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Posted on Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:20 a.m.

Class sizes, high school busing and 7th hour priorities at first Ann Arbor schools budget forum

By Danielle Arndt


About 80 parents, students, teachers and district administrators attended the first of two budget forums Thursday night at Huron High School.

Danielle Arndt |

About 80 community members — including 20 high school students — told Ann Arbor school administrators and board members Thursday night that small classes, high school busing and seventh-hour options at Huron and Pioneer high schools should be priorities as the district struggles to balance its budget.

Questions flew throughout the first hour of the forum Thursday at Huron High School. It was the first of two community meetings the Ann Arbor Public Schools' administration will host on the proposed 2013-14 budget.

The district needs to close an $8.67 million shortfall and has proposed, among other things, reductions to middle school athletics; eliminating 80 employee positions, 53 of them teachers; closing the middle school pools; and eliminating high school busing.


Ann Arbor schools Director of Finance Nancy Hoover delivers a presentation on the upcoming budget to the community Thursday night at Huron High School.

Danielle Arndt |

Superintendent Patricia Green had to interrupt the inquisitive audience members a number of times Thursday during Finance Director Nancy Hoover's presentation. The superintendent was attempting to get the crowd back on track and to ensure it had enough time to break up into smaller groups that would be more effective for gathering feedback.

Green said the purpose of the budget forums is to give community members the opportunity to hear the details of the district's projected revenues and expenditures and to hear administrators' recommendations on how to balance the budget. But she said the most important part of the forums is the feedback the audience gives on what should be preserved and what could be put on the chopping block instead.

There were more questions and interruptions from the audience Thursday than at last year's budget forums, which district Spokeswoman Liz Margolis said is because the "pain is here" this year. These are cuts that "really just are hitting home," she said.

More on the Ann Arbor schools budget

Previous coverage:

Many of the questions the audience asked had to do with class sizes. Most wanted to know: if the district eliminated 53 teaching positions, as is proposed, and seventh hour, by how much would class sizes increase?

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Dawn Linden said it is not clear yet by how much class sizes could increase. She said in the elementary schools, there is an average of 25.5 children per class. She said from last year to this year, the overall average class size went up by just about 0.5 students per class in the elementary schools.

Director of Student Accounting and Research Services Jane Landefeld said, although average class sizes have remained fairly constant, it is now difficult for the district to deal with an influx of students in a particular grade. In previous years, if for instance, the district had a particularly large third-grade class, it might have been able to move in another teacher to help with that. Now, it's possible the district might have to accept having a class with 30 students due to budget constraints.

Also, Landefeld said, before Skyline was built, there were more students and teachers in Huron and Pioneer; and because of this, the district could divide up the numbers better to offer more sections of core classes and electives within a single high school building.

She also said students would no longer be permitted to take seven classes under the administration's proposed budget, if approved by the board. However, officials are looking at ways to still have seven hours but to only permit students to take six classes, which Landefeld said would still allow for the flexibility in scheduling that has proved helpful at the high schools in years past.

But students said Thursday they still would not be able to take as many advanced placement courses, music, art or foreign language classes prior to graduation. They said this is especially concerning given that most colleges now look for students to have had four years of a foreign language.

The students also said they did not want to see AAPS as a whole become weaker and less desirable. One student suggested possibly offering AP courses as part of the Community Recreation and Education Department program and to have students pay for the courses and instruction.

But school board Trustee Glenn Nelson, who served as the spokesman for another group following the community break-out brainstorming session, said his group had some concerns that the district is moving more and more toward an a la carte education model.

"We're still calling it public education, but we've taken on the mentality that if you want it, you have to pay for it," he said, adding this also is the case with some of the targeted giving the board has recently discussed.

All groups expressed concerns about eliminating high school transportation and the equity issues that could cause, as well as safety issues for students.

The second and final 2013-14 budget forum hosted by administration will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Pioneer High School. The Ann Arbor Board of Education has until June 30 to pass a balanced budget.

