Ann Arbor school board to pursue budget suggestions presented in community dialogues
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
The school board worked to capture the feedback and now, the board will begin vetting the ideas to determine what's feasible, what's not, and what reasonably could be integrated into the budget for the 2013-14 academic year.
The Ann Arbor Public Schools administration presented its recommendations for the budget at a regular board meeting Wednesday. The cuts the administration proposed in order to close an $8.67 million shortfall included reductions to middle school athletics; theater funding; eliminating 80 employee positions — 53 of them teachers; closing the middle school pools; and eliminating high school busing.
The discussion and planning of how to integrate the suggestions, made by the more than 300 people in total who came to the budget dialogues, will take place at a to-be-scheduled governance committee meeting.
Earlier this month, the Ann Arbor board voted to switch its committee structure from a Committee of the Whole to three subcommittees: planning, performance and a governance. The board is in the process of reorganizing and scheduling these meetings.
"We'll need to develop a way to break out what things we can do right away, what needs more research and there may be some ideas we can weed out right away that we know can't be implemented, for whatever reason," said board President Deb Mexicotte.
Some ideas already are underway, the board shared Wednesday, such as a suggestion made April 20 by a woman who said she participates in a group exercise class at Slauson Middle School and the locker room showers are a scalding temperature. The suggestion was to, first, fix this, but also to look at conducting an energy audit for other energy-related savings throughout the district.
Trustee Glenn Nelson said Wednesday that following the April 20 dialogue, he sent Superintendent Patricia Green an email to inform her of the suggestion and the need to fix the Slauson showers. He said immediately the facilities team got to work.
Other suggestions, such as an opt-in or opt-out program for paperless report cards, also seem feasible and would not require much work, Mexicotte said.
"These are certainly things that are not going to save us much money this year ... but every little bit helps," she said.
One of the most interesting possibilities and perhaps useful ideas that came from the community dialogues is the idea of targeted giving, Mexicotte said. She said from the dialogues, the board learned people in the community have a willingness to support the programs they care about and would be willing to make donations to save these programs from being cut.
Mexicotte said this idea would need some vetting, but it would allow the public to more directly fund the schools.
If a family had a particular interest or passion for the arts, school athletics or transportation, the family could give money — how would have to be determined — and the district could "smear it around" to support what topic or area the family wanted to help fund, Mexicotte said. Multiple families would be able to donate to these topics and the donations could be as large or small as the family saw fit or could afford to give, board members discussed Wednesday.
Mexicotte said if this idea moves forward, the board would be charged with figuring out how the funds would be managed, who would manage them and a way to publicly show the amount in the funds and what the money was used for.
Some possibilities discussed Wednesday were having the funds managed by the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, the Parent-Teacher-Organization Council or some type of donation button on the district's website.
Mexicotte said the board is discussing targeted giving that would differ from funds the AAPSEF now has, such as the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund, which was established to support reading among econonmically disadvantaged elementary students. But Mexicotte explained to receive money through this type of fund, someone in the district must submit a grant proposal outlining a specific item the money would be used for, and then the use must be approved and the grant awarded by the AAPSEF board.
If the board established topic funds for targeted giving, the money would be used to maintain programs and services at risk of losing funding due to the district's financial crunch.
"Generally, people would give against our budget deficit ... and put the money toward things they don't want to see cut. They can put the money where their priorities are," Mexicotte said.
Board members were intrigued by this idea, although Mexicotte said while it seems like it could work, there is a great deal of conversation to be had about the logisitics and legality of targeted giving.
Mexicotte also stressed that the AAPSEF "does amazing work for the district" and increasingly has become important in tough financial times. She added targeted giving also could provide a quicker, less restrictive way for the AAPS community to support the schools.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot said Wednesday, one of the public's suggestions she would like to have done quickly is a cost analysis of the Balas Administration Building. Closing Balas and moving central administrators to buildings throughout the district was a recommendation first made by the Ann Arbor principals union. Many community members stressed at the board-hosted budget dialogues they would like trustees to seriously consider these recommendations, especially those pertaining to central administration.
Download the Board of Education's summaries of the community dialogues to learn more about the suggestions from area residents:
- Budget forum No. 1, March 28.
- Budget forum No. 2, April 9.
- Budget forum No. 3, April 16.
- Budget forum No. 4, April 20.
- A dialogue summary by trustees Glenn Nelson and Deb Mexicotte, who attended all of the forums.
- A spreadsheet of topics mentioned.