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Posted on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

District analysis: Ann Arbor schools enrollment remains stable as Schools of Choice balances departures

By Danielle Arndt


The Ann Arbor school board heard a presentation on enrollment and capacity at Wednesday's regular meeting. The board hopes it will help shape future budget discussions. file photo

The final tally for the fall 2012 head count is in, and Ann Arbor schools ended up down three students from 2011.

Despite the small dip, the district’s numbers have remained fairly stagnant throughout the past decade, according to a report presented at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

The report indicated Ann Arbor Public Schools has bucked the declining enrollment trend that is plaguing the rest of Washtenaw County and the state. In addition, the report revealed some shifts in the district’s ethnic groups, tapered growth at Skyline High School and a transient K-5 population.

From the 2007-08 to 2011-12 schools years, Michigan districts lost a combined 102,154 K-12 students. While flat enrollment totals are a positive, Ann Arbor schools are losing as many, if not more, students to charters than they are bringing in and more students than in previous years to Saline Area Schools.

The district’s Schools of Choice program also is not doing what school officials had hoped, which was to generate additional revenue. Rather it is just helping the district “play defense” or break even, as Board Secretary Andy Thomas said Wednesday.

Since Ann Arbor launched Schools of Choice in fall 2010, it has yielded 219 non-resident students enrolling in the district.

For the 2012-13 academic year, the district opened 170 seats to children in grades kindergarten through sixth. However, Wednesday’s report showed AAPS received 142 Schools of Choice applicants, resulting in 102 enrollees.

Non-resident children of employees account for more students than Schools of Choice. This year, 157 children of faculty attend the district, according to the report.

Jane Landefeld, director of student accounting and research services, attributed this to a couple of things. She said the district really only is just beginning to circulate communications on its Schools of Choice program. Also, based on her conversations with families, Landefeld said parents are applying at several different districts and then making the choice later after they’ve been accepted at multiple places.


Andy Thomas

However, she said the data shows: “Students who come to us through Schools of Choice are staying with us through Schools of Choice.”

Thomas was disappointed to see no net gain due to this program.

“We are losing out the back door what is coming in through the front door. … I am not at all happy with the whole Schools of Choice issue … but we probably have to do it as a defense mechanism,” he said.

Wednesday’s enrollment and facilities report is just one of a series of reports Superintendent Patricia Green has had her staff compile for the board since the beginning of the school year, her second year at the helm.

The new set of annual reports is among Green’s superintendent goals for this year. She said the reports are part of her and her cabinet’s work plan “to keep the public and the board informed on a wide array of topics we feel are important in planning for the future.”

Landefeld explained the annual fall count is rather time consuming. Students who have unexcused absences on Count Day have 10 days to return, she said, while students who have excused absences have 30 days.

She said the district spends about an eight-week period monitoring attendance and enrollment to prepare for the count, then it does the count and then there is about another eight-week period to vet the data and submit it to the state and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. The WISD audits the numbers for all of the districts and charter schools in the county.

Trustee Susan Lightfoot asked about the numbers at Ann Arbor Technological High School, one of the district’s two alternative secondary education programs that is known to have high student turnover and dropout rates. She said last fall, the district claimed too many students at A2 Tech.

Landefeld cited the high school’s current enrollment at 117.

“As far as I know, things are pretty clean this year,” she said of the audit.

As a trend, growth at the secondary buildings has helped make up for the loss of students at the elementaries.

Landefeld said every year, the district typically sees an influx of students entering the first grade. She attributed this to Ann Arbor’s mostly half-day kindergarten program, saying parents may have kept their children out-of-district for a full-day program and then brought them back in.

“Next year, we believe (the numbers from kindergarten) should look pretty much the same at first grade,” Landefeld said. “We think we’re beginning to really capture students at the kindergarten level.”

AAPS’ enrollment for kindergarten during the past five years has increased by 4.5 percent, compared to an increase of 2.9 percent countywide. The state saw a 2.4 percent decrease in kindergarten enrollment during this same time period.

AAPS also implemented full-day kindergarten districtwide this fall. Prior to 2012, the district offered all-day programs at six of its 21 elementary schools.

In total from last year to this year, Ann Arbor lost 29 students in grades K-5. It lost six students in grades 6-8 and gained 32 at the high schools.

“There is a myth out there that the Ann Arbor schools are losing students at the middle school level,” Thomas said. “But the data does not support that hypothesis. What it does support is that we are losing as we progress from first through fifth grade.”

Landefeld said Thomas’ interpretation of the data is correct. She said part of the problem is the county’s low birth rates in recent years, as well as the number of families that come to Ann Arbor temporarily for jobs at the University of Michigan but don’t stay. She said this is prevalent at Northside Elementary, for example.