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



Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:27 a.m.

"She said in the elementary schools, there is an average of 25.5 children per class. She said from last year to this year, the overall average class size went up by just about 0.5 students per class in the elementary schools." Unfortunately, when you deal with averages, you mask the problems at some schools. The underperforming schools had low enrollments and the high performing schools have crammed classrooms with elem students sitting at computers all day instead of desks, because there aren't enough desks! People are fleeing some areas of town because the elem school in that neighborhood is not good, so they move into the boundary area where the schools are good and create huge problems with huge classes. Unless AAPS addresses this problem, nothing will change. Using these averages, makes it appear that there aren't any crammed elem classrooms in the district, and nothing could be further from the truth.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:22 a.m.

"Director of Student Accounting and Research Services Jane Landefeld said, although average class sizes have remained fairly constant, it is now difficult for the district to deal with an influx of students in a particular grade. In previous years, if for instance, the district had a particularly large third-grade class, it might have been able to move in another teacher to help with that. Now, it's possible the district might have to accept having a class with 30 students due to budget constraints." I've got news for Ms Landefeld: many classes at the elementary level, middle school level and HS level are over 30 students. There are 3rd, 4th, 5th grade classrooms with over 30 students. Possible, Ms Landefeld? It's not only possible, it's happening. "Might have to accept a class with 30 students?" Might? It's happening right now. Get out of Balas. AAPS: Stop the doublespeak.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

I totally agree with the busing gig. Do not eliminate it. Period. There would not be enough children who do drive and for those that do? Not enough parking spaces to fill this void. Especially for those who cannot afford a car nor the busing. Trust you me, $29 bucks a month is enough to hardship anyone who is trying to save some money. It is scary enough to drive by Pioneer at 2:30 then it is maneuver I94 at 5.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

My daughter's 4th grade class was already at 30 this year. I know her class isn't the only one at or above 30 this year at the elementary level in the district.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:28 a.m.

Exactly. As long as they use these "averages" which include the underenrolled classes at the underperforming schools, they aren't facing reality. Ms Landefeld needs to get out of Balas.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

What do the brains behind this have proposed for next year? We have a structural deficit that no one wants to touch. This is death by 1000 cuts. We pay out more in salaries, benefits, and retirements than we take in. Any businessman could solve this problem (I mean heartless, evil person). If we don't cut 10% across the board, possibly more, we will have this discussion next year and the year after and the year after.........etc.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 11:17 p.m.

O...can we say.....Ms Green? The BOE? They have to pay her to leave don't they?

Wake Up A2

Sat, May 4, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

Over the last 5 years the teachers have taken 5% off wages. The state took another 6%. This has not fixed even one problem, because it doesnt stop the root cause of the problem.... the balas gravy train stops. Also as unpopular as this is, we cant give a private school education on a public school budget all tax gripes aside. The state outlines the curriculum and ann arbor augments it to the nth degree. Maybe we get rid of programs not on the states list. The state only pays for the basics. ...

John Floyd

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:24 p.m.

Our funding dilemma is due to the choice of the governor and the legislature to de-fund public education in order to pay for a small-business tax cut. There may be valid reasons (e.g., double-taxation) to reduce small business taxes, but the decision to fund this from public education was a choice, not a requirement. To me, this decision amounts to eating our seed corn. One of the governor's stated priorities - educating kids for 21st century jobs - seems to have been forgotten, unless, of course he thinks of fast food and low-end retail as "21st Century Jobs". Revenues to the School Aid Fund are up this year, yet the talk here is of absurd trade-offs between school programs. Balas may well have problems - and they should be addressed - but the big education problems originate in Lansing.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

Is the 25.5 students per elementary class found by averaging actual numbers or by dividing number of students per building by number of teachers? That seems quite low from my experience.

