Some 'clean up' needed on approved Ann Arbor Public Schools budget for fall
Danielle Arndt | AnnArbor.com file photo
The Ann Arbor Board of Education may be clearing up some confusion — and cleaning up some numbers — on the 2013-14 budget approved last week at its next regular meeting.
District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said there are a few items, from administrators' perspectives, that need some clarification. She declined to comment on what those items were, stating she didn't know where the finance department is on double checking the numbers and where it is in discussions with the board president.
School board President Deb Mexicotte said after having about a week to reflect, she has been notified that "in the end, we may not have had everything in the proper columns."
The piece the board may need to revisit is seventh hour. Mexicotte said she has been informed there may have been an arithmetic error and the board may have included the $100,000 savings expected to be achieved by charging students for seventh hour in both the list of expenditure cuts and the list of revenue enhancements when the board was adding up the budget toward the end of the June 12 meeting.
Last week's meeting ended in a harried fashion, as trustees worked to crunch numbers on the fly, while they pulled items from the budget that they previously agreed to cut. At one point during the last half hour of the meeting, Mexicotte called the process "sausage making at its best." The majority of board members were determined to pass a balanced budget, no matter what, by the time the meeting adjourned.
The board removed four items from its June 12 agenda and rescheduled them for the next meeting on June 26, as well as extended its meeting past the midnight deadline four different times to ensure the board could vote and approve the budget. Mexicotte spent about 10 minutes at the lectern helping Chief Financial Officer Nancy Hoover sort through which of the proposals the board actually voiced it wanted to keep after its lengthy and intricate discussion.
The vote took place at about 1:50 a.m. Thursday, June 13 and was passed 6-1 with Vice President Christine Stead dissenting.
The meeting then adjourned but had to be reconvened less than a minute later so the board could vote on the 18-mill non-homestead property tax that goes along with the budget and authorizes the district to levy taxes for operational expenses.
Mexicotte said the seventh-hour savings arithmetic error is the only potential blunder she is aware of.
"If it ended up in the wrong column, ... it doesn't mean it won't change the (other) numbers slightly," she said. "What I think Nancy will do in that case — if that is indeed the case — is she'll bring a budget adjustment for our approval, as we do several times a year anyway. ... But we're still re-looking at the numbers and double checking."
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com file photo
When asked about whether any of the arithmetic issues could have been prevented if the board had not been determined to pass the budget at that late hour, Mexicotte said no. She maintained it was important that the board set a number of directions on June 12, "so that the staff could know and the community could know what we were planning and what we were moving forward with" before school dismissed for the summer.
"We wanted to pass it on the 12th so that if we were to think about something incorrectly or change our minds, or if we were to receive some new information and needed to make amendments, then we had that opportunity on the 26th," she said. School boards have until June 30 to pass a balanced budget in Michigan.
Mexicotte added the board made a budget adjustment last June after the 2012-13 budget was passed because it learned the district would be receiving more revenue from the state, so the board amended the budget to not cut counselors. She also said any budget, including a household budget, is fluid and has to be tweaked.
"Sometimes mistakes happen or come back because of additional information," she said. "... I wouldn't say it is unusual to work through a difficult issue — and there is nothing more difficult than the budget right now — and have to revisit it. Something as complicated as this, something as hands-on as this, something as intricate as this — you may have points of confusion, but if we're talking about one item (seventh hour) of our more than 15 we were looking at, then, one might argue, that's not really that bad."
Stead, who described Wednesday's budget process as "shenanigans" and dubbed the outcome "irresponsible," said she feels there are a few things the board could have done differently on June 12 to prevent the need for a lot of clarification.
She said in hindsight, even though she did vote in favor of extending the meeting any longer the last two times the motion was made, she wishes the board would have taken just a few extra minutes before voting to "go back through the overarching themes and say, 'OK, did we end up where we wanted to in that category?'" Stead said going through the final count of the number again also would be beneficial.
Despite these sentiments, when asked if waiting until the June 26 meeting to vote on a budget would have been better or would have resulted in better direction to the administration, Stead said she wasn't sure. She added passing any budget — even though she voted "no" on this one — sooner rather than later is generally more beneficial for all involved because it allows time for implementation and communication with the community.
She said specifically that it was good to be able to tell families before school let out that there will be transportation for high schoolers in the fall. The board had heard from families who said they planned to look elsewhere to educate their students if the board decided to cut busing.
