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Posted on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 8:09 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board to set goals: zero-based budgeting will be top priority

By Danielle Arndt

Zero-based budgeting, student achievement data and the idea of establishing monetary incentives for well performing staff were among the topics Ann Arbor school board members decided would be discussed at their upcoming board retreat on Aug. 1.

The retreat, which traditionally occurs during summer, serves as a planning session for board members. They set goals for themselves and the superintendent at this meeting.

The board agreed to attempt to hire a facilitator for the retreat to guide and direct the conversation and to provide an outside perspective. At most, the district expects it will cost about $2,500 for this person.

Patricia Green.JPG

Superintendent Patricia Green wants to see Ann Arbor Public Schools implement zero-based budgeting in one to two years.

Superintendent Patricia Green unveiled her desire to have the school district start a zero-based budgeting practice by 2014-15 or, if possible, by 2013-14. She estimated she could save Ann Arbor Public Schools approximately $2 million right off the bat by doing this.

Zero-based budgeting is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new fiscal year.

Green told Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen it would take a full year to prepare and plan for the implementation of a zero-based system.

She went through the process in both of her two previous school districts, she said.

“People are going to realize, it is not as easy as you think,” she said. “It is such a simple concept … but it requires a cultural shift. We also need to have the capacity, because this has to be done through technology … or you lose that historical perspective if it’s not done electronically.”

She said whether it will be ready for next year depends on how quickly all members of the district are able to embrace the drastically different mentality.

Green said once the district starts spending money from its recent $45.8 million technology bond to make software and infrastructure improvements in the finance department, it will be able to get going on the budgeting.

Green and the board identified two areas of serious need within AAPS. Green said the district has “lots of issues” with data and struggles to stay on the same calendar with the board as far as executive summaries and reports.

She said she discussed with her staff yesterday new ways to analyze data and how to track students over time rather than digesting straight Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam data. She added that as AAPS’ technology becomes more fully developed, the district will be able to create more personalized data reports.

Additionally, Board President Deb Mexicotte expressed a desire to create a master calendar/agenda planning schedule for the year and to set presentations and summaries from administration well in advance.

Green said the administration should start generating certain reports for board members annually, if not routinely, on topics such as enrollment and facilities, the discipline and achievement gaps, reviews of curriculum and text books, personalized learning, human resources updates, capital funding and construction.

“The board capacity and administrative capacity must be linked,” Green said. “(In administration,) we are building a higher capacity right now … and there is a lot of energy being generated around these reports and initiatives right now. … But we have, for example, high school start times that the board previously charged us with and can’t have that all off our radar.”

Green said if the board does not establish a master calendar, “we’re going to be doing agenda planning all year long. And our hands will be (tied) behind our backs.”

“Our capacity (to get work done) is only as good as we are as a team.”

The final major item the board discussed in detail was potentially developing a scale as part of the superintendent’s evaluation and teachers’ evaluations and contracts to monetarily reward district employees for improving student achievement data.

Vice President Christine Stead said “getting the whole organization humming to a tune that is meaningful and really putting students at the center of our business model” could be great for the district. She said she doesn’t know if that necessarily means an extra dollar amount or not.

Mexicotte acknowledged rewarding the people responsible for significant gains in student performances is something the board has talked about frequently, but also is something members have not hashed out philosophically yet.

“There is also the perception piece of rewarding anybody for anything in this economic climate that has to be considered,” Mexicotte said. “We saw it recently when we put money toward a job well done or job retention. … I think we need to look at what do we mean by this.”

The Ann Arbor school board's summer retreat is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. on Aug. 1. A location has not been set yet. A brief regular board meeting will take place at the start of the retreat.

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



Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

That noise you just heard is me dying from a ridicule of laughter at this whole article. Zero based agenda? You have got to be kidding. Right? From the start to be zero based is to start looking at Balais and at the board and who makes the most and get rid of them. Lay them off or force them into retirement. I can name a few on one hand who makes the most over there. What a joke this is. They will burn the spokes first and then what ever is left? They will then turn on themselves. Can't wait for the implosion. Anyone got matches? I'll be the first to light the torch. Wake up BOE and Green. Balais needs to be cleaned before you can go Zero Green.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

What I would like to see is Mrs. Green visiting the schools -- Former Dr. Roberts, visiting the school that I work at, on three different occasions and really got a feel for how an elementary school operates. RE: budget, cut the top administrators should be at the top of the list -- many of the schools employees have already taken cuts both in salary and benefits, some had been at the same pay scale for years -- so come on administrators, what is good for the little folks is also good for the top ganders.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

She is one of the few who protects those in Balais and that high salary of hers and inside Balais. This is why she is turning away emails. Does not want to know the truth because she already knows it. So sad AAPS is imploding and no one is doing anything about it.

Wake Up A2

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

From what I'm told, she doesn't mix with the teachers or staff other then balas. I had a teacher tell me she doesn't reply to emails sent to her from the teachers, because "they don't have all the facts and should consult their building admin's"..........

