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Posted on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:55 a.m.

Washtenaw County schools begin thinking about mid-year budget cuts following millage failure

By David Jesse

By late Wednesday afternoon, Washtenaw County school officials had begun to get over what they felt was the shock of voters handily turning down a 2-mill countywide enhancement millage request and were beginning to ponder the next steps.

The short answer of what’s coming? Everything the schools do, except that which is mandated by state law, is on the chopping block.

And while that’s the cliché answer expected from school leaders in tough times, school officials were insistent changes would be coming to their districts by the middle of this school year.

When pressed, administrators in several districts, said those changes could include teacher layoffs. However, they made no guarantees of layoffs or any other cuts.

“We’re going to sit down and provide a price tag to everything we do,” said Ann Arbor school board President Deb Mexicotte. “There’s a money price tag, and there’s also an effect price tag.

“There are times when you can cut $100,000, and it doesn’t feel like $100,000. Then there’s times when you cut $100,000, and it feels like you just cut $500,000.”

Layoffs, elimination of programs and lots of other possibilities are being considered, said Chelsea Superintendent Dave Killips.

“Everything is on the table," he said. "However, our intent is not to disrupt classes this year, but make cuts where we can. Next year, cuts will certainly be to a greater degree.

“We will be taking a two-prong approach. First, we will have to work through reductions in expenditures for this year. Initially, we thought we would be a little over $1 million in the red for this year. With the reductions in funding from the state, we now find ourselves over $2 million in the red for the 2009-2010 school year.

“The second step will be to prepare for next year with more adjustments to the budget. We cannot carry another multimillion-dollar deficit into next school year. Everything we do will come under scrutiny and may be discussed for reductions as we prepare for future funding reductions from the state. “

School administrators stopped short of identifying specific programs they’d be recommending to their school boards for cuts. Instead, they have already begun working on recommendations.

"Prior to the millage vote, Ypsilanti Public Schools' leadership team has been meeting to grapple with the district's budget deficit,” spokeswoman Emma Jackson wrote in an e-mail. “If the millage had been successful, it would have relieved some of our budgetary stress, but it would not have erased the deficit.

“The failure of the millage makes a grim situation more severe. Our district has a proud educational history, and we will do everything possible to maintain a viable learning environment while taking action to resolve our budget shortfalls."

Many administrators and school board members from several different districts said they plan to hold meetings to hear from their communities about where cuts should be made.

There are plenty of ideas out there. In coffee shops, diners and in online forums, community members were already identifying areas they felt needed to be looked at.

Those ideas included getting rid of busing, except for special education students as mandated by law; making athletes pay the entire cost of playing high school sports; trimming the number of administrators at high schools and even shrinking the number of school districts in the county.

“If they want to get back to fiscal responsibility, they have to look at everything from how much they pay their teachers to how many buses they are running,” said Rick English, 45, of Ann Arbor. “They have to live within their means.”

Ann Arbor Superintendent Todd Roberts said that’s what his district is doing.

“We have to make sure our costs are in line with the revenue we have or project we will have in the coming years.”

Here is the problem districts are facing. In recent weeks, the state has made several cuts to the amount of per-pupil funding it gives to each district.

In Ann Arbor, the shortfall for this school year is $8 million.

Mexicotte said she doesn’t expect the district will be able to avoid dipping into its reserve funds to cover the shortfalls.

She expects to spend the next couple of months in those budget cut discussions for this year. They will also look for ways to increase revenue, she said.

Then, next year looms. That’s because most districts are projecting a $400 to $600 per student additional cut.

That could put Ann Arbor short another $15 million or more.

One idea not gaining much traction among local school officials is consolidating districts.

The districts had hoped to use the countywide enhancement millage to cover much of those cuts they are faced with making. In Ann Arbor, for example, the millage would have given them $11 million a year for the next five years.

But county voters decided on Tuesday they didn’t like that plan. Many voters cited an economy that has forced them to tighten their personal budgets as the reason they voted against the millage.

The 10 traditional school districts in the county all passed resolutions earlier this year asking the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to put the issue on the ballot.

WISD Superintendent Bill Miller was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but his staff said he would be able to speak to on Thursday.

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 3:36 p.m.

DagnyJ -- I don't know the Cambridge study and with lotteries, the devil is in the details, as they say. I'm perfectly willing to believe you that if you shovel poor and minority kids into one school (whether big or small), it will have worse outcomes than an equally sized school stuffed with wealthy white kids. As you point out, a lot depends on what you consider "good" or "better". Some rankings of high schools, for instance, are based largely on the number of AP classes available, for instance. Again, the devil is in the details. Re CHS, I happen to think the lottery is the fairest system because anyone can apply and have an equal chance of getting in. Hand-picking kids would be another way to do it, but you would hear cries of bias immediately. I don't really have a horse in that race.... I probably won't be back to this thread, because it's harder and harder to find on the website, but I have enjoyed this exchange. Good luck, DagnyJ and others....


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 10:50 a.m.

dotdash, I am sorry to respectfully disagree. The evidence is that high schools with fewer than 800 kids are not effective, and that those with more than 1500 are less effective. There are a number of studies of efforts to create small high schools, notably in Cambridge, Mass, where the result was that poor and minority kids got shuffled into a small, poor achieving high schools, and rich white kids got put into small high achieving high schools. This was through a "lottery." The CHS lottery is only good for students who apply, who are largely rich and white. If we are going to fund a small high school liek CHS, then I think it should run like Stone and Clemente. Educators shoudl recommend students into the program based on their needs, rather than parents choosing because they have some delusion that CHS is elite. Also, end the busing between CHS and the otehr schools, and have CHS kids opt out of sports. If a kid wants that, they should go to the big HS.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 9:30 a.m.

DagnyJ -- The research doesn't say that *any* small school is better than *any* large school, so no, Stone is not better than any other school in AA in vitue of its size. It is probably better than a large school with the same population and goals would be, however. That is what the research says. Huron and Pioneer, etc., can be great schools at their current size, but that doesn't mean kids wouldn't be better off in a smaller school. The evidence is that small schools (and small class sizes), on average, result in a better educational experience and better outcomes. That doesn't mean it's feasible to move everyone to small schools (clearly not here where there are firmly established large schools and a pinch on funding); it's an argument for thinking a bit before consolidating existing schools into larger ones. The unfairness of having Community as a small high school is mitigated somewhat by the lottery system used to choose kids to go there. Everyone has an equal chance. Re the research: you might not like the Institute for Self Reliance, but they are not the only ones finding a benefit for small schools over large. The meta-analysis reported that half of studies show a distinct advantage for small schools, half show no difference, and none show an advantage for large schools. Big high schools are great for driven kids who know what they want to do and are happy specializing early. Big schools offer competitive sports teams, great theatre programs, great science facilities. But in a big high school, the average kid can't do everything. And some do nothing, getting lost in the shuffle. Parents send their kids to small schools so they don't get lost, so they can play volleyball and be on the school paper and do student council and math club -- they won't have to choose. No parent who gets enough money says, "Oh good, now I'm going to move my child to a huge school where only 20 people will ever know her name." They say, "Oh good, now I'm going to move my child to a small school where they will get individual attention."


Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 2:49 p.m.

One other thing, using your rationale, the only good high schools in AAPS are Stone, Clemente, and CHS. How can you justify shortchanging the more than 3,000 students who attend the other high schools? Is that fair? Why should AAPS continue to support schools that benefit only the lucky few who get in via lottery? That seems horribly inequitable and undemocratic, and out and out biased against the rest of our students.


Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 2:47 p.m.

dotdash, OK, but... The Institute for Self-Reliance is a lobbying organization in DC with an agenda, much like the Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute. I do not put any faith in their research. The small schools link refers almost entirely to urban public schools with diverse, disadvantaged populations. Also, small schools are, apparently, smaller than 300 students. They have no data at all on schools with students populations of between 300 and 1,000 students. Are you, then, arguing that Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline are bad schools? Or that each of these would be better if they had 300 students or less?


Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 1:35 p.m.

DagnyJ -- Sorry, I meant to include these links, which describe the research on small schools and include some useful references:


Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 1:33 p.m.

DagnyJ-- There is also a lot of data on the comparison between small and large schools, all of it (except cost issues) in favor of small schools. The benefits include lower crime rates, higher test scores, higher graduation rates, higher college attendance, and better community feeling. The current system of having huge dedicated middle schools is a particularly bad example of this: middle school students have been shown to do much better in K-8 schools than in large, centralized 6-8 middle schools. My personal experience supports this. The small schools I have experience with have been head-and-shoulders better than the larger schools almost every way. By "better" I don't mean cheaper, because there may (or may not) be a cost associated with having smaller schools. And I don't mean fancier facilities, because the bigger ones tend to have new, cleaner, snazzier science labs and gyms. I mean better environments for kids - safer feeling places where everyone knows everyone and kids are not herded around like cattle from class to class.


Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 12:07 p.m.

dotdash, can you offer some evidence for the claim that small schools are better than large school? Also, what is the definition of a small and large school in terms of student population? What about high schools, or middle schools? And what do you mean "better" in terms of a school?


Sat, Nov 7, 2009 : 6:04 a.m.

Well said, Longfellow. You said it all. Now, let's see if the MEA is willing to make the cuts in salary/benefits "for the sake of the children". Obviously, and rightly so, the taxpayers have had enough.

Bill Wilson

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 11:51 p.m.

Jimmy, I simply wrote the truth: most students can count on one hand how many good teachers they had in grade school. In fact, that ratio is probably true for most professions. We need to come to this realization as a society.

Jimmy Olsen

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:47 p.m.

Longfellow - AMEN!!!

Bill Wilson

Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 1:05 p.m.

Listening to those working in the education field discuss education puts me in mind of an experience I was a part of last year. My son insisted that he needed a Mac computer, so on his birthday, I bought him one. It was pretty much a nightmare from the beginning, and we soon found ourselves standing in line in the Mac store and speaking to a Mac "genius" (their term), as the wireless router built into the Time Machine backup hard drive could not connect to the internet. In mere minutes, this "genius" had convinced my son that using his time machine hard drive to manually back-up his documents was a bad idea ("you might copy over other files"), and this was why the wireless portion did not work. He claimed to have recopied the correct drivers into the device, and began packing it up. I stopped him. I wanted to see it work. He tried to ignore me, and said my son was the customer. Bad move, as I quickly informed him that "I" had paid for it, and we weren't going anywhere until I saw it work. And sure enough, when we plugged it in and tested it, it still wouldn't connect. Reluctantly, he went into the back and brought out another time machine hard drive. After 2 trips to the back, he finally found one that actually worked, and we were on our way. But I was shocked by the demeanor of my son, who has been using computers all his life. He has been backing up his documents for years, and the danger of copying over files is something that he was well aware of. Yet, in mere moments, this "genius" had spun tales of the noble Mac and its complexity and had reduced him to a head-shaking zombie, willing to accept absolute nonsense as fact. As an experienced computer user, he should have known better. Had I not been there, he would have returned home with the same problem he left with. Many educators use this same trick on the public, spinning tales of their dedication and commitment in pursuit of the lofty goal of educating our children. You can almost envision the noble knights in their quest for the holy grail when they speak. And experience has taught them that people will fall for it, and thus, many will not ask the hard questions of them. How dare we question the noble knight? Hence the reason no documentation was brought to the Workshop that has been written about on this site, and no contingency plan was in place in the event the millage was defeated. Don't be fooled: that's not nobility, that's arrogance. They're hoping you'll forget this basic truth: we were all in grade school once, and the reality was, of the 30-40 public school teachers we encountered as students, most of us could count on one hand the number of good teachers that we had. And those teachers didn't hand-hold: they made you do the work and educate yourself by demanding more of you, making you push yourself to the limit. Things are no different now. Our children will be lucky to have 4 or 5 good teachers during their entire tenure as students. We need to keep the balogna for the sandwiches, and look at educators in the same critical manner as we do other professions, and make workplace changes in the same business manner as any private business would.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:10 p.m.

YpsiLiving - I must not have made my argument clear. There are two ways for a school to have low administrative costs relative to classroom costs: 1) to have high classroom costs or 2) to have low administrative costs. The article assumes the reason is that they have low administrative costs, but an equally plausible (or more plausible) explanation is that the better schools have high classroom costs. Experienced, well-trained teachers cost more, so classroom costs go up relative to administrative costs. In inner city schools (like the Detroit schools they mention in the article) teachers tend to be young, poorly-trained, and therefore cheap. That results in lower classroom costs relative to administrative costs, even if the administration costs are exactly the same in an absolute sense. I'm all for low administrative costs, so we're actually on the same page on this one. I'm just surprised to find you there, because it is evidence that paying teachers more brings better test results.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 9:52 a.m.

That may or may not be true, Dotdash, but Wyandotte, Grosse Pointe, Troy, Garden City and Trenton are hardly "inner city." You could argue that Grosse Point and Troy are very much like WashCo school districts. They seem to have benefitted from this approach in part because they appear to have administrators that are willing to sacrifice administration for classroom expenditures. It's not as hard as you think, Dotdash.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 9:48 a.m.

Tom -- Big factory schools are not good schools for kids or towns. I love AA's little neighborhood elementary schools. 5-10 year old kids need safe, cozy places to go to school. I know first hand that consolidation has a heavy cost. I grew up in a small town whose schools were the center of the community. People without kids went to basketball games, etc. To get some federal dollars and save some money, they consolidated with 2 other small towns nearby. It was a huge mistake, killed the community spirit of all the towns involved, and hastened the demise of all three towns. Yes, let's save where we can, but let's not take the community heart out of our schools. Let's think a little beyond the next buck.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

The story is a bit more complicated than your article suggests, YpsiLiving. Inner cities schools tend not to be able to keep good teachers, so a lot their teachers are young, untrained and relatively low-paid. This makes their classroom spending percent lower than suburban schools with highly-trained and longer-tenure teachers (who get paid more). The outcome (high classroom spending) sounds good, but it is not necessarily driven by low absolute dollars of administrative overhead. High teacher pay also drives high classroom spending, and that would seem to be anathematic to a lot of the posters on this thread. I'm happy with evidence that says high pay means good teachers and good outcomes, so thanks for posting the article. :)


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 9:36 a.m.

I am saddened but not surprised by the reaction of school administrators to the defeat of this millage request. I served on a board of education for 8 years and have remained active in public education. The one idea which could really have a positive impact on the financial picture for our state and our schools is the one idea that administrators are loath to consider...CONSOLIDATION! They argue that this would take away local control. One has to ask what is controlled at the local level. Certainly not the revenues, they almost entirely come from state and federal sources. Certainly not the curriculum, that is dictated by the standardized tests and the state approved curriculum which is mirrored by the standardized tests. Student discipline is dicatated by local, state and federal laws and guidelines for the most part. So that leaves expenditures, even those are for the most part dictated by health insurance, collective bargaining agreements and retirement plans. There is one area of local control and that is the admininstration of the district, an area that administratrors are unwilling to examine and reduce. Almost every state that has undertaken significant and meaningful educational reform has eliminated local school districts in favor of county-wide or regional districts. Michigan has over 450 local schools districts, each of which is mandated to hire a superintendent. The last time I checked the average salary of a superintendent exceeded $100,000. The consolidation of local districts would result in a savings of millions of dollars, just in superintendent salaries alone. Our school goverenance and administration is based on an 1800's idea. It is time to provide our students with an public school system that approaches the 21st century.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:55 a.m.

Here's an article from today's Free Press on classroom spending. What a novel concept...


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:43 a.m.

Sorry, here's a better link (wish allowed us to edit our posts better) MI SENATE: MI REPRESENTATIVES:


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:35 a.m.

What a concept - AAPS will actually have to dip into the reserve fund. Whether you supported this millage or not, it's time for all of us to contact our State Representatives. I've already heard back from Rebekah Warren and Andy Dillon. Both are working hard to restore school funding levels (support Bill 5403 - Michigan Future Fund). Governor Granholm also needs to be contacted. The government of the State of Michigan is seriously failing our children. Here's the link to make it easier for you to contact the governor and your representatives:


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 2:24 a.m.

Complete school system costs must be made available and zero based budgeting principles applied.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:51 a.m.

If they were actaly shocked, do you want them teaching your childern? It's good to see that they may have to take off thier rose colored glasses and join the rest of us.


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 12:51 a.m.

If they were actaly shocked, do you want them teaching your childern? It's good to see that they may have to take off thier rose colored glasses and join the rest of us.

Andrew Thomas

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:17 p.m.

djahner (and others): Once and for all, the decision of whether or not to shift to a defined contribution plan is not one we control locally. Let's stop wasting time debating it here. Write your legislators and let them know how you feel.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:07 p.m.

