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Posted on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:11 a.m.

Crowd weighs in on plan to cut $14M from Ann Arbor school budget

By Janet Miller

Close the district’s three alternative high schools. Make athletics self-supporting. And - a frequent suggestion - slash administration.

These and a host of other budget-cutting options were offered at the second of two community forums held Monday night as the Ann Arbor school district begins to consider how to slash $14 million from the 2012-13 academic year. That’s almost 8 percent of the $185 million budget.

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Some parents are questioning the number of high schools in the Ann Arbor district as it faces more budget cuts. In this file photo, a student a Roberto Clemente studies over the summer.

About 150 people packed the Pioneer High School cafeteria to give their two cents worth on the district’s finances, although the budget won’t be adopted until next June.

An initial forum was held last week at Huron High School, attracting about 60 people.

“It’s important to bring the community together to discuss what it is it values and what it is we need to continue to focus on,” said Superintendent Patricia Green.

The district needs to be careful what it cuts, said parent Lisa Psarouthakis. Disgruntled families could leave the district.

“If you cut athletics and music, people will choose with their feet,” she said. In fact, she said, the district should offer more alternatives - especially at the middle schools - to keep students from leaving.

“Middle school is the weakest link,” she said.

And music, art and performing arts should be spared before athletics, Psarouthakis said.

“Before cutting those, I think athletics should be made self-sufficient, although I hate hearing myself say that.”

Parent Mark Vorobiev saw things differently, and suggested closing and selling Community High School, located near Kerrytown.

“We have six high schools in the district. Community is prime real estate. I think we should sell the building,” he said.

One member of the audience asked how much new Skyline High School costs to operate. Total annual operating costs for the district’s third comprehensive high school runs about $4 million, said Robert Allen, deputy superintendent.

The budget pressures are a result of several factors, Allen said. Since 1993-94, when Proposal A changed the way Michigan schools are funded, per pupil funding has increased an average 1 percent a year while the consumer price index rose 2.14 percent. During the same time, retirement costs have risen from 4 percent to the 29 percent projected for the 2013-14 school year. That’s 29 cents for every $1 paid in salary, Allen said.

If retirement costs had stabilized at the 16 percent rate it was at a few years ago, the district would be looking at nipping less than $2 million from its budget, Allen said.

“We wouldn’t be here tonight if that were the case.”

“This is a structural deficit. We will continue to have this same conversation every year…unless there is some legislative action,” Allen said. Unless cuts are made now, the district is on course to be in deficit by the 2013-14 school year, he said.

“I do not believe that’s where we want to go.”

Each year since Allen joined the district five years ago, Ann Arbor schools has cut between $3 and $18 million a year from its budget, he said. The district has trimmed $40 million and used $5 million of its fund equity, or savings, in that time.

While the public frequently calls for administrative cuts, central administration accounts for 3 percent of spending, Allen said. Instructional and student support services account for a combined 78 percent. The total central administration budget is around $5 million annually, he said.

While Ann Arbor is the state’s seventh largest school district, it ranks 363rd out of 783 school districts in business and administrative costs, he added.

While the Board of Education has seven months before it decides where to lower the axe, the cuts are sure to touch nerves.

“I don’t want to cut anything,” said Janice Lieberman.”



Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

Soon there will be nothing left of the school district except for salaries, benefits, and legacy costs. The system is set up to be unsustainable, some promises are going to have to be broken or an emergency financial manager will be our eventual fate. Open the schools up and compete with other districts for students. Let the bad schools go under and the good ones survive. The private schools are doing well in this area. The unions will never allow this to happen until it is forced upon them by insolvency. This is happening all over the country and around the world but somehow we think it is not going to happen here. I'm not saying it will be easy or popular but it has to be done.

Karen Hart

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

It would be nearly impossible to close the three alternative high schools and have adequate and appropriate room to accommodate them in existing buildings. Tough choices have to be made, for sure, but putting the burden on the very programs that make Ann Arbor's schools special and cut the underpinnings out from under the students who need these schools is the absolute wrong way to go. I can tell you that if my daughter hadn't gotten into Community the last two years of her high school years, she wouldn't have graduated. (Another question would be, why cut the one school that there's a long waiting list for?)Better to shift as many administrative functions (personnel, finance, etc.) to the ISD first, then take a hard look at demographics before taking a slash-and-burn approach.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:17 a.m.

Ms. Hart - I have to agree with you, but we could - Move the two smaller ones into one building - there are several buildings with the capacity. Reduce them to a shared principal and secretary, leaving the education staff alone and the classes separate. Not only would this mean one building would be surplus, but that the very high overhead of administration would be reduced and the overall budget better focused on education. All three alternate high school programs are important. I am not sure they are in the right buildings or that they have the right level of administrative staffing.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:25 p.m.

Education really has come a long way since the cave man era. Ann Arbor recognized that not everyone learns the same way, and the program choices within the district represent that. The problem students are just as likely in the factory schools as they are in the alternatives. Same goes with the jocks, nerds, punks, burn-outs, preppies, bipsies and any other label that can be assumed. What has to be considered if schools get closed left and right, will the remaining buildings actually fit the additional numbers? What happens if a class of 30 becomes a class of 60? And if outsourcing the cleaning and busing is so great, what happens when the consolidated schools create more mess and even greater transportation needs? A musical interlude, sadly on topic; <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;hd=1</a>


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

If you close the alternative schools? People will leave. No one wants the problems in their schools. This is why they are where they are. Alternative because they can't handle a regular school. Clemente is considered school of last resort. As for WISD? They are special ed wanna bees doing transportation that they have no clue how to work it. I am hearing a lot of problems there as well. Time to cut out the custodians and the transportation department.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle has really good coverage of the most recent meeting including a long list of additional information requested by attendees. The article says, &quot;Allen ... said he would TRY to put together answers to Frequently Asked Questions on the AAPS website.&quot; I hope an investigative reporter from or The Ann Arbor Chronicle holds Allen to that statement and makes sure he does more than just TRY. It would be great to know what AAPS' response to ALL of those items are. However, many of the same questions seem to be asked each year so if AAPS hasn't answered them previously, I am skeptical they will answer them this year. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 9:19 a.m.