Landefeld said the middle schools dropped about 140 students in the past 12 years, but the buildings have been steady in recent years. The one exception is Tappan Middle School, which increased its enrollment from last year by 24 students.

Skyline High School’s population is “less than what we expected a couple of years ago,” Landefeld said. She said enrollment has been constant at about 1,500.

“We thought it would get to the size of the other high schools,” she said.

Huron and Pioneer consistently are at or over capacity, which is 1,615 students at each of the three comprehensive high schools. Landefeld said transportation and the amount of time it takes for students to get to Skyline is what might be deterring some students from attending. Students outside of the attendance area are required to enter Skyline through a lottery. These accepted lottery students must provide their own transportation.

Data shows AAPS had 1,482 students leave the district after Fall Count Day 2011. But it had nearly as many students, 1,478, enter the district in fall of 2012.

AAPS lost 161 students to charter schools and gained back 145. Which charters are drawing the most kids from AAPS has remained about the same. However, Honey Creek Community School appears to be attracting more AAPS students in the past two years.

Similarly, Ann Arbor lost 190 students to other county public schools, but welcomed 155 from other districts. The two districts drawing the greatest number of Ann Arbor families are Ypsilanti and Saline.

Who Ann Arbor’s students are has changed slightly throughout the past decade. From fall 2001 to fall 2012, the number of Caucasian students has dropped by 10 percent, Asian students have increased by 3 percent and multi-ethnic students have increased by 8 percent. African American students have decreased by 2 percent, whereas Hispanic or Latinos have increased by the same amount.

Landefeld said this information is slightly flawed in that AAPS did not offer “multi-ethnic” as a choice on its enrollment form until about six or seven years ago. The district did not go back and ask those who enrolled prior to this change to re-evaluate their ethnic choices, she said.

  • Download the enrollment and facilities powerpoint presentation here.

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



Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

Regarding Skyline...... I do not have a student at Skyline and am not affiliated with the school in any way. Therefore, I don't have an insider's scoop on all that is happening for students and families at the school. However, I do know of some very talented and creative teachers who chose to take the risk and invest their substantial reputations and careers in helping to make Skyline a reality. It is my understanding that last year was the first year that Skyline had four classes of students--with the class of freshmen who were the school's ONLY students during Year One graduating last year. On the face of it, to have a 1500-student enrollment at this early point in the school's development would seem to be a rather incredible success story. :-) Congrats to Skyline faculty, staff, students, and families on creating a school that has attracted that kind of participation so quickly!

Basic Bob

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 5:20 a.m.

Do you think those 1500 students had a choice? They were ASSIGNED to the school, all their friends go there, it is closest to their homes, transportation is provided.... What risk did anyone take by going to any big-box high school in Ann Arbor? There is no difference in pay, no difference in students, same identical system. You just have to learn a few different roads to get to the school in the morning.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

What the article does NOT mention is that Schools of Choice students and children of AAPS staff/faculty who reside outside the district do NOT bring the same dollars to the district that resident children do. There is a LARGE difference between the state allocation of dollars that Schools of Choice and other out-of-district children bring with them into the district and the supplemental tax dollars that we tax payers vote to pay for educating each of our resident children. So, it is NOT really appropriate arithmetic to equate numbers of district children who leave with numbers of out-of-district children who enter the district. We are NOT solving either the educational problems that are causing district children to leave or the financial problems that are caused by their leaving with Schools of Choice and other out-of-district enrollment. That is not to say that we should not be making that decision, but instead to say that we should be upfront and very clear about that being the decision we are making.

Basic Bob

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 5:17 a.m.

What is the incremental (marginal) cost of adding an out-of-district student? Does the extra desk and extra set of textbooks cost that much? How about 30 extra students - add ONE teacher. They bring nearly the same money as the in-district students. Look at it a different way - how would the schools operate with half the students, but at the higher rate? Big trouble.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

The temporary or transient nature of the student population at Northside is understandable given the schools boundaries that include UM family housing. But that doesn't fully explain why the school is operating at just a few students over half capacity. If Northside is a school of choice, and is a decent school to attend, wouldn't it be operating at a higher capacity? Instead it has consistant low enrollment, a stream of families leaving for other district or charter schools, an inability to retain its most experienced teachers and staff, and steadily decreasing test results compared to district-wide achievement metrics. What gives? How about some investigative reporting,


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 3:22 a.m.

Northside used to significantly over perform vs. expectations for the number of non-native English speakers and the socioeconomic status of many families. It had some excellent teachers and a highly involved, very open community. But that was before the current administration took over. In just over 5 years, Northside PRIDE has been destroyed.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.

