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Posted on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

Class sizes in Ann Arbor schools will average 30 students in upper grades if 70 teaching positions cut

By Kyle Feldscher

More than half of the staff positions that could be eliminated in the proposed Ann Arbor schools budget would come through retirements and resignations, according to district officials.

Interim Superintendent Robert Allen said Wednesday he hopes to eliminate the majority of positions through attrition. Allen has proposed 79 staff reductions, 70 of which would come from the teaching ranks, and at least 45 of those will come through retirements and resignations, district spokesperson Liz Margolis said Thursday.

“That’s about average,” Margolis said. “We always get more throughout the year and the summer.”


Students at Abbot Elementary answer questions as they prepare for a MEAP test in this file photo. Class sizes would go up and Abbot Elementary School would share a principal with Wines Elementary under Ann Arbor schools budget proposals.

Mark Bialek | For

The district is attempting to fill a $15.6 million deficit for the coming fiscal year. Allen presented the Ann Arbor school board with proposed reductions at Wednesday’s meeting. The school board has until June 30 to adopt a budget.

School districts around Michigan are facing cuts as the debate over public education swirls in Lansing. Gov. Rick Snyder proposed in February a new $300 per pupil cut to K-12 education, on top of a $170 per pupil cut from the current fiscal year that would not be restored. However, indications are beginning to come from Lansing that the new per pupil cut may be reduced.

School districts are also facing a $230 per pupil increase in retirement costs for the coming fiscal year.

District officials will present the proposed budget reductions to the public in forums next week. The forums are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Pioneer High School Cafeteria Annex and 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Skyline High School Commons area.

Even though most of the positions set to be eliminated will be vacant, about 34 staff members face losing their jobs.

Brit Satchwell, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, said he was concerned the number of teaching positions eliminated in the proposal is too high and some of those positions may need to be filled by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

He said the teachers union is still working with the district to see why administrators chose 70 positions and said he hoped the number would be smaller in the final budget.

“They’ve been very cooperative with sharing numbers, but we just haven’t had time to dig into the numbers,” Satchwell said. “According to our calculations, 70 is too high.”

The total staff reductions will save the district about $7.1 million, with $6.3 million of that coming from the 70 full-time teaching positions eliminated.

Allen told the school board that the elimination of 70 full-time teaching positions would inevitably increase class sizes. Average class sizes would become:

  • Kindergarten through second grade — 23-25 students per class, up from 19-21.
  • Third grade through fifth grade — 26-30 students per class, up from 23-27.
  • Sixth through twelfth grade — Average of 30 students per class.

Allen said classes with low enrollment at the secondary level, generally 18 students and below, could be eliminated or combined.

“What that will do in essence is limit the choices students may have; it would impact elective classes,” he said, adding that more split-grade classes may have to be added at the elementary level.

Satchwell said he understood why the cuts have to be made, calling the reductions “the latest chapter in the continuing saga of underfunding from the state.”

He said the reason budget cuts have been kept away from the classroom is due to the good relationship between the teachers union and administrators, but there aren't enough other places left to cut.

“I’ve said repeatedly I think our ability to cope year after year can be attributed to two reasons: Good administrative decisions and good thinking in emergency situations with cuts kept away from the classroom and teachers taking on increased burden and concessions,” Satchwell said.

“We don’t have any place to keep it away from, but we’re still trying to keep it away from students and classroom instruction. Our district is running out of options.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

@Smiley - your grade school class in the 80's was supported in ways that are not happening now. Little did you know that there was much more support for the students who had behavioral problems - you probably never really even saw these kids. I taught in a self contained classroom for these children. They were too angry and violent to be in a regular ed room. However, in the late 1990's - these classrooms were eliminated. The children poured into the regular classroom without aides. Often times there are 2-3 high needs kids in one classroom. It is not only difficult for the child to have his/her needs met when mixed in like this, but the other children in the classroom suffer because the teacher is spending a higher percentage of his/her time on discipline problems. 30 kids in a classroom in the 80's differ from 30 kids in a classroom today.


Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 10:27 p.m.

Cut the AAPS staff and their lofty salaries in half and you could maintain classroom size and all school programs. AAPS Admin are justy money spenders and are not held accounatable for generating revenue. When they need to stoop to threatening our students with budget cuts, bring in a private company to run the schools. I think you would see a lot less of this threatening going on if their jobs were at risk if they continued to threaten our children. I would also cut elementary school administration in half and reduced pay fo the remaing principals. In Japan school administrators can not receive pay greater than any of the top paid teachers. Many principals are in their respective school less than 30 hous per week and make outrageous salaries. Proof that school administrative responsibilities can be shared. I would also cut the para-pros and support staff (social workers, speech teachers, etc...)at each school because they have absolutely no accountability. They are at the rspective schools far less that the principals and even when they are present do very little and accomplish less.