The writing is on the wall. Our Governor, along with a host of other new governors who sailed in with the Tea Party, has a big plan: Gut funding for public schools. When they are running on empty, watch them erode. Then criticize the public schools and teachers for the poor state of public education. Wait for the citizens to start their bashing. Observe how demoralized public school employees become. Then demand school vouchers to solve public school failings. Increase charter schools (run by for-profit companies tied to big money Republicans) Adopt Indiana's plan: allow vouchers for private AND religious schools so that students from the poorest performing schools can transfer. Watch how the wealthier parents find loopholes so that their children don't have to pay for private or religious school tuition, either. BINGO! For those of you who want to fire all our teachers and bring in new ones to start over, do you know how many new teachers quit within the first five years of teaching? Do you know how many college students today are totally dismissing careers in teaching? Who in their right mind would want to enter the field of education today after watching teachers get blamed for everything, seeing teaching being replaced by testing, being expected to pay for their own classroom supplies and watching salaries and benefits whittling away? All this when they could make a better salary in practically any other profession. So, now the Republican politicians may NOT have to get rid of the Dept. of Education. They can just destroy the public schools, little by little, state by state. At the rate things are going, it won't be long.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1 p.m.

Lily's Mom - Do you know how hard it is for a graduate of a teaching program in Michigan to find a teaching job? That inability to find work is part of the reason people are not becoming teachers. Several people I know who graduated had to leave the state to find a job, even though they graduated near the top of their classes at places like UofM, Western and MSU. One crazy person, calling themselves a Republican wants to get rid of the Department of Education and move all the rules and regulations back to the state level. I doubt you will find many people in the Republican party over all that agree with Rick Perry, and since from his list he has no clue what those three departments do, I doubt he will really try when he is informed, and if he does, I doubt congress will go along.

longtime AA

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 11:48 p.m.

How frustrating. Every year, the state cuts per pupil funding, and we keep trying to solve the problem by buying cheaper bathroom tissue paper. We keep ignoring the real problem. We want -- particularly in an area like our Ann Arbor -- to have a quality educational system. We know that this is important and necessary to get our country in a better position for the future world. And yet, in Michigan, we as a community are only allowed to vote to build buildings, athletic fields, buy buses, put in heating units, etc., but are not allowed to tax ourselves to hire more teachers, cut class sizes, offer a greater variety of classes, give special help to all students, have better counseling services, etc. Very sad. The &quot;elephant in the room&quot; is not administrative costs, or how many schools we have, or retirement costs, it is where we want to put our priorities to prepare our children for the future. This past week, in the coverage of the Penn State children's abuse scandal, we heard &quot;If we as a society cannot protect our children, then we are pathetic.&quot; But protecting our children is only the first step == we must also educate them and prepare them.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

The retirement funding at 29% is a huge problem. Teachers and retired teachers need to figure out what is the equitable balance between maintaining benefits for retiree versus maintaining salaries for current teachers. Something has to give.


Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 7:54 p.m.

Mr. Panitch - Until the public sector unions realize their benefits are making it impossible for their children and grandchildren to have as good a life, nothing will change. When Lansing or Washington starts to address benefit, the public sector unions step in. Look at Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and the war over Health Care in Washington DC. We need to do somethings that are going to be painful: 1) move to a single payer system for all health care 2) raise the retirement age for all workers to 67 - regardless of job, if you can't still be a soldier, then you can work in logistics, or training, or admin. No one should retire at 45 or 55 in any job and expect any sort of public support (this goes for private sector workers too). 3) make mandatory a 2 year public service requirement - Peace Corp, Teach for America, military, I don't care, but you can't vote until you finish your two years. The government has the responsibility during those years to make sure you can read and write. 4) make sure everyone pays taxes, even if it only a token dollar a year, no one should be allowed pay nothing 5) remove all the deductions from taxes - if the government wants to support housing or low income food programs, lets make it a line item in the budget, so everyone knows how much it costs But, reality is NONE of this is possible in today's world. This list would horrify both republicans and democrats. But it is probably the best medicine we could give the nation.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 11:05 a.m.

Again, just to be clear, that's $5-$7 million of cutting we have to do each year to meet the increased retirement obligation having little more to do with current workers than the fact that we have to fund the shortfall on a per-employee basis. &quot;Sins of the father,&quot; and it seems to me that there ought to be some firewall built into the School Aid Fund; but, again, that approach doesn't go to the root cause.

Jack Panitch

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 10:50 a.m.

