Music, theater, athletics among cuts on table as Ann Arbor schools seek to trim $17M
AnnArbor.com file photo
Editor's note: A quote from Patricia Green has been corrected in this article.
Ann Arbor Public Schools officials revealed their preliminary cost estimates of potential budget reductions for the 2013-14 academic year Wednesday night.
The Board of Education asked administration in November for an initial peek at the first $10 million to $12 million in budget cuts that could be necessary next fall.
Currently, AAPS projects a reduction of $17 million will be necessary to balance the budget.
School officials followed through on the board’s request, stressing the items on the list are not recommendations at this point.
“The board wanted us to cost out many of the working pieces, so we could have the dialogue with the public earlier this year,” said Superintendent Patricia Green. “ This is still a work in progress.”
Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen delivered the preliminary budget report, stating there are not many new items on the list. For his initial estimates, Allen targeted total instruction-related cuts of $10.36 million, operational expense reductions of $2.496 million and human resource reductions of $100,000.
The money saved in the HR department essentially would mean not hiring an assistant director of human resource services, Allen said, adding the position is currently open.
“Staffing is the largest part of out budget,” Allen said. “When we’re looking at trying to reduce the budget by $17 million after multiple years of reductions, we’re not going to be able to get around looking at staffing.”
Among the items on the potential cuts list related to employees are:
- Reduce teaching staff by 32 FTE (full-time equivalents) for a savings of $3.2 million.
- Eliminate all of the district’s reading intervention teachers (10 FTE), $1 million.
- Reduce the number of counselors by 3 FTE, $300,000.
- Share principals at the elementary schools (which would save an estimated 10 FTE), $1 million.
- Decrease media center support staff by 12 FTE, $1.2 million.
- Eliminate instrumental music for fifth graders (5 FTE), $500,000.
- Eliminate the seventh-hour option at Huron and Pioneer (5 FTE), $500,000.
- Reduce noon-hour supervisor costs by increasing student-to-supervisor ratios, $200,000.
- Move Skyline to a semester schedule, saving an estimated 3 FTE, $300,000.
- Eliminate block scheduling (3 FTE), $300,000.
- Eliminate high school transportation, $466,000.
- Eliminate middle school transportation, $1.2 million.
- Reduce teacher assistants’ hours by one week per year, $160,000.
Allen said teacher assistants report to work one week before school starts for some additional professional development. Staff has discussed the possibility of eliminating this early report time.
Getting rid of instrumental music at the elementaries would mean students could not learn an instrument at school until sixth grade. This budget reduction, although just a preliminary cost estimate and not a recommendation, caused several school board members to sigh.
“I would have never learned to play the flute, ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” said Trustee Susan Baskett.
“Not a thing on here is something we want to do,” Green added.
The reduction of media center support staff could result in there being one media center personnel per three buildings, Allen said. Trustee Christine Stead asked about the logistics of that and the implications on students.
Allen said in a full implementation plan, those details would be fleshed out. Right now, the district simply is “costing out” some of the possible items.
Also on the list was moving the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, an alternative program, in with Pioneer High School for a cost savings of $200,000.
“This is just administrative costs. Not any teaching staff would be eliminated. Building costs also would be reduced but not eliminated. The utilities would have to be maintained at some level,” Allen said.
A number of options were considered for Roberto Clemente in April during the budget discussions for 2012-13. Moving the program in with Pioneer or Ann Abor Technological High School, the district’s other alternative secondary education program, was one option. There also was talk of eliminating the Roberto Clemente program altogether.
In June, a decision on the alternative secondary program was postponed until the administration could study it more thoroughly, both its academic value and the implications of it no longer being an option for students. Baskett asked how the analysis was coming along.
“It’s under way,” Green said. “Folks have been visiting with the school. The cabinet (members) in particular have been going out in pairs having conversations, looking at entrance criteria and exit criteria.”
A report should be coming very shortly, Green said.
Eliminating the district’s funding for the high school theater programs showed up on Wednesday’s preliminary list of budget reductions. Allen said currently AAPS contributes $200,000 toward the theater programs, while the group’s fundraising efforts contribute about another $200,000.
