By the numbers: Officials say redistricting is chance to 'right size,' save money and increase programs
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
As the Ann Arbor Public Schools assesses an appropriate timeline for considering building closures and redistricting, the focus has shifted from not just how to save money and tighten operations, but also how to expand program offerings for students.
Yet with Ann Arbor's elementary schools operating at 88.7 percent full and its high schools operating at 93.94 percent full, the question becomes which schools can close and where can successful programs expand?
AnnArbor.com computed the number of square feet per student at each building in AAPS using fall 2012 enrollment data and total building square footage figures supplied by the district in order to explore options within AAPS buildings.
Computed by AnnArbor.com
According to the data, Northside Elementary, which is the sixth smallest elementary school, has the most square feet per student (199.8 feet), out of all 21 elementaries. Bach Elementary, which is operating at 97.75 percent full, has the least amount of square feet per student (96.35).
Northside also has the smallest student enrollment (218) and is operating the least percent full, at 67.08 percent of its capacity.
In grades 6-8, Scarlett Middle School students have the most square feet per student (308.35). And in grades 9-12 at the comprehensive high schools, Skyline students have the most amount of room, 253.54 feet per student. However, Huron and Pioneer are not far off the mark at 218.28 square feet per student and 229.37 square feet per student, respectively.
For the alternative high schools, Community High School has 123.04 square feet per student. Roberto Clemente and Ann Arbor Technological high schools have more than 300 square feet per student; they also are under-enrolled at 48.04 percent full and 39.26 percent full, respectively.
Computed by AnnArbor.com
AAPS was forced to hit the pause button on its redistricting efforts after two requests for proposals for a consulting company to help the district with its process did not yield what officials had hoped.
Now AAPS is waiting for word about a possible partnership with a research group from the University of Michigan — and for the district's new superintendent, Jeanice Kerr Swift, to arrive and join the redistricting discussion.
Swift has experience with both closing and repurposing schools in her former district in Colorado Springs, Colo. Most recently, Colorado Springs District 11 closed one of its large, comprehensive high schools to transform it into a career, vocational and technical education center.
Board of Education Vice President Christine Stead said it's possible Ann Arbor could do something similar with its career/tech programs, which currently are housed in multiple high school facilities, some in partnership with other community- and county-run programs.
Stead said closing buildings is incredibly disruptive to a community and "one of the very last things you would ever do to your families, if you could help it.
"That doesn't mean we aren't there," she continued. "Because maybe we are. But I think what we need to talk about more and think about more as a board is the opposite side of redistricting — the programmatic side."
The Ann Arbor school board began discussing in December redrawing the district's school attendance boundaries, reconfiguring bus routes and looking at possibly consolidating student populations to close buildings. However, at the time, the discussions took place in the context of the budget and how to address an estimated $17 million to $20 million deficit.
The board asked AAPS central administrators to start crunching numbers for what the district could save if it closed various schools. Administrators reported back that closing three elementary schools could save $1.5 million, closing a middle school could save $1 million, closing Community High School could save $1.4 million and closing a comprehensive high school could save $3 million.
But Stead said in a recent interview, "just making the district smaller is a shortsighted way" of approaching redistricting. She advocated for using redistricting as a tool to create exciting new opportunities for children, such as moving some of the schools' populations around to make room for a new K-8 program or a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program.
"I don't think we should be looking to decrease the capacity of our schools," Stead said. "We don't have a lot of extra capacity, so I don't know that I want to see us limit our capacity."
On whether she would support closing school buildings, Stead said: "Maybe, but I could be really supportive of restructuring." She cited the waiting lists at the district's alternative schools, Community High School and Ann Arbor Open, a K-8 education model, and talked about exploring the possibility of expanding those programs.
"I know those models are of great interest. We'd have to look at the expense side and would we bring in enough students to offset the costs?" Stead said.
Board President Deb Mexicotte echoed Stead's sentiments, saying the district does need to do an analysis of its student populations and neighborhoods, and "tighten up to right-size a bit.
"But we can't just close buildings and not change anything."
Mexicotte said Ann Arbor's buildings are pretty well utilized now and the district's enrollment has remained fairly consistent throughout the past five to 10 years.
"So it's not just about closing buildings to save money, but about how we need to position ourselves, from an educational standpoint, through our future," she said.