DonBee: I know: it's tough to imagine a sincere compliment coming from me to you. And, of course, if I had the opportunity to distract and redirect, I would. But, there's definitely something X-Files &quot;Lone Gunmen&quot; I can admire: you have remained involved and focused no matter what anyone throws at you. I was suggesting you go after the heart of the structural deficit, not figure out enough savings in other places to offset it. There is unquestionable value to the offset. (I don't agree with the conclusory nature of suggestion 3: seems like a sign to dig deeper and look for appropriate comparables, not just Plymouth-Canton, which may not even be comparable) So, I'm hoping that you are channeling your suggestions into the actual budget-setting process in some way. If you let others carry the message, it may not get through with the same level of clarity you could bring to the analysis. But here's what I was suggesting: As I understand it, the per-employee percentage that the District needs to pay (again in great part to cover the actuarial shortfall in the defined benefit plan for payout of current retiree's benefits) has risen precipitously each year, due to the massive devaluation of fund assets caused by the recession (hence the link to Wall Street as the root cause). We will likely see this continue for years, and the last estimate I heard was a $5-7 million drain on the District's budget. The question is whether we just have to gut it out because nothing can be done legislatively/politically to fix the problem. At the legislative forum the District put on last year, Rick Olson and Jeff Irwin addressed it, but I haven't heard any more about it lately, and I would think that the problem should get as high a priority as anything else confronting us. Promises made without imagining all the consequences have become a huge drag on educating this generation of kids, and no matter your political outlook, this might be job 1 for the visionaries.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 12:32 a.m.

Jack - Thank you I think. To fix the structural deficit, we need to do a number of things: 1) reduce the number of buildings in the system - several are already are used by others, but AAPS still maintains them and offers them at below market rents. Once the excess is gone. 2) use the sinking fund and bond funds to fix the energy efficiency of a number of buildings - community high comes to mind. 3) reduce the administrative overhead, it is way out of whack with other districts 4) look at renting out facilities in the summer and at night - aim for a profit, the UofM does for sports clinics and other uses, AAPS should too 5) Amp up the adult eduction program - right now AAPS mostly ignores this need in the community and there are both state and federal funds to make a program make money 6) Rethink how we teach electives in Middle School and High School, there is nothing wrong with computer labs with 60 students in them on Michigan Virtual High School - that would allow advanced students to move thru 2 or 3 classes a year, and take the class size pressure of the rest of the classes There is a lot more, but this should give the school 8 to 10 million in structural relief.

Jack Panitch

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

DonBee: True, but not relevant to the solution of the current crisis. And since the system involves funding current retiree's benefits on the backs of current workers, we need to be sensitive to the equities. It's a delicate balance, both actually and politically. And since this is the biggest problem, and it doesn't cut in any partisan ideological direction, it is my hope that you could turn that great mind of yours toward consideration of the structural defecit. I'm not saying what you are already contributing is irrelevant: it's not by a long shot. Nor, in all humility, is it my place to judge when you get right down to it. But if you could help solve the crisis of the structural deficit, that would benefit your community and the entire state more than any other issue.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Mr. Panitch - The percentage cannot be changed locally, but the contribution ratio can be a contract issue with the school and the unions. Slightly off topic, there is a state pension database on one of the Detroit news paper's websites, it is fun to look up retired AAPS teachers and see what they make in Pension from the state.

Jack Panitch

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

aataxpayer: This one requires a legislative solution. This isn't something subject to collective bargaining or a decision among teachers, even.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

There is a man living in our community who thought it would be a good idea to slash our education funding - a clear and demonstrated public good - in order to provide a nearly two billion dollar payout to his friends. Right now there are people demonstrating the world over against the outrages committed against the middle and lower classes by the 1 percenters. Why aren't we on this guy's lawn? Why are we talking about closing schools and killing pensions as if any of that makes sense?


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 10:12 p.m.

Deputy Superintendent Allan said: &quot;While Ann Arbor is the state's seventh largest school district, it ranks 363rd out of 783 school districts in business and administrative costs, he added.&quot; He is right on a per student basis, but not on an absolute dollar number. In most cases the schools that are higher have fewer than 300 students in the schools, meaning they are single building and can't spread general and building administration across the two categories. It took me a couple of hours to figure out how he came up with this number. On the total administrative budget AAPS is seventh in size of the district in students, but third on total dollars spent on administration in the state. They have the fastest growing administrative budget of any district with over 5,000 students in the state. From 2006 to 2010 the administrative budget at AAPS grew by 12 percent. All of this data was mined from the state's FID database.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

If the state of Michigan wants a better tomorrow, then they have to be willing to invest for the future....... the kids. As a parent of a high school student, I wonder if it is really necessary to have multiple principals in high schools. I want to support our public schools. It becomes hard to feel that desire to when you have your kids telling you how some of their teachers are not teaching and just passing out worksheets and reading assignments. That is not teaching. You raise the issue as a parent and administration doesn't care. When you have teachers that don't teach and administrators that refuse to talk to a parents and push them off to someone else....... it make you consider paying the extra money for private schools or moving. My experience is that administration in the central office has been useless. You contact them for a reason and they push you off back to the source that you had an issue with.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

I get feedback all of the time from my kids about teachers that nobody wants because they don't teach. teachers who spend the entire class time on their computer or talking with other teachers. If I didn't have to work I'd go sit in the clases. the counselors know who these teachers are because everyone tries to transfer out. many are forced into these classrooms and fail. There is no feedback from students and parents about individual teachers. That's because the union doesn't want that. they say it would be a popularity contest. I think it would expose patterns; not everyone is cut out to teach....


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

I can't see how we want to treat the very people who help create great minds with such disrespect. We treat the teachers of our society like a job at McDonald's. They have to deal with attitudes, and such that we take for granted, and do it on a daily basis. Could you teach your child? because we are going to be heading in that direction. Why would someone even want to go to school to become a teacher? If all we have to offer them is the same benefits as a fast food employee. They should have the income of doctors, and lawyers. No one who is reading this column learned how to read by osmosis. We go and try to cut the very fabric we live off of. Who do we think we are anyway, &quot;teacher pimps&quot;. Take what we have to offer and get to work.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:30 p.m.

Yeah, well that shows where your values lie, and don't try to push your silly values on me Mr. Snoopdog want to be. That's one of the biggest problems here in the US, our values are gone astray. You just reinforced my post. Thank You. Good day, to you too.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1:40 a.m.