Stead said one item she feels was botched in the original process was the Pioneer High School theater technician position. Stead said she initially moved to keep the position and she is not precisely sure how the decision evolved to have the board decide to keep the position but shift the funding responsibility to the Pioneer Theater Guild. Trustee Andy Thomas made this proposal, but Stead said when she vocalized her support it was not intended to be for removing the position from the general fund payroll.
She said she will be seeking some clarification on this piece to ensure all of the trustees voted how they thought they voted on the theater technician position.
Mexicotte said: "Any trustee can bring any part of this back ... just to make sure we did what we thought we did."
Board Treasurer Glenn Nelson said he personally does not have anything he would want to bring back, but he would view it as "completely professional and appropriate" if some trustees did desire to do this.
"If anyone does have any question, I would expect that they do bring it back," Nelson said. "It is very important for us as a team — as board and administration — to be very clear on what our joint intent was and is moving forward."
Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at email@example.com.
Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 8:58 p.m.
Can someone please clarify what "charging for a seventh hour" means? I did not go to high school in Michigan, nor do I have children that attend school. It just struck me as very odd and I wanted a clarification before I reacted further.
Wed, Jun 26, 2013 : 2:05 a.m.
High School has 6 required hours (classes), and students have the option to take 7. This means instead of their day being 7:40 - 2:25 it is 7:40 - 3:25. Many students who take a language AND a fine art (band, orchestra, choir...) need 7th hour to fit it all in. Next year, students at Pioneer and Huron will have to pay $100/semester for 7th hour. Skyline is on a trimester system, so they aren't affected. The other high schools are not included but I am not sure why. I am also not sure if there will be a fee for Community Students who attend Pioneer for certain classes.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.
I will say that I am shocked that it is not legal for schools to not provide those things. I agree we need an accounting of the "slush fund" to see what is really happening.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:49 p.m.
This was meant to be in reply to the discussion above about basic school supplies like pencils, etc.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.
Why dont they just raise taxes to cover the short fall. On the bright side we still have art all around town and we still provide food for the city councel at meetings.
J. A. Pieper
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:33 p.m.
Harry B, I pay enough right now and do not want to give AAPS any more of my $$$$. They are not wise stewards of our tax dollars as it is, so more? I will vote NO on everything they ask for, and encourage everyone I know to do the same.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.
I think it's going to be more than just "which column did we put it in" regarding charging a fee fro 7th hour classes. See http://www.michigan.gov/documents/freetextbooksmaterialsandchargingfees_122776_7.pdf for the Michigan Department of Education guidelines on this question. In short, Michigan public schools "may not make charges for any required or elective course, such as for general or registration fees, course fees, and/or textbook and school supplies". This also calls into question the AAPS practice of giving 0.5 credits in PE to students on high school sports teams which have "pay to play" requirements or imposing "pay to participate" fees on students in band, choir, drama or other classes where participation in rehearsals and performances outside school hours is part of the grade. Schools may charge fees to participate, or they may give academic credit. They may not do both during the regular school year. Mike Flanagan, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, sent out a reminder on this score in September, 2011. It can be found at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Student_Fees_and_Costs_362733_7.pdf Even if AAPS were to argue in the inevitable lawsuit that they should be allowed to charge for 7th hour because it's "extra" and conducted outside the normal school day, I can't see any judge approving charging most AAPS HS students for their 13th and 14th 0.5 credit classes each year and provide their own transportation home while Skyline students regularly take 15 0.5 credits per school year for free, with transportation provided.
Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.
AMOC, I even double checked my kids transcript, just to be sure. It does say PE waiver, 0.0 credits. How do kids take only 5 classes? Are they not required to be full time? Unless its a trimester system, I don't understand how this is allowed.
Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.
TTBO- Moving Skyline to a semester schedule would indeed provide more nearly equal opportunities across high school programs, in my opinion. As would changing all the comprehensive high schools to trimesters while leaving the smaller alternative programs on semesters so that they can continue to match up better with our local colleges and universities. As for "academic credit for sports", I was either misinformed by a high school staff member or misunderstood my informant when discussing this in reference to schedule conflicts for my HS aged sons. Because I was told that it was not uncommon to use sports credits in order to make sure kids who took only 5 academic credits / semester could graduate on time.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:41 p.m.