All AAPS schools need to be evaluated for under capacity issues - and some consolidating needs to be done. Even though this is difficult for the community, it just doesn't make financial sense to operate schools with low enrollments.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

From the article, "Skyline High School's population is "less than what we expected a couple of years ago," Landefeld said. She said enrollment has been constant at about 1,500." "Landefeld said transportation and the amount of time it takes for students to get to Skyline is what might be deterring some students from attending. Students outside of the attendance area are required to enter Skyline through a lottery. These accepted lottery students must provide their own transportation." When Skyline H.S. was proposed, and for the first few years, busing was provided for "lottery" students, because the district knew, before building it, that the location wouldn't draw enough students. AAPS picked the location only because they already owned the land, not because of population or where a 3rd high school was most needed. With the elimination of busing, Skyline's numbers dropped. Now Skyline H.S. is an under-capacity school in one of Ann Arbor's highest socioeconomic neighborhoods.

Basic Bob

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 5:14 a.m.

Soon, Skyline will have room to hold the Community H.S. program, and they can close that downtown building for good. It should save millions on maintenance, utilities, and administration.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Maybe Skyline needs a new direction...

A Voice of Reason

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

A well known child learning specialist in town said..."the last place you want to go if your child has an IEP is Skyline!" I do not think it is just the busing.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

"... the number of families that come to Ann Arbor temporarily for jobs at the University of Michigan but don't stay. She said this is prevalent at Northside Elementary,...", while this is certainly true, it has been a long standing norm at Northside. The district really needs to understand why so many Northside neighborhood families have choosen other school options or have decided to leave Northside completely.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

That and school of choice is often only available within certain schools in the district. Many of these schools are ones that might have extra resources, but get tagged as undesirable schools. Secondly, with the growth of for profit, I mean charter schools, more families are trying that route instead. Lastly, as a parent in the district, I must say that it is a struggle to see how poorly kids act these days and teachers, and seemingly principals, can't do anything about it. With Dr. Greens discipline gap, schools aren't allowed to push back against kids and even families, who don't seem to get it. I am guessing suspension rates are down, but that doesn't mean the issues aren't there.

J. A. Pieper

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

You are so right! Can't really discipline anyone, the only thing we can do is have them write about their behavior. These days, my kids wouldn't be attending AAPS!

J. A. Pieper

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:45 a.m.

What the article does not say is the trade off for our families leaving through the back door compared to those arriving through schools of choice. Many students who elect schools of choice come with their own problems, some learning, some behavioral, and their transportation issues/attendance can enter the picture also. AAPS can put a positive spin on anything to make their superintendent look good!


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

It must be acknowledged that students coming from struggling districts like Ypsi don't bring the same skill set that their new classmates in AAPS have practiced for years. While not all of them struggle or read below grade level (or lack other similar skills) many students coming from outside the district do enter AAPS lacking skills.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

"...Many students who elect schools of choice come with their own problems..." If that is true then many students who elect schools of choice LEAVE with their own problems. But if aaps lost more students than it gained then the "problem" may not be with the students.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Why do you assume that people who use School of Choice come with problems? I wholeheartedly disagree. My two daughters are enjoying their School of Choice experience because we wanted to provide an environment that would match their intellectual capabilities. Our district is Ypsilanti. We gave that a shot for awhile but we weren't willing to gamble their education and their future any longer. I, for one, am thrilled with the School of Choice program My daughters are high-performing and valued students at their school in Ann Arbor. Both my husband and I work in Ann Arbor so transportation is never an issue for us. Please don't make assumptions.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

And you never miss an opportunity to deride and discredit her. What gives?


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:38 a.m.

I have to wonder - Schools of Choice was supposed to add students to the total this year and with that add revenue to the district. It provided 3 rather than roughly 100 extra students over last year. I don't see an adjusted budget to deal with the fact that the enrollment did not rise by 100 students. I have to wonder will Mr. Allan make the same predication next year for the budget? No discussion of the impact of this lack of additional students on the budget appears here, was there any? Classroom counts are interesting, there were cries of 30, 32, 35 students in elementary classrooms here on AA.Com early in the year, yet the average seems to be far less than that. Are there still K-5 classrooms with more than 30 children?


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Overcrowding is very much a problem. I know of high school classes with 35 and 36 students. Those very teachers have 160-175 students whom they see each day.

A Voice of Reason

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Please give specifics vs. generalizations. People are crying overcrowding.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Elementary schools lost 29 students, but they lost teachers disproportionately. There are splits and teaming situations that have classes well over 30, at least for portions of the day.


Thu, Dec 6, 2012 : 11:32 a.m.

Would be nice to see these reports. So Schools of Choice is under performing, but we weren't communicating that it existed? Why not?