&quot;Could you teach your child? because we are going to be heading in that direction.&quot; Many tens of thousands of parents make that choice every year to home school their children so your point exactly is what ? &quot; If all we have to offer them is the same benefits as a fast food employee. They should have the income of doctors, and lawyers. &quot; Stop the rhetoric, no one is asking them to have the same benefits as fast food workers. And pay them as if they were doctors ? That is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in quite some time ! Good Day


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

Idea for There was a great website (can't remember where) where you could try to solve the federal budget deficit by choosing to cut programs, etc., and it showed you how you were doing and how much deficit was left, etc. Why doesn't (or some smart poster) build a similar website for the AAPS? You could have a bunch of possible cost-cutting moves (pay-to-play athletics, no bussing, etc.) and the amount that that would save, and let everyone go to the site and run through the exercsise? At the very least it would be educational for people, and maybe we could even see what choices the majority of people made... Plus, who knows, might rate a nice civics or journalism prize....


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

The application I saw for that exercise was a NY Time &quot;interactive&quot; feature. It's behind a paywall now, but if you haven't used up your allotment of &quot;free&quot; access, try out <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> That's a great idea dotdash. Though I think we'd need to use the categories in the school district report to the state of Michigan, NOT the ones in the User Friendly Budget, which lump together a lot of optional expenses (assistant principals and social workers) with mandatory ones like special education classroom aides.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

Community High would be a great place for a reincarnated Tally Hall complete with the pink and green neon. Its been so long since there was a mini mall downtown, I'm sure it'll fit right in with that neighborhood. If that didn't appeal to a developer with a long list of empty properties to choose from, maybe it could go the way the old Ann Arbor High School did. Or the facade could be kept and attached to a giant parking structure. &quot;"It's important to bring the community together to discuss what it is it values and what it is we need to continue to focus on," said Superintendent Patricia Green&quot; Wow, I keep forgetting that Liz Margolis is not actually the Superintendent, even though she has an actual presence. I'd go on about how the phantom Superintendent Green has already fobbed me off twice, but the nastiest Middle School Principal that Green doesn't address has stiff competition these days. It won't be the weakest link Middle School that drives parents away, but the failure of Snyder to bring or keep jobs in Michigan. The pending cuts to no-fault insurance will affect at least 100 families just in the Ann Arbor district. If each of those families have 2 kids and are forced to leave the state for jobs elsewhere, that will be an even smaller enrollment to plan for. But I've been told elsewhere that its perfectly normal to leave the state and come back when there is another employer. I'm sure a migratory life does wonders for kids emotional and academic well-being. Its past time to realize that jobs and public education are not a priority for the slick-Rick state. At the rate Snyder and his cronies are carving up their campaign donor interests, we will be lucky if Ann Arbor has enough students left to fill one High School, Middle School and Elementary School. Never mind anything else.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

Here are my budget cut ideas: 1) Close or consolidate the 3 small high schools. This has been brought up again and again by the community and should be seriously considered. 2) Restructure how we finance all activities that are not graduation requirements. 3) Consolidate the counseling staff – most scheduling is done online and the common application is changing the college application process. 4) Offer more online classes (and make them easier to enroll in) 5) Cut retirement benefits – union issue 6) Cut sick days (need for substitutes) – union issue


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

This won't work. If you are sick? Stay home. I don't get sick or personal time. So I come to work sick. As for on line classes? Some children should not be doing on line classes unless they can handle it. On line classes requirement a commitment. Have you done on line classes? If you miss anything you get docked. A lot of this? I disagree with.

David Paris

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Sorry akh, I can't agree with a single point.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:32 p.m.

I can't see how we want to treat the very people who help create great minds with such disrespect. We treat the teachers of our society like a job at McDonald's. They have to deal with attitudes, and such that we take for granted, and do it on a daily basis. Could you teach your child? because we are going to be heading in that direction. Why would someone even want to go to school to become a teacher? If all we have to offer them is the same benefits as a fast food employee. They should have the income of doctors, and lawyers. No one who is reading this column learned how to read by osmosis. We go and try to cut the very fabric we live off of. Who do we think we are anyway, &quot;teacher pimps&quot;. Take what we have to offer and get to work.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:15 p.m.

And when you cut sick days, you'll have teachers reporting to work sick, or sending their own children to school sick because they can't take the day off to stay home with their sick child. Teachers are exposed to an incredible number of germs at work and even though they end up with strong immune systems they do still get sick. My first year teaching I had strep 5 times, mononucleosis, and a seemingly unending string of colds, stomach flus, and sinus infections. I ran out of sick days and didn't get paid after a while. Is that really what you're suggesting all teachers should do??

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.

Retirement benefits are not a union issue; they are set by the state legislature, which controls the public school employee retirement system. The current required contributions are not saved for current employees, they are what is necessary to keep the system solvent for current retirees. Half of the amount goes right back out the other door to pay for current retiree health benefits (which are not guaranteed to current employees). Changing from a defined benefit to defined contribution plan will take resources to cover the &quot;overhang&quot; when shifting plans. As far as I know, no one has any serious proposals for where that would come from. The legislature has already made changes to the system that would save billions, but that only affects new hires and will not show savings for 15-20 years.

Lisa Psarouthakis

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

I did not hear very much support for making athletics self-supporting - my comment in the article spoke more to a priority of sorts. From a marketing standpoint, we have public schools competing against an ever growing list of charter schools and a few private ones. If we want to increase our student base and recoup the roughly $9K that comes with each student, we need to offer what parents want - a well rounded educational experience that offers the three R's as well as athletics, music, world languages, art. . .etc. Cutting is not the answer - legislative change may be. As for closing schools like Community - what other school in the district has four kids hoping to get in for every one seat available? Ann Arbor could have used another Community instead of the 3rd comprehensive high school it voted for - but that's water under the bridge. The new International High School - a collaborative effort between several area school districts - seems to be on the right track. What other ways can we compete with the charter and private schools that have become schools of choice because of continued cuts?

