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Posted on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board votes to rescind fees for 7th-hour classes

By Danielle Arndt


The Pioneer Symphony Orchestra performs at Hill Auditorium Thursday, Feb. 14. Students at Pioneer and Huron often need to take seven class periods instead of six to fit in four years of music courses like orchestra. Ann Arbor schools was going to charge students $100 per semester to take a seventh hour this fall, but a board decision Wednesday eliminated the fee.

Courtney Sacco I file photo

Update: ACLU considers dropping suit against Ann Arbor schools after board revokes 7th-hour fee

Previous coverage:

The Ann Arbor Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to revoke the $100 charge it placed on students wishing to take a seventh class period at Huron and Pioneer high schools.

The decision to renege on the tuition-based seventh-hour program came just one week after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools, contending that the seventh-hour fees deny students a free and equal public education as required under the Michigan Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court on behalf of two Pioneer High School music students, Paloma Paez-Coombe, 16, and Elliot Polot, 17, and their parents.

Ann Arbor school board members approved in June charging students the $100 per semester to take a seventh-period course. The move was made in conjunction with a number of cuts and revenue enhancements the board authorized to help AAPS balance its budget and eliminate the $8.7 million shortfall it faced for 2013-14.

The school board Wednesday moved to nix the fees for the upcoming school year and directed its planning committee to take up the topic for further study. The planning committee will come back to the full board at a later date with a recommendation on the tuition-based program proposal.

The motion also authorized the finance department to make an adjustment to the district's general fund budget that allow for an additional $100,000 in fund equity to be spent to cover what AAPS was expected to save by charging students. This will mean that if no other budget amendments are made that require taking money from the district's fund balance, or primary savings account, AAPS could finish the school year with about $5.21 million in savings, roughly 2.8 percent of the district's $182 million operating budget.

Trustee Glenn Nelson first brought forward the tuition-based model for the board to weigh. It was proposed under the recognition that seventh hour is a valuable, yet costly, educational opportunity for students. Rather than eliminate the offering, the board and AAPS central administrators searched for an alternative.

"I appreciate the work of this board and our administration to continue ... keeping the Ann Arbor Public Schools excellent," Nelson said Wednesday during the brief discussion on the motion to rescind the seventh-hour fees. "I am proud we are exploring these options and ... keep turning over stones.

"To me, this motion is a recognition that we need to think this one through a little more before we decide for sure what to do. And I want to both recognize the wisdom and the correctness in that. I also want to say that I'm proud we're the district in the state that takes leadership on these kinds of initiatives," he said. "If one doesn't explore the options, then you're probably not making use of all the options."

At the time of approval in June, Nelson said he "fully expected" AAPS to be sued for enacting a fee structure for seventh hour. However, he said he thought the district would be able to win any legal challenges brought against the action.

"And I think the general consensus is still that we could ... or at least it's that we know we can put things in place (so that) we'd be able to prevail if indeed we decided to move forward with this in the future," said board President Deb Mexicotte.

The school board conducted a closed executive session meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, prior to the regular meeting at 7 p.m., for the purpose of attorney-client privilege interactions, during which Mexicotte said members discussed the seventh-hour model and the lawsuit.

She said the board came out of that executive session knowing it needed to put seventh hour back on the table.

When asked whether the ACLU lawsuit spurred Wednesday's decision, Mexicotte said it did help "coalesce the conversation" about the seventh-hour fees and what else the district needs to examine having in place.

"We believe we can do this, and we believe we can do this legally under the constraints of the law and the constitution. But we may have to just take a breath and get a couple of other pieces in place before we really can implement it," Mexicotte said.

To some extent, part of the reason the board put the tuition-based seventh-hour program out there was to test what kinds of areas it might have to look at as school officials push forward with exploring these types of learning models, Mexicotte added. Some trustees have said the district could have a need in future years to establish a more "robust" tuition-based learning model.

