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Posted on Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 6:05 a.m.

Ann Arbor school spending on athletics nearly double that of similar districts

By David Jesse


The Ann Arbor Pioneer High School basketball team huddles before a recent game. The school district is slated to spend $3.2 million from its general fund this year on high school and middle school athletics. Melanie Maxwell |

The Ann Arbor school district is set to spend nearly twice as much as similar-sized districts on athletics from its general fund this year, an analysis shows.

The district’s 2009-10 school year budget calls for using $3.2 million from the general fund for athletics at the middle school and high school level. That subsidy makes up the bulk of the $3.6 million athletics budget. Of that, more than $2.5 million will be spent on high school athletics.

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Stories in this series

Overview: How Ann Arbor School District spends its money

Ann Arbor families make high school athletics a financial priority

High school booster clubs responsible for fund-raising, careful spending

Coaches have lead role in sustaining funding for high school sports programs

Ann Arbor school buildings 87.8% full; superintendent says closures not needed to balance budget

District officials: Community High School attracks students to Ann Arbor

Future of Ann Arbor's Roberto Clemente Development Center up in air

Ann Arbor school district spends least amount of general fund money on its poorest school

Ann Arbor school district's total revenue debated

By comparison, similar districts in southeast Michigan surveyed by spent an average of $1.7 million on athletics from their
general funds.

“As we’re in the midst of addressing our budget deficit, that’s one reason that one of the options we’re looking at is reducing the general fund contribution to athletics,” Superintendent Todd Roberts said.

The general fund subsidy represents 1.6 percent of the district’s total $191 million general fund budget. Athletics spending is just one area to come under scrutiny as administrators look for ways to to close a projected $20 million budget deficit over the course of this school year and next.

The district also is studying other cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures, including eliminating teaching positions, implementing schools of choice and consolidating transportation.

In athletics, a pay-to-play program is on the table.

The district has about 5,600 high school students, and last year, 3,618 took part in high school sports. That’s more than 65 percent of the high school student body, which drives up the amount of money spent on athletics, administrators note.

Long-time Pioneer High School swimming coach Denny Hill said he isn’t too surprised to find out about the difference in athletics spending between districts.

“We have twice the number of students involved than other districts,” Hill said. “More than 50 percent of Pioneer is involved in athletics in some way, and I think that is really a plus for those kids that go to Pioneer.”

Parent Mike Small, who has two daughters playing sports in Ann Arbor high schools, said the comparison shows the pain Ann Arbor athletes and their families will soon feel.

“We’ve had a really good sports program, lots of different sports for kids to play,” he said. “That’s good. But I think we’re going to see some of that change soon. There’s no way the district can keep handing out this type of money for sports. Parents and kids are really going to have to pay a lot more if they want to keep these sports.”

That could happen soon. Ann Arbor’s general fund subsidy for athletics will likely go down in 2010-11 as part of the cost-cutting process.

Roberts has proposed instituting pay-to-play, along with cuts to the high school sports program, to generate $500,000 in savings. Under the plan, high school athletes would pay $150 a year to play sports. Proposed cuts include eliminating transportation to some events and consolidating some teams between all the high schools.

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Ann Arbor Superintendent Todd Roberts

Another district’s athletic budget

An survey of comparable districts shows many have already taken some of the same steps the Ann Arbor district is considering. The districts analyzed - Dearborn, Plymouth-Canton, Farmington, Lansing, Walled Lake and Rochester - all have three comprehensive high schools. 

Their student populations range from 11,500 to 17,700. Ann Arbor has more than 16,400 students.

All of the other districts currently have pay-to-play sports programs, with varying fees to play.

One such example is Plymouth-Canton, widely considered to be the geographically closest comparable district to Ann Arbor.

Sue Heinzman, a co-athletic director at Plymouth-Canton, remembers a time in the not-too-distant past when her budget ran over $2 million. But years of cuts have taken about $500,000 out of the district’s athletics budget.

“We’ve been cut more than any other program in the district,” Heinzman said.


Heinzman now has about $1.5 million to spend, split pretty evenly between the district’s three comprehensive high schools. Plymouth-Canton has about 6,300 high school students, and one-third of those students play sports. The athletics budget is spread across nearly 30 sports teams per high school. Ann Arbor has more than 30 at Huron and more than 30 at Pioneer.

The district also has had pay-to-play fees in place - $180 for the first sport, $100 for the second and the third is gratis - for the past five years. But high school athletes don’t have to pay team fees to booster clubs. Instead, their booster clubs rely on fundraising.

Heinzman said she’s able to buy some equipment for her team using general fund dollars and will often negogiate with teams, offering to pay for half if they raise the other half.

Two athletic directors oversee the entire program at the three schools. Ann Arbor has three athletic directors, after hiring a third this year to oversee Skyline’s athletics program.

Any general fund subsidy for athletics may soon be a thing of the past, Heinzeman said. The way she sees it, unless the way schools are financed changes at the state level, high school athletics could be forced to be self-supporting within five years.

Ann Arbor’s athletic spending

Ann Arbor’s general fund contribution to athletics - which last year was $435 per athlete in middle and high school - is greater than all the comparable districts surveyed by

In the 2005-06 school year, the Ann Arbor school district spent nearly $2.4 million from its general fund on high school athletics.