David Paris

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

&quot;From a marketing standpoint, we have public schools competing against an ever growing list of charter schools and a few private ones. If we want to increase our student base and recoup the roughly $9K that comes with each student, we need to offer what parents want - a well rounded educational experience that offers the three R's as well as athletics, music, world languages, art. . .etc. Cutting is not the answer - legislative change may be.&quot; Exactly! And the intent of the current leadership in Lansing is to continue tipping the scale towards charter/private schools, while devaluing the education in public schools. We need more revenues, not more cuts!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

Lisa - I personally attended 3 out of 4 of the community forums about &quot;building a new high school&quot; several years ago. If the process had used neutral or community volunteers instead of having all sessions facilitated by district employees, I doubt the third comprehensive high school would ever have been built. AAPS, backed up by the AAEA stacked the deck to ram that project through.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

&quot;Each year since Allen joined the district five years ago, Ann Arbor schools has cut between $3 and $18 million a year from its budget, he said. The district has trimmed $40 million and used $5 million of its fund equity, or savings, in that time.&quot; The budget is not what the district spent last year, but rather what they want to spend next year. Only once in the last decade has the district income actually fallen from the prior year. Most initial budgets for AAPS include a 5% increase in costs annually. &quot;While the public frequently calls for administrative cuts, central administration accounts for 3 percent of spending, Allen said. Instructional and student support services account for a combined 78 percent. The total central administration budget is around $5 million annually, he said.&quot; This is one of two areas that administration falls in, the second and larger budget line is building administration. That budget line is (according to the State FID database for 2010) $12,700,000. So the total administration cost is in the range of $18 million a year. That is over $1000 a student. This is higher than most other districts by 20% or more. Just taking these two line items down by 20 percent would offer the district a savings of between $3 and 4 million dollars. My first step would be consolidating the business office functions at WISD across the districts. My second would be looking at the number of principals in the district. Then I would look to the Superintendent's cabinet. A large line in the FID database is &quot;Other Support&quot; with a total of $12,817,869 dollars, I would really like to see details of what is in this line. Funny things is that in the FID the total revenue for 2010 from all sources for AAPS was $258,135,873. And of the $15,672 dollars per student only $5,100 goes for salaries for instructional personnel. Insurance (health and other) runs $1,500 per student that the district pays. Retirement payments for the district run $2,


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

What this article doesn't mention is that sports and arts, performing arts or music are also a drop in the bucket. Cutting them won't completely fix the problem. They will need to close some shools or ask for a tax increase.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

When they privatized transportation they also told the teachers that in 5 years they will get back what they were told needed to be cut to save teacher jobs. Well guess what? Going on 2 years in June and in 3? The teachers will get their 20 and more. Hate to say it, the board really messed up on that one.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

friend12, I think some teachers would love the 20% because many who have messa insurance pay more than 20% out of pocket to have that insurance. So paying 20% would be welcomed and in the end, would actually cost the district more.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

When is the teachers contract up? They will get a cut when the teachers have to pay at least 20% of their insurance cost per the new state law.

A Voice of Reason

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

The top 10% of the academically elite are taking the best of AAPS, and one place is Community High School. If Community H.S. serviced &quot;at risk&quot; kids, then I would support keeping it. Maybe we should have a &quot;Occupy The Ann Arbor Public Schools!&quot; 10% of African Americans will pass the MME with the new cuts and 10% in special education. I will take the 4 million savings. Other districts in the country and state have far better outcomes with less money. Plymouth Canton is always mentioned. The Michigan Department of Education even list all the expenses per district. Stop giving away the ship to the teachers--school board. We need leaders, not &quot;yes&quot; men/women. For being a town of compassionate liberals, there is a academic greediness. Community is the flagship for this greediness. The Pioneer play is another example that you can go to Community and still get the best of Pioneer too. Grab all the best for the 10% or even 1% in the town. OCCUPY THE AAPS!


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:27 a.m.

There is a waiting list because CHS figured out what their strengths were and they go out to all the middle schools in the spring and say &quot;here we are, this is what we are, this is why we are a good choice.&quot; Many times, the flood of applicants is because its suddenly fashionable and everyone else is applying. Gradually, the school ends up with students who truly want to be there. Even then, it might not be enough structure and some students switch back to their home schools. In my time, CHS was perceived as the school of burn-outs, flunkies and pregnant teens. Now they are perceived as being elite and greedy. I'm not sure how they can change that perception. I know I can't see past Pioneer looking like a factory and laughed at &quot;the best of Pioneer&quot;. Instead of pitting everyone's mis-perceptions against each other to decide cuts, the district would do better by taking a lesson from CHS. If Ann Arbor is now a school of choice for other districts, get out there in any way possible and convince people its their best choice.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:18 a.m.

say it plain, During the entire time I attended Community, I walked. Mapquest shows the distance as about 3 miles one way (and yes, it was uphill both ways). The city bus took money I didn't have, and a school bus ride home wasn't an option added until my Sr. year. I tried it a few times, but chose to go back to walking. When I said I would have sunk, I was bullied to the point where I barely attended Jr. High. I wasn't about to go through 4 more years of the same thing and the district still doing nothing about it. Once I was no longer harassed, I was able to focus on both my strengths and weaknesses academically. There is one thing that's really baffling me. You mentioned &quot;That the counseling staff at the big schools don't seem to be interested in or able to help kids much with getting the academic help they might need? &quot;. It sounds like a short coming of the bigger schools that needs to be dealt with. Are those schools just too big? Is the counseling staff skating by without doing their jobs? Also, you do realize that Pioneer and Huron students are also able to be dual enrolled and take advantage of what CHS has to offer? If it was changed so CHS students could no longer take classes at the other schools, those other students would be punished as well. (Skyline has that gawd-awful tri-mester system that makes it near impossible to go back and forth). I'm not sure how its greedy when that option is there for everyone.

