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Posted on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board to pursue budget suggestions presented in community dialogues

By Danielle Arndt


Members of the Ann Arbor Board of Education and Superintendent Patricia Green, far left, listen to members of the community speak out on the budget proposals. School board trustees, from left, are President Deb Mexicotte, Vice President Christine Stead and Irene Patalan.

Courtney Sacco |

Suggestions and advice flowed from the public at a series of four community dialogues the Ann Arbor Board of Education hosted on the district's 2013-14 budget.

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.

More on the Ann Arbor schools budget

Previous coverage:

"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:

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



Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 1:40 a.m.

The AAPS used to get local funding at the Cadillac level, and programs and salaries were established around that level of funding. Now we get Chevy level funding from the state, so we are struggling to keep our Cadillac programs. It's more or less that simple. The Board isn't that bad, they've been dealt bad cards. The real solution involves a fair balance between local and state funding and a rejection of the voucher program the GOP is trying to pass. Let's face it, the GOP is so anti-teachers that they are, in effect if not in words, anti-public schools. They want vouchers and for-profit schools, plain and simple. To the current GOP leaders it's all about political revenge - I would rather that the discussion be about fair funding and best use of limited resources to maintain excellent schools.

Jack Panitch

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

This is the body of an action alert from the Tricounty Alliance: Over the next several weeks, the Michigan House Transportation and Infrastructure committee will be readying a bill package for passage with the stated goal of better funding road repairs. It's a top priority of the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. Unbelievably, however, they are marching forward with a plan to pay for this by cutting the School Aid Fund by $800 million, which would result in another cut of more than $500 per pupil. The first part of the plan, House Bill 4572 is set to move later this week. Please TAKE ACTION now and tell your State Representative to oppose House Bills 4572, 4539 and any plan that cuts even a penny more from local schools.

Burr Oak

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:05 a.m.

I agree that our state's government is anti-public schools, although I cannot understand why this should be. I don't understand why the vitriol is directed at the school board. The decisions about funding and and developing programs comes from the administration, not the school board. The 'cabinet' hired by the departing superintendent makes decisions void of information and experience, but the board is obliged to listen to them. At this point, the board needs to listen to the community, especially the professional educators, and realize that they are not being advised well. I believe they should survey the teachers and principals in confidence, and make decisions based on those results.

Jack Panitch

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

No district gets "cadillac level funding" from the state. This administration in cooperation with this legislature prioritizes the 1% and thumbs its nose at the other 99%. At least the road will be paved when the 99% drive their kids to the one-room little school house on the prairie (Buses? We don't need no stinking buses.) Paved roads should be a satisfying run-up to the morning's pledge of allegiance, and that's all the education Lansing believes the other 99%'s children need. As an added bonus, we don't need to worry about breaking Lisa Lyons' heart over any of this. I'm not making this stuff up. If you haven't heard, current plans in the legislature are to permit Governor Snyder to raid the School Aid Fund even further to camouflage a tax increase in order to fund repaving Michigan roads. I kid you not. Well before my time, the people of Ann Arbor built this amazing civilization of public schools. That's a big part of what attracted many of us here. Now, we get to watch the current legislature treat public education as a tear-down, and no district is doing well. Our students (and their amazing teachers), to their credit, still achieve excellence, even though we, as parents, have broken our promise to them. If a high tide floats all boats, a low tide affects the biggest boats the hardest. To Snapshot, if he's out there reading this, we don't have to worry about "no loads" in an Aegis-equipped canoe. What we have to worry about is the folks who paddle in the wrong direction just to get everyone's attention. Over the past couple of months folks have decided that throwing rotten tomatoes at the school board is the best new reality T.V. I don't see the point. It is not remotely helpful. We need constructive engagement from everyone, with a lot of room for constructive dissent, but no room for tantrums. In closing, aataxpayer, I can't hear you over the sound of the grinding axe. But I read you loud and clear, and I am glad of it.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

AAPS *still* gets cadillac level funding from the state. AAPS gets more per pupil than all but 18 of the 900+ districts in the state. They get more money than almost every district in the state, and it still is not enough for them.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 9:04 a.m.

The BOE is getting ready to lay off more teachers and basically keep most overhead in place. I call this poor management and a continuation of the decline of our school system. It is the hand they are dealt, but they are inept when it comes to providing leadership developing the proper path forward.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

It is not a matter of closing Balas, but restructuring Balas. It is too top heavy. The payroll dept has way too many people working there. What do they do that one has to ring a bell? Use the phone? Weird. Restructure and reduce Balas.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 5:58 p.m.

