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Posted on Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 7:07 a.m.

Ann Arbor schools don't need a 'technology' tax

By Letters to the Editor

I have a few comments about the school millage story that appeared in your March 1 paper. The proposed school millage increase is being fraudulently misrepresented as a “technology” tax. What is really being approved is more school taxation so that teachers and school administrators can keep their excessively high wages, benefits, and pensions.

In normal non-governmental businesses, technology is funded and is part of the regular operating budget. It does not receive special separate funding. That would be true or should be true of the Ann Arbor School District budget but they have a problem. They don't have the money to fund their lavish personnel costs. So up pops a solution. Create a special millage and say it is for technology. That is dodge and a very unworthy dodge.

So do you think folks living in Ann Arbor are happy to increase their already very high tax burden so that school district employees can get special deals? Remember, people working in private industry with comparable levels of skills, training and education do not come close to matching what school employees get.

One last point: Why do school millage increases always seem to occur in the dead of the night -- like in May -- when turnout is sure to be very low and the people most likely voting are those who will and are benefiting from public largesse? Shouldn't these elections be decided by large numbers of voters at regularly scheduled federal election dates?

Roger A. Kuhlman
Ann Arbor


Bill Wilson

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

@ Ivor, Allow me to preface this by telling you this: many members of my family are teachers. In fact, they're mostly EMU grads. That being said, this myth that teachers are God's gift to humanity... is just that; a myth. Truth be told, those of us who are products of Michigan schools can pretty much count on one hand how many good teachers we had. Me? I had two: a man named Robert Nanni (my 5th grade teacher @ Pardee Elementary), and a man named Robert Foster (my 8th grade American History teacher). The rest? A mediocre bunch. I'm sorry, but $50K + benefits that put the teacher's total at over $100K is simply outrageous for what amounts to a part-time job.

Ivor Ivorsen

Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

Snoop dog and company, What's the deal? Do you really despise teachers and think they should be taken down a notch? Or do you secretly envy them and desire a "gig" just like theirs? I am definitely getting mixed signals here. The conservations here have drifted (again) far from the issue of necessary technology upgrades for AA schools and into the predictable and well trod territory of envy and hostility of/toward educators. I have to wonder what personal experiences so poisoned your view of public education, and left you with such an axe to grind?


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 1:40 a.m.

I disagree with this editorial. Roger, if you want technology upgrades paid for with general funds money, where else do you propose the district make cuts? Do you have any data to support your notion of "lavish" wages and benefits? I'm the son of a retired Detroit teacher and my wife is a teacher in the area. I seem to be missing the silver spoon from my youth and the fancy, paid-for car that my wife must not have picked up after her orientation meeting. Did you miss the concessions and changes to pay and benefits for all public school teachers in the state of Michigan? Go back to the summer of 2010 and read up on that topic. Teachers have given back plenty. Snoopdog, to your point, employee costs at private sector employers are also HIGHER than the wages of the employees. Private employers offer healthcare, retirement plans and they even contribute big bucks to those programs. Should we demand lower salaries at the automakers so that our cars cost less? Should Microsoft lower salary and benefits of its managers and programmers, so that we can buy Microsoft Office for $25? I support this technology bond and will encourage people to pass it.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

Chris - The promise of the sinking fund millage was that it would take enough out of the general fund costs to allow the district to stay current with technology in the classroom. Now they want to go back on that promise and ask for another bond. A twenty year bond for 3 year computers. Makes sense to some people!


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Rather than a technology tax, I would prefer that we let parents keep their money, spend it on devices for their kids and have the school district implement a "Bring Your Own Device" (byod) program. Instead of the district purchasing the devices, they would simply need to provide the infrastructure to support a small list of devices that students would bring to school. This approach would be more flexible than the "one size fits all" approach of having the district purchase devices for students, would be more cost effective and would allow parents to choose the device that is the best fit for their child.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 1:29 a.m.

I don't event to think about how expensive this would be to support. "But my child's computer has a different operating system. What are you doing to support her?"


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

Happy, while I'm trying to get the picture of a student typing his homework out on his Wii, can you cite that research you're talking about?


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

@kathryn, psst, I don't think all the students OR teachers are following the ban on personal devices.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

say it plain: Couldn't agree with you more.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

byod? Just go back to the chalk board. It seemed to work for our generation. And you don't have to worry about incompatible system architectures.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

If you read the technology proposal, you will notice that a "Bring Your Own Devices" program cannot work at AAPS until money is made available to upgrade the wireless infrastructure and available bandwidth. Currently personal devices are banned from the network during school hours because the infrastructure was being overwhelmed by demand.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

"Typical right wing propaganda." propaganda? I don't think that word means what you think it means.

say it plain

Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

And that, @1bit, is really the big question for me too in deciding how to vote on this bond issue. I don't feel much trust that they'd spend the money well *at all*. Their recent suggestion that the right way to go might be on buying *iPads* for goodnesssake hasn't inspired new trust in me either! I watch how, for instance, apple's lack of support for flash makes it annoyingly tricky to make use of sites that use flash for video, and wonder why we'd want to go with an ipad on every desk. Even aside from the notion that for the price of an iPad you could get a pc laptop with greater functionality but perhaps less 'cool' factor.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

From a tech standpoint, you can't / wouldn't want to do this. To many systems, platforms, etc. to support. The administration of it would be a nightmare. Nope, computers are as essential as books. But, don't get me started on how they are planning to use the money...