You also asked, "And if we pay teachers what you think is "fair", are ready to live with the fact that our schools will deteriorate, along with your property values?" I disagree with your premise. I think the pay level I described would still attract and retain very good teachers. I do not think our childrens' futures should be gambled on this assertion. It would seem, however, that I, along with the rest of us who supported this millage, as well as the naysayers, will find out exactly how ghastly the changes will be. I find it amazing that people cite the kinds of benefits that many get in their own jobs as being unfair for teachers to have. And I do not think that we should punish teachers for the fact that we currently are experiencing an economic downturn - it's not going to last forever, but shortchanging teachers and driving good teachers away will last far beyond this bump in our economy. I still am astounded at the animosity that continues to paint teachers as overpaid and undeserving. Did you read the hundred of blogger saying they simply couldn't afford more taxes? We all want good schools but we can't afford the proposed cost structure that is mainly driven by teacher salaries and benefits. Saying you can't afford more taxes isn't the same as not being able to pay your taxes. If people posting here are actually falling behind on their taxes, unable to pay their mortgage or finding themselves unable to pay for food, that would be terrible, but I haven't heard anything here like that. Seems like people have bought the "waste" claim that cost $75K to disseminate without questioning whether it's true.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:26 p.m.

Thank you, YpsiLivin, that is exactly what I was trying to say. Trying to get the unions to reopen contracts will take a tremendous amount of public pressure. Unfortunately, I'm guessing most parents are unwilling to take a public stance against wage freezes/decreases for their children's teachers. It would make parent-teacher conferences a bit awkward, among other things. But just because parents aren't speaking out at board meetings about reopening teachers contracts(yet?) does not mean that they don't think it should be done. Also, I don't think there is any question that teachers wages/benefits are out of line with what taxpayers can "afford", otherwise Michigan wouldn't have so many school districts with multi-million dollar deficits and some facing insolvency. For those that thing that teachers wages/benefits should remain exactly the same (ie., ~5% step raise increases, often a % raise on top of that, increasingly huge pension contributions, incomparable benefit packages..etc.) in this time of state-wide economic crisis, and that a millage/state tax increase would solve everything... how would that work 3-5 years from now, when wage/benefit costs will be (once again) exponentially higher... yet another tax hike/millage? Should teachers wages/benefits be simply "immune" from any economic decline in the state's resources? (Note- I know that there other areas that school districts can save- administration costs, consolidation, etc.- but teachers wages/benefits are the BIGGEST expense of school districts, and therefore deserve the most attention, as a small savings could go a very long way in preserving the quality of our kids education).


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:49 p.m.

I think the first order of business is to determine the job functions of every person on the school district payroll. All general classroom teachers should be kept. Special teachers should be evaluated. Administration should be cut to a needed minimum, as administrators are not in the classrooms. Then the scare tactic cuts can be looked at.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:40 p.m.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:38 p.m.

Messa is a cost competitive insurance plan. Look at the school systems that have switched from Mesa for one or two years. The insurance companies promise them low prices then after a year or two they jack the cost sky high. So, some schools have switched back to Mesa because it is cheaper.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:11 p.m.

aataxpayer sez: In fact, teachers are paid at a rate, when health and retirement is included, that taxpayers simply cannot afford. How did you determine that? Should teachers be paid $30K? Would that make you happy? How much is too much? And if we pay teachers what you think is "fair", are ready to live with the fact that our schools will deteriorate, along with your property values? Do you really believe that that kind of money is fair for the years of education and many hours teachers put into their jobs. I also resent your implication that we should pay teachers with respect to the few who may not be up to par instead of rewarding the majority who help make our schools excellent.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:06 p.m.

The solutions are simple. Convert the pensions to 401k plans to better match what the average taxpayer has. Shop healthcare to ensure MESSA is competitive. Consolidate districts. And most importantly, offer vouchers and tax credits and let the consumer have full choice. Afterall, if its my taxdollars and my kid we are talking about, it should be my choice where to send my kid, including parochial education options.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:02 p.m.

"I wonder how much more money we parents will spend in gas and taking time off of work to take our children to and from school compared to what we would have been taxed? This is clearly a save money now and pay later situation." Most households in this county don't have school-aged children. Is there some particular reason you think the taxpayers should shoulder the burden of taking your children to school for you?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 5:39 p.m.

There is a lot of talk about busing being reduced or eliminated but has anyone ever thought that the schools could go to a 4 day week by extending the school day? This would decrease transportation, electricity, heating, lunch/breakfast program costs...


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 5:21 p.m.

The point that I think many people are missing is that people want teachers to take pay cuts. That is a process that is not going to happen overnight. Teaching contracts are not something that get settled overnight. Budget cuts need to happen quick and fast. Renegotiation of teachers contracts will not be the quick way to balance the budget. It will be by layoffs and reduction in "extra programs". Wake up and take a realistic look at what is going to happen in the coming weeks. Most schools will probably make cuts right around the holiday breaks or between semesters. For most schools that happens right after the holidays.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 5:07 p.m.

I wonder how much more money we parents will spend in gas and taking time off of work to take our children to and from school compared to what we would have been taxed? This is clearly a save money now and pay later situation. I just hope there is no complaining from those no voters when their second grader still can't spell cat or when that high school student spits in their food at burger king because they did not get into college and feel trapped at their dead end job. I know that sounds a bit extreme but who is to say these things won't happen in the next few years. Remember not everyone that breeds does a good job parenting and picking up the slack at home. A good school can step in help those who would not normally make it. But when the scales are tipped against our students even our best and brightest have a higher chance of being drug down in the muck. I guess a few people forgot that CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 5:06 p.m.

I think what toomuchtodo is saying is that the system of automatic raises combined with step increases for teachers is unsustainable. (It is. Percentage raise increases always are because they always produce gargantuan raises for those at the top of the scale.) Public sector raises are more along the lines of 1% per year, (2% in good years) in those years when raises are even given. It's simply a reality. The economy is poor all over. Many workers have lost their jobs; others have received significant pay cuts. People are worried about losing their jobs and their homes. It's unrealistic and uncaring to insist that a particular group be sheltered from the realities of this economy when everyone else is so clearly suffering.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 4:25 p.m.

Shame on you Ann Arbor News for leaving this community without any form of community news source that actually reports facts, investigates issues in depth, and values stories written by real journalists. We could have used that fact based reporting to actually educate what is obviously a highly uninformed, uneducated electorate, many of whom didn't even get out to vote. Maybe they didn't know there was an issue on the ballot worth becoming informed about and making an educated choice. Sure there is probably some waste that can be trimmed, but get real and wake up Ann Arbor. The fact is we have a $15 million dollar deficit with another $8 million to cut this year and another $15 million or more to cut next year. Changing Funding at the state level will take several years if it can be accomplished at all. The only way to make cuts of this magnitude will be to close buildings, eliminate programs and layoff members of our teaching community who have already made financial sacrifices and still do their best to teach our children. If your child has not benefited from the excellent teachers in Ann Arbor, maybe the person to blame is the one looking back at you in the mirror. I am not a teacher and my last child will be graduating next year so my family will not be directly affected by what I feel is an act of ignorance. So I say make the cuts, do it now and maybe not until we see 35+ children in classrooms across the board will we understand, you just said no to quality education to the children of this community.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 4:21 p.m.

...but I don't think I would have supported the enhancement millage (were it an option for us) primarily because simply adding money to the budget would NOT fix the problem of ever-increasing teacher salaries and benefits So I understand this post to imply that teachers shouldn't receive raises or benefits, ever, or that such are a problem? Surely, you don't really mean that. Again, the fallacy that teachers are overpaid or don't deserve their pay. Very sad.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 3:38 p.m.

This school system wasted $25 million of taypayer money with the substitute teacher fiasco....and how much was it to pay off the former superintendent's contract? $500,000?.. And they are wondering why the millage wasn't passed? They need to start spending as though it were coming from their own checkbooks. Michigan is ranked 50th economically. Homes are foreclosed; businesses are in bankruptcy. Many families have had to leave this state to look for employment. We can't keep operating as though we still have the auto manufacturing tax base that we used to have. Please listen to your constituents. Some very good ideas have been put forth..... from consolidating school districts, to putting all state employees in one health care pool at the state level, saving the state $900 million dollars.....


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 3:22 p.m.

The school system really hasn't made good faith efforts to save money with painless methods. They paid a huge amount of money for a windmill at Skyline, but look at practically every school one drives past and you will see lights left on the exteriors of the buildings during broad daylight for years. Calling the schools leads to no action. Exterior doors not shut in winter, but no employee of the school system doing anything about it. Windows open in the middle of the winter in classrooms. If the room is too hot, just put an insulating blanket over the radiator. School employees using electric heaters under their desks. I could go on and on. Just these things add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, not to mention that we are teaching our children that it is OK to waste energy and money. Over the years these things amount to millions. I am sure there are many other low hanging fruit options to take that are just about cutting out waste. Come on School Administrators and employees, get to work and think simple

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 2:31 p.m.