say it plain

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

And really, to boot, @Darwinia, when I hear stories like yours about how you might have truly 'sunk' at the larger schools...*that's* when I feel more of @A Voice of Reason's 'displeasure', so to speak... how many kids at the big schools in town are *sinking* because they don't have the counseling help or the forum-leader help that you did?! Do you realize that there aren't often home-room type situations for these kids? That the counseling staff at the big schools don't seem to be interested in or able to help kids much with getting the academic help they might need? That we are enduring larger and larger class sizes yet spending extra to bus the CHS kids to their classes at the other schools to do the other stuff we spend money on to the detriment of 'helping' kids who need help? It would be nice if AAPS kids didn't have to win a lottery to get that help, but sometimes it seems like this is true? Why would advocates of the school be okay with that? It seems somehow...well...*un*seemly.

say it plain

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 11:35 p.m.

Thanks for that extra info @Darwinia... Just to be clear, I do *not* think that closing Community would be good to do! I just think that it would be nice to see it return to being what it used to be, an alternative school with an &quot;open&quot; approach. I think the lottery and the current rhetoric about &quot;superior student outcomes&quot; and so on has made it something other than that... I totally support the whole CR idea they have there as well...and think it would be appropriate for all CHS to do as you did, and not take classes/extra-curriculars at the comprehensive schools, but do CRs *instead* (as opposed to the current &quot;in addition to&quot;). I just think it is completely reasonable to make the kinds of arguments @A Voice of Reason was making about 'greediness' with regard to Community as it currently exists. You might get the demand for spots at CHS reduced to a much more 'manageable' number for the schools' capacities if students were limited to the offerings in the building, and AAPS would serve more of the people who most want to be there, like you all those years ago.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

As I keep looking at it? Ypsilanti and Willow Run are thinking of cutting WISD from their flag ship transportation department and handing it out to Trinity. Think they should do the same to Ann Arbor. Might as well cut the spokes and then work on the hub.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

A side note on getting into Community, my younger sibling didn't get in at first under the lottery system even though both older siblings went there. My child didn't get in and is pretty high up on the waiting list even though I went there. A lottery doesn't favor legacy nepotism either. Also, I was on the committee that reviewed and decided on the plans when Community was renovated and enlarged so more students could attend. The school had to be made accessible, and a lot of areas updated to be a high school instead of its original elementary school. Adding a parking structure behind the school was decided against due to the amount of time construction would take. It was also decided against due to safety concerns for patrolling it, and the overwhelming impact it would have on the neighborhood. The thought that plonking a for sale sign down = profit is naive at best, especially in this economy. The district has to look beyond just constantly cutting to what can be strengthened to draw and keep students in the district. Community's Community Resource program is one such thing which lessens the overhead costs at the same time.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

I am an alumni of Community and attended before the lottery system. My parents had nothing to do with getting me into the school as I knew I would sink in the factory schools like Pioneer. The very second that I could turn in an application for CHS I was in line to do so. CHS has academic expectations where students will be kicked out because students are responsible for themselves. There is no babysitting and coddling as it is an open campus but students are still expected to return for their scheduled classes. This allows the opportunity to utilize the entire city as a learning environment. I never set foot in Pioneer to do so but I did take a class at WCC and also received credit for working and volunteering. CHS has a community resource program where students are able to earn credit for things that interest them. I utilized it to where I was just short of double the credits needed to graduate. My forum leaders were great resources for info as they are no different from a homeroom in another school. I struggled with math, but found no shortage of help. I didn't go to an ivy league school or have very good test scores but the guidance counselor was able to help talk to the school I wanted to make sure I could get the academic assistance I needed from them. While I applied to 7 colleges to make sure I had a fall-back, I was accepted to all of them because I got &quot;at-risk&quot; help when I needed it.

say it plain

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:48 a.m.

Here's just another little tidbit about Community that makes it clear who &quot;they are for&quot; as it were ;-) This is from their current year back to school guide, the opening words of it, actually: &quot;Welcome to Community High School, a true leader in academic achievement and post secondary outcomes for students! CHS provides multiple opportunities to personalize your educational experience to better prepare you for your future education and career decisionmaking. The Faculty at Community High School is among the most expert and renowned in Michigan, producing alumni who are internationally recognized for their passion in their life's work. We are committed to 21st century education to foster teaching and learning in a small, relationship based environment, where instruction is rigorous and authentic. Community High School values independent learning and personal responsibility and we hold those expectations for the entire student body. At CHS, you will learn to balance our unique course offerings, while also engaging in the learning that comes from Community Resource classes and course work at local colleges and universities.&quot; Still surprised about the lack of &quot;achievement gap&quot;?! Wouldn't you, as, say, the parent of a child who is struggling in school think hmmm, this is the kind of place where everyone is doing fine (in their literature for the parents and students considering applying for the lottery, they actually list all the elite schools their graduates get into! no, really! and about how high their ACT scores are too!), I wonder how they handle a kid needing some serious help with their writing or their math, and I never planned on sending my kid to Princeton! We can talk about how it's lottery lol, but this reads like an entrance-exam magnet, doesn't it? Just another little oddness about the situation these days at that school, I think...

say it plain

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 5:07 a.m.