Wake Up A2

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

Well I bet this doesn't include the super's discretionary fund. Or the other top cabinet levels funds. Also, these monetary incentives.... She gave her friends a 12% increase last year.... is this what the others will get????? Stay tuned, we will have to FOIA the results!


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

AAPS is ready for an EM. Love to see what they find and who they get rid of.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

She just *justified* all the extra work for her minions, having to justify, review, and approve every single program, every single year. They will be spending long hours generating reams of paperwork while she drives home to PA every weekend. This should take about 5 years to fully implement, and then we will see what a fine gown the empress is wearing.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

Monetary reward for well performing staff? I believe that's called "keeping your job" in most industries.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Real zero based budgeting is hard, because you not only have to justify the expense, but each person, each building and each asset. I doubt this is what she means. I doubt that AAPS is capable of doing real zero based budgeting - because administrative costs (1 out of 8 dollars) would have to be justified, and that would impact the management's take from the district. Power School was supposed to be the system to track students from year to year and hold information to help both parents and students. Right now it is used - sort of - to communicate between parents and teachers, replacing notes home and phone calls from 2 decades ago. We pay more than $1 million a year to the vendor for the software and probably use 10% of the capability of the system. Now they will go buy more software with the tech bond and use 10% of the capabilities of that software too. The teacher's union spent the last 3 years working on a teacher evaluation system that is supposed to be fair to all. If we implement it for incentive pay - and are willing to make adjustments to the system over time based on lessons learned, we should have a system that works (at least according to the union). Lots and lots of things have been done that neither the writer of this article, the board or the Superintendent seem to know of or acknowledge. So do we reinvent the wheel yet again and delay for another couple of years?


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

Notes home? What a joke. The note I get is, child is doing nicely. Or child needs to pay more attention in class. Here is the clincher, child isn't doing well in class call me. Then when I do? I get an email back saying why do I need to call you? That sound was my head hitting the wall. Teachers do not do email unless they have to. Half the time I have to email the counselor to find out whats going on. I hate to say it, Power School is great? But the lack of communication between parent and teacher is somewhat lacking. Zero budget? What a joke when you can't find out why your child is having troubles in class or contact me when you can. This article should be more like Green vs MEA.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

The average student in Michigan receives $11,000 per year from the state. Why can you not run a class of (25) 2nd grader on a yearly budget on $275,000 per class??? Lets take that a step further K-5 average of 3 classes per grade = $5 million dollars per year to run a elementary school. I think we need to start over.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

"There is also the perception piece of rewarding anybody for anything in this economic climate that has to be considered," Mexicotte said. Wow, She voted to reward Superintendent green with a very wealthy contract before doing anything. One more reason to vote her out of that seat on election day. Vice President Christine Stead said "getting the whole organization humming to a tune that is meaningful and really putting students at the center of our business model" could be great for the district. I thought we elected these people were elected to put students at the center of everything they do.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

Susie - First we would have to trust their "data"...

Susie Q

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.

They also "rewarded" several new employees with much larger salaries than the folks they were replacing. And "rewarded" two (or more) current downtown administrators with fancy new titles (Deputy Superintendent) and large salary increases. This was done because these two folks were going to supposedly bring in revenue by "farming out" their services to other nearby districts. I'd like to hear how much revenue these folks have raised for AAPS. My guess is none.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

In any organization, a clear sign that the management is off-track is its disconnect from the fundamental objectives and operation of the organization. For a public school system, objective #1 is to provide the very best educational opportunity possible to every student in the system. #1a) is to operate within the limits of resources available. #1b) is to make sure that every action and every policy supports the main objective. #1c) is to redirect energy/ resources/ money which does not support the main objective to support it. The very idea that the board and the administrators would not have a handle on a common calendar speaks to a huge disconnect. It also speaks to that their purpose is well outside of the primary objective, and perhaps #1c should be implemented....


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

Zero-based budgeting sounds good if they take an honest look, with reliable data, at where they actually spend money. "lots of issues" with data Much of the data from AAPS is poorly presented and explained which leads me to believe it's poorly collected and not valid. The achievement gap will never be properly addressed until the district owns the attendance problem so they should quit spending money on programs that don't work.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

It says the location for the "retreat" hasn't been set. It would be interesting to know where that will be and if it will be an additional cost on top of the $2500 for a "facilitator". I come and "facilitate" you for only $2K. I'll even bring my own stick to "guide and direct the conversation".

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

Brad, I will let readers know as soon as the location is set. It is an open meeting, so the public is welcome to attend. There were some possible sites tossed around last night, but the board will need to check availability. Also, it wasn't in the story, but they board recognized it was late notice to try to find a facilitator for Aug. 1 so they may end up nixing the idea. We will follow up.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

It would be great if they had a facilitator that specialized in fiscal responsibility or something along those lines but I would not be surprised if it was someone like Glenn Singleton from PEG with his divisive agenda, especially since Green & the Board"s passion seems to be the "discipline" gap and the achievement gap.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

"...But we have, for example, high school start times that the board previously charged us with and can't have that all off our radar." Huh? And this individual is running AAPS?