I'll look for a similar document for administrators. It should be noted that the district and the teachers union agreed in the contract they signed this year to form a committee to look at merit pay for teachers.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 2:26 p.m.

Thanks for posting this. I didn't know raises were automatic vs. merit-based. Is there a similar pdf for administrators or is that something you have to FOIA vs. get from the district administrators?

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 2:21 p.m.

Yes. They are years of service and are automatic raises. So, this year, teachers took a zero percent pay raise, but those who haven't maxed out on the step system will automatically move up a step, barring other problems.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 2:19 p.m.

David Jesse - can you explain if the levels shown in the pay scale PDF you reference are actually years of service? Short of a major infraction, does a teacher just move along the scale and reap a raise of about 6% each year?

Basic Bob

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:44 p.m.

Dr. Emsayin, I am the proud parent of 3 children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools AND an opponent of the millage. For me it is not about taxes but about fairness. Proposal A addressed some of the inequities across the state of Michigan. Allowing WISD schools to raise money while the rest of the state suffers is wrong. If this was raising money to help kids in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor, you would have my attention. That might actually get this state out of a mess. I do not subscribe to the Republican political view. I was simply not swayed by the deceitful and condescending attitudes of the school employees who attempted this money grab. Things are tough all over. If the rest of the state is expected to make cuts to balance the state budget, explain to us how you are more important than an energetic and caring third grade teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:40 p.m.

Gobue... I'm not puzzled by the idea to eliminate an expensive service. Starting with expensive stuff makes sense. What I'm puzzled by is how two recurring threads (not saying they are yours) work together: 1)that the millage increase was too much of a burden for families on the edge and 2)that those same families on the edge should "just find a way" to get their kid to school, or pay for busses, or pay for his lunch, or pay a baby sitter so they can keep their minimum wage job(s). cinabar: Yes, kids have legs, arms, and all sorts of other parts that are interesting to creeps. I walked to school in the 70's too, but it's not the 70s anymore. People will call the cops on parents if they leave their kid in the car while they are paying the gas tab...but they're supposed to send a 7 year old girl out in the dark to walk to school? On this same news site, Kinsey would have them all thinking that perverts and theives are everwhere. As requested: I have a kid in an independent school (non-religious). Our child had different needs that couldn't be met at our local school, but we don't hate on the public school. We voted yes.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:34 p.m.

I am from a different school district, but relate to AA's predicament because my school-age children also face similar cutbacks in our schools. I am intrigued by the washtenaw enhancement millage failure because it is sort of a litmus on whether Mi residents support increased taxes, or instead want changes in the way schools do business. I am a life-long Democrat, and have never voted against any school millages, but I don't think I would have supported the enhancement millage (were it an option for us) primarily because simply adding money to the budget would NOT fix the problem of ever-increasing teacher salaries and benefits, bloated administrative costs, etc. I completely agree with AAtaxpayer. Teachers salaries/benefits are THE major expense for every public school district in Michigan, and they must be forced to better correlate with the economic climate in the state or our schools are doomed. I don't consider myself anti-teacher, mind you. I think they DO have an extremely critical job in our society, and some teachers are definitely underpaid. But I think the tenure system should be replaced with a merit pay system, so good teachers can be rewarded, and ineffective teachers replaced. Years on the job + a mail-order degree should NOT be the only justification for continual raises. Also, the pension must be changed to a 401K system for new hires- continuing to pay into an unsustainable pension system for all teachers will undercut funding for our school children for years to come. Iris Salters (president of the MEA who earns over $250,000 a year) believes that by having teachers feel good (presumably by receiving a good salary and benefits)is best for the kids because she says "The better they can feel about what they do, the better they can do their job for students." Well, certainly when there are 30-40 kids crammed in a class, a teacher IS NOT going to be able to do what is best for their students, no matter what their salary or benefits are. And, certainly teachers would feel better by having a job than collecting unemployment- which a huge number will have to start doing should the unions not concede anything...


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:32 p.m.

Can we move on to the Stadium bridges? This is a non-issue now. Let the administrators prove their worth and do their job, if and when they fail, then we can talk about how they failed.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:31 p.m.

DonBee, OSHA, the EPA and the American Cancer Society all still think that diesel emissions pose a serious health hazard for children, drivers and maintenance workers. The solution goes well beyond reformulating diesel fuel; it involves retiring old school buses and replacing them with cleaner, more efficient (and more expensive) ones. Sorry, but most school buses don't qualify as "clean diesel" equipment.

John Galt

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:29 p.m.

Of course the "administrators" and "officials" do not want to consider that their jobs should be examined for cuts. Nor to they wish to consolidate any districts because they would lose administration jobs. But this is actually where the cuts should be implemented FIRST. Not at the teaching level, until those overhead costs are addressed FIRST.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:09 p.m.

Re busing: Schools are placed centrally and sparsely because there is savings in not having a school on every corner. It is the whole community that benefits from not having to have schools on every corner, so the community as a whole should pay for busing. To charge parents who live farther from schools is no solution. Come on, people, think like a community and not like a special interest group.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:05 p.m.

The high school bus travels through our neighborhood half empty in the morning. Why? The pickup time was moved up to accomodate anyone who may be in the Pioneer district but going to Skyline. My kids would have to leave the house 1 hour before school starts to ride the bus. Everyone here drives their own individual kids in their own individual cars. Most would take the bus if it was moved back to the preSkyline time.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:56 p.m.

@cinnabar - For some children it is a 6 mile or longer walk. Do you want children walking on rural roads after dark for 90 minutes or so. I made my oldest walk to school on days he missed the bus - a 4 mile walk. He learned the bus was his friend. I only did it on days the sun was up. Right now with the times, most children who would have to walk more than a mile would have to do it in the dark. I for one would not want to be the person who was responsible for cutting rural busing and then had a child hit or kidnapped off a rural road. And no, not all parents have the flexibility to pick up and drop off their children, some families have children in 3 buildings at the same time.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:54 p.m.

Citrus..."I am puzzled by the calls to end buses"...what is there to be puzzled about. Busing is a huge expense that is only used by a few. My kids don't use the buses. A lot of people get their kids to school without the buses. The cost of busing is just going to keep going up and up. I would rather see the dollars spent on the classroom then on buses. When you have kids you as a parent take on the responsibility of getting your kids to school. However, I do see your point and I hear what you are saying. Perhaps a middle ground would be appropriate. I still prefer eliminating the buses, although I could support a fee being charged to those families that use the buses. If the families using the buses want to pay the full cost of the buses, than that would be fine. Buses are not something required for all kids. Thus, it is an expense that should not be paid for by school tax dollars.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:54 p.m.

I do have two kids who are/will be in the schools, and I voted "Yes" for the millage. However, it was defeated, so now something has to be done to bring the budget in line. I am also shocked that a 'defeat' plan was not in place. I can't stand the idea of cutting music, art, gym, or busing. These are all necessary programs, but I have heard the argument that Arts are less important than PE, which I think is ridiculous. My point is, if it were to come to that, PE should not be spared at the expense of Arts. The budget should be made public, the history of consessions and cuts should be made public, and then we will at least have some facts to argue about instead of speculation and bitter feelings.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:52 p.m.

Do kids now a days not have legs or feet, I keep ready "how are the kids going to get to school if we lose busing?" Holy cow you people are raising a bunch wimpy kids. When I went to pioneer back in the 70's I had to walk just under 1 1/2 miles each way every school day for 4 years, and I was just happy I lived close to my grade and middle schools. My kid is in forth grade and fixes his own breakfast and lunch everyday.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:48 p.m.