I wish someone had access to stats about how many CHS students take classes or play sports at the other high schools. I'd guess it is *far* higher than the numbers who go to CHS from the other schools for jazz or other classes. Far higher. Also, let's stop kidding ourselves about CHS. The achievement gap is lower in part, I'd guess (and some is surely due to the involvement required to get in, as others have pointed out), due to their other 'special feature' at CHS... that students/families sign a little pledge to abide by the guidelines and rules of the school. If you don't &quot;behave&quot;, they can kick you out. Do any of the comprehensive schools have that handy little deal going?! Kids at CHS should just not be allowed to take classes at the other schools imho, so that the kids who really need to or want to be there have a better 'chance' of getting in. That seems like such an easy fix...why is it so resisted? I think *that's* where the charges that @A Voice of Reason makes come in... it seems 'academic greediness'. and more than a little bit of hypocrisy. CHS was supposed to exist as a school chosing to do things differently. To *not* do that whole AP scene, yet kids can take APs at the other schools...hmm... To *not* do that whole varsity sports scene, yet kids can play at the other schools..hmmm... To *not* do big band/big production plays, etc...yet kids do the 'big' stuff at the big schools, and then float back to their cozy 'small' school where the money instead gets spent on the extra intensive close counseling attention of fixtures like &quot;forum&quot;. It's sort of blatant hypocrisy, imho, really...

A Voice of Reason

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

Statistics: Community White 75% Free reduced lunch 7% Huron White 45% 20% Pioneer White 61% 15% Skyline White 56% ??

David Paris

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

You're not being very reasonable. &quot;I am fighting for the kids who slip through the cracks.&quot; + &quot;Ask the teacher's how many at risk kids parents even show up for conferences.&quot; Obviously, you need to take your argument to the parents of at-risk kids, and stop calling the rest &quot;academically elite&quot;.

Townie Kid

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

@Voice: can you get some actual statistics from AAPS before you make these claims? I work with many high school students in extracurricular activities, and personally know quite a few from single-parent and low-income households who are currently attending CHS. Furthermore, I have seen stats that show that Community has the lowest achievement gap out of all of the district's high schools. (While this could certainly be connected to more parent involvement, I suspect that smaller school size is a factor too...fewer students &quot;fall through the cracks&quot; in a smaller community). Also, while students from CHS take advantage of some programs at the large high schools, many students from the large high schools take advantage of jazz, dance and academics and Community as dual enrollees...something to take into consideration.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 4:24 p.m.

@Voice, your &quot;I am guessing...&quot; comment lends no credibility and more importantly, you're just wrong. There's no doubt that many kids are at CHS because their parents have taken the initiative to get them in the lottery but initiative does not have an income level.

A Voice of Reason

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

Yes, check out the average income/academic level of the parents of the children who go there. I am guessing that 100% are college graduates and incomes are over $100K. Smart involved parents in this town get the best of public education for themselves and their children. I am fighting for the kids who slip through the cracks. I am just sad about the comments of &quot;everyone can go there&quot; it is a lottery. Ask the teacher's how many at risk kids parents even show up for conferences. Do you think they are thinking about putting their child's name on in a lottery? My last comment is that if you go to Community High School, you make a choice to go only there. Participating in sports or theater programs at other schools should not be allowed. I am sure there are kids on the waiting list who would appreciate the education as it stands there. The fact that this is being allow supports my either statement, &quot;taking the best of public education for themselves&quot;.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

While it is true that Community is a lottery and &quot;anyone&quot; can go there, let's be honest. We are always hearing that parents who are not involved in their child's education happens is one factor in issues with at-risk kids. Do we really think these same uninvolved parents are going to jump through the hoops to apply for the lottery and then figure out transportation, etc...So technically &quot;anyone&quot; can go there, but let's not kid ourselves.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

Community High students are selected randomly by lottery - not by elitism. At risk students have the same chances of attending as anyone else. A truly American approach.

Myriam Kleer

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:13 p.m.

Students that attend community do so by a lottery system. Anyone can go there, not the academically elite.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

Why not &quot;STREAMLINE&quot; the educational process in Ann Arbor? This means eliminating Community High School (We have 3 others) and a number of alternative educational buildings and teachers. We cannot afford all of the niche educational opportunities anymore unless they are self supporting. Also, School employee benefits could be cut to give more money to educate our children. Its a small price the educators would have to pay for our children.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 2:34 a.m.

I love the phrase: &quot;Its a small price the educators would have to pay for our children.&quot; Why should the educators have to pay to educate OUR children? Why shouldn't we pay to educate OUR children?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

XMO, LOL. Cut Community High? God, you Republicans just don't stop. We're talking 14 million dollars, I say get rid of most of the school board and target the legislature.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

&quot;niche educational opportunities&quot;?! So you're advocating for a &quot;one size fits all&quot; approach to our our schools? Yeah, that's gonna give you great results. Let's not forget what the overall goal is here.

Fred Geisler

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:37 p.m.

I find it ironic that the amount that needs to be cut from the school budget is almost exactly what would have been raised per year, if the 2009 school millage had passed. Some times saving money *here* costs a lot more *there*.

Katherine Williams Ganzel

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

I wasn't at the meeting, so I won't comment on what was discussed or whether it was accurately reflected in the article. I can only say that the image presented of concerned parents worried about how their children will be affected by the cuts to the programs they love squabbling with each other over the crumbs left from the legislature's defunding the public schools is sad. Just sad.

David Paris

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

Please read Swimmers post at 8:11am 11/15/11.