Huron High School’s Jalen Bouma runs through a tunnel of teammates during player introductions in Tuesday night, January 19th’s clash against Chelsea High School at Huron High School’s Riverdome. Each Ann Arbor high school sport gets a portion of its budget from the district’s overall general fund budget. Lon Horwedel |

During the 2006-07 school year, the district spent about $1.9 million in general fund money on high school athletics, district audits show. That decrease came during a budget crunch that saw the district making cuts through such measures as eliminating an assistant athletic director position at both Huron and Pioneer high schools.

But spending gradually began to rise again. In 2007-08, the district spent just under $2.1 million. Last year, it spent $2.4 million. And this year, it’s scheduled to spend over $2.5 million.

The reason for the big jump? The introduction of Skyline High School to the funding mix, the numbers show.

Each year, the district gives each high school a portion of its overall general fund subsidy to spend on athletics programs.

At Pioneer, that was worth $1.2 million in 2005-06, dipping to $930,000 the next year. By the 2007-08 calendar year, it was $1,032,055, and in 2008-09, it was $1,016,255.

At Huron, the general fund subsidy was $1.2 million in 2005-06, down to $937,000 in 2006-07, up to $1,026,930 in 2006-07 and at $1,047,136 in 2008-09.

The district added a $350,000 general fund subsidy to Skyline, beyond what was already being spent on Pioneer’s and Huron’s athletic programs.

The subsidies are primarily used to pay for salaries and benefits for coaches. This school year, more than 70 percent of the overall general fund subsidy for sports will go to the salaries of the district’s three athletic directors, all the coaches and other athletics personnel. The bulk of the rest of the money goes to pay for transportation and officials for games, athletic directors said.

The coaches’ pay is set by the teachers union contract, using a point system that provides $7.10 per point. For example, a head football coach position is worth 893 points, or just over $6,300. The head soccer coach position is worth 660 points, or nearly $4,700.

The rest of the money needed to run a sports program, including funds to buy equipment like football helmets, is largely paid for by parents through private booster clubs, Ann Arbor’s athletic directors said. There is no central financial record that shows how much private booster clubs help out. Most Ann Arbor sports programs charge students a team fee that goes to the booster clubs. That fee varies widely, depending on the sport.

At the schools, athletic directors divide up the general fund subsidy amongst all the sports. The ADs said they do so based on the number of students participating. The amounts spent on similiar sports at each school can be different.

For example, 2008-09 district financial records show Huron spent $95,818 on boys football, its most expensive sport. Of that, $78,740 went to coaches’ salaries and benefits. Just over $17,000 was spent on non-salary items.

Athletic director Dottie Davis allocated $78,212 of the school’s $1,047,136 general fund subsidy to the football program. The remainder of the revenue needed to cover it came from ticket revenues.

At Pioneer, the school spent $80,770 on boys football in 2008-09, district financial records show. Of that, $65,298 went to salary and benefits, while more than $15,000 went to non-salary items. Pioneer Athletic Director Lorin Cartwright allocated $24,385 of the schools’ $1,016,205 general fund subsidy to football. The rest was covered with other revenues, records show.

High school principals control similar funds that pay for other extra-curriculars at the high school. In the 2008-09 school year, the general fund subsidy to the student activities fund was $874,867. Of that, $779,780 went to high schools for things like band, newspaper, debate and other student activities.

Making cuts to those programs is a balancing act, Roberts said.

“The community and their expectations of having an amazing program also weigh into our decisions,” he said.

For example, Pioneer took four of the nine state championships won by Washtenaw County schools in 2009.

“We’ll continue to look at it as we go forward,” Roberts said. “We have to think about the quality of the program and the opportunities we offer our students versus the cost.” sports reporter Jeff Arnold contributed to this story. David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 1:19 p.m.

"I would like any feed back on the information that a athletic facility is being built in front of Holloway field for locker rooms, weight room, training room and concession stands. The cost is 3 million dollars or more and yet the schools want to charge students to pay to play, correct me if I am wrong pioneer wants another synthetic field which the cost is approx. 800,000, Skyline is considering another synthetic field with a cost of another 800,000, So how can Ann arbor schools do away with over 300 jobs and yet be able to afford to do these extra things that total almost 5 million dollars." The proposal to build the new athletic facility on the Pioneer football campus was voted on. I do not know if that means it will be built, however the funds are coming from the "sinking funds". Books, teachers, etc., cannot be funded from the sinking funds. The funds in the sinking funds should be saved or used for projects across the district. Why does Pioneer and Skyline get to have the best of everything? What about Huron or Scarlett or Abbott? My point is I really hope the District opts NOT to build this new facility. I receive the building plans in an email and it's rather lavish considering this is for high school athletes. As a coach at the "other" high school that doesn't even have working facilities half of the time I'm completely fed up. Where is the news story on this proposed building? Why do I have the building plans, cost, etc. but the news is publishing this?


Wed, Jan 27, 2010 : 9:39 p.m.

Lisa, teachers are not being asked to take on the entire burden. As I understand it, teacher salaries and benefits make up more than 80% of the budget. If that's the case, we can continue to cut and trim around the issue with the other 15-20% of the budget but to get to the numbers we need ($18-20M), teachers must take cuts and the proposed 4% seems small in an economy where people are losing their jobs or taking 25%+ pay cuts to keep them. Look at the December 10, 2009 issue of The Economist (Welcome to the Real World) about public and private wages/benefits. And, Bornblu, thanks for taking the time to make a genuine, thoughtful and reasonable comment helping to move the conversation forward. The $200 tax increase didnt pass so why continue to discuss it it passed in Ann Arbor but that doesnt matter. We have to find a different way to remedy a financial shortfall.