Mike - some of us have spent a lot of time digging for data (see my posts over the last 3 weeks) and do have a good idea of where there might be savings. Salaries are the top expense. That is true. Each time the teacher salary goes up $1 - there is an additional $0.164 contribution to the pension fund and the various employer paid payroll taxes (the school's half of social security, etc). Then there are the benefits. @YpsiLivin - your study on diesel exhaust pre-dates the changes in fuel standards for diesel fuel that eliminated more than 99% of the problem. There are good things that can be done to reduce the costs. For Community, Stone and Roberto Clemente - move them to Skyline - it was built to house small learning communities - these fit that mold. Look at leaving 6th Grade in the grade schools. Leave next year's 9th grade in the Middle schools. This will kill most of the overcrowding in the buildings. Review across all the districts - real estate holdings and sell or lease what they are not using. Everyone is aware AAPS has a school in Dixboro right? that it is leased to private schools to use? Get a commercial leasing agent to take over the leasing of any unused space. Consolidate services - take the best performer across the 10 districts in bus scheduling, fuel purchase, maintenance, purchasing, etc and move them to the WISD - build a support team from the best people from the other districts. There is no reason to have 10 support staffs in the county. Do the same thing with IT for the administration (not the classrooms) In AAPS put the busing study results into effect - AAPS paid for it then ignored it. In all the grade schools go to part time principals - or share a principal between schools - they are out of the building for hours at a time anyway. At the high schools - dump the assistant principals and bring in people that are student facing. My children have never talked to their assistant principals. Close the portables (it can be done with the re-alignment) that will cut energy costs and maintenance costs. Share course design and text book evaluation across the districts. Look at substitutes - would it be better to offer a full time contract to new teachers for a year as subs or keep paying about $100K a year ($50/day) for subs? I don't have an answer here - the data is not available on how many subs the schools use each day. Look at parking permits for cars at school for students. Put them back on the bus, where they are safer. Review the details of the teacher contracts - maybe it is time for a single county wide contract that will allow teachers to move between districts, maybe not. Lobby the state for new funding methods. Make the school pools and other facilities easier to rent and charge realistic rates - make a profit at it. Make use of the virtual high school for AP and other smaller classes, develop large labs where a small number of staff can monitor the students while they are on line and offer techical help. Look at Co-op options in the high schools - what can be better taught that way. Work with WCC to create vocational career programs for people so oriented. This one is hard to write, but look at putting children into tracks by ability so that the class sizes can be adjusted by the needs of the children and children who can excel - get the chance to. I suspect this will bring a lot of children back from private schools. I am not an elitist, but in the districts that I see doing this elsewhere - the results are wonderful. Read my other posts in other threads to see other ideas. We don't have to start in the classroom or with the teacher salaries. The $8 million dollar cut in Ann Arbor is roughly 4% of their budget for this year ($191 million dollars). For other districts the cuts are much deeper and they need the consolidation of services more than Ann Arbor does.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:44 p.m.

Just to add. The unvoted-on county millage added last night was for 4H and SPARK. So... the upshot is that the schools won't get the money they need, but the 4H will. That is messed up.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:42 p.m.

I urge everyone in the county who is mad about taxes to call their county commissioner and complain about the millage they passed last night WITHOUT VOTER APPROVAL, based on a 1913 agricultural law. This is an end-run around the voter, pure and simple, and the voters should be outraged. Sure, it's only a small millage, but we should make a stink.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:31 p.m.

I would like all of the folks who want to cut services, close schools, cut administrators, cut retirement, etc to state whether they have children in the public schools. It's the same few voices who are angry about government, liberalism, and taxes. Why are we listening to them because they yell on this site? I miss my old newspaper with only a few letters to the editor.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:22 p.m.

TRACYANN, they get paid TOO much that is why they have a UNION! Please enlighten me as to how having an organization that ensures you are fairly paid equates with being paid too much? Regardless, the idea that teachers are overpaid is the canard related to sour grapes over individual economic setbacks. I'm unemployed and a homeowner and a parent, and not for ONE minute to I begrudge any teacher the salary they make. I welcome any naysayer to spend a year in a teacher's shoes, working well over 40 hours a week, spending your own money to buy things for the benefit of your students and much more. And I'm still waiting for the mountain of evidence that explains the anti-millage claims of rampant waste and spending. Saying something doesn't make it so, even if you spend $75K to say it.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:18 p.m.

I know that PE is a state graduation requirement. I'm also pretty sure that it's a requirement for lower grades by the state and possibly at the federal level. I may be off on that though. There is also an Arts requirement, but so many classes meet the requirement (All music, all art, some others).


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:09 p.m.

REMEMBER - Skyline was built because the taxpayers voted for it. Yes, the school district wanted it, but the majority of the voters for that bond agreed with them. No one knew at the time what would happen to our economy. Also, the district has not hidden what will be necessary. Go to the AAPS website and the It take a Millage site to see the info in black and white. Yes, there is waste - like any other business/organization. It starts with the state budget. The AAPS cannot be blamed for the state budget more than doubling the AAPS deficit. Like others have said, whether you have a student in the school district or not - you will be effected more than the average $200 you would have spent in taxes.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:09 p.m.

How about seriously considering the recommendation to consolidate districts and start cutting at the top rather than the bottom? If you really care about the students are their learning, make changes where it will be least noticed or impact the students directly. Can schools and districts share principals and administrators? And please, why would gym be considered more necessary than music or art class? I agree that these are luxuries in austere times, and parent of children who want those activities should pay for it on their own. Gym could be replaced by a longer recess/lunch period, which would benefit kids and staff. Wouldn't that save money? Cutting the janitor is not going to save you much, and a dirty school and messy grounds is not going to help the kids. Everybody has improved morale and motivation when they are walking into a place they are proud of.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:05 p.m.

We can no longer afford to have the highest-compensated teachers in the country. We can no longer afford not to privatize services. We can no longer afford pensions for retired teachers. We can no longer afford bloated administrative staffs. Handle these four issues, and you'll find the schools quite affordable under the existing tax structure.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:44 a.m.

How about privatization of the support staff in the school districts? Janitorial and secreterial would be my starting blocks...

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:37 a.m.

@Averagetaxpayer: Just got off the phone with Bill Miller, WISD superintendent. One of the topics we talked about was district consolidation. Let me eat my sandwich and then I'll write it up.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:36 a.m.

I think most voters did not believe that the schools had done everything to tighten their belts already and thus were left with no other options. The tax might have passed IF the supporters had shown that all the teachers and administrators had already made significant concessions on wages, healthcare and retirement, and that some administrative cuts had been made. So I would recommend these be the next steps for the schools...


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:27 a.m.

I am puzzled by the calls to end busses. For working families-- some working multiple jobs just to keep up--it seems this would be even more problematic and costly than $200 a year. How do you get a 6 year old to/from school? Put them on the city bus? Hope they walk the mile or more to get there safely? Don't assume mom is there. She's at work. Don't even assume dad is in the picture. Getting to school, not having to pay for childcare for those 7 hours, getting your kid fed, and yes, even having your kids do "luxury" after school activities so you can stay at your job, are very real benefits to hard hit working families. There's lots of talk here about how these families don't deserve any more burden....well, think about the added burdens if busses and afterschool programs are eliminated. Are you really defending working families/single parents, or are you assuming a traditional family structure where mom can stay home and shuttle the kids?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 11:23 a.m.

I am guessing that 1 mill would have passed or come very close -- 2 mills was just to much to ask for in this bad economic climate. As for salary reductions for teachers (and I am not a teacher), I think a good teacher is worth every penny he/she is paid. What I would like to see is better accounting of what makes a good teacher and have the lesser ones given a chance to improve or out they go. I realize the teachers' union will fight this but it really is time for this to happen. I say this as a parent who's child has been through the AAPSs -- I have seen some absolutely awesome teachers and some who don't even appear to like their job.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:50 a.m.

One thing Ive noticed - the people who claim that there is all kinds of avenues for cost savings seem to have very little knowledge about the workings of the district, and their viewpoint often seems motivated by a sublime belief in waste rather than actual data. Also, people should realize that teachers are part of the labor market like other workers, and in the end you WILL get what you pay for.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:40 a.m.

I think people need to temper their expectations for schools. Kids don't have to go to an Ivy League quality education to be successful in life. I know the parents out there want the best for their kids but not everyone is willing to pay for that level of education. If you are looking for high quality education, you should enroll your kids in private school.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:39 a.m.

The best thing about not passing the millage is all of this kind of discussion. Its great to see 50+ posts that were not here when the status quo was in place. Now we will get some creative and realistic ideas on how to improve the system within the budget constraints.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:35 a.m.

Can someone explain why we need the Washtenaw Intermediate School District? What do they do, and what is the cost. If we could disban that unit and distribute those moneys equally to each of our local school districts, wouldn't that begin to resolve some of the money issues? Rather than cut programs for the schools, look closely at unnecessary administration costs. Perhaps create a volunteer committee of business people who can look at the budgets as a business. I suspect they would find plenty of ways to improve the efficiencies. It is time for those who want to maintain a high level of education to get in there and volunteer - help in the classrooms, help with the volumes of paperwork, help with enrichment, and more. There are numerous ways in which the communities can help the school systems to save money. Stop taxing the people to death and find other ways to fund great education.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:35 a.m.