So AMOC, if Skyline is changed to semesters, would that satisfy the inequity? I would not be surprised to see that happen, though perhaps not next year. I also would not be surprised to see the seventh hour "disappear" next year. I'm not advocating for it, I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised. I also would not be surprised to see many electives eliminated by the district, to make decisions by students during course selections easier. The BOE has already suggested they may cut underenrolled (less popular) classes. I am just expressing my opinion, not advocating either way. Also, Since Pioneer and Skyline are both serviced by AATA, is there some reason those who can get to Pioneer, and therefore the AATA bus route, could not take the AATA to Skyline if they really want 15 classes per year? Same for Huron? Hostility is not necessary down voters, I'm just asking. Feel free to chime in.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 9:01 p.m.
TTBO - The point that I am trying to make is that the district is providing dramatically unequal opportunities to students at Skyline vs. Huron, Pioneer, AATech, Community and Clemente due to providing only 12 0.5 credit class opportunities within a normal school day at most of the high schools vs. providing 15 o.5 credit class opportunities at Skyline within a normal school day and school year. And to those who have argued that any student could transfer to Skyline, transfer students do not get transportation. Up until this year, no transportation was provided for students after 7th hour and charging for a 7th hour at most high schools will only increase the inequity. That is, if the district persists in trying to charge for 7th hour classes or for enrolling in a 7th class on-line (which they were already doing as of this past year). The ACLU has already indicated a willingness to take the school district to court about this issue, which will cost MUCH more than the $100,000 AAPS expects to collect for the 7th hour classes.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.
AMOC : AAPS does not give 0.5 credits for participating in high school sports, they waive one semester of the PE requirement for those student athletes. From the AAPS student services guide: "A waiver of one term of required physical education shall not be construed as reducing the total number of credits needed for graduation as specified in this policy."
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 6:08 p.m.
@AMOC, AAPS does not give 0.5 credits for those on a sports team. They give a waiver for taking the additional PE credit. I have my sons transcript, and this is very clear. Only a waiver, no credit given. Doesnt matter now, since they no longer require the extra PE credit. Also, can you clarify the point you are trying to make about seventh hour vs. Skyline and classes falling within the normal school day? Skyline classes are within a normal school day, and with trimesters, 15 0.5 credits fall within the school day. The normal school day for semesters is 12 0.5 credits, otherwise 80% of the district would not be full time. Summer school costs extra as well. I'm trying to understand your point, so perhaps you could clarify.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.
Looks like the links did not come through. Please try: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Student_Fees_and_Costs_362733_7.pdf http://www.michigan.gov/documents/freetextbooksmaterialsandchargingfees_122776_7.pdf
$5,000 is just pennies
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.
Have we heard anymore from the AAAA group lately? Their silence speaks loudly to their lack of being part of the solution to the AAPS budget issues. As was stated earlier, why does the management teams of our schools need a union? Our leaders need to lead and not wait until the dust settles to become part of the solution.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.
She got the wrong answer and did not show her work: C-
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 9:39 p.m.
They used calculators too. O my ! Did not use their trusty computers. O my ! Its all in my head these numbers are.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.
they all went to college. that is a zero.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.
What is record of total spending by AAPS over the past few years? Has their overall spending declined? This stuff about budgeting is a good way to deceive the Public about real spending for the Public Schools.
Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.
Mr. Kuhlman: DonBee's link is a good way to find the audited financials and a few other items, as well. But there's another tool you should know about. If you go to the main AAPS web-page an icon loads at the top right of the page entitled Budget and Salary/Compensation -- Transparency Reporting. If you click on that icon, you will arrive at a list of state-mandated transparency links. The audited financials are under a link entitled "Audit Report." There's a whole host of additional important material selectable from a drop-down menu on the left-hand side of the page. Check it out.
Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.