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 8:55 p.m.

Bornblu, With all due respect, it is unreasonable to tax only teachers in your community to pay for the shortfalls of budgets due to reduced taxes on everyone else. There are teachers whose spouses have lost their jobs and are down to one income. There are teachers whose spouses or children are retired or disabled and are on one income. There are teachers who are single parents and there are teachers, like myself, who have small children. You are asking teachers to take on the entire communities burden. That's not reasonable.


Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 7:25 p.m.

Lisa: Again, let me say that I truly respect your dedication toward both your profession and your students and I understand that we disagree on many issues. A short background, my spouse is a retired teacher so I am aware of, and benefit from,a defined pension with wonderful benefits. I am retired and have neither. We live on our Social Security and her pension. Our jobs let us by a nice home (years before Prop A) which has risen in value to where we pay over $7,500.00 in property tax. We are "comfortable" but must live within a strict budget as utilities and gas prices also have increased again substantially. An increase in tax would "hurt" as we do not have the opportunity to become employed or raise our income level. While I understand the negative feeling of a reduction in teachers salary for a brief period of time,due to the economic situation, I do wonder if a teacher could survive for a year (or 2) earning$72,000 per year rather than $75,000 per year (4% reduction). This is not meant to imply a belief in less value of what you provide, only a response to an economic condition (in my prior employment I was required to take a loss > than this to insure continued employment). I need to reiterate that I have the utmost respect for what you do, but that we all must live within a budget, either personal or business related. As an aside, I have also coached at the high school varsity and junior varsity level (KVC and SEC). I was paid, and asked for, $0. I coached for the love I have for my sport and the belief that providing the opportunity to participate to children and young adults would greatly enhance their life experiences. And, by the way, it was brought to our attention as coaches (as well as parents of those involved) by the Athletic Dept. that it was "Pay to Participate" not pay to play.


Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 6:26 p.m.

Pay to play? I would like any feed back on the information that a athletic facility is being built in front of Holloway field for locker rooms, weight room, training room and concession stands. The cost is 3 million dollars or more and yet the schools want to charge students to pay to play, correct me if I am wrong pioneer wants another synthetic field which the cost is approx. 800,000, Skyline is considering another synthetic field with a cost of another 800,000, So how can Ann arbor schools do away with over 300 jobs and yet be able to afford to do these extra things that total almost 5 million dollars.


Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

I am having trouble with the 65% participation rate. I can believe that the student count is right - but I am betting that some kids are getting double or triple counted as they play multiple sports. I would ask David Jesse and the staff here to double check that the number is unique students. The reason I question the number is a quick survey of high school kids (done randomly - the next one to walk by) was that 2 of 40 played. So either I have a really really bad sample (possible) or fewer children play sports than the district likes to admit. Thank you for your time.

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 9:22 a.m.

Stunshlf, So you expect to be able to cut your taxes but not see your kids hurt by the cuts because the teachers should pay 15 times more (or even more) than we asked the community to pay? Do you not see how unreasonable that is?


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 9:12 p.m.

@the grinch and Lisa and EOM, Apparently you guys can read but you cannot comprehend what you read. The worst part about it is, "you don't know, and you don't know that you don't know"!! Ignorance is bliss. Can you truly be so insulated from reality? I simply don't want my kids hurt with what is coming down the pike. Salaries, but even more so benefits and pensions for union employees are by far the greatest cost for public schools. What are you folks going to do not disrupt my children's education? I already pay $150 for "pay to play" sports so don't dredge that one up. I can tell you, with your militant attitudes towards us regular folks who pay your salaries and benefit packages, you will never pass another millage. Your "fat cat-Cadillac benefits/pension" (not pay--I have no problem with your salary) are out of line with what is going on with the economy. Please don't try and make this about union bashing, it isn't. It is about my kids who are in public schools and not hurting them. Reality demands change, the money has been and is drying up. What are you going to do to help solve the problems without taxing us more?


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 8:08 p.m.

As an educator I'm now supposed to pay for kids to play sports? I understand that it's hard to pay for things, but I shouldn't pay for a kid to play sports. Grinch, you are right on the money - he/she won't ever really listen to the issues because his/her hatred for unions has clouded not only his/her judgement, but the ability to be helpful in solving this problem. Sad, but very true. aaconcerned - Thank you for the thank you - I'm glad to know there are people out there who appreciate the teachers of AA (and beyond!).

Lisa Starrfield

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 7:35 p.m.

Stunshlf, No. I'm sorry but I don't feel compelled to pay a 5% income tax aimed only at teachers so that programs aren't cut. Because taxpayers in this state voted for less taxes with Proposal A and then the taxpayers in this state voted against the latest millage. This was the choice of voters to refuse to shore up funding despite the fact that the state keeps cutting money; I don't think it reasonable that they now tax only us to pay for the shortfall.

The Grinch

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 7:35 p.m.

Sorry you've had a pay cut. So that's your reason teachers should take a pay cut? Sorry, that doesn't pass the Logic 101 test, nor does not answer the question posed.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 6:12 p.m.