Wait a minute! Teachers are tax-paying members of our community too. Are you telling me that you expect them and their families to balance the shortfall by themselves? Or do you want just the students to take cuts in their education to balance the budget? We are all in this together. The future of our community is at stake. What will happen to your property values when schools decline? Do you really think anyone (or any business) will want to relocate to this community if the classrooms are overcrowded, the curriculum is decimated, and no buses are provided for children to come to school? If you don't care about the children, think about the value of your real estate. If you had an emergency that required a necessary repair to your home, you would cut back and pay for it, not let your home go to rack and to ruin. How does that help the situation? Make no mistake, if you do not support our schools, you, individually, will suffer a financial loss. You are "penny wise and pound foolish." Better times are ahead. Let's buckle down together as a community and keep the foundation strong. And stop attacking teachers and students! Be a little more appreciative of the fine teachers, schools and students we have!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:33 a.m.

YpsiLivin - I think if you asked all the kids who ride the bus to school everyday and the parents of those kids, most of them would not tell you it is a "luxury." A school can't educate students if the students can't get there. Dr.BM'G makes a point that part of the problem is sprawl, plus it would be great to see more families carpooling, using AATA, etc. No, this isn't Iraq, and busses aren't equivalent to tanks, but I do think we're fighting a war for good education, here and countrywide, and by most accounts we're losing. You want to blame the generals or the government for that, that's fine by me, but let the soldiers tell you what is and isn't a "luxury."


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:30 a.m.

The idea of consolidating districts is not picking up traction among local school officials? Big surprise there! Consolidating (I suggest one district) means most board members and top end administrators would lose their positions. They would rather cut programs. Consolidation likely needs to be a grass roots effort, similar to what helped defeat the short-sighted millage. Consolidating all Washtenaw school districts makes sense. And in consolidating I dont mean all districts being absorbed into one district, I mean dissolving all districts and starting new with just one Washtenaw County School District (WCSD). And for those that would say larger is not necessarily better, and there may be examples of that out there, there are plenty of top notch districts in the country that are significantly larger than would be the WCSD. With the quality education professionals we have in the area that could be enlisted to plan a consolidated district, I suggest WCSD would be the envy of school systems nationwide. Savings? You would eliminate most top end administrations, school boards, busing departments, program development departments, etc. Just AAPSs budget for Executive Admin, Central Admin and Business Services alone tops $7M. You would likely cut a few school buildings with consolidation, as well see some staff reduction. Maybe, however, if savings are sufficiently significant, you might instead reduce class sizes? And then there is the WISD. With just one countywide district the need for WISD is eliminated. Yes, we would still do a great job with special education, just without that top end administration of WISD. Of course consolidation would not be easy. There are legislative issues that would need to be addressed. There of course would be labor issues. On that point, some fear with just one district the MEA would have an even greater stranglehold on the system than presently exists. Deal with that during the legislative process, I suggest. And one of the biggest challenges might be to convince the many parents and kids that it is not the end of life as we know it if theres no longer an Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Willow Run, Saline, etc. school system. The buildings, except for some that would be closed through consolidation, would remain intact. There would still be the Eagles, Hornets, Bulldogs, Dreadnaughts, Railsplitters, etc. Thats what kids identify with. Though a detailed analysis is necessary, I believe through consolidation all the rich programs currently offered by the various schools systems could be preserved. Students of several current districts could actually see an increase in offerings. You would have programs being developed by the best of the best. The best of the current staff would be teaching those kids. The best of the best would be supporting our students and teachers. There are just so many upsides that it would be a travesty if consolidation were not given thorough consideration.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:30 a.m.

Frankly, it's not going to be any of us deciding what goes and what stays. Get in touch with your local school board member or write a letter. Better yet, go to a planning meeting. There are constraints on what solutions can be implemented that none of us have any idea of, so if you want to help, you probably have to delve in and inform yourself.

Jim Mulchay

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:15 a.m.

I think one needs to give a little leeway to the school districts on reacting to the WISD millage defeat. In the last few weeks they have taken a lot of hits on revenue - (1) the initial per student cut ($137/student, I think); (2) the elimination of the state "hold-harmless" money (only impacts AAPS); (3) the announcement of an additional per-student cut ($122/student?); (4) the defeat of the WISD millage (which it seems took the districts by surprise); (5) the warnings that substantial per/student reductions are expected next year; Remember that the current reductions impact the school year that began in September because of the way the state government operates, so as each amount is whittled away the impacted districts need to review what they had for a plan. Also remember that there is a lot of state and federally mandated expenses - it might be nice to see how much that adds up to by category and district - that cannot be touched.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 10:12 a.m.

David- Thanks for posting the school board pay info. I will be interested in the info on the other questions I posted and other readers have posted. Sorry to add another question, but: --Are the administrators at Balas part of a union or is the administrator's union in the district only for principals?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:58 a.m.

Wow, lots of anger and bitterness out there. Teachers must be bad people for earning a decent wage. Should everyone make minimun wage? I don't know many teachers who are getting rich in public education. The teachers I know work outside the classroom hours to prepare, pay out of pocket for materials and to go to conferences and keep up to date on current educational practices. It seems education is so important, why wouldn't we want to put our money there? Remember Public Education tries to educate everyone and doesn't have the option to be selective. Sure there is some waste, but nothing like the waste we see on Wall Street. Since proposal A was passed Michigan takes in billions less than it use to in taxes, and that, I propose is the proplem. A terrible tax structure in Michigan based on outmoded funding using property taxes and a non-progressive income tax. Plus a very poor business tax structure. Amen.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:58 a.m.

Dylan, Washtenaw County isn't Iraq and busing isn't a war. It's a luxury that the systems have offered for years and years. It takes funding away from the classroom and when you have to make hard choices, you choose those items that go into the classroom and you leave behind all of those things that "would be nice to have" but you can't afford. The cost of school transportation is never going to go down. That means it will always take an increasing percentage of funding away from the classroom. The primary purpose of a school is to educate, not to chauffeur kids around.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:55 a.m.

I am rather shocked that they are just now putting everything on the table. The administrators should have been doing this from the very beginning instead of waiting until the failure of passing the millage. So in other words, the school officials thought they could fool the general public into higher taxes, therefore keeping their bloated programs. Since the general public didn't pass the millage they are forced to live within their means. And the district has reserve funds that they "might" have to dip in? Ummm, that's what it is there for! They should have used that option first instead of insisting on more taxes!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:53 a.m.

SBL, State law specifically forbids school districts from asking for operating millages. (Proposal A was designed to wean schools away from property taxes as a funding mechanism.) At the state level, it's clear that there are more students in the system than the system can pay for. It's time for the state to start considering ways to lighten the load on the School Aid Fund. Providing tax incentives for parents who opt for home schooling or private schooling should be at the top of the list. Right now, about 100,000 Michigan children are in private schools or home schools. That saves the state more than $750 million each year in School Aid Fund payments. By encouraging growth in the number of students in private schools, the state can reduce school aid obligations without cutting per-pupil funding for the remaining students. That may also reduce the number of teachers entering the state's (woefully underfunded) pension fund. Just a thought...


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:53 a.m.

YpsiLivin: and if you want your kid in the army to have a gun when he's over in Iraq, you can pay for it. And if you want him to have body armor, you can pay for that, too. I appreciate tmad40blue's comments, because like he said none of you are directly going to be affected by this. Arguing over millages and budget cuts and teacher salaries ultimately doesn't affect you, or the administrators, or the teachers. It affects the students, and whatever is done needs to be done for the right reasons, which are: deal with the money problem so that it has the least detrimental impact on the students' education. I think making students pay for parking in the school lots is a great idea. A half-empty schoolbus is still better than 20 individual cars being driven to the school. And as for bus safety, just take a look at some of the statistics here: I think any of us that have been driving for any length of time can agree that we are all more frightened by teenagers on the road than school buses. I don't like the practice of throwing money at a problem. I've seen firsthand in third world countries how it can undermine and actually completely counteract its original intention, especially when the people in charge of the money are irresponsible with it. But if you don't want to throw more money on the fire, then you better be willing to contribute some other way. This is NOT ABOUT YOU, it's about the students, please don't forget that.

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:51 a.m.

AAParent: Here's the Ann Arbor school board's policy on pay: The board authorizes compensation for its members for attendance at regular, special and committee meetings of the board, and other board functions. Compensation shall be $130 per calendar month.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:49 a.m.