When they privatized transportation? They did do that to the director who makes plus $100,000 to change a light bulb. They could not use him at Huron so they sent him to direct buses. Now he is in custodial work. Kind of ironic what i want to say here? Would get deleted. Use your imagination.

jackson west

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

Balas is a building full of people that were too unskilled to teach, but could not be fired, and were promoted to admins. But, they were poor admins, so they were put in balas where they could do no harm. I say we give them all brooms and have them clean the halls.

Wake Up A2

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

Yet they keep district department chairs.... 600k worth for what reason? Let the directors do their own work.

jackson west

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Ann Arbor Schools are a joke. They have FAILED to close the achievement gap. They have FAILED to treat all students equally. They have FAILED to bring diversity into the curriculum. They have FAILED to allow alumni to form a PAY TO PLAY sports league. And they have failed to curtail the dozens of wild animals, mostly dogs and feral cats, that make their homes in the woods surrounding the schools.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

I am curious how the targeted-giving would be much different than it already is, i.e. specific sports teams, theater/band program, classrooms already asking for donations and supplies? I do agree that most people would be willing to donate to something specific other than the big black hole of AAPSEF.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

Danielle, it would be nice to see some follow-up to this WDIV story where the Ann Arbor School District refused to provide information on teacher absences and substitute costs:

Danielle Arndt

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 6:09 a.m.

Chris, interesting; thanks for this link! I'll look into it.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 5:56 p.m.

There were a few others that also refused to give out this info as well. No surprise that AAPS is included.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

FOIA, sunshine, etc will have no impact on AAPS, they will NEVER give anyone this kind of information. They will go to court first. They won't even give it to the Board


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Maybe could give them a little lesson on the FOIA and how that is the only way to get info out of our local government.

Chester Drawers

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

I will bet my firstborn child that the cost analysis of central administration Trustee Lightfoot asked for NEVER HAPPENS, or, if it does, is, uh, "inaccurate."


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

The BOE does not change auditors because they do not understand finance, do not treat fiscal matters as a priority and really, are oblivious to this side of the process and their job responsiblity.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Agree 100% about changing auditors. I have no idea why this is not just a given for the BOE??


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

Mr Drawers - If they only look at the Central Administration, Mr Allen has done such a good job of moving the costs into the other 3 overhead areas, that the board will pronounce that the central administration is very lean and cost effective. They need to change auditors and bring in someone new to do a complete review. The current auditor has been very cozy with the district for years. If Enron taught the country anything it was that auditors should be changed regularly so that the auditor and the audited party don't get cozy.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

At the budget forum that I attended, the board did not seem very interested in ways to save money. Their primary focus was on ginning up support for another millage.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

In my 30 plus years living in Ann Arbor, this is the worst school AA BOE I have ever experienced. And….I personally know at least two of the BOE members. I agree with Goob and others that our school system lacks leadership and is being driven into the ground. The tax payers are not getting what they deserve – one of the best run and performing school systems in the state and country. The whole BOE needs to be replaced.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

SonnyDog09 - You can expect at least 1 new millage by May of 2014 to hit the ballot: 1) A county wide enhancement millage - a second try at the only millage for schools in Ann Arbor to ever fail. This millage would have to be county wide by state law. -or- 2) A Rec&Ed millage that would cover only the district, similar to what AAPS did when they through out the library, kept the millage and made the library get their own funding. However, Rec&Ed according to the last 2 audits released by the district breaks even on fees. In fact they pay field use costs to the school district that covers some of the maintenance and upkeep costs for fields that they use. They also pay for their own management staff from the fees collected. So if AAPS were to toss out Rec&Ed and make them be separate, they would gain nothing, so my expectation is they will keep Rec&Ed internal to the district, try to fly the millage and then use the money for other things, certainly the fees for Rec&Ed will not go down. I suspect they will claim that Rec&Ed is "stealing" the sports money and that the pay to play for Varsity Sports will go down or that Rec&Ed actually costs the district money to administer 0r... but the audit says Rec&Ed comes within a few dollars each year of breaking even (sometimes just over, sometimes just under). In all cases the cuts over the last 4 years have been to try and make the tax payers want to approve an additional millage, NOT to fix the structural issues that the district has. The new 5 year teachers contract that did not fix some of the work rules is living proof of this. They did not actually want AAPS to be more efficient, no they wanted a small pay cut that they could toot their horn about and then use to say - "See we are effective" now give us more money - "can't you see you are losing your beloved programs".