@Lisa, I think it is very reasonable that your pay/pension and benefits get cut 5% to "save the kids" rather than "save the unions". The Grinch keeps saying that the average tax increase had the millage gone through would be $200.00. My property taxes are already over $5,000.00 dollars a year and I have personally taken a $6000.00 paycut ( in 2009 which continues) from my salary and the company no longer contributes to my 401K ( don't have a defined pension benefit like you do)and my weekly healthcare costs have doubled in two years. So yes, I do feel very justified in asking that you and your union brethren take a 5% paycut, not to pay for play the fee for 20 kids as you suggested but rather to keep the kids from getting hurt by having to cut programs, close schools, and lay off teachers. If all the union employees took 5% cuts and they stayed in place, the kids would not suffer. Surely it makes more sense to make reasonable, fair cuts which we have been "suffering" in the private sector for several years now. It really doesn't matter what I think because your pension funds are extremely underfunded and getting worse every year. Your pension funds are like "social insecurity" on steroids.

The Grinch

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 1:47 p.m.

Lisa: He doesn't like that question. Have asked it of him 6 or 7 times. Don't expect a reply.

Lisa Starrfield

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

Stunshlf, You think it reasonable to take away 5% of my pay so that you won't have to pay a play to pay fee of $150 or increase your taxes by $200? So you are basically asking me to pay the taxes for 15 families? Or to pay the pay to play fees for 20 kids?


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

I think a lot of the districts that have pay to play, the kids do not keep their uniforms. One could argue that the fees being paid are to help offset costs of transportation, coaches salaries and league fees. With that mindset, there doesn't seem to be a point to re-purchase uniforms each year. Depending on the sport these costs can be cheap or really expensive. Just another way of trimming the budget, re-use uniforms.

Haran Rashes

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:29 a.m.

While the district contributes significant money to the athletic teams, academic teams do not recieve subsidies and are, in effect, pay-to-play. For example, the FIRST Robotics Team is required to fundraise on its own from industry -- a daunting task in this economy. And even then parents are required to pay significant travel costs. In addition, despite efforts to combine the FIRST Robotics teams in the district, Skyline's administration pushed for their own team this year, effectively doubling the cost with no real benefit to students. Last year Skyline and Huron students were on a single team.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

"The sad thing is from what I understand some of the sports teams at Huron for example, get new uniforms every year. There is no reason to waste money in this type of economy through purchasing new uniforms each year because you allow the players to keep them." If the parent/athlete pays a team fee that includes the cost of a new uniform its for them to keep. The schools pay for coaches, transportation and officials. Some coaches do opt to select a uniform that can be worn all four years, however, that cost is built into team fees. Some teams also buy used equipment to help save cost. From what I have seen working in the district for over 10 years, MOST coaches are running lean programs and many teams already have team fees in excess of $150 per year to offset costs. has a link to see the various costs of each athletic program at the schools. I was rather surprised at how lean many of these programs are.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

The sad thing is from what I understand some of the sports teams at Huron for example, get new uniforms every year. There is no reason to waste money in this type of economy through purchasing new uniforms each year because you allow the players to keep them.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor has a huge variety as far as income level of students is concerned. There are many, many parents who have kids on varsity teams like swimming, tennis, hockey, ice skating, golf, dance, equestrian who have been paying for private clubs, lessons, and equipment for years. How do you think these kids make the teams? $150 is nothing compared to what they are already spending so their child will have a huge advantage over ordinary kids when it comes to high school sports. Ditto the music program where the award winning orchestras, bands and choirs are completely dominated by kids who have studied extensively with private programs, many since they were young children. I can't muster up any sympathy for memebers of these teams to have to pay. I think it should be more than $150.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

"I buy food for my students, things for lesson plans (how many people stop at Kroger on the way to work to buy foam plates and raisins for a science lesson?), snow pants for kids who can't afford them, paper, office supplies, DVD's, and much, much more." Thank you for doing this for kids!


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

"I have a suggestion for high school sports teams, have the coaches do it for free. Seems all these soccer teams ( even the travel teams with teenagers) have coaches that do it for free because their kids are on the team. They could be reimbursed for all their expenses but otherwise would do it because they love the sport and they love the kids?" With taxes and the other benefits taken out (not a teacher) I currently bring home about $3500 per season. During season I coach 5 days a week, plus game days, etc. Off season activity includes conditioning, FUNDRAISING, season planning, recruiting, etc, which takes a lot of time. Given that I work about 8 months out of the year doing this job yet only take home $3500 I'm pretty much doing it for free. There isn't a coach in the district that coaches for the money. If you took the amount of hours we dedicated to our programs and divided by our pay - we work for pennies and most of us aren't complaining. The ones who coach for money don't last long because it's a fulltime job. My point is pretty much 90% of us are working for free.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

"You have to be honor roll material to play hi school sports. All sports children enter there in at the high school level need to have a B or better to play. Children who have less then that will not be able to play. This is the way it has always been. I have been told by teachers that coaches will try to influence teachers to tweak the grades so that their prize start football player can play on Saturdays game." ALL athletes are required to maintain a minimum of a 2.0 GPA per the MHSAA and AAPS guidelines. However, MOST coaches will put in the team handbook that athletes should strive for 3.0 and higher. Coaches are given grade sheets to see where their athletes are and most coaches will start talking with athletes who are teetering on the edge of ineligibility. Most of the athletes I've worked with over the years use participation in athletics as a motivator for keeping the grades up well above the 2.0 minimum. Having coached in the AAPS district for more than a decade, I am very skeptical about coaches asking teachers to tweak grades. Most of the coaches in my school teach personal accountability and it is up to the STUDENT to get his/her grades up and work out a plan with the teacher in order to be eligible. Coaches will provide study time and accommodations but we dont have the time nor the resources to go around the schools during the day asking teachers for free grades. That is a rumor that has long been disputed.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 2:47 a.m.