The money goes toward equipment and production costs, as well as supplemental pay for teachers who serve as stage crew and sound check operators and directors, etc.
Allen likened this possible reduction to the band camp elimination this fall. This school year, AAPS said it no longer could contribute its $60,000 to supplement the cost of band camp.
“There was a really good discussion around band camp last year and rallying various stakeholders. Could they do more fundraising? And they looked at the total cost of the program now and said what are some of the things we have been doing but don’t necessarily have to do,” Allen said.
Reducing the district’s funding of athletics by $1 million made the list.
Currently, AAPS pays almost $3 million annually to operate its existing athletics programs, Allen said. If the board was willing to consider this cut, he said the administration would need to sit down with the athletic directors to talk about what type of a program $2 million could fund.
It could be a matter of cutting sports or increasing pay-to-participate fees, Allen said.
Stead said the district already cut $1 million from athletics during the past two years. In her perspective, AAPS needs to be looking at budget reductions this year through the lens of the initiatives coming out of Lansing, calling for choice.
“What do we offer that’s competitive with the choice that’s becoming law? What do we offer to compete with that storyline?” she asked trustees, adding some of what is integral to the Ann Arbor brand is its excellent arts, music, theater and athletics programs.
“That’s one of the major things that distinguishes us from the charter in a box down the road,” she said.
Right now, cutting sports and the arts is not a direction Stead said she could be persuaded to go.
Prior to Stead’s statement, Trustee Simone Lightfoot said she was about to turn to Allen to say let’s cut some more from athletics.
“But you’re right on the market viability piece, given what’s going on around us. So I really appreciate you sharing that perspective,” Lightfoot told Stead. “It’s like living in Detroit and taking Motown for granted. I grew up here so I guess I just figured we had good sports always, we had good music always.”
Green said when entering into these budget discussions, it is important to identify “what it is that people come to Ann Arbor for and stay in Ann Arbor for,” both what it is about the brand and the educational values.
Other items on the administration’s preliminary reductions list are:
- Suspend furniture and fixture purchases for 2013-14, an estimated savings of $200,000.
- Suspend the purchase of library materials for 2013-14, $100,000.
- Renegotiate gas purchase costs for transportation, $100,000.
- Reduce grounds personnel by 1 FTE for a $50,000 savings.
- Eliminate all of the head custodians at the elementary schools (16 FTE), $600,000.
In total, the potential budget reductions report Allen presented Wednesday calls for the estimated reduction of 83 instructional staff and 102 staff members overall.
Stead said she was a little disappointed by the report.
“I thought we’d spent a great deal of time talking about how we need to deliver education differently and to not be so cut heavy,” she said. “And a lot of what I see here is that same type of ‘take a little bit here, take a little bit there’ method for balancing the budget. I’d like to see something else, I guess. And I know that it’s hard and I know it’s a lot to ask.”
Stead said she worries the district will continue down this path of cutting to get by to the point where the cuts will deplete its core so greatly that AAPS will no longer have the capacity for innovation.
If the district has to cut 32 more teachers, “show me what those teachers will be doing so that we’re not raising class sizes and to bring in a different approach to education,” Stead said.
As the final part of his presentation, Allen compiled a grouping of “what if” cost estimates. He described these items as things people ask him about with regards to closing buildings and staff options.
He said the building figures represent potential savings in administrative and operational costs. With regards to closing buildings, the figures do not address property or building worth because if a building were to be closed and sold, the sale would show up on the revenue side of the budget.
- Close Community High School, $1.4 million.
- Close one middle school, $1 million.
- Close one high school, $3 million.
- Close three elementary schools, $1.5 million.
- Eliminate elementary school transportation, $1.5 million.
- Eliminate preschool and associated transportation, $800,000.
- Implement a district-wide salary reduction of 1 percent, $1.3 million.
- Implement one staff furlough day among staff district-wide, $500,000.
- Outsource all non-teaching staff, $2 million.
Allen added obviously any changes to staff benefits and wages would have to be negotiated with their respective unions.