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

According to the writer of this article, this is Green's explanation for her wiz-bang, jargon-laden idea for new bureaucratic accounting procedures: "People are going to realize, it is not as easy as you think," she said. "It is such a simple concept … but it requires a cultural shift. We also need to have the capacity, because this has to be done through technology… or you lose that historical perspective if it's not done electronically." I worry about a central executive whose mind is so filled with jargon and abstractions that a single thought about one idea needs to be "filled out" with multiple elipses in order bring sense, however scattered. Rather than elipses (those are the dot-dot-dots connecting her scattered abstractions) how about some follow up questions: "Dr. Green, when you use the word 'capacity' what do you mean, and to whom are you referring?" "Dr. Green, when you use the term "technology," are you referring to teachers' computers themselves or are you referring to the creation of a database to be housed at Balas?" I think the idea is clear - follow up ambiguous answers that sound like verbal sludge with pointed questions filled with concrete referents. I am confident that reporting like this would allow the public to discern what is really inside the Superintendent's head. Right now, it's anyone's bet what this woman is planning.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

"People are going to realize, it is not as easy as you think," she said. "It is such a simple concept … but it requires a cultural shift. We also need to have the capacity, because this has to be done through technology… or you lose that historical perspective if it's not done electronically." Ms. Green's grasp of bureaucratic-speak is well worth every dime we overpaid her -


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

That's why she makes the big bucks.

Susie Q

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

I'm with you.....I re-read that statement 3 or 4 times and still had no idea what she meant.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

She does a lot of talking, but nothing of substance that has made any difference at all. The board gave her a good evaluation as well, I guess she is due for a pay raise based on the work she has done (merit pay?). Extremely frustrating!!

say it plain

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Interesting set of highlights here. I LOVE the idea of zero-based budgeting, and I LOVE the idea that Green is straight-out telling everyone that the district and the Board need to get organized, learn how to communicate one with another, etc. Skip the whole idea of 'extra incentive', just get a handle first on fixing the years and years of institutional dysfunction regarding reporting, calendars, communication, and budget transparency and accountability. These are great ideas...if they get implemented truly we should start seeing better results, tied to money incentives or not. I don't see much "not my fault" in Green's comments here...whatever problems people may have with her, she surely is walking into an organization that has gotten away with failing to do timely reporting, repairing, and communicating for many, many, many years!

tom swift jr.

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

"monetary incentives for well performing staff " .... when this is applied to instructional staff, you have a huge task in making sure that each staff member has an equal opportunity to succeed. For instance, you can't apply the same criteria of evaluation to a staff you've assigned to work with at-risk, behaviorally troubled students that you apply to a staff member that is working with college bound, all "A" students, especially if your criteria is centered on student achievement/performance. You probably can't apply the same criteria to Skyline as you do to Ann Arbor Tech or Clemente, they are different populations of students. Her statement "She said whether it will be ready for next year depends on how quickly all members of the district are able to embrace the drastically different mentality." is interesting. It seems like a manner in which to say "hey, if we can't get this off the ground, it's not my fault!" Wouldn't a strong leader be able to make a commitment to a timeline for this process isn't it her job to make sure that all members of HER staff are able to "embrace" the concept. "it depends" is a bit weak. I'm curious as to what Green means when she uses the phrase "And our hands will be behind our backs." Sounds a bit like a misunderstood cliche of some sort.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

Some of the students that appear to make a classroom "stacked" has a lot to do with special education students and staff. If there are only 2 students in a 2nd grade at a school then it would make sense to put them together so that special education staff can work with them together. Not all special education student have academic needs, some may only have the "behaviorally" difficulties. Those with the behavior difficulties have more protections from suspension due to the IEP the student has. This is not to say they can not be suspended but the school does need to go through some other processes to suspend a special education student. All that being said, many rooms I have been in have very well-behaved, hard working students who are special education while the behavior concerns were from the other students in the room.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Agree totally towncryer, certain classes get screwed year to year, my daughter has been in a few of these classes along the way through her elementary experience. And the students who are behavior issues can't have consequences handed down because principals aren't allowed to because it affects their evaluation and makes Dr. Greens discipline gap look even worse.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

I completely agree with your first paragraph, especially when elementary school principals have the final say on class placements. At my child's elementary school, there have always been "the good classes" even though parents are told it is "random" and they don't take requests. I have definitely had/seen classes that have been stacked with more at-risk, behaviorally troubled students and given to the "unpopular" teacher. While I think it is great to have incentives for well performing staff, it is troubling that there are so many variables that can affect performance and the principal plays a big part in those variables.