Could school closings be next as Ann Arbor district balances budget?
Editors note: The dollar amount the district could cut from next year's budget has been changed to reflect accurate information.
How much will Ann Arbor value its neighborhood schools when the community starts its 2013 version of “what do we cut from next year’s budget?”
That’s a question that’s been on my mind frequently over the last few weeks.
The reason is a “perfect storm” of school information and musings that touch a deeply personal aspect of what the Ann Arbor Public Schools mean to me: They’ve been a core of my family life for 9 years now.
I’m feeling the neighborhood school question as I recall Superintendent Patricia Green telling the school board in December that rerouting transportation brings up the obvious corollary: how buildings play into that.
That’s accented by a recent conversation with school board leadership, when Deb Mexicotte and Christine Stead presented me with historical data on where AAPS fares in school funding. The bottom line: In real dollars, the district received $9,020 in state funding per student in 2012, or about the same as in 2001. It's more than some districts, but not aligned with what voters were told when we passed Proposal A in 1994.
And I’m feeling it as we get ready for a freshman year of high school at Huron, making the choice that it’s an excellent fit for our family even as other options in the AAPS and across Washtenaw County beg for our attention. Today the district faces making an estimated $17 million to $20 million in cuts for fall, following a year when the district trimmed $3.84 million and used $6 million in savings to fund a shortfall.
This community is getting hints that the district is ready to look at how it uses buildings. It compiled data on capacity, including trends over recent years. And the superintendent, in drawing the connections from building usage to transportation changes, is preparing all of us for the next step.
As I look at the district’s capacity numbers, it’s easy to conclude that it’s worth looking at potential changes. There are 975 elementary seats going unfilled among the 21 buildings, the equivalent of three smaller buildings. AAPS has room for about 1,100 additional middle schoolers. Some schools - like Ann Arbor Open - operate at program capacity in a building that on paper doesn’t need to be as large. Other schools exceed official capacity, like Eberwhite.
Yet changes in Ann Arbor schools don’t come easily.
This is a community that demands accountability and excellence. We display passionate loyalty. We’re willing to challenge systems.
I share that passion for the school buildings that have influenced my family. I respect other programs: Community High, Ann Arbor Open and Roberto Clemente come to mind.
But I suspect that AAPS is getting ready to ask me and the rest of the district to make hard choices about district-wide facilities, and I know: I’m not ready to debate the value of other school buildings, and I doubt that people in those buildings are prepared to effectively weigh the value of mine.
We saw last year, that simply moving a program of 100 students raised community ire. Imagine redrawing district boundaries, or closing buildings. Or both.
I don’t want program cuts. I don’t want larger classes. I don’t want transportation or widespread sports cuts. I want music, arts and language classes. I want that for other districts, too, which is an even-broader discussion.
And I want to hold onto the buildings - and the communities - that my family values in Ann Arbor.
I’m trying to move myself from feeling vulnerable about potential change, which seems inevitable in this funding climate. I want to approach the looming AAPS decisions analytically, knowing that some will feel sacrifice but all will benefit, if we do it right.