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 4:58 p.m.

Wow - really? At a time when social workers and speech therapists can't even keep up with the demand? Folks need to stop focusing on the staff and unfortunately look at other (hopefully temporary) solutions. Do you know we are the only school district around that doesn't ask parents to pay for school supplies at the beginning of the year? And although other fantastic programming like the classes through Rec and Ed are great and my family uses them all of the time, I would rather lose this than have my kids and their teachers suffer.


Sun, Apr 24, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

In common with a large number of baby boomers, I was educated in classes that numbered 25-45 students in a room. This includes kindergarten through 12th grade. I and my siblings not only learned, we excelled. So did many, but not all, of our classmates. For the most part, any professional teacher can manage a classroom with that many students, if the school system is structured to support both students and teachers appropriately. On-line classes, accessed either from the schools' computer labs / libraries (which should be open a minimum of 12 hours per day) are one excellent way for students to get all the time and individual attention they need to master material, on any schedule they and their parents find necessary. The one possible exception would be English Language Arts and/or Social Studies as is taught in early high school. Most of these teachers now assign one or two longer "research papers" as part of preparing their students for college-level writing assignments. There really should be more like 5 or 6 such papers in each school year, but the teachers find the burden of grading is too heavy, and have reduced their own workload to what they feel is manageable. The burden of giving appropriate feedback to 160 students (4 classes times 40 students) is enough more that I strongly suspect writing assignments will be further cut back, and students will be noticeably less well prepared fro college or work. Nor is there a good automated algorithm for giving feedback on writing, so a trained human is absolutely necessary for this kind of feedback. Spelling and grammar checkers, and computer reading level assessments can only take you so far. Virtual or on-line classes may reduce the burdens of teachers and students being in the same time and place. They won't help (much) in giving a student the detailed feedback he or she needs to really improve as a writer.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

If anything else, the teachers will get a stipend for having large class sizes instead of getting a teacher aide. This does occur in Willow Run. The teachers opt for extra pay instead of assistance. The teachers in Willow Run have said that they prefer the money then having someone else in their classroom. So, if history prevails, the teachers will get extra money even though they are being cut in pay. Win win for the teachers, loose loose for the students. Ann Arbor does not learn from the past and they are doomed to repeat. No pity party from me. Can't wait to see what is next on the agenda.


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

Where do you get your information?


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

So, the teachers complain they have no free time. They send in a clown of who evers choosing and the teacher complains that they hate the para pro and the para pro has to go because the teacher says no no no. O no. Children loose because the teacher is choosy. Guess the teacher has to decide whether they put up with the para pro or the money. I really don't want to hear the teacher say I have a huge classroom and I don't know what to do. Poor old woman in a classroom. Get real. I don't want to hear it in September. Put up or zip up as I always say.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 6:16 p.m.

How is it a win-win for the teachers? They get a huge class size and a couple hundred bucks. I do know some teachers decide not to have a parapro because they have no say in choosing the person. It's hard to take just anyone in to your classroom.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

Class sizes grow and course choices continue to diminish at Huron and Pioneer as the student population decreases due to Skyline reaching its capacity in the fall. Not only do electives suffer, including a reduction in the number of language courses, but academics that target the lower skilled students suffer because those courses accommodate fewer students and sometimes require more than one teacher to teach the course. Skyline, with trimesters will be able to accommodate more choices, but my understanding is that trimesters are more expensive than semesters and therefore it will not become a districtwide option. Generally, students do not enjoy the Michigan Virtual High School courses, however, students who need to recover credit for a failed course find the online recovery courses more manageable. As AAPS continues to try to attract private school students, they can point to the Grammy Award winning music programs and innovative opportunities like the home building program, the hospital based Health Sciences program, and the many AP course opportunities. Specialty programs like Community High, Stone High and Roberto Clemente serve a segment of the population very well, allowing students who might otherwise be disenfranchised to graduate from high school and move on to other educational and work opportunities. Having bus transportation to support these programs is very important.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

I went through A2 public schools (Pioneer part-time) in the early 90s and it was routine to have 30-35 students in each class...there weren't enough desks in 1/2 the school rooms, so you had to sit on the floor until they expanded into these dreadful, drafty, leaky portable units (complete with wire around the tops...such an uplifting experience) *laughs wryly* It is possible to learn in these conditions, but the teachers were CRANKY as all get-out with the stress/noise...and oh, were those crowded rooms ever HOT.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

I'd like to see school for children run M-Saturday, 9 a.m - 5 p.m. -- that would raise the test scores like NOTHING else.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

Question: if the teachers' contract limits class size at a certain number, how can the district go above the maximums?