J. A. Pieper

Sat, May 4, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

They also count in people like the special area teachers (music, art, etc) to figure out this number for class size. Transparency at its best!

Burr Oak

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:37 p.m.

I agree. In many schools, there are very small special ed classrooms which skew this numbers significantly.

Jim Stauder

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5 p.m.

Why not preserve all of the Sport programs, all of the Arts programs, all of the things that make Ann Arbor Pubic Schools so awesome. If we want to preserve all programs and all staff at all the buildings there is only one alternative. Get rid of transportation all together. The transportation of school students should not be the responsibility of the public it should be the responsibility of the parents. If we cut transportation we will have a huge budget surplus. I'm sorry about the 100 or so jobs involved with transportation but it would save the quality of our schools. Think about it Ann Arbor.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 1:54 a.m.

@Burr I think Don Bee said in another article that Michigan has a law making it illegal to charge for busing.

Burr Oak

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:39 p.m.

As for busing, why can't there be a pay-to-ride charge, like in sports, but with a scholarship subsidy for those who can't? Why are we paying for buses for folks who can pay and laying off more than 50 teachers?

Jim Stauder

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:45 p.m.

Mr. Drawers, I totally do get it. I have two children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools who ride the busses. However, I still do not beleive that the 10's of millions of dollas the district spends on transportation ever made any of our children any smarter. What it has done is get a lot of them bullied and put enormas liability on the District for the safty of these children. I grew up in the Grosse Point School District. There was only 1 bus that made the rounds before school picking up kids that were willing to pay .40 cents a ride. The bus was normally empty. I had to walk over a mile to my middle school. 40 cents each way was to expensive so my parents made me walk, they told me it would build character. Something most of our coddaled children lack. It was your choice to have children it should be your responsibility to transport them to school not the public's. And would'nt it be nice to have extra money available to maybe even offer more to our children. We already have one of the best school districts out there. Building the extra high school was definately a big mistake but now that it is done I think the only way to preserve the LEARNING is by putting the transportation were it belongs, on the parents. I TAKE RESPONSIBILTY FOR MY CHILDREN, i am willing to drive my kids to school. Also all neighborhoods have lots of kids going to the same schools so I'm sure that car pooling the kids to school could provide a lot of the disavantaged kids a way to get to school. Just Sayin! Something to think about.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:34 p.m.

Chester Drawers -- It's not just the less well off who ride the buses (buses go to Ann Arbor Hills, for example, a pretty wealthy area). I think it is worth looking at how we can keep services for those who need it most, and where we might be able to cut. My district did not provide busing (never had, so not political), and kids came a pretty good distance. We rode our bikes for the 5 miles or took the public bus on lousy days. I want kids to have services, but schools these days are doing so much - getting kids to and from, feeding them, and providing lots of supplemental services. It all costs money, and it's worth considering whether parents who are able can take back some of the responsibility for their own kid.

Chester Drawers

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:09 p.m.

It is hard for me to believe that, in the 21st century, we are even talking about eliminating busing for, let's face it, the most economically challenged strata of our school population. This has nothing to do with jobs! I don't know if you get it, Mr. Stauder, but there are kids in our district who have no transportation alternative - no access to AATA, no parent available to drive, no ability to walk the distance and no BMW of their own. Jeez, my parents grew up in the rural south, started school in the 1920's, and rode the big yellow bus for all 12 years.

Joan Doughty

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

Oh, and bonus, the class sizes will get smaller too. All those kids who can't get to school because they live so far away (in some cases more than an hour's walk) and don't have access to transportation, won't be showing up for school anymore.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

Much of the discussion at last night's meeting focused on busing. One question asked to administrators was whether AAPS is legally obligated to provide bus service. The answer was 'no'. However, great concern was expressed by many, many people that eliminating bus service would seriously affect the most disadvantaged in our community.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

Does anyone know if Central Administration or the Administrator's union are taking cuts? Teachers gave 3% and yet we seem to have heard nothing from administrators. How are we talking about cuts to student instruction when administrative cuts and concessions have not been made?!