Mr. Kuhlman - Budgets (total dollars, all sources) are up, with 1 exception. The tech bond last year was a big boost to the available dollars - no it can't be used for salaries, but it removes items from the general fund that allows more focus of the general fund on salaries. The audited financials are buried on the AAPS website. If you don't know where to look, they are hard to find. The link is: http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/aaps/admin.bussvcs/documents_and_publications Mr. Panitch - The salary increase budgeted for 2013-2014 is 2.67 million dollars. So long as salaries keep going up automatically, then we will see annual budget cuts. Structurally the existing contracts are unsound. Yes, the MSPERS is an issue, some of that can be fixed at the state level by fixing retirement ages, means testing for people under the age of say 60, and removing the ability to buy years in the system or making the cost more realistic. None of this is on the table right now as far as I can see. As to Foundation Allowance, with the Durant Settlement, the ISD wide special education millages, the sinking funds, and the wider use of bond funds, as well as districts spinning libraries out into their own entity with their own taxes, most districts have outpaced inflation in terms of total dollars available to spend. None of the items I listed - save bond funds - existed in 1994.
Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.
Where are audited financial statements to be found? Has the number of students served by AAPS declined over recent years? If it has, AAPS spending should also decline in a reasonable world. Retirement costs are part of the cost of doing business and they should not be dismissed or used as excuse for very poor financial performance by AAPS. If retirement costs are too and benefits to lavish, admistrators and the Board of Education only have themselves to blame
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.
DonBee -- Let's check our numbers. What I'm getting is that total spending peaked in FY 2010, and for 2011 and 2012 it has gone back down to the level it was in 2007. I get this from the audited financials. Also, Mr. Kuhlman, I'm pretty sure both DonBee and I would agree that if we are talking about the money that the schools can use to pay teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. and pay for basic supplies, the purchasing power of these dollars is being undercut by the MSPERS contribution for retired employees, as well as the state's failure to index the foundation allowance for inflation. What this means is that the purchasing power of a 2013 dollar is worth about 62 cents compared to 1994. We have to downsize to keep pace with the dwindling purchasing power of our operating funds.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.
Mr. Kuhlman - Spending is up year over year. Only one time has the school district had less to spend and they dipped into the fund balance to keep from actually spending less.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.
Whether as a parent at Spiritus Sanctus Academy, a substitute teacher at Roeper in Bloomfield Hills, or a regular teacher at Notre Dame, Harper Woods, I "met" the lunchroom supervisor, and it was myself! . When we switched over to Ann Arbor Public Schools because we could no longer pay taxes AND tuition, one of the first things I noticed was staff EVERYWHERE. "Sanctus" ran a K-8 school with a total of 8 adults in entire building, plus a visiting music teacher. I realize that regulations require that public schools have more than that. BTW, in 2011, for $2,700, which was reduced slightly by a scholarship, we got a full day of kindergarten, class size of 12, teacher finishing her masters in teaching reading. Daughter went in not reading at all, came out reading at fourth grade level.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.
I guess I am not surprised. A 2 AM finish, with people adding and subtracting on the fly, almost always ends up with errors. Why they did not use survey monkey or another survey product to get a polling of the board either at the beginning of the meeting or prior to is beyond me. Also I am not surprised that almost none of the items suggested by anyone other than the administration made the final list of items for consideration. The public was consulted, but it was purely bread and circuses. I suspect the superintendent input will be dealt with in the same fashion. Yes, there are more cuts coming - there is a $2.67 Million increase in salaries for 2013-4, and that is smaller than the increase for 2014-5, so expect that as soon as this round is put to bed, there will be the beginning of another. The budget is structurally unstable, and nothing that the board does will fix that until the structural problems are fixed. Redistricting will help, taking a chain saw to the administration will help, but the contracts that exist do not reflect reality. The first to go has to be the AAAA contract, there is no need for the management to hide behind a union contract. This board is too timid to do the real work that needs to be done and wants to be everything to everyone. Lem Barney, one of the football greats recently said that football will be gone in 20 years, because it is to violent to children's bodies and brains. If the board wanted to be progressive, they would end the most expensive sport in the district and focus "modern" sports (before you criticize as a couch potato, I was a starter for 8 years). The wind turbine will be a symbol, just like the $5,000 food budget for the board was a symbol, and will be used against the board in any future millage election. Killing the boondoggle before it happens will serve the board well in the future.
$5,000 is just pennies
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.
Eliminating high school football is not the answer to the budget woes. It costs the most because it has the most student athletes participating. It also provides the most ticket revenue for any sport. Football provides an outlet for about 100 students athletes per high school. BTW, Lem Barney altered his original statement. He was quoted the next day as saying, "I don't want to discourage young men from their love of the game, I just want the game to be safe." Extracurricular sports are an important part of the entire high school experience and should not be eliminated.
Stephen Lange Ranzini
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:34 