Chris Blackstone

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

Two numbers stand out 29 percent - that's the percent of salary that goes to retirement costs 783 - that's the number of school districts in Michigan. Regarding the first one, anyone think it's going to get smaller? Didn't think so. It has to, though, because the continued rise of that number is unsustainable. Retirement benefits are going to have to be cut for school districts to be able to survive. Regarding the second, it's ludicrous, ridiculous, and indefensible for Michigan to have that many school districts. Washtenaw County has 10 school districts, which means 10 superintendents, 10 HR departments, 10 departments of instruction, and so on. By making county-wide districts a significant number of administrative positions can be cut which immediately frees up money for instruction. However, that'll never happen because everyone wants to protect their own. Let's look at Virginia, a right-to-work state with county-wide school districts. It has 40 schools in the top 500 of Newsweek's ranking of America's Best High Schools (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> while Michigan has 4. Maybe we could learn something there. But we won't. We'll just keep throwing money at the problem when there is no evidence that increased per-pupil spending has a significant impact on student test scores, graduation rates, or college preparedness.


Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

We would be better off as a county if there was 1 school district in the whole county with 1 administration. It might hurt individual students, but if done right, the overall system would get better for all the students.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

I'd be willing to consolidate and share administrative resources with other districts. Don't forget that there are also 10 administration buildings to maintain, heat and cool. Plus 10 sets of teacher trainings, site licences for computers, and curricula to buy. 10 bus yards and sets of mechanics. 10 different unions to negotiate with. And the list goes on...

Hot Sam

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.

Except Chis:-)

Hot Sam

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

...back to my original point, reading all the other posts, no one seems to care...

Hot Sam

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

The last time I did the count on line, there were almost 560 districts, and almost 40 ISD's...without counting charters... with whatever &quot;factors&quot; reasonable people could come up with, I think we could get away with well under two hundred...

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

Keep in mind that of that 783, some 250 are charter schools, each considered its own district. That still leaves a lot, but whether consolidation makes sense or not depends on a lot of factors.

Hot Sam

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

Chris I regularly bring up the amount of districts fiasco as well as the money wasted in Lansing and especially Washington, and no one seems to care...

Ryan Bowles

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

I don't necessarily disagree with the need to consolidate, but this year's list of best high schools includes 13 from MI and only 8 from VA. Plus, VA uses a mostly local funding model- with property tax rates differing across counties by factors of 5 to 1 and more- and some of the school districts are absolutely horrendous with tiny budgets.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

&quot; During the same time, retirement costs have risen from 4 percent to the 29 percent projected for the 2013-14 school year. That's 29 cents for every $1 paid in salary, Allen said.If retirement costs had stabilized at the 16 percent rate it was at a few years ago, the district would be looking at nipping less than $2 million from its budget, Allen said. We wouldn't be here tonight if that were the case." Pay to play or self supporting athletics ? Kids suffer and parents take their kids to other school districts that will open themselves up as schools of choice. Cutting or dropping the arts, performing arts or music ? Kids suffer and again, parents take their kids to other school districts. The obvious choice is cutting admin but that won't do much because that budget is only 3% of the total. So what needs to be done ? Put the pink elephant sitting over in the corner on a diet. Demand that the elephant pay much more toward their retirement , get rid of step raises, get rid of double digit sick days, professional days, personal days etc. The teachers unions represent the bulk of the budget and they have taken minor cuts, now is the time to take major cuts, period. If teachers want to leave they can leave. Their are literally thousands of qualifed graduates waiting to take their positions if they leave. Good Day

Jack Panitch

Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 2:50 a.m.

Snoopdog: This is a problem created by Wall Street bankers, not teachers, and it has to be cured by legislators working with economists, not reactionaries working with keyboards. I'm pretty sure current hires go into the defined contribution plan and the Mackinac Center praised Ann Arbor for the steps it had taken to reduce health care costs. What you are suggesting is a &quot;race to the bottom.&quot; You first.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

You reap what you sow, and this is what you get when you elect a bunch of tax-cutters to the state legislature. This budget cutting will continue until someone in Lansing realizes that schools actually require $$ to operate and their constituents demand a better deal for their children's education.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

I was there. Sad to say, Ms. Miller's report seems written more from an attention grabbing POV than an accurate representation of the feelings of the audience. I went to speak in support of athletics, found many in agreement and none advocating making them self-supporting. Maybe that happened on the other side of the room, or after I left, but it certainly was not a focus point. Nor was closing the three alternative high schools. Slashing admin, yes. I am disappointed by this article. Its focus seems to be poking the hornet's nest rather than reporting the more boring truth -that the general feeling and agreement of the meeting was that we need not to fight amongst ourselves over which areas feel the cuts first, but to band together to protect all of our programs and fight the state for more funding/more options to secure local funding. If we cut some areas this year, it doesn't preserve the other areas, just delays them for the next year. Current funding prediction sees no end in sight for the cuts -it's not a case of cutting $14m this year and then we're OK.

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

As with most organizations these days public or private, is that the top end is always top heavy. Want to cut anything, I suggest you start with the school board and state legislators as 'Steve in Mi' suggests. Stop making our kids (and teachers) pay.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

The school board is paid almost nothing; it's basically a volunteer position.

Steve in MI

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

Here's a suggestion for cost savings: fire the state legislators who cut school funding to finance tax cuts on corporate profits. I distinctly remember being promised a jobs boom after Gov Snyder's last round of tax reductions. They weren't aimed at any of us, but their advocates promised that the ensuing job creation would be more than worth the trouble. Instead, the only major job growth we've seen has been from the (federally bailed-out) auto companies, and my kids' school has to give up $14 million MORE in student programs. Seems pretty clear to me where the cuts need to come from.


Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

Steve...sorry to rain on your parade but Snyders tax cut don't go into effect until next year. So you would not see any job growth yet.

Peter Jameson

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 6 p.m.

I blame those big FAT CATS who always take my money right out from under me.