Danielle Arndt

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Topher, no information about this has been released yet. I've been told the remaining employees are still involved in contract negotiations with the district and school officials will not comment on negotiations.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Skyline is talking about retaining trimesters by eliminating 3 teacher positions. This would give Skyline students 15 courses a year. Meanwhile, if Huron and Pioneer lose 7th hour, they could only take 12 courses a year. Community, with its 7th block (and forum; 25 students to 1 teacher for 90 minutes of counseling maybe once a week) can take 14 courses a year. This is not equity across the district.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : midnight

*i give up on spellcheck. Can't, not ate. Sorry.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:59 p.m.

Vox- ANY kid can take a foreign language online. My kid took 2 semesters online to accommodate his schedule. Something to keep in mind. When Skyline changes to semesters, it should be easier on foreign languages. The Skyline schedule with trimesters was erratic at best. If you want to take a foreign language you my have a trimester in between, not have the same course offering each tri, or have different levels offered so you can't ate the same course that year. I speak from experience with dealing with Skylines schedule. Online courses nixed those problems and more.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:52 p.m.

No town cryer. It's worth being at Community. The violins are for those who want every elective on the planet at Pioneer and Huron. Sometimes you have to decide what is most important. My kid isn't crying about not having more electives or a seventh hour. He knew the deal. Just pointing out the in accuracy of Dr I Em above that all these Community kids take 7hours. They don't. In fact my kid takes an online class not offered at Community, but offered at other high schools.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

So now we are suppose to get the violins out for the Community students when they purposely entered a lottery knowing of these horrific SACRIFICES, lol??? Just wow.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:29 p.m.

How many Community students take 14 credits? Not many, if any. How many Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline students take classes at Community? How many Skyline students have crammed all of their courses into three years with trimesters so they could graduate early and get a job at say, TJMaxx? Community has far fewer elective offerings than any other school. FAR FEWER. That's the sacrifice they have been making. Foreign language classes have split enrollment, ie; Latin 1/2, or Spanish 3/4. That's the sacrifice they haVe been making. Pioneer and Huron and Skyline are just catching up in the no frills course offering department. The MAJORITY of Community students take ONLY 12 credits per year. They aren't PERMITTED to pile them on like Pioneer and Huron.

vox rationis

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

There is not equity as it stands now between the high schools. Skyline has no options for a "7th hour" which has had a negative impact on those pupils trying to do music (band, choir, orchestra) and a foreign language. At PIHI and Huron the 7th hour option is used extensively by this group to fit all of their requirements in. At Skyline many students either end up having to do extra online or summer offerings in order to keep both a language and music, or they end up having to drop either foreign language or their music.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

Elimination of trimesters at Skyline was proposed by the AAPS administration at last night's budget meeting.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

Why does the AAPS Administration and BoE not consider selling the old Dixboro school? Also Angell school could be sold and moved into another under-utilized school building that offers more space and greater energy efficiency. The money received in these sales could help close the budget deficit.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

If Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline are forced to make cuts to their programming (elimination of 7th hour, and trimester scheduling), why does Community get to keep block scheduling? Is that fair? Is that shared sacrifice?


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 12:48 a.m.

Less electives (very FEW electives) =less resources. One full time counselor = less resources. Split foreign language classes, ie, Latin 1/2, = less resources. Classrooms stuffed full= less resources.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

Community has FAR fewer electives- has for years- than Pioneer or Huron. Foreign Language classes are huge and split enrolled, Latin1/2, etc. Why should Pioneer and Huron and Skyline students have close access to their pick of umpteen electives?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:27 p.m.