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

Johnnya2 Actually if you look at the statistics from PEW, you sill see that a greater % of African Americans and Latinos have a cell phone at home and use them for Internet access then Caucasians. In addition, low-income people DO have technology, they may not have the same technology as higher-income, but THEY DO have technology (such as video game consoles and cell phones), check out PEW's studies. There is a lot of argument that using student's own devices could bridge the digital divide.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

You do understand that there are poor students within the Ann Arbor school system? I guess in your world poor people should not have opportunity unless their parents can afford it for them. Typical right wing propaganda.

Ron Granger

Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

This is a good point. Why can't we have the millions and millions spent each year on extracurricular sports split off into a separate vote?


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Because a vote would be a democratic solution.

Richard Wickboldt

Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

I don't know if AAPS wages are comparably higher than comparable skill sets in private industry. At least as it applies to the average grunt worker in AAPS. I would say that some of the administrative wages seem excessive. As to having an increase/additional 'technology tax". This is a different story altogether. Technology changes so fast that most of the time it is outdated within a 18 - 24 months. It is a never ending money pit. We all know it from our experience with phones. We shouldn't be chasing technology. Look at what they want to spend some of the money on. Like improving the public wireless network so teachers and kids can use their private and personal devices. I say this is a school environment. It is not needed. I also believe we do not need to teach with technology. When I went to school many years ago there was no digital technology at all. Yet as a professional I have no problem adapting to technology. This May voting/election schemes. Yes this is done so many times for issues when the AAPS or the city government knows it would not pass except for an off election when they know the special interest groups will vote. The AAPS school board are deceitful in this sense. Everybody in this city knows that May voting has very poor turnout. The voting results could never really reflect the desire and decision of the citizens. Also seems that AAPS would rather spend plenty of existing budget money on sports instead of technology. Which is more important for a person's education?

Richard Wickboldt

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Some good comments. As to learning to use technology. In my professional career. I repeat technology is changing all the time at a fast pace. So as long as technology is changing there will always be inefficiency with the learning curve period at the work place! We should worry about how technology is displacing jobs but that could be a whole other discussion. What they should be teaching is computer science. Learn how the devices are programmed, dynamics and structure of networking, data structure and data mining. Then they will be prepared for the future and the jobs! I was taught computer science when attended school. This allowed me to have a successful professional career and very easily adapt to each new generation of technology. My statement was "we do not need to teach with technology". Children intuitively at a young age learn how to utilize technology. Most humans at most ages do. Technology becomes more user friendly by the month.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

"I also believe we do not need to teach with technology." Really? This is your position as you type this on the internet? You are going to take this as a position? You seriously believe teaching children to have a skill set that is required for the vast majority of future jobs is not good. I guess you want to teach kids how to use an abacus and protractor? These were follies of many years ago. The fact is, the schools should embrace technology. "When I went to school many years ago there was no digital technology at all. Yet as a professional I have no problem adapting to technology." So that TIME you spent adapting and learning new technology could not have been better spent on other things? Try getting a job at Google or Apple or Microsoft and saying you will adapt to the new technology. The goals is for them to CREATE the new technology. I guess we could go and teach children the Dewey decimal system to do research. Technology allows people information at their fingertips. The fact that citizens do not turn out for an election is a statement about them, not about the process. If people are too lazy or stupid to take the time to vote, then they have said they can not be bothered with doing what they believe in, and those of us who do will get things done instead of listening to those who prove they just dont care enough to be bothered to participate.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Well said Roger, most folks agree with you and this millage will go down in flames. Do you part and make sure friends and family are educated and vote. Already some are deflecting and denying reality by saying average wages are only a little over 50K. The truth is , when you factor in pension costs and healthcare costs the average pay package hitting the taxpayer is over 100K per teacher. As you noted, very few if any private sector workers get double digit sick days, personal days off, professional days off, have healthcare after they retire for self and spouse till death, get a pension at all--let alone one that pays around 3 grand a month till death and it goes on and on. And furthermore, these public sector workers work for you Roger, your taxes pay their largesse and you are their boss. You have every right to expose what is going on and you are 100% correct about this millage being an end run to continue the status quo. Good Day


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Can anyone validate the ~$3k/month pension and retirement health care claim? I work for a tech company and they kick in about 2X that ANNUALLY into a retirement saving plan and there certainly is no lifetime retirement healthcare.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

This is a false argument. Private positions also have health care costs and fringe benefits associated with it. My company publishes this for me every year, In fact, they say they pay me almost double what is my compensation when they add in things like their social security match, my 401k match, the portion of health care that they pay for, my vacation days, etc. The fact remains that these costs would go down SUBSTANTIALLY if there was single payer health care. We could cut the cost of retiree and health care for ALL public employees if Michigan or the United States adopted a single payer system. Until then, the schools are forced to offer these to get people to do the job. It sounds to me like you are working on class warfare here. You begrudge those that have professional days (which by the way ANY company worth anything has these), pensions (I guess in your world money upon retirement is bad), and healthcare. Sounds to me like you need to find a better job for yourself if you have a profession which REQUIRES an advanced degree and you aren't getting a decent benefits package.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Do you have any proof of your statements comparing private and public sector days off ?