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

I am tired of seeing the AA BOE drive our school system into the ground. These plans to cut out the heart and soul of our teaching/learning process versus keeping expensive support functions is not acceptable. One commenter recently posted recall steps. But, until the voters get a snoot full of the BOE, finally decide to wake up and replace all of them, a recall might be fruitless. The AA voters are basically apathetic, thus the small turnouts we see in voting. AA board elections are popularity contests. Any good candidate might win, but then is stuck working with the incumbent BOE members who, as stated before, are clueless, inept, cannot work together, etc., etc., etc. Can you imagine being the lone person trying to turn around the current BOE? What needs to happen is the following: 1 – the teachers need to use their strength and appeal to their union and the state that the BOE is inept, ruining their system, etc. – basically, get as many ears as they can in their ranks and at the state level 2 – several, strong community leaders need to collect, communicate and publish a list of BOE failings 3 – the community needs to rise up and be very vocal on their displeasure with the BOE – start the drums beating and demand change Until a large percentage of community leaders and voters 'greatly' voice their displeasure with the current BOE and possibly demand that they all quit, then only a few of us will continue to watch our school system slide downhill.

Jack Panitch

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 7:42 p.m.

If your sister believes you are a "rather funny and jolly fellow," that's good enough for me. I don't need anything else to go on. You and "Goob" should head out to man the petition tables. Bring an I-Pad, and while your sitting there, try to answer Brian Calley's question. Best of luck to you.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

Interesting! I am not angry. In fact, my sister believes I am a rather funny and jolly fellow. In my 30 plus years living in Ann Arbor, this is the worst school AA BOE I have ever experienced. And….I personally know at least two of the BOE members. I agree with Goob and others that our school system lacks leadership and is being driven into the ground. The tax payers are not getting what they deserve – one of the best run and performing school systems in the state and country. The whole BOE needs to be replaced. See the smile on my face?

Jack Panitch

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Recalls. Another naked attempt at destabilization. Instead of engaging constructively and trying to do our best at addressing the issues at hand, let's waste our time and focus on recalls. Several months ago, I attended a tax conference, and the guest speaker was Brian Calley. No matter what you think about his politics, he's a scary bright, energetic and entertaining guy. To see him in person, your first guess would not be politician. He told the story of driving to a fair, getting out of his car and walking past a table of grass-roots organizers who were circulating a recall Snyder petition. They solicited him to sign the petition, and he refused. At that instant, he decided to give these poor folks a reality check, and he asked them what they thought would happen if they were successful at recalling the governor. Mind you, the grass roots organizers still had no idea who they were speaking with. Upon receipt of the vague answers he knew to expect, he tells them that they might want to do a little more research into the issue, because if they don't like Snyder, they really aren't going to like the guy who will replace him if they are successful. And he walks off. @Goober had made his anger abundantly clear. All of you angry folks get out there and work on the recall petitions. The rest of your community will be doing the hard work of slogging through the difficult issues this community must face.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

I agree Goob. If I could help, I would. But, we need many more in the community to voice their displeasure with the AA BOE.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

While I'm not thrilled with the BOE either, I don't see how they could cut $8M from the budget without angering someone. I would have preferred a larger salary cut than 3% instead of laying off teachers, but either way it's a bad situation. If you haven't noticed, the state government is the one forcing these cuts.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:13 a.m.

I have been saying for a long time they need to close Balas and house them in other buildings like they did rec and ed. The school I work at has six classrooms not being used- I bet we could move a I agree we have a Board that simply can't get along, which is very sad! What does it teach our children and show the community!


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Save paper, elementary report card 6 pages, printed and sent home. Middle school report card one page with an email that tells us when we can print it off powerschool from our home computer. Why so different? 6 pages, times 3 per year, times number of elementary students= a big number.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:03 a.m.

All of these cuts do not address the real issue...................paying more than we can afford for teachers and administrators and offering a lucrative benefits package that exceeds most of the people who are paying for it. We'll be going through this exercise next year and the year after that until the school system collapses or you cough up a lot more money in taxes people. Why is this so hard to understand? Times are tough people are stretched to their limits, and the answer is right in front of your faces.......................but nobody has the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done. Read the budget, tell me what the biggest number is and then tell me where the real cuts need to be made. You need about a third grade education to figure it out.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

local - Your deductions have gone up, but your salary, until this year has not gone down. Everyone now pays more for health care and other benefits or they have lost them completely. The increase in deductions is not a decrease in your salary, it is a decrease in your take home pay. Take home pay is not the same thing as salary. They have different definitions. I would suggest googling them if you don't understand the difference. Your $4,000 is mostly in increased deductions, where for the average person in Michigan in the private sector, not only did they see the $4,000 in salary (gross income) reduction, but they also saw another $2,000 in increased deductions IF they kept their benefits.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

How can doctors have great benefits if they don't have a union, lol??