@DagnyJ - The booths selling food at Pioneer during UM football games are run by the HS athletic booster clubs. Teams volunteer to man the booths and get a cut of the proceeds to support their team. This is just one of many fundraisers that kids on the teams and their parents participate in to pay the difference between what the District gives them and what they need to pay expenses. A more general comment to the staff - The district comparison table is interesting but would be more helpful with some additional information such as: -sports participation rates in the other districts -cost per participating student For example, the article states that about 65% of Ann Arbor HS students participate in sports, but only about a third (33%) participate in Plymouth-Canton. When the factor in participation rates, spending in Ann Arbor works out to about $305 per athlete while spending in Plymouth is about $240 per athlete. But the Ann Arbor number is inflated because the cost also includes middle school sports while the Plymouth cost is only for HS. Once that is factored in, I suspect that the two districts pay close to the same amount of general revenue funds per student athlete. In other words, Ann Arbor spends more and gets proportionally higher participation rates as a result.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 12:01 a.m.

Are you all out to lunch? Ann Arbor has 3 high shcools and the associated middles schools and underling schools.. Sheesh.. of course sports expenditures like everything else is up!!! you n it wits. should ahve never built the other school. It should ahve been a separte disstrict on it's own with its own tx base. Some where other thn the lame place it was put.. And what a terrible name. Hi I graduated from Skyline High school.. lol...not something that boasts a real sense of classmate pride or sureness! Oh that's right, it lets all hold hands and give everyone an A for just being here!..Sheesh!

The Grinch

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 11 p.m.

Yeah, don't you know that unions are the root of all evil in this world? Imagine the temerity of union members thinking that they should have some due process rights so that their employer can not fire them on a whim, or out of anger, or out of retribution. Or, in the case of teachers, that the administration could not fire a teacher because one parent (say, perhaps, stunhsif, for example) raises so much ruckus that it's easier to fire the teacher than it is to put up with the parents' complaining. Yeah, it would be a MUCH better world if angry people like stunhsif could fire employees just 'cause.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:44 p.m.

eom, Never said you don't do it "every single day". Never said you don't work hard, we all do or we get fired. Oops, you don't have to, you have the union protecting your brothers and sisters that don't work as hard as you. Bottom line is this EOM. We are not asking you to "fund the schools" as you state. What we as taxpayers are asking you to do is not hurt our kids.When we have to close schools, when we have to cut programs and make sports "pay to play" at an excessive amount of money,when you are willing to have 10 nope, 20 nope, 30+ teachers get fired ( BTW--the most vulnerable and lowest seniority) then you really don't have my kids best interests in mind. We in the private sector ( as stated here at least 500 plus times) have taken huge paycuts, have had our benefits cut, have had our copays skyrocket etc. Why should you be insulated from that? I don't have a defined pension benefit as you do, I have a 401K which my company does not contribute a dime towards. We middle class taxpayers cannot afford your "Cadillac benefits" anymore. I have a suggestion for high school sports teams, have the coaches do it for free. Seems all these soccer teams ( even the travel teams with teenagers) have coaches that do it for free because their kids are on the team. They could be reimbursed for all their expenses but otherwise would do it because they love the sport and they love the kids?

The Grinch

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:31 p.m.

gobluebeatOSU: I know well of what you speak--my child did crew. And, indeed, there is no easy answer. eom: You need to understand, stunhsif bashes teachers every chance he gets in every discussion. He hates unions. He hates teachers. Complains long and mightily about both. stunhsif: so teachers are supposed to take pay and benefit cuts in the thousands of dollars because you don't want your taxes increased $200? Yeah, that makes sense. If you can't afford $200, why do you think teachers and school employess can afford pay cuts in the thousands of dollars? I've asked this question of you at least half a dozen times. I'll take your continued silence as evidence you don't have an answer.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:26 p.m.

stunhsif - I gotta tell ya, as a teacher, I do my part EVERY SINGLE DAY. Why do you think I should be responsible for funding the schools? I'm paid a fair wage and spent a lot time going to school in order to do this job. It will only fall on deaf ears, I'm sure, but people don't become teachers because of the loads of cash to be made. I am not ripping off the city of Ann Arbor - I am paid fairly and I do a damn fine job. I love what I do but I sure wish everyone who thinks I'm raking in the money and sitting on my butt all day would come into a classroom. Certainly, there are cuts to be made and it will be tough - but the answer isn't to slash teacher pay. You will indeed get what you pay for - no one will sign up for education courses and the profession will go down the tubes. I assure you, I give far more than 5% every year I teach. I buy food for my students, things for lesson plans (how many people stop at Kroger on the way to work to buy foam plates and raisins for a science lesson?), snow pants for kids who can't afford them, paper, office supplies, DVD's, and much, much more.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:06 p.m.