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Whether the author is completely right or not. There are some simple facts. 1) Contrary to what the district would have you believe this school year (2011-2012) is the first time the total revenue has fallen - the budget cuts have been to what the district wants to spend, not what they spent the year before. 2) They have prioritized Varsity athletic facilities over technology, even though the money could have been spent that way. 3) Decisions were made to spend money on Administration positions and raises, instead of technology or technology training. 4) Very little time has been spent teaching teachers on how to use technology. The decision was other training was more important that technology training for in service days, hence the more than 3 year run up to making PowerSchool useful for most parents (while spending almost $1 million a year on it). 5) The board decided to spend far more than needed to go paperless at the board meetings, a simple use of adobe acrobat would have solved the problem for less than 2 percent of what they spend. All in all, the district continues to misspend and misstate what is going on. I for one supported the special education millage, but not this one.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

Interesting diatribe, but the average teacher salary in Ann Arbor is a little over $50,000. I hardly consider that to be "excessive." I wonder if the article's author would be willing to share what he makes every year as a comparison.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

local, sh1 challenged me to come up with 180 days...and I did. I would give the private sector 10 holidays. Using your math and figures that brings me down to approx 231 days. That's not anywhere near 180 days. Unless of course, you are using new math. You know...the numbers don't have to add up as long as you feel good about the process. BTW, that 51-day difference? It's the length of a summer vacation. Not a bad gig. Quit your complaining.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

A2citizen Those days I believe are student contact days. Are you taking into account the 4-5 days before school starts to get classrooms and materials prepared. Or the same amount of days after the year is over to get materials cleaned up and organized so that the data collected for each student can get passed on to their new teacher in September? Do you think teachers might work a few days over some of these breaks? 52 weeks a year x 2 (weekends)=104 days that private sector doesn't work. Takes the private sector work days down to 261. 2-4 weeks vacation based on amount of time you have been with company, now down to 241-251 days. Time off over holidays, add 5 more days off, down to 236-246. See how quickly the numbers get closer to the supposable 180 work days, just something to think about!


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 4:05 a.m.

oops...only 22 work days in bad. Brings the total to 180 work days. What flavor are your words? me, after spending 30+ years in private industry...teachers have a good gig.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 3:59 a.m.

sh1, I used numbers provided by the State of Michigan. But take some time to review the calendar link provided for A2 and you will notice many, many days allowed for early release. Do the math, I'll let you use my fingers when the numbers are greater than 10. First day of school was September 6, 2011: Work days in September: 19 Work days in October: 21 Work days in November: 18 (off Election Day and Thanksgiving ) Work days in December: 15 Work days in January: 22* (although 3 days off for whatever, read the link) Work days in February: 16 (midwinter break) Work days in March: 25 Work days in April: 16 (spring break) Work days in May: 22 Work days in June: 11 185 days. There were at least 2 snow days this year...183 days. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And a teacher that works that schedule? I didn't include sick days. I'm not saying teachers don't earn their 50k or 100k (I'll let you and Don B argue those numbers). I'm just saying they have a good gig.


Mon, Mar 12, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

@a2citizen, those numbers are getting old. You show me the teacher that works that schedule and I'll eat my words. @DonBee, I understand you didn't use the word &quot;excessive,&quot; but you defended the one who did with numbers that made it look like you kind of agreed with him.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Only $50,000. With summers off. With Christmas vacation, and spring break. In the end it comes out to about 180 work days per year, regardless of what state law requires. That's not a bad gig.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

sh1 - I did not use the word (not &quot;work&quot;) excessive. All I did was explain where the author's number is coming from. If you look at the AAPS published building by building numbers (published here a year ago) the average cost (benefits plus salary) for a teacher is over $104,000. I am using AAPS numbers. You can find them if you look.


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

Assuming your numbers are correct, DonBee, I still doubt you would use the work &quot;excessive&quot; when describing these packages. Teachers have a good middle class wage in our state. Why begrudge them that?


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

sh1 - But the total cost of a teacher to the school district is roughly $104,000 based on numbers that AAPS published. The fact is that teachers only see about half of the cost in their paychecks. According to several websites, the overall pay for Michigan residents has fallen by an average of $4,000 over the last 5 years. While salaries in AAPS are flat or increasing. If you look at the overall cost of an employee in the district it continues to increase (some of this by state law that AAPS has not control over and some by local decisions).


Sun, Mar 11, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

I agree with you about teachers, but I tend to agree with him about administrators regarding salaries. Also, I would really only ask him if he was willing to share his income if it was publicly funded by tax payers.