Ann Arbor Superintendent: School closures, redistricting 'cannot be ignored'
- Related story: Ann Arbor school officials release transportation report
A long-awaited report from a committee of 20-plus individuals commissioned to study the future of transportation at Ann Arbor Public Schools led to a discussion Wednesday night about the two “R”s — rerouting and redistricting.
Ann Arbor Superintendent Patricia Green told trustees Wednesday that rerouting and redistricting are “realistic” considerations that “cannot be ignored.” She highlighted exploring these concepts as “next steps” for administration.
The board will need to grapple with these ideas “sooner rather than later,” Green said. “And school closures are a part of the redistricting concept.”
The Ann Arbor Board of Education has weighed significant transportation cuts each budget cycle for the past three years now, trustees said Wednesday.
And once again, the board anticipates transportation will, in some form, fall prey to the district’s blade, as officials work to slice yet another $17 million from Ann Arbor’s $188.5 million budget.
In May, the board passed a resolution charging administration with establishing a “transportation working group” that brings as many stakeholders — students, parents, administrators, board members, city and county leaders, police and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority — to the table as possible.
The goal was to gather a comprehensive representation of the community to ponder and research the financial sustainability of student transportation at AAPS.
To complete its mission, the group identified 12 possibilities for transporting students who qualify for transportation services.
It collected and reviewed information and data for each of the 12 options and analyzed the practicality and feasibility of them.
In its report, the committee recommended four of the options for the board’s further consideration.
Rerouting was the second recommendation the group gave the board. But it also drew the most attention during board members’ discussion.
The transportation committee’s report made no mention of redistricting by name, but Green said it was assumed that redistricting would have to be looked at as a subset of rerouting.
“Was there no loud opposition to redistricting?” Trustee Susan Baskett asked.
Green said there was caution — both because of the emotional component involved in redistricting and because redistricting was slightly outside the purview of what this particular committee was set up to do.
“But it’s all interconnected,” she said, during a break in the meeting.
The district would need to survey and gather information from the community, building staff, bus drivers and supervisors prior to making any rerouting decisions, said Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen.
He said the real savings in rerouting would come from collectively considering the greater use of common stops, changing start times and additional use of AATA bus routes.
Allen explained common stops are a single location where buses pick up and drop off students from a broad area surrounding the location. He said currently AAPS uses common stops for high schoolers, but added the transportation working group thought common stops could be initiated for middle schoolers as well.
Part of rerouting would be to review the boundary maps for the elementary schools in particular, Allen said.
Baskett pointed to the boundary map for Burns Park Elementary. She noted how currently students from West Clark Road, for example, are bused past four different elementary schools (Carpenter, Pittsfield, Allen and Pattengill) to Burns Park.
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Green said during a break in the meeting, the reasons for this well precede her history of the district but her understanding is this configuration was to solve issues of diversity.
The board directed administration to begin costing out some of the pieces of rerouting/redistricting. However, there was some disagreement about how long such a process should take.
President Deb Mexicotte asked if it would be possible for Green’s team to come back to the board mid-second semester for a more substantive discussion on transportation and redistricting. Green said she was not comfortable committing to a date or a timeline on the spot Wednesday.
She said sometime in January, after meeting with her staff, she would provide an update to the board as well as a potential timeframe for talking about redistricting.
“The redistricting piece has always been the big (elephant) in the room,” Green said. “And I believe it’s going to take at least a year to do it justice, if not more than a year. I believe it has to have big community involvement.”
Vice President Christine Stead said she understands why the administrative team is uncomfortable moving quickly on this topic, but added the district may not have a choice.
“The state has us all scrambling and the time we would typically like to have and spend, I’m not sure we have the luxury of,” she said. “ We would all like to have a few years to consider these types of changes. But given these kinds of stark realities, a lot of these decisions may need to be made much more fast than we would like them to.”
Green talked about the importance of having a third-party organization conduct a demographic and feasibility study prior to redistricting.
“It’s important that we’re not just looking at ourselves. The community would want to know we had experts working along with us on this issue,” she said.
Green also said the idea of moving or closing a school or redrawing a neighborhood boundary is emotional for people. She said board members only had to look back at last year’s proposal to combine the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center with either Pioneer or Ann Arbor Tech to see how supercharged these discussions become.
“When it comes to redistricting, people are either for or against it. Nobody is indifferent,” Green said. “It is not pretty. I believe it can’t be done in a shorter period of time.”
Mexicotte said the district also must consider what it could lose — including students to charter and private schools — if it moves too quickly.
Green told AnnArbor.com during a break in the meeting, the next step is researching what experts exist in the Ann Arbor area to bring in to conduct feasibility and demographic studies. She added having a zero-based budgeting process in place also will help the district pinpoint where savings are.
AAPS is in the process of implementing a zero-based budgeting model, with the hope it can be utilized for the 2014-15 budget.