Three points: First, the coaching salaries are set for the certified teaching staff through the collective bargaining process as you stated. The coaches who are not teacher union members, and I bet at least half of them are not in the union, can be paid whatever the District decides to pay them. The District can pay them less. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Second, unless I missed it in the article, Ann Arbor sponsors many, many athletic teams that very few other school districts sponsor. Our daughters, for example, played field hockey. It is a great sport, but very few other high schools have a team. It seems that only Ann Arbor sponsors everything that anybody comes to the school board for, sports or otherwise. Third, we have one too many comprehensive high schools. It's only money, I guess. Dan Slee, Pioneer, 1961


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 6:51 p.m.

The Grinch - "Crew participation fees now can run more than $1000 per academic year for the fall and spring seasons."..your are right...and you are being kind. Many of the Crew regattas (meets if you will) are in Columbus OH, Cincinnati OH or other places that are hours away. If the parent wants to go there are additional costs, especially if the parent decides to spend the night on Friday so they don't have to leave at 3:00am, or earlier, on a Saturday morning. To expand the thought. Crew is very expensive. However....there are scholarship opportunities, especially for the girls/women. There are girls in the Ann Arbor area that are rowing in colleges with a scholarship. "IF" you get a scholarship that $5,000 to $8,000 crew cost in high school is quickly offset with the scholarship. Sports are very expensive but does a parent say no because of the financial burden? Saying no may result in a child not be able to take advantage of another opportunity. Hard to put a price tag on these sports programs when the future is so hard to see for the child. No easy answer.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

@thegrinch, Gee, 150 dollars here and 200 dollars there and pretty soon you are talking real money. How about we ask the teachers, administrators and all public school employees to kick in 5% of their pay, pensions and healthcare benefits and then we won't have to cut sports,cut music, fire teachers and close schools. This way the kids don't get hurt and the public employees do their " fair share" in helping us out ( IE: the taxpayers that employ them).

Andrew Thomas

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 6:38 p.m.

@ Grinch: You forget, the millage failed as a county-wide initiative. The City of Ann Arbor supported it. My rather cynical side suspects that the majority of those who voted "no" did not have children in the school system. And yes, even for those with children in the public schools, there's a big differe between paying an extra $200 for a millage that you may perceive as not benefitting you directly, and paying $150 for a user fee that directly benefits your child. The fact that many booster clubs already charge much more than this amount only proves the point that most people can come up with the money if they really think it's important. And I personally don't buy it that most people voted against it because they were tapped out to the point where an extra $200 per year was going to drive them into bankrupcy or cause them to lose their home. But that's just my opinion. Remember that the truly needy won't have to pay a dime for their kids to participate in sports.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

Mike D It is not that I disagree with helping those that cannot pay. And it is those students that can be helped the most by participating in athletics. And I would vote for a sliding scale. HOWEVER I know families that are just scraping by that do not qualify for gov help but if they quit working and got food stamps their kids could get loans or grants for college. The ones working in this country are footing the bill for too many.

The Grinch

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 5:07 p.m.

Andrew Thomas: you wrote "A $150 participation fee doesn't sound particularly expensive to me". Maybe, county voters turned down a millage that was going to cost the average property owner $200 per year. Many who posted on this website opposing that millage complained that they were "tapped out" and could not afford the $200. If that's the case, there are more than a few AAPS students whose parents cannot afford $150 per sport. And, by the way, there are sports where the participation fee is much higher. Crew participation fees now can run more than $1000 per academic year for the fall and spring seasons.

Andrew Thomas

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

A $150 participation fee doesn't sound particularly expensive to me -- I'm sure most high school kids who really want to participate could come up with three bucks a week. And the $50 fee for middle schoolers is a real bargain compared to what we pay for rec and ed sports. The truly needy are excluded based on free/reduced lunch eligibility, and I'm sure the booster clubs can pitch in for those families who just miss the income cut-off for the lunch programs. I think pay-to-play is a very reasonable (and long overdue) measure.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

Great article! These are the kind of hard facts necessary to identify where and how dollars are allocated. I always liked to think that once the problem is identified, the solution(s) become obvious. A reallocation of dollars and manpower seem to be warranted to maximize the benefits for the kids. I think we might need to redefine what is considered to be a winning athletic program.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

I have a question: At the UM games, different sports teams work in the high school "tent" at the Pioneer parking area. One day it was girls water polo, for example. Does that sport get "credit" for hours worked or revenue brought in? Does each sport have an obligation of volunteer hours, etc?

David Jesse

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

Thanks to those who have posted kind words. We're going to keep looking at AAPS spending all week long in this series. Come back every day to see what's next. Also, a clarification for @rwhas: the money generated by the UofM parking project at Pioneer does not directly go into athletics. Instead, it is just dumped into the district's general fund and parceled out with all the other sources of revenues that feed that fund.

The Grinch

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 1:01 p.m.

@rwshas: the $800,000 generated by parking at Pioneer is accounted for in the district's overall budget as one of its sources of revenue. Comparing AAPS athletic costs to that of other school districts is apples and oranges unless we know a) how many varsity, club, and intramural sports each school offers, and b) how many students participate in those sports.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 12:48 p.m.