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 1:29 a.m.

So when has that stopped Ann Arbor from doing what it wants to do? The board came like a thief in the nite and fired 160 jobs from nice bus drivers and never told them that they were done. They had to hear it from this nice on line newspaper. So, blank the union. The board can do what the board wants to do and the teachers are in a corner and the MEA can balk all it wants to. Good luck teachers. Your union ain't gonna save you nor will you ever see a lick of that money in 5 years.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

I believe the Ann Arbor contract says head count can't go above a certain number without teacher consent.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Its legal. They are doing it in Willow Run with 30 plus children in each classroom and it is not going to get any better in September. Contract or no contract the district makes the final say no matter what the contract says. This is why they get a stipend when the class size goes over 30.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

This is an example of the failure of political leadership. Poor economic grow over the past 8 years has reduced the tax base that finances public education. Raising taxes will further weaken the Michigan economy. We need a comprehensive analysis of our education system with the goal of improving educational outcomes. The public education system is built on the premise that; we have always done it this way, so thats how we will do it in the future, has to end. The system is financially unsustainable and the outcome is unacceptable.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

Instead of cutting teachers who actually teach, why don't they end the early retirement option and stop paying 55 yr old teachers to sit on the beach in the south. Some of my best teachers in high school were in their 60's. Wasn't in Michigan.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

jns131, this is confusing to say the least.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

What Michigan did last year was to remove the hi paying end of teacher salaries and let the newbies in to teach at a lower rate of pay. So while the good teachers who have not reached tenure leave or will leave this year due to the buy outs from last summer are gone, Ann Arbor will have lower end scale teachers who will keep costs down. Another reason to lay off and close empty and vacant departments. They did this last year and are going to do it again this year.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

Please describe what you know about the early retirement option.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:36 a.m.

In the upper levels, Michigan Virtual High School offers great classes, that AAPS supports. State Law requires 1 class be on-line. That does not mean that only 1 class should be. There is no reason for AP classes, math classes and other science related classes (save lab classes) could not be taught on-line. A computer lab could easily hold more than 30 students each getting individual attention from the software they are interacting with. Based on discussions with students who struggled in math with live teachers, it seems that the courses from the Virtual High School are pretty good. Students liked them. There is no reason why we, one of the most innovative and progressive districts in the state, cannot break the 1900 industrial education mold. Is there? I am sure if we look a bit, we can find lots of low cost ways to enhance education for students.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

Virtual socialization skills? They can be required to find a rec and ed course that will make them interact on a PE level. I think Pioneer does this. Not sure. I know in college they do do this.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

Virtual socialization skills? They can be required to find a rec and ed course that will make them interact on a PE level. I think Pioneer does this. Not sure. I know in college they do do this.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

Virtual socialization skills? They can be required to find a rec and ed course that will make them interact on a PE level. I think Pioneer does this. Not sure. I know in college they do do this.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

*skills* Or ails depending I guess :)


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

But where would the difficult to manage students get their socialization ails? (tongue in cheek)


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

I have and I like the good ones, the bad ones are just plain bad. Most adult education is bad, poorly designed and just meeting the minimums. Where repetition and accuracy are required the computer has more patience than people do. Watching my children with the current math classes in Ann Arbor, I will take a computer over Everyday Math any day.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 2:46 a.m.

Ick. Ever taken an online course? Horrible idea.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

Class size is one of the things parents look at when deciding where to send their children to school. Bash me if you like, but my daughter is in a class of 27 and that class is very much different (no individualized math, for starters) than the class of 17 she was in in our old school district (yes, also public). For some kids (the very smart, the very limited) it probably doesn't matter, but for the messy middle, 30 kids in a class is a much worse experience than 20.

