Ann Arbor school board hears community input toward at least $7M in cuts
Editor's note: The amount spent on NWEA MAP testing has been corrected in this story.
Ann Arbor school administrators hosted their second and final budget forum Monday to gather questions and collect advice from the community.
The school board will meet Wednesday to deliberate on proposals to cut at least $7 million toward eliminating the district’s $17.8 million deficit for 2012-13.
Board of Education members asked for the forums, the first of which was held May 7, to take place prior to this week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, so the public’s input could help steer and guide their discussion, said Superintendent Patricia Green.
"We are very pleased with, here in Ann Arbor, people are giving us their honest opinion," Green said.
School officials are compiling a list of questions generated at both forums and will be posting them with answers on the district’s website by Friday, they said. Questions were not responded to during the sessions.
At Monday’s forum, community members heard a presentation outlining the budget and proposed cuts from Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen. Then the audience of about 45 residents and teachers divided into small groups to discuss their concerns and to brainstorm ideas for revenue enhancement.
Most of the concerns were about at-risk families being hit the hardest by the cuts. The district’s proposal to close Roberto Clemente Student Development Center and to move the program to Ann Arbor Technological High School for a $400,000 savings was referenced.
The administration’s timeline for presenting and soliciting community involvement in the district’s finances was the second most articulated concern. One table recommended possible cuts be tossed out at the beginning of the school year or in December or January to give people more time to react and make suggestions.
A lack of communication from school officials about the details of the cuts, such as a plan showing what revamping the district’s alternative high school programs could look like, also was brought up as a concern.
Overall, participants said classroom instruction should be the No. 1 priority, even if it means slashing fewer teaching positions and reducing extracurricular activities.
Several suggestions were made with other items to cut. A group of Ann Arbor Open School parents said AAO is the only lower-level building with a pool. The group said it would rather see the pool close and students not be able to swim than not be able to get to school.
Cutting transportation to AAO is on the table for an undetermined savings. It has been lumped into a proposal to eliminate busing to all “choice” schools for a total budget reduction of $266,400.
Requests have been made to the district for the exact cost of busing students to and from Ann Arbor Open. However, those requests have not yet been filled.
The AAO parents also suggested eliminating middle school sports all together, since a proposal to do away with the middle schools’ athletic directors is being considered.
“(If you cut the ADs,) there won’t be anybody there to make the sports work or to coordinate everything anyway, so it just seems like an area where maybe we could make some cuts,” said AAO parent Carol Sickman-Garner, adding there are other avenues in the community through which children that age can participate in sports.
Eliminating the middle school ADs is expected to save $37,500.
Another table at Monday’s forum recommended looking at collective bargaining agreements with unions and discontinuing eye care and dental coverage for employees, stating employers in the private sector have had to roll back benefit packages in the current economy.
Community members recommended getting rid of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which the district paid $92,700 for from the Child Accounting and Assessment budget.
The ideas presented for raising revenues included increasing advertising at Ann Arbor Public Schools sporting events.
Sickman-Garner also suggested considering pay-to-ride fees for transportation that could bring money into the schools and help pay for busing costs.
“There are pay-to-play fees for athletics. Why not for transportation to prevent its elimination?” she said, adding the effort could possibly be subsidized for low-income families through building parent-teacher organizations or the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation.
Another suggestion from her table was increasing the number of alternative “choice” programs similar to AAO within the district to allow AAPS to compete with local charter schools and to regain some of its students lost to charters.
Lastly, one table recommended outsourcing the district’s payroll department.
The Ann Arbor school board’s Committee of the Whole meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Balas Administration Building. Click here for a rundown of future meetings in the budget process.