Ann Arbor high schoolers find advanced course changes, full classes
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Core classes also are an issue, it seems, with students reporting difficulties scheduling math, science and history courses, or having up to 36 students per class.
Among the students affected is Skyline junior Maddie Hagan. She said because there are not enough students at Skyline interested in taking German 3, she’s been told she has the following options: Pay the $200 to $250 to take the class online, find transportation to Pioneer in the middle of the day to take the class, or take another language.
Hagan, who spent three months in Germany during the summer to become immersed in the culture, anticipating she would be continuing her German studies, is devastated.
“I don’t want to give up learning the language. I love it,” she said.
The situation is a result of cutting about 50 staff members in 2011 is taking its toll this fall.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said she’s not sure why it appears there was a delay in the effect of these cuts, adding it may have more to do with enrollment numbers at some of the high schools.
“But we’re still monitoring this,” Margolis said. “I would suspect some of the issues students are having with scheduling has to do with new enrollments over the summer (rather than the cuts). And the interest level of students in a class can change from year to year.
"The assistant superintendents and principals have been working really closely with students and families to provide the best solutions possible.”
Prior to the 2011-12 academic year, the Board of Education approved eliminating the equivalent of 62 teachers to pass a balanced budget. However, it only was able to cut about 50.
School board Secretary Andy Thomas said this was because the district did not want to lay off any staff, but rather chose to eliminate through attrition.
This fiscal year, the board refused to cut any additional teachers. It directed administration to replace individuals who retired with new teachers.
Hiring a new teacher — including salary, health care and retirement contributions and taxes collected via the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — costs the district about $70,000 per teacher, whereas to hire an experienced teacher costs about $100,000.
Margolis said the Ann Arbor Public Schools had a total of 55 teachers leave the district following the 2011-12 academic year — 36 were through retirements and 19 were through resignations. Margolis said as of Sept. 4, the district had hired 59 teachers.
Jim Schueler, whose son is a freshman at Community High School this year, said his child struggled to get into the classes he needed to take at Pioneer High School.
“It was a couple of rough days ,” Schueler said at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting. “He ran into a number of full classes. I just wanted to say, it does seem like the district is inclined to keep cutting until someone says ouch. So then on behalf of myself, my family, my children and the families I’ve met, ‘Ouch!’”
At Skyline High School, student Kirsten Tuck described the first week as “incredibly chaotic.” She said many of her friends’ schedules were “terribly screwed up” and with close to 36 kids in her classes, people making little noises can be really distracting and makes for a poor environment.
District officials are aware there are some class size issues still to be worked out, Margolis said, adding at the start of the school year enrollment numbers change on a daily basis, especially at the high schools where students can drop and add courses. She said there are provisions in place for when classes are over their contractual targets to add classroom aides, or for the district to examine whether it warrants hiring additional staff.
The target class size at the high school level is 30 students in core classes.
Superintendent Patricia Green declined to comment last week on what solutions the district is considering. She stated the administration will work these issues out with parents.
Thomas said when school board members cut staff in 2011, they knew the district was going to "feel some real pinches in terms of what we could offer as far as electives at the high schools."
He said the classes that have been impacted the most have been those with relatively low enrollment — 15 kids in a class — such as the high-level language and AP classes, as well as "shop" classes and other specialty electives.
Margolis said with the district’s budget constraints, it’s not like it was a few years back.
“We just don’t have the luxury to be able to offer those small-sized, advanced classes anymore. That’s why we’re looking for what other options we can have for them.”
She said dual enrollment at one of the area’s universities is one option. The online classes are another, which Margolis said a student only has to pay for if the class is a seventh-hour course and not one of the student’s six hours.
Students are permitted to take a course offered at another Ann Arbor high school, but they are required to provide their own transportation — another budget cut that recently was made.
“It’s been hard,” Margolis said, recognizing the district’s mission always has been to provide excellent opportunities for students. But she said Ann Arbor is still doing that. “We really believe in our virtual academy and online options.”
The options will continue to improve and expand as the district's $45.8 million technology bond plan is implemented. Margolis said included in the technology plan will be the ability for students to "remote in" to classes at other schools without physically being in the classroom. For example, a German 3 class at Pioneer could have 15 students seated in the room with the instructor and another 10 students at Skyline or Huron that are connected via a video camera and computer monitor.