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

No problem with classes sizes..... as long as they are equitable across the district. Some AAPS schools already have these class sizes, while under-populated schools have much smaller class sizes. All AAPS schools should have the same classes sizes... That means CHS, Skyline, all 5 middle schools, every elementary school, etc.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

Probably would be managable if there were other support mechanisms in the school. If a child is out of control, the principal steps in. But if we cut back on number of principals, who will be there to allow the teacher to continue teaching the rest of the class? If there are special needs children but no aides to help, what will a teacher do? No one takes the supporting roles into consideration. People just want the schools to cut, cut, cut. The custodial staff have been cut so deeply that teachers are now cleaning their rooms every day and hoping for a more thorough cleaning once a week. Computer and technology support has been slashed. When the computer goes out during the class, who will be there to fix the problems, especially now that many lectures are presented via computers? Need to think about these things.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

I went to high school from 74-78 and never had a single class with less than 30 peers...pretty much like the entire rest of the what exactly is the big drama about this?


Mon, Apr 25, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

Yes - times have changes. The class make-up is very different and the support for teachers is drying up.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

It's forty years later. Times have changed.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8 p.m.

Here we go again in the comments. Those lazy, money hungry, 3 month vacation having, union bargaining teachers should be happy they have such a ridiculously easy job. Is it any wonder the rest of the industrial world is kicking our posteriors when the general yahoo population is attacking teachers while Wall Street and CEO's cash out the American Dream so they can buy another couple yachts and ensure they have enough money to live comfortably for 8,500 years.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 2:04 a.m.

The rest of the industrial world is kicking our posteriors in K-12 education despite spending less per student and paying teachers less than we do. Spending on K-12 education in the U.S. has risen far faster than the rate of inflation in recent decades, with no improvement in results.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

Actually, G2inA2, I think Belgium is on the teacher's side. Read the post again. I believe there's a bit of sarcasm in the post.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Belguim--walk in the shoes of a teacher for just ONE day and you will change your tune.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

I agree, Smiley. A class of less than 30 in my 1960s elementary school was considered small, and we turned out just fine. Of course, at home we were instilled with a discipline that produced attentive, polite, and considerate students. IMHO, today's educational challenges must first and foremost be met at home. Is there hope?....I sure hope so or we are in for an even wilder ride in the years ahead.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 7:39 p.m.

Officials and union leaders have been expounding doom and gloom and disasterous consequences and this is it? These numbers seem manageable to me and probably should have been implemented long ago. I guess if you've been teaching a class of 18 then it may seem unmanageable and those teachers should be rated as "below normal" in their class management skills since class sizes of 25-30 students is "normal" in most districts in the U.S. from what I read.


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

Nowhere in my reply did I say anything about classes of 18 students. What I said was 30 or more is more than enough and sometimes too many students in one classroom. To add more students to that number would be devastating, both to the teacher and more importantly, to the students. I didn't "condemn" you OR draw a "line in the sand". You can read anything you want into my statements--and clearly you mistakenly have--but it was a statement of facts, plain and simple. Who are you "withholding all funds" from? You aren't punishing me, you are punishing our children.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:20 a.m.

Intsm, you seem to have raised the bar of this arguement to a personal level. So let me clarify what I hear you saying....because you already have 30 students you are against this plan to increase 18 student classrooms to 25 or 30 students? This is not the logic I would expect from an "educator" It is dogmatic position which makes reasonable negotiations of solutions to budget shortfalls extremely difficult. So what do YOU want to do? Where do YOU want the money to come from? What are YOU willing to pay for what YOU want? Maybe in YOUR situation there might be a different solution, but for you to condemn what I consider a reasonable action and start questioning MY skill set pretty much solidifies my belief that we MUST withhold ALL funds. YOU draw a line in the sand, so can I.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

In my school system, we already have 30 or more students in the classrooms and now we have to cut more staff. So when is enough, enough or too much, too much?! Should we expect our teachers to cram 40 or 45 students in a classroom and try to teach? Unless you yourself are an educator, you have no idea what "manageable" or "unmanageable" is. I'd like to see your "classroom management skills" when you have a room of 35 or more students, including a few autistic children, about 25% ADHS students (1/2 of which didn't take their meds today), learning disabled students, students with anger issues, students who are living in poverty and are hungry, etc. etc. etc. Teachers and school staff deal with these things every day. To stuff more kids into classrooms is a recipe for disaster.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 6:45 p.m.

In grade school in the 80s, our classes had 29-33 students. Never a concern so long as lunch was anything not in the form of a stew and the weather was nice for recess.


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Thirty years later, class compositions are much different. There are many more students coming from poverty, dealing with disabilities, etc.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

Belgium he didn't say he ignored the data only that it isn't the end of the world, and the kids will still get an ok education. Stop trying to scare people!


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

And here you are ignoring all the data that demonstrates the value of smaller class size. Ironic, no?