First, a big thanks to for this article; I hope it is one of many that will compare Ann Arbor to similar districts. While I think we need to keep Ann Arbor unique, we also have to understand how similar districts cope with the problems we face. It's regrettable, but in this budget climate pay-to-play seems inevitable. Note that the AAPS proposal for pay-to-play does include the potential for scholarships/subsidies -- not sure when they'd kick in. I'd also prefer a per sport or per season fee, with a yearly cap, vs. a simple flat fee of $150 whether you play one sport or three or four.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 11:07 a.m.

Getting children to get good grades and using sports as a motivator is not a good incentive to make children do something they will not do otherwise or be able to do if they are not honor roll material. You have to be honor roll material to play hi school sports. All sports children enter there in at the high school level need to have a B or better to play. Children who have less then that will not be able to play. This is the way it has always been. I have been told by teachers that coaches will try to influence teachers to tweak the grades so that their prize start football player can play on Saturdays game. This is the way it is in college as well. We are looking at entering the most expensive sport in hi school next to football, hockey and soccer. Ice skating is the other sport that is very expensive. As for parents paying to play? They better be able to afford the equipment that goes with it. This is not cheap. They say the boosters can help the children get into this sport or what ever sport, but if the parents are not able to pay for these equipment fees, then the child will be left out because the parents cannot afford what goes into the sport. Many do not realize the cost for hockey, soccer and ice skating. Ice skates, a good pair will run you around $300 or more. Same for hockey skates. Soccer cleats? I was told by a friend that they pay nearly $600 a year for new cleats because they tear them up after the 3rd game. We will be paying $500 a year for ice skating at the hi school level. This does not include coach fees, ice time and entry fees. Plus travel to and from the participant host ice skating club not in Ann Arbor. Do the math. Boosters can only afford so much. It is the affluent parent whose child is in the expensive sports. I commend Todd Roberts for the pay as you go plan. If the affluent parent can afford the sport? Then let the games begin. By the way Rachel Flatt is a hi school honors student who just made it to the Olympics. There is no way a booster club can pay for this one. Just a thought.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

The headline should have read "Over 64% of Ann Arbor High School Students participate in athletics" This should be a great source of community pride rather than being spun as something shameful. For all you public school detractors take you best shots!!


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

The comparisons to other districts using pay-to-play is rather weak in this article. A key question, what impact did it have on participation?, was not answered. It seems like that is the biggest criticism against the idea and the data must be there.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

The least academically motivated students are academically motivated when sports eligibility (grades needed to play) comes into question. The coaches provide study tables and tutors that bring up the grades of some of the lowest achieving athletes. Athletics is a prime motivator for students who might not otherwise complete assignments and who may not have a parent who is able to help at home with homework.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:13 a.m.

For clarification, most art and music activities are not extra curriculars. Students receive academic credit for participation.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:50 a.m.

Looks like the revenue from sports is close to the overall cost. of the Dept. That's better than other extra activities at schools such as art and music that provide no revenue. Pay to play should be used here in A2. But other activites should charge admission for spectators just like the sports teams do. The Report does not take into account UofM football parking fees generated for the district. We should be spending more than other programs because we bring in more that a Walled Lake...


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.

David Jesse, excellent article. Thank you. I think we should adopt a structure like Plymouth-Canton, so those who play multiple sports pay more. Also, there should be a scholarship fund for those who cannot pay. I agree that sports is an important part of high school, sometimes motivating students to work in class to maintain a GPA so they can play sports. How much does Community give to the sports programs from its general fund? Students there play sports at other schools, and I'm wondering if the school pays for that as is done at the other high schools.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

I never played sports in high school (wasn't the girl thing to do way back when). So when my kids entered high school, I still didn't see the point. But when I realized what a positive impact the coaches and team members had on my kids, I finally did get the point. My son joined the cross country team and made life long friendships with kids who wouldn't drink or eat unhealthy food. My daughter, overly stressed about attending a big high school, took on tennis (she had never played before) and made many new friends at all grade levels. My two kids didn't win big any medals, didn't earn college scholarships, didn't make it to varsity level - but they stayed healthy, motivated, and focused on getting great grades to earn the respect of their coaches and team mates. High school sports is a good thing; no a great thing! I didn't do well in high school and I hung out with a bunch of lost kids doing stupid (bad) things. If I had joined that bowling team or ski team when I had the chance, I now know things would have been different. Anyway, the point of this long ramble (sorry) is to remind people that sports have an important role in the high school experience. The more teams the more opportunities for kids to find one that fits their skill level and interest. This issue isn't just about money - it's about our children. Not just yours or mine... but all of them. I urge you write your state reps and demand that school funding be restored to the levels they were once at. And don't underestimate the impact that sports, music, and the arts have on the education of our kids.

Mark Quigley

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:50 a.m.