This is a good question. The classes at Pioneer keep increasing in size - has Community had any cuts whatsoever? So surprising that so many are comfortable with a two-tier system. It doesn't matter that anyone has an equal chance of getting in (and it is not true in some ways considering that not everyone has the means to get their kid there) -- the result is smaller classes and more resources flowing to one group and not another.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Why does the BoE allow some elementary and middle schools to remain open when there are under-capacity issues? Is it fair and equitable to use limited resources to run elementary and middle schools that are 25-30% under-enrolled? Have audits been conducted at each building, to determine which buildings are the most costly to run? Yet, the AAPS administration recommends cutting the high school programs that are successful and popular such as 7th hour at Pioneer and Huron, and trimesters at Skyline.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

The educational community of Ann Arbor should consider asking the AAPS Board of Education (BoE) to eliminate the additional .5 physical education AAPS graduation requirement, which is above and beyond what the state requires. The State of Michigan already requires 1 credit of Physical Education (.5) and Health (.5). This could be an acceptable "budget cut" that would free up the financial resources to keep each of Ann Arbor's high schools' unique offerings: 1. 7th hour at Huron and Pioneer; 2. Trimesters at Skyline; 3. Block scheduling at Community (which is not on the chopping block) I don't understand how the BoE can consider cutting the high school programs that make Ann Arbor desirable. Won't that push students and families out of AAPS?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 4:56 a.m.

Sure----let's cut Physical Education----we are already one of the most obese states in the country----and our students rank way at the bottom for Fitness in the world---let's cut English---how many of you actually remember the Elizabethan Theory or what an indirect object is ----besides who needs to know how to spell or write papers---everyone has spell check and a computer. You are probably one of these people who honor coaches and go to all the sporting events-----but don't care if high school students are fit. In Presidential Fitness testing----high school students are not expected to do as many pushups as an 8th grader because they don't have the athletic skill/fitness.


Sat, May 4, 2013 : 12:44 a.m.

Ugggh. I hate spellcheck. There is a form you can get a coach to sign which waives that .5 PE credit.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

It's very easy to get that other .5 credit without taking a class. Get the rom owned by the coach saying you played a sport. Any sport. That would be a free piece of paper.

Wake Up A2

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

Cut district department chairs - 1 million dollar savings. Doesn't increase class size Cut Balas positions - 1 million dollar savings. Doesn't increase class size Administration pay cuts (like the teachers took) - 1 million dollar savings. Doesn't increase class size. So 3 million dollars later and no child is impacted. If I dig hard enough i could come up with 5 million more that wouldn't effect and have a negative impact on class sizes..... Open up all your books.....


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:43 p.m.

What do you have proposed for next year? We have a structural deficit that no one wants to touch. This is death by 1000 cuts. We pay out more in salaries, benefits, and retirements than we take in. If we don't cut 10% across the board, possibly more, we will have this discussion next year and the year after and the year after.........etc.

Wake Up A2

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

The other chuck of cash comes from the other 4 positions at balas that about on the same level. Masters Max plus health care and retirement equal about 1 million total savings. 600,000 are just in outright salaries minus the other ones at Balas.

Now Found

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

Amen! Save 7th hour! We pay very high taxes for our children to have the best elective programs possible with the best teaching staff available. We don't want our amazing teachers leaving the district because their work is undervalued, and we don't want our top students leaving the district for schools that offer better programs.

Truth Hurts

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

I find it interesting that every time you mention district dept. chairs you come up with a different number. In the last story you quoted that these individuals cost the district $600,000 and now you are saying a million. Where are you getting your figures? My understanding is that these positions are filled with teachers who still teach classes and work on a limited release basis. If this is true your numbers are way off even if the average compensation numbers for a full time teacher are used.

Jeff Gaynor

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Given the concerns expressed about high school busing, I'm assuming the AATA will step up to help, and financial need considerations will be made for low income families. The greater concern should be for the loss of jobs by bus drivers. Otherwise, did people really think we could cut millions each year, and not have it hurt? As though if they cut THEIR program, and not OURS, and of course CUT THE FAT (as though), all would be well.