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

DonBee I am a teacher and I am aware of most of what is going on. I can assure you, my pay hasn't risen in 4 years and in fact, when we took the 2.2 % cut 3 years ago it went down. It when down again in January when we had retirement stipulations put in place by Snyder and we had to make a choice about our retirement. My pay will go down yet again next August when 3% kicks in. Looking at my pay stubs, the 4,000 you talk about isn't far off from my cuts. You are correct about health insurance, we moved to a lesser plan to save money. You are also correct that administration, including principals, have taken zero cuts. I have been teaching for 13 years now, I get one more pay increase at year 15, then that is it. Any teacher above 15 years won't see another pay increase unless it is negotiated.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Local, teachers get about 14 weeks of vacation, compared to 2 weeks for the rest of us. Doctors spend 4-10 more years in school and training than teachers.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

local - No administrator has taken a salary cut. They have had a pay freeze, and they have seen some of their benefit costs rise (but who has not seen the deductions for medical, etc, rise). The Teachers union - for the first time this year agreed to a pay reduction of just over 3 percent. They however still get their longevity raises and there raises for completing additional degrees. The district put a cap on how much they would pay for medical coverage and so some plans are still fully covered and some require contributions, the Teachers choose the coverage they want from a list, and decide if they are going to pay it. In addition a couple of years ago there was an agreement to slow down pay raises from longevity and education. In return there is an addition to the prior contract which promises the existing teaching staff a significant portion of any new money the district may get. This document has a set of requirements on it for the teachers to get the money. While one board member has said those conditions will never be met, I suspect that since the new contract did not eliminate that document, that the board will feel morally obligated to give the teachers the raises if any new money comes in. If follows the pattern of the 2 AM raises that board authorized. While the average family since 2000 has seen household income fall by more than $4,000 in actual income in Michigan (this prior to any increase in medical or retirement deductions) most of the school employees in Ann Arbor have seen small raises each year during that 12 year period. The $4,000 figure comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and from the Census Bureau.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

I think teachers and others have taken cuts throughout the past 4-5 years, it clearly isn't at the level you would like and thats fine. Education is a people industry, you need people to do the work with these students on a daily basis. It isn't like a factory where you can replace a human with a robot, that's not how it works. I would like to see a wage chart for most professionals out their comparing employees who have 4 year degrees and those with 4 year degrees and a masters. Where do teachers fall into those groupings? Personally, I think senators and those who work in Lansing and DC are overpaid and they have benefits for life after winning one term. Doctors make a lot more than teachers and I am pretty sure they have great benefits from the hospital they work at as well. Does that means they are more important so we should pay them more? Just wondering since you continue to bash teachers in many, if not all, of your post.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

The AA BOE is enept. That it why basic financial issues are so hard for them to understand.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:02 a.m.

The AA BOE has proven that they are inept, ineffective, cannot lead nor can they make good decisions. They can't even get along to correctly prioritize issues in the best interest of the community. I have zero faith that they will make the right decisions on this very important matter. Go figure!

Jack Panitch

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

Hmmm. We have a story that proves the Board is actually listening to the community, not just holding these forums for show, and @Goober would have us all conclude that this is a problem. Not a single new idea or illustration of how the commenter would do anything differently: just continual ad hominem attack. I attended the third budget forum and made a list of the comments, so I can see that the list kept by the Board is accurate. Which would tend to support a conclusion that they are listening to and thinking about what we have to say and trying to implement meritorious suggestions. @Goober's comment is raw destabilization at a time of critical need for constructive engagement. I just don't get the approach, especially from someone who tells us he cares about our schools. To my way of thinking, there are many ways of showing support -- honest, heartfelt, reasonably well-researched, constructive criticism being one of them -- but that is not the approach here.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

Unfortunately Goob, you are right on the mark on this one.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 10:35 a.m.

Just curious. In years past, heard that AAPS had a "rainy day" fund -- if true, the rainy day is here.

Danielle Arndt

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 6:03 a.m.

Carole, just to expand on DonBee's post, the rainy day fund is most frequently referred to as the district's "equity fund" or "fund balance." This is the district's primary savings account. Don is right that AAPS used about $6.04 million from its then-$18.73 million fund balance last June to balance the budget for the current 2012-13 academic year. By this June, it is projected that AAPS will have $8.1 million in equity headed into the next school year, which is slightly less than the estimated $9 million the district needs to make summer payroll without borrowing from the state.


Mon, Apr 29, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

Carole - There is an "equity fund" that has always existed. That fund carries the school district through the summer and typically the first month of the next school year, until summer taxes are available. It keeps the district from having to borrow money and pay interest on it. Last year the district drew down on the fund, leaving it with just about the minimum to be able to make payroll without having to borrow money.