Again I ask how much do teachers make on average? Anyone willing to divulge? This is what the 'Coalition for Responsible Schools' (millage opponent group) put up for the Ann Arbor salary scale (if it is incorrect, maybe somebody from the other side of the debate will point out where): When comparing to private sector wages, keep in mind that teachers have defined pensions (rather than the 401Ks most of the rest of us have), and they qualify for their pensions early (about 60% of Michigan teachers retire before age 60). Here's a Detroit News article about the fiscal time bomb of school system pensions: (Does that sound anything like the auto industry to you?) Also teacher health benefits are better than those in the private sector and their job security is much better. So those numbers in the chart understate the overall compensation by quite a lot.

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:45 a.m.

The Ann Arbor school district teacher salary scale, is attached as a PDF file on this story:

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

Sorry to have ducked out of this conversation for a few minutes. Let me respond to some questions raised here. - @Dan re: voters. That was based on the reporting done by our reporters talking to people at polls, numerous e-mails and phone calls I've gotten over the last couple weeks and conversations with both those who supported the millage and those who didn't. - @AAparent: I'll try to ask for the information you requested. Please be patient in waiting for it. It sometimes takes the district a while to get it back to me. I'll get it up as soon as I can. - @TracyAnn: re teacher salary. The average teacher salary in Washtenaw County in 2007-08, the last year we have complete data from, was over $70,000 per year.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

Tracyann, Here's a link to a report that the Ann Arbor News put together in 2007. It shows the number of AAPS personnel at that point who made more than $75,000 per year. The report doesn't show all of the employees - just those deemed the "highest paid" at that time. In various threads, I've seen the average range from $3.75 to $80,000. I can say confidently that the actual number is most certainly within that range. Probably most AAPS employees are NOT on this list and a significant number of the listed personnel may have retired or moved on, but the salaries of those on the list will inflate the average pay of all employees. The real problem isn't with how much teachers make; it's the unfettered and overflowing abundance of administration, along with the provision of non-instructional "services" - not just in the AAPS but also in other districts - that's causing the problem.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:39 a.m.

I have heard that the only city really supporting the measure was Ann Arbor. If Ann Arbor wants the measure then we should but a proposal on the ballot next go round that would only go to Ann Arbor schools. Since the State specifically cut Ann Arbor's per student spending by close to $250/student and the rest of the State by only $160/student we should take it upon ourselves to help our schools. I would vote for the measure again!

what up

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:37 a.m.

A teacher in the AAPS system starts out at $36,000 with a master's degree.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:34 a.m.

1.) Are school board members paid? I think it's a volunteer position. 2.) The administrative positions in the school district should be reviewed for possible budget cuts. I think there should be a way to ask some teachers to do pieces of the curriculum work that some administrators do (and may receive too much compensation and are out of touch with the classroom). Instead of blanket statements about cutting teacher salaries, why not look at job descriptions & accountability? Could job descriptions be rewritten for teachers and administrators and counselors so that they are paid in line with to the time & effort & results of their work? This would put teachers who are excellent at the top of the pay scale with bonus for their seniority. It would also require more accountability on some administrators who could be paid per project they complete. How much are we paying administrators to sit in endless meetings or create committees that work for months or years with questionable benefit to students? 3.) Why aren't budget numbers readily accessible and easy to comprehend for taxpayers the day after the millage fails? This makes me question the administration. Vague statements such as everything goes on the chopping block does not sound like a methodical contingency plan. Could significant dollars could be saved by starting first in the Balas building and allowing those at the top to model a leaner salaries and greater accountability? 4.) Certainly teachers who are coasting should be subjected to review, but likewise, so should administrators. What is the average salary of the administrator who works in Balas? How does this compare to the average salary of teachers with similar years of experience?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:23 a.m.

Again I ask how much do teachers make on average? Anyone willing to divulge? Having to pay more out of pocket for health care isn't asking too much, IMO, but unless someone is making money out the *#! I couldn't ask someone to take less pay.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:22 a.m.

"Those buses are among the most efficient forms of transportation in the county." KJMClark, There's more to look at when it comes to school buses than how many people they can hold. Many school buses on the road today are half empty. Running bus routes that aren't full detracts from the argument that they're efficient transportation. This will become especially true as the price of fuel rises. Second, diesel exhaust from school buses is carcinogenic, and promotes other serious health problems like asthma. You're not doing the children any favors by having them suck up diesel exhaust every day. You're also not doing the environment any favors by dumping thousands of tons of diesel exhaust into the atmosphere daily. School bus safety is also an issue. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 140 students die each year in school-bus related accidents. Putting more school buses on the road has the potential to increase the number of fatalities. School transportation is a luxury that the school system simply can't afford to give away anymore. Taxpayers in this county subsidize 11 bus systems - one for each school district and the AATA. The school system should look carefully at what services the AATA CAN provide and work with the AATA to address the issue of school transportation. In addition, parents who use the bus service should be required to pay for it, with the exception of special education transportation, which is mandated by law. The gravy train needs to stop. If you want to have your kid ride the bus, you should plan to pay for that. If you want your kid to participate in sports, you should plan to pay for that. If you want your kid to have instrumental music instruction, you should plan to pay for that. If the kid wants to take a trip to China, or New York or wherever... plan to pay for that, too. And parents should plan to pay for their kids' school supplies. Can't pay for all of those things? Well guess what? Neither can the taxpayers. The state pays for basic education. If you want more for your child, you should figure out how to pay for those extras without taxpayer help.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:10 a.m.

aataxpayer has it right, and it's frustrating to see articles and comments that miss this basic truth. There is less money to go around so everyone sacrifices. Ask someone (who probably lives next door to you) in the auto industry. The largest school budget expense by a vast margin is teacher compensation (salaries + benefits). Even eliminating busing, athletics, and whole buildings isn't going to do it. You can only lay off so many low-seniority teachers and administrators given a relatively fixed number of students. It HAS to be salaries. If districts think they saw community frustration when they asked for more money, just let them try cutting programs (or bussing!) without teachers making concessions comparable to those the UAW made. Within two years, every current board member and Superintendent will be out, and their replacements will end up cutting salaries anyway. C'mon, get out in front of this, school and union leaders!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:06 a.m.

David-Could you please tell readers the total number of administrators that are working at Balas and other locations who do not have direct, daily contact with students? Also, what are the operating costs of each of the 4 high schools, Roberto Clemente and Stone School (adult ed)? What is the rental income AAPS receives from local groups who use middle school & high school pools, cafeterias, auditoriums, etc.? Also, is there a cost estimate for the idea proposed by the Pioneer high school senior of changing school start times and consolidating rather than cutting busing?

Bubble world west

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:04 a.m.

Shouldn't the school districts know what programs need to be cut at this point? I know when cuts were put on the table for my work, we had to prepare 3 plans; one with full funding, one with a 10% reduction, and one with 25%. All so we would be ready to implement when we got the good or bad news. Did the school districts not prepare this way, because they thought they wouldn't have to examine costs? The elitist attitude and lack of preparation is why this millage didn't pass. We now see how little work the districts put in ahead of time...


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:01 a.m.

"now consider putting the a smaller WISD enhancement millage on the ballot for a shorter period of time." Yes, I completely agree with this as well. It was an overstep to ask for the voters to cover more than your loss (Ann Arbor $8 million deficit this year, but the millage would have provided $11 million per year). And a millage for five years was too long when there are signs the housing market is beginning to bottom. They should make cuts now and come back to the voters in a year or two with a 1-mill/2-year proposal.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

How much is too much? Is having a union bad or something? Funny, I have 2 kids in public schools and they've never come home spouting "liberal thoughts".

Basic Bob

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

Regarding Community High School: It costs money to operate any building (maintenance, utilities, staff). With Skyline open (and half full), we have space available at the other schools. As far as the quality of the schools, the higher graduation rates at CHS correlate strongly with the demographics. In contrast, Huron is also a high-performing school and has done a superior job educating minority students. It benefits all students to be educated in a diverse setting, which is sadly missing at Community - they are unique like everyone else. As far as the Clemente and Stone School programs, these are necessary, but there may be ways to combine services with other districts. We should not be giving up on these students. The consequences of failure are highest for them, and they need our support.

Hot Sam

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:56 a.m.

We have over 570 school districts and ISD's in the state of Michigan. If someone can make a good case why we need more than say 200??? I'm all ears....


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:51 a.m.

TRACYANN, they get paid TOO much that is why they have a UNION! They have tenure so as to protect their jobs! that way they can indoctrinate our children with their liberal thoughts! Tell it like it is, or do not tell it at all.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:50 a.m.

