in the principal's absence.
Stefanie Iwashyna, a parent from Angell, said the plan was unfair both to students and teachers. She said having lead teachers at the schools take on more responsibilities would cause a “lack of leadership.”
“Aside from being unfair, it is also unwise. The finances are fuzzy, and the true savings that can be achieved with this plan are unknown,” she said, calling the potential savings “a mere drop in the bucket.”