District officials said they do not anticipate any "scheduling nightmares" as a result of re-implmenting a free-of-charge seventh hour to students.

Officials do not think the seventh-hour fee discouraged very many students who wanted a seventh hour to take a seventh hour, Mexicotte said.

"Those few (students) that may have been discouraged can now opt for that seventh-hour class. And if there were discouraged students that now can opt in, there probably are spots," she said. "We were assured by administration that they will be up to the task of getting those students scheduled."

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



Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Ours would move into the 7th hour just because the music level ours is in is the only hour it is offered. So our child is thrilled to have no first hour and a chance to sleep in. If you get a 7th hour class? Don't knock it. Sleep in. Ours will have 5 classes with one no first hour. At least it will be daylight when ours drives to and from school. Whew. Good news on that home front.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

Valid point. My kid slept in last spring due to no first class, and an online class. Sleep is valuable to a growing teen.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:50 p.m.

Ann Arbor caved again.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

I was thinking the same thing.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Just because something can be done legally doesn't mean it should be done. Agree with other comments about a change in the Board needed. Did Nelson break his arm patting himself on the back?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

Now that the BOE has seen the lawsuit which outlines the ALCU concerns they can just readjust the system to meet their objections and try it again next year.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:25 p.m.

Unfortunately, Opinionated, I believe you are exactly right. Our current school board thinks they don't have enough money to maintain the level of "excellence" Ann Arbor Public Schools has been known for. I disagree. They don't have the money to continue the excessive and wasteful re-invention of the wheel that Ann Arbor Public Schools has become known for. There have been budget cuts, but many/most of the most egregious spending on unnecessary items has continued unabated. And the policy that budgets are developed by upping last years' spending by 3-5% in every category has not yet been rooted out.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

What's great is that students can still have a seventh hour and fit in all their required classes. What's not great are the comments by the BOE. The quote about "a more 'robust' tuition-based model" is particularly irking and concerning. The point of public schools is to provide an equal education to the citizens, paid for through taxes. The moment we start requiring tuition is the same moment we lose our public schools. There are other options to save money than charging students for a seventh-hour - taking Skyline off trimesters, closing Community, cutting down on the AAPS administration (if not closing Balas and putting administrators directly in the schools), and that $5000 snack budget.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

That comment stuck out to me also---disgraceful.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

A good decision! A terrible idea has now gone to rest, again, hopefully not to be raised ever again.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

It's ridiculous that the BOE is so weak. Looking forward to elections in November. Seventh hours, while convenient, are a luxury in these times and I can't think of any other district that offers it and certainly not for free. The BOE is clearly easily intimidated and some of these programs will need to be cut. Moreover, there really needs to be some cutting of positions/specific people at Balas so that the district can begin to work efficiently. I really hope Dr. Swift will be able to provide the leadership to turn AAPS around.

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

We'll be following this story up today to see how the school board's decision impacts the ACLU lawsuit.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Just shut down some more programs and lay off a few more teachers. Anyone wonder what the next two budget cycles are going to look like??????

Gretchen Ridenour

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

The projected cost of savings to the district was $100,000. That equals approx 1.2% of the $8,700,000 in budget cuts, or approx 0.05% of the total $182,000,000 annual budget.

Stupid Hick

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 2:31 a.m.

Thanks, Gretchen. Mike, 20 cuts like that would be one percent of the budget.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

That's .05% closer to a balanced budget. I always like how those who don't want to cut anything use statistics to show what a miniscule amount of money each cut saves. 20 cuts like that starts to become real money.............


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

ROFL, so predictable! Good Day

Susie Q

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

All high schools (even CHS) should be on one "system"; whether it is trimesters, block scheduling, semesters, etc. When AAPS had the $, it could afford to run a bunch of different programs. Now, when teachers have to travel between buildings (never a great option); they cannot be scheduled that costs more. Put everyone on the same schedule and allow students to take the six classes that the state will pay for. Or go to trimesters and allow them to gather 12.5 credits per year.

Stupid Hick

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 2 p.m.

"The move was made in conjunction with a number of cuts and revenue enhancements the board authorized to help AAPS balance its budget and eliminate the $8.7 million shortfall it faced for 2013-14." It would have been helpful for to report how much of the $8.7 shortfall the $100 fees were expected to save. Better still would be to compare to other proposed ways to address the deficit. Would it have eliminated the entire shortfall? Half? One tenth of a percent? How is a reader supposed to make an informed opinion about this?

Stupid Hick

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 2:11 a.m.

Thanks Danielle, now I get what that paragraph means. But which noun goes with the verb "allow"?

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Stupid Hick, the information you are asking about actually is in the article. Sixth paragraph.

West Side Mom

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

Not enough coffee this morning - "AAPS estimated" and it was "enhancement to cover existing costs."

West Side Mom

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

AAPS estimate that the fee would generate $100,000 in revenue. This was not about cutting costs. It was revenue enhancement to covering existing costs.

Maria Huffman

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

I don't believe the Board can regroup and repackage this and win, unless of course, they join forces with the for profit charter folks, and help pass some legislation at the state level that would redefine the meaning of the FAPE, free and appropriate public education.

David Cahill

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

A wise decision.

Jim Mulchay

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

If I understood the prior coverage of this issue correctly, the "seventh hour" is not an issue for Skyline High School students because they are on "tri-mesters"; Would it be reasonable to evaluate if all three comprehensive high schools (Huron, Pioneer and Skyline) should all be on "tri-mesters" (providing the additional credit hour opportunity) - or should Skyline covert to the two semester program Huron and Pioneer use? It would seem to me that the district would be better off with one system for all three comprehensive schools; And if the "tri-mester" provides the opportunity for the extra credit hours without the cost of the "seventh hour" it should be considered for all three schools;


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

It's true that all three should be on the same schedule, but trimesters are nightmarish. Kids end up with gaps between what would I ally be back-to-back courses taken all year in a semester model and retention is a problem.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Ugh. I hope not. I've heard of a lot of problems with the tri-mester system from parents whose children attend Skyline. For example, if you don't have math in the 3rd trimester of Year 1 and don't have it in the 1st trimester of Y2, it can be almost a year with no math.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

It does seem odd to have three different programs for 4 high schools. Hard to believe that there isn't some cost in conceiving and running three different programs. AAPS would be better protected from accusations of unfairness if they did a better job delivering comparable educational products.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

It is nice to see sanity in the vote, even if the comments by the board members show they are unrepentant and if they had a bigger fund reserve, probably would have stood on their original vote and used a million or two to fight the lawsuit. I am so discouraged by the comments from Mr. Nelson and Ms. Mexicotte, they show that they are purely looking for cash from the classrooms - the administration continues to motor along with no cuts, while the board slashes the education side of the house. I resignation or two by board members who no longer care about the services students get would be a good thing right about now. I have never said this before, but I now believe it is time.

Widow Wadman

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

I thought of you when I saw this article's headline, DonBee. Funny. I don't even know who you are but I know your stance on some things. Also, I appreciate the information that you've provided through your comments. WW


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

It is sad but true. Mexicotte, Nelson and Patalan should resign and share what information they have that is necessary for a smooth transition. They are only human and have served a long time and are understandably tired and irritated. But their collective ego and emotions are not what should be guiding board decision-making and comments. Mexicotte and Nelson express more contempt for the parents, staff members and fellow trustees who don't see fit to compliment them. They dismiss all criticism as unfair personal attacks instead of admitting the problems that continue to drive the district quality down. Why has enrollment dropped over time? Where is the exit interview data?

Usual Suspect

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

That was almost not predictable.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.



Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

I could not agree more with this one.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

I'm laughing so hard that I'm almost crying. The real laughing matter is that this is the group we elected to lead our school system. Almost makes you want to cry, eh!?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

Looks like their memorys got rattled back to reality... last time they got sued they lots their butts and our $$$$...


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.



Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:39 a.m.

I support the decision to rescind the fee. I don't support Mexicotte's self serving comments stating basically that the Board was right in the first place, there were really no bad consequences that would have occurred if it would have been implemented andso few kids would have been impacted, it was really never such a big deal in the first place. Mexicotte's comments, in my opinion, revert back to blaming the community for not complimenting the board. Does she really think, as her quotes suggest, that the district just didn't package this right to sell it to the public and that darned ACLU got too emotional about this, so to keep things as perfect as ever in our great, great school district (with enrollment consistently dropping over the years) that everything is just super? I am a big supporter of the schools and all the strengths, especially the teaching staff and strong community support. My sarcasm is intended for the communication sham of our BOE president and other trustees who speak as if the community is filled with people who are too emotional -- or clearly not as smart and informed as she is. I appreciate her hard work and time spent to help this district, but she needs to move into a role on the board that capitalizes on her strengths. Speaking as the voice of the board is not helping the district move forward and unify staff, parents, students and taxpayers in an effective way.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

You are correct. If the quotes are accurate, they should have bruises on their backs from slapping themselves and making ill founded compliments to each other. The AA BOE is inept, clueless, lost and arrogant. They all need to be replaced. We can only hope that the AA voters wake up and replace them before more damage is done.

Nick Danger

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:35 a.m.

Again the BOE allows itself to be bullied by the rich and powerful parents in the community.The district is broke,the state pays for 6 classes yet parents demand 7 .Asking those parents to pay a small fee was not unreasonable.

Reverend Bubba X

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

"Asking" is not the same as requiring. Making unconstititioal demads for payment for taxpayer-funded k-12 education, for which AAPS has previously lost court challenges is not reasonable. It is a complete waste of the BOE time.

Chester Drawers

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:50 p.m.

Nick, Any relation to Carlos?

Angry Moderate

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

jcmurray, seeing as those were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and that AAPS offered a fee waiver for low-income students, who else would be affected?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

For some reason, I don't think it was the "rich and powerful" families that were going to be most negatively affected by this proposal.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:46 a.m. can also make the argument that a portion of my local property taxes, that goes towards the school district, pays for seventh hour. It's just not state funding that goes to the school districts.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

...which Ann Arbor had done until they were revoked by the BoE in response to this funding "crisis" .. Should read "...until SOME of the extra requirements were revoked by the BoE". Only the extra half-year of mandatory PE was revoked. The other requirements are still in place.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:27 a.m.

The state pays school districts to operate a high school program in which students can earn enough credits to graduate (currently 22) within 4 years under normal conditions. School districts are free to decide on their own schedule and structure of the school day and the school year. They are also free to impose additional graduation requirements in addition to the state minimum, which Ann Arbor had done until they were revoked by the BoE in response to this funding "crisis". With Ann Arbor's long-standing additional requirements and the increase in the state minimums to include 2 years / 2 credits of foreign language study for students who were freshmen last year, there is no longer enough time for all the mandatory classes and graduation requirements if the student either has a schedule conflict OR takes a full-year music class. If either of these things happen, or if the student ever has a serious illness (swine flu?) and fails or drops a class as a result, one or more semesters of a 7th class, or a term of summer school will be needed in order to graduate. If a student has special learning needs and takes a "supported" core subject class, or has an Academic Support class, they lose access to electives, including the mandatory art/music, foreign language and psychology/law classes unless they are allowed to have a 7th class in most semesters. It has nothing to do with rich or powerful parents and has everything to do with the larger number of credits now required of our high school students being crammed into a smaller number of time slots than in the past.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:16 a.m.

Hmm, lets see...another attempt to bilk our families by the AAPS and another defeat...I see a pattern.