"Community has always had the highest cost structure." What makes you say this? I'm just curious, but I wouldn't expect that, based on the building itself. That sounds more like a budget game - load up a popular program with inapplicable expenses to make another facility look better. I would expect a long-ago paid-for building to have only maintenance costs, compared to a new building like Skyline on which you have to amortize construction costs. Of course, I've never bought a new car because it's always seemed dumb to pay for the depreciation costs. "One idea not gaining much traction among local school officials is consolidating districts." No surprise there; it would primarily eliminate administrators. Here's a map from the state of Washtenaw's school districts: Anyone know where we can find the process for consolidating districts? Cutting busing is one of the last things I would do. I think this whole situation was brought on by oil production peaking. That caused the high oil prices we had until late last year, which brought the US auto industry mostly to bankruptcy and triggered the housing bubble crash. Notice that those oil prices are now back around $80 per barrel? Those buses are among the most efficient forms of transportation in the county. We're probably going to need them more in the future. Instead, we should put up parking meters at all school parking and charge for it. We can't afford "free" parking anymore. But the biggest mid-term savings should come from reducing administrative costs.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

A lot of people are saying that teacher salaries should be cut. How much do public school teachers make? I'm just curious. I guess I just can't believe the mentality that seems to be, "Well, if I'm doing bad financially, then so should everyone else. If my pay gets cut, then so should theirs." Would it really make you feel better if the ones who have our children for the better part of the day were paid less for the same amount of work?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

AA Taxpayer has the correct answer, first off he/she pays taxes and should have the answers, it is about TIME that the MEA does not run our schools! Take your pay cut or leave the state you are obviously "OVERPAID", just like the air traffic controllers we have a replacement for you, According to the MEAP scores you are not doing so well anyhow!


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

Everybody is cutting back due to the economy. Why should the schools be exempt? Learning to do more with less is the theme of President Obama. Let's embaced it and be thankful.

Duane Collicott

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:30 a.m.

The comments along the lines of "The AAPS didn't do enough to sell this to people" are interesting. One thing they certainly haven't done is show us the finances, show us what costs how much, and show us what cost-cutting measures they have taken so far. If they want more money, they need to show us what they've done with the money we've already given them. This is the usual problem of the government forgetting that it's not their money, it's our money. They are only stewards of the money, and we have expectations and standards for their stewardship, especially in down times.

Dan Moerman

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:29 a.m.

Query for Mr. Jesse: You write "Many voters cited an economy that has forced them to tighten their personal budgets as the reason they voted against the millage." Can you show me where this was reported? In some exit poll, perhaps?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 8:28 a.m.

It is a shame that because the school system didn't get it savior funds, that the first thing they want to do is threaten cuts and jobs. It is not responsible to open new schools that there was never a budget for to begin with, and the lastest response from the WISD is to put everything they do on the chopping block? Seems to be that responsible management of operating funds should have been in question a long time now. The voters have spoken. Deal with it, and struggle like everyone else is in these times. You got the new school you pushed for for so long, YOU figure out how to run it.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:59 a.m.

Seeing this article and its first comments has made me very sad. I'm a senior at Pioneer and, while changes that are made next year won't affect me, they will adversely affect thousands of students and teachers across the district. Cutting buses for all except special education is by far the WORST idea I've heard related to this - what about families who can't afford a car? What about families who live outside the AATA bus route system (myself)? If students can't get to school, that means lower grades, lower test scores, less students in attendance on Count Day, etc. Cutting busing is NOT the way to go. I would LOVE to see the district take a serious look at the start times of their schools - if not only for monetary reasons, for health reasons as well. It's simply unhealthy to give high school students hours upon hours of homework, and then expect them to wake up at 6:30 every morning (or even earlier for some!) and be in school, ready to learn by 7:30. Our bodies simply aren't naturally built for that (that's why I haven't taken a first period at Pioneer for the past two years). If the district were to change around start times for the schools (for next year, of course), it would make many people several times happier. And for all of the people who were NO voters that are going to come out and say "I told you so! HAHA! AAPS had it coming!", please don't. Look at me - I'm a student, and I'm providing my own personal strategies for what the district should and shouldn't do at this point. So I'm not giving you any "sob stories", I'm not just whining. I'm earnestly trying my best to help at this point.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:57 a.m.

Here comes the schools shake down and the associated threats. No band, no football, no school play....we have heard it all before. We (those with kids in the schools) need to put the feet to the fire and make sure the cuts come away from the class room. Demand teacher contracts be renegotiated before any cuts are enacted. Lets see if the MEA comes to the table OR reacts like a vested special interest group defending their piece of the pie.

The Picker

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:56 a.m.

The first change that should occur is the attitude of school administrators. This defeatist mentality that prevails through-out the district has to go. It is unbecoming and not a good example for our children. Quality leadership will grab the reins of the district and instill a "can do" attitude that will go a long way toward getting the ship of education righted. This perpetual cycle of hitting up the taxpayers every time the budget is mismanaged must end. If the current crop of administrators can't do the job, perhaps better vetting at election time is in order. In any event, its time to learn to work with what you've got and quit whining.

David Jesse

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:55 a.m.

Bill Miller is hired by the WISD school board. The WISD school board is elected by the 10 traditional school boards. If you go here ( and click on the about WISD tab, there's a PDF you can look at that explains what an ISD is about.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:48 a.m.

Ruth: Community High School is a regular, necessary high school. As the parent of a student at that school, I have to disabuse you of the common, erroneous notion that Community is a "special" school. It adheres to state guidelines as every school does. It does have excellent educators who care about their students and go out of there way to ensure their students' success. Community High School also has the highest graduation rate in the city - I'm sure the school board and superintendent are not going to compound the millage disaster by eliminating one of the city's educational jewels. And once again, a comment is made regarding costs without any proof to back up that claim.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:44 a.m.

Also, who hires Bill Miller? And what exactly does he do?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:43 a.m.

How about AAPS puts the actual costs for Community (including all the busing) into view so we can see?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:31 a.m.

Dr. I. Emsayin, Many of the students that go to Roberto or Stone school don't choose to go there, but are forced out of the building they are in because the supporting building doesn't do enough to help them succeed. Some have behavioral issues and some don't, but when they fail that first test that cuts them out of Federal funds the school starts jumping through hoops to get them out instead of jumping through hoopd to revisit ways to help them learn. Does any one have the drop out and transfer rates from Pioneer High School?


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:27 a.m.

Ruth, Community's costs are not as high as they seem. That is because many students at the other high schools are taking classes at Community as well. AND, if you closed Community you would lose a good number of those students to the district -- those for whom an alternative education is a priority. You'd only have to lose about 70 kids to destroy any cost savings from closing the school. There is a waiting list of 1-200 kids (I believe that's the right ballpark) for Community. Many of those are homeschooling or private schooling cuz they couldn't get in. So it would be a far better strategy to expand Community and let more of those kids in, along with the $$ they represent. Brings in more money to the district and improves Community's bottom line.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:24 a.m.

Ruth, Consolidating Community into another school (possibly skyline) is a good idea. Closing the program altogether is not. Community High School for years has had a higher rate of graduation and higher test scores for all of there students. My children were not fortunate enough to win the lottery required to gain entrance into this school, but what they do there is working. They attract the best, most caring teachers and counselors to work with their students. The administration needs to look at Roberto Clemente and Stone School if they are looking to close programs. Not the most successful program in the district.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 7:16 a.m.

There is no way that this defeat will not impact students. Even though some say that there is fat in every budget, those independent contractors who train teachers in special programs make their teaching better. In Ann Arbor, when a small program has been paired with a large program, that is the beginning of the end for the small program. The neediest students benefit from Stone and Clemente and it allows them to graduate. Everyone wants to go to Community because the students get more attention from staff. Expensive programs in the big high schools give students a place to call home. Cutting custodial services shows in the schools, and students feel it too. Cutting bussing will make split enrollment difficult for students who benefit from programs across the district. Cutting teachers, teacher aids, etc. all will be felt by students. The community needs to realize that just because they can say no, doesn't mean they should.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 6:43 a.m.

It is now time to put every cost saving idea on the table for discussion. Ann Arbor seems to have very high building costs and even built a new high school knowing that they did not have the operating millage to maintain it. We now have three comprehensive high schools with the available space to house other high school programs that are spread throughout the city. I propose that the district sell the Community High prperty to Zingerman's for their long desired company expansion and move this program, if it is retained, into one of the other three high school buildings. In addtion to getting rid of unneeded space, this plan would also lower the average per pupil cost for educating high school students because Community has always had the highest cost structure.