David Jesse is doing a good job looking at both sides of the issues. Additional questions should be asked of the BOE by the taxpayers. What are the elements of the U of M parking arrangement with AAPS? Who collects the money? How is it split between AAPS and Great Lakes Environmental?(the vendor) Who owns GLE? Can taxpayers expect to realize more parking revenue from all U of M sports parking in 2010-2011 and beyond? Can the taxpayers see a detailed line item, by month, by event tracking of parking revenues? A doubling of parking revenues would provide over $800,000 in new funds to support the schools and athletic programs. Parking at a U of M football game is cheap when measured against its peer group of Big Ten and professional sports. Why do the monies from the parking project go directly to the General Fund? Should they be directed differently? Ever wondered where the monies go from the large marketing companies that are showing their goods and services at U of M games on Pioneer property? Is this an arrangement with the University? Do the Ann Arbor taxpayers share in any additional fees for those activities? Do the satellite t.v. concerns and radio stations pay $20 like a car? Is the AAPS BOE engaged and skilled enough to do the right thing? The students and taxpayers need a better negotiated deal with the parking project.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

To me it is inexcusable to consider cuts that directly affect the academic success of students to preserve programs that do not. I truly appreciate the benefits that athletics can have for students, but their benefit pales in comparison to academic programs, smaller classrooms and library programs. Start by putting everything in the budget on the table and separate them into academic influencers and those that have no measurable effect. Once you have eliminated enough items from the later category to balance your budget, look at the rest and see what additional cost savings could be derived. (Trust me, the budget is not going to improve next year, so now would be a great time to plan.) When the district is considering cutting teachers and media specialists (librarians) and preserving athletic spending that is double that of comparable districts, something is very wrong. I am particularly concerned with the idea of limiting (or, I think it is being called looking for efficiencies) in the media programs. In a study conducted in Michigan in 2003 it was found that schools with librarians students performed 35% higher on the MEAP Reading Test at the elementary level than students in schools without librarians. The benefit was %23 in the middle school and 8% at the high school level. ( ) Can the same benefit be shown for athletic programs? If not, then you clearly need to cut from athletics before touching school media. It is a digital age, and media literacy is more important that at any point in history. If you cut media, what is your plan to address the need? There are other venues and opportunities for athletic participation. It is not unusual for kids to self organize and have a pick up game. When was the last time you heard a group of kids saying; "Hey, let's have a pick up game of library or math?"


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

I agree with Scott Beal. Those numbers are confusing. I'm guessing that they are describing a salary premium paid over and above scale for those positions, but I can't tell from the article. If that's the case, it doesn't offer much information without including the base scale on which the premium is added. It's a sad reality, but the fact is the costs of everything is so high these days it consumes all discretionary spending--in the home, in businesses and in school districts. Some tough choices have to be made. When I was in school decades ago, I attended a parochial school. We never had the resources of the public school systems (then awash in tax dollars). We did not have swim teams or tennis teams. We had basketball, football, baseball, golf and track & field. I checked this looking at the ol' yearbook. There may have also been a swim club that used the local pool facilities. Most of our athletic matches were played on leased premises from the local public schools (football), park and recreation facilities (baseball) or did not require any special facilities (golf). We did have a converted church used as a gym for basketball and other activities. The football coach was the basketball coach and the athletic director. The baseball coach was a volunteer. My school won several statewide championships during those years. In addition, a lot of the kids participated in local recreational teams. The local parks and recreation services sponsored a lot of leagues for hockey, etc. Many of their facilities were shared by the local schools (public and parochial). I don't think we ever felt denied of athletic opportunities and we saw them as a secondary aspect of our primary purpose in the schools--academics. The point is that each of the local schools shared facilities as much as possible, including use of local recreational facilities. We now have schools that each maintain pools, gyms, football fields, tracks, with separate directors, specialized coaches, trainers, and the like. It makes for better athletics but is that the purpose of the school system? Can there be better consolidation to remove redundancies? These are fair questions. The reality, again, is that the money well is pretty much dry and it doesn't really look like it will fill up very much again. Tough choices need to be made. May all involved possess the wisdom and fortitude to make the best allocation for the students needs.

Susan Montgomery

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.

Mike D - Re. parents who can't afford to pay the new fees: To quote from another article posted today - "Booster clubs offer scholarships for families who cannot afford team fees. Families whose students are included in free and reduced lunch programs are exempt, a stipulation that would continue next year under the districts pay-to-play proposal."

Jim Mulchay

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

(1) Do we have any comparable numbers on other local districts - say Saline, Chelsea and Dexter - financial and participation? I think Dexter and Saline have been Pay-to-Play for a few years. (2) It looked like most the the districts compared to AA had pay-to-play; was that money counted in their 'general fund contribution' numbers? (3) Any idea how many sports in AA do NOT charge a team fee or only a small (under $50) fee?

Mike D.

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

The least affluent among us are also the likeliest to face health issues resultant from obesity, and now we're going to make it harder for poor kids to play high school sports. There's a reason comparable districts that spend less on sports also have so many fewer kids playing sports: The parents can't afford it. I understand the current budget situation is what it is, and these cuts are probably unavoidable, but this is backwards. Pay-to-play should be on a sliding scale based on the parents' ability to pay.

David Jesse

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:07 a.m.

@Scott: I'm not sure how many football coaches the program has, but if there's a head coach, a jv head coach and a freshmen team head coach, along with a variety of assistants, I'm sure that adds up quickly. That number also includes benefits.

Scott Beal

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

The article states: "The coaches pay is set by the teachers union contract, using a point system that provides $7.10 per point. For example, a head football coach position is worth 893 points, or just over $6,300." Three paragraphs later: "For example, 2008-09 district financial records show Huron spent $95,818 on boys football, its most expensive sport. Of that, $78,740 went to coaches salaries and benefits." Can both numbers be accurate? How many coaches does a football team employ? And how many coaches per athlete? I don't mean my questions to imply a complaint; the two numbers (for head football coach salary vs. spending on football coach salaries by one school) are just surprising, back-to-back.