Budget crisis: Ann Arbor schools issues layoff notices for 233 teachers
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com file photo
The Ann Arbor Board of Education voted unanimously to issue pink slips to 233 teachers at Wednesday's board meeting to prepare for a possible reduction of about 50 teaching positions in next year's budget.
The Ann Arbor Public Schools district is facing a projected shortfall of $8.67 million for the 2013-14 academic year. That's on top of a current-year deficit of $3.8 million and a depleted fund balance, or primary savings account, of just $6.8 million.
Cuts to fix the financial situation at AAPS are accelerating, with every cut carrying weight and significant pain to those affected. And especially to the teachers, who gave $3.4 million in concessions less than two months ago, said union president Linda Carter during the meeting, expressing members' "anger and frustration" with the process.
She said the union was notified Wednesday morning that the layoff vote would be taking place later that night. However, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services David Comsa said district administrators have been working with the AAEA to come up with the final list of staff to receive pink slips.
Contractually, the district is obligated to notify teachers prior to the last day of school, which is June 14. The next regular Board of Education meeting is not until June 12, so school officials said they did not feel that was sufficient time for informing people.
"We hope that this is a resolution that would not impact 233 people, but in order to be able to have the appropriate notification, we have to cast a wider net than we would like to in order to make sure we have the appropriate coverage of all those that might possibly be affected," said Superintendent Patricia Green.
"The math is yelling in our ears that we have given 5.2 percent over the last three years," she said.
"We believed that the salary concessions we made in March would have been enough to take care of our part and that the drastic number of layoffs — 233 — would not be necessary. We also believed that other bargaining units and employees in the district were going to participate in the salary concessions so that others could maintain employment."
The non-union affiliated employees, mostly cabinet members and central administrators, took a 3 percent pay cut for a total cost savings of $114,290. There has been no word yet on whether the 48 members of the Ann Arbor Administrators Association will take the same cut. Negotiations with this union — comprised of principals, assistant principals and some department directors — have been ongoing, officials said.
There are 1,158 members of the AAEA, so about 20 percent of them will be receiving layoff notices.
The list of 233 staff was compiled based on seniority. Officials said building principals will be notified immediately of those staff members in their schools that will be receiving pink slips. The layoffs will be effective June 30, 2013.
If the board goes through with cutting the approximately 50 teaching positions in the proposed budget, this would be the first time in the history of the Ann Arbor Public Schools that the district has laid off teachers. In the past, instructional staff reductions all have been able to be achieved through attrition, either retirements or resignations.
"It is not lost on us the emotional impact of that — and any other layoff that might happen as a result of this budget," said Vice President Christine Stead. "We all know. This is exactly what we're trying to avoid. We're working as hard as we can to reduce operations, and we'll continue to do that until the very last second."
This year, AAPS only has had about 15 teachers submit retirement notices so far. Typically, the district sees 40 to 50 retirements a summer. Comsa said this could be the result of AAPS eliminating its early notification incentive, which rewarded people for submitting their retirements at the beginning of the spring.
Whatever number of the 233 staff is not needed to balance the budget will be called back prior to the start of school in September.
Board President Deb Mexicotte said previously that the process of laying off staff is "astonishingly complicated." More teachers must be issued layoff notices than actually are needed to be reduced in order to appropriately staff the buildings for enrollment and the correct number of grades or course sections, based on teachers' certifications and the grade levels and classes they can legally teach.
"I agree this is a piece that we hope we will not have to implement either fully or at all," Mexicotte said Wednesday. "And we have indeed passed a resolution like this in the past and did not need to implement any part of it at that time, and it is hopeful that will be the case at this time as well."
On the chopping block for the 2013-14 academic year are 32 undesignated full-time teachers, 5 FTE for eliminating the seventh-hour option at Huron and Pioneer high schools, 3 FTE for moving Skyline from a trimester to a semester schedule, 3 FTE for fine arts and physical education across the district and 5 FTE for reading intervention specialists in grades 1 and 2.
There also are one grounds employee, 15 custodial staff, one crew chief, the Pioneer High School theater technician and six central office positions slated to be cut for next year.
School board members also sought additional information Wednesday night about possibly reducing office personnel or secretary positions, as well as special education and pupil support services staff.
District administrators said at each comprehensive high school (Huron, Pioneer and Skyline) there are 11 office professionals. The elementary schools have one office professional each and the middle schools have three, one secretary to the principal and two class secretaries. Green said the Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center also has 0.5 FTE for records.
She said she could not recommend any reductions to the elementary or middle school office personnel due to the workload each person has and the small number of them already at each school. She said if the board were to reduce the preschool secretary and two at each comprehensive high school, it would be a cost savings of approximately $300,000.
However, Green said she and her team could not support this action with their recommendation without further vetting at the building level and getting significant feedback from principals on the possible side effects this reduction could have on the overall operations of the school.
For Stead, the suggestion was made to try to preserve classroom teachers. She said her No. 1 priority is keeping what makes the district distinct and competitive, which she believes is teachers and the courses and programs AAPS is able to offer.
Nelson said he targeted special education and pupil support services for some potential savings because in looking back at the district's budget information from 2006-07, AAPS employed fewer staff in these categories than it does today.
According to documents, in 2006, there were about 475 FTE in the district in the areas of special education and pupil support, which includes: special education teachers; teacher consultants, who help with Individualized Education Plans; health services staff; psychologists; speech and language pathologists; guidance counselors; school social workers; teacher assistants; and career and technical education instructors. Also in 2006, there were 853 FTE general education or instructional staff members.
Today, the number of general education teaching staff has declined, while the number of special education and pupil support services staff has increased. There are about 810 general education FTE employed in the district currently, compared to about 534 FTE in special education and student support positions, documents show.
Upon Nelson asking the district administration to look into this, school officials said a reduction of 8 to 8.5 teacher consultant FTEs, 4 to 4.5 teacher assistant FTEs and 2 speech and language pathologist FTEs could be reduced, for a savings of $250,000.
There was no formal action taken Wednesday to make these reductions part of the budget proposal for next year. The board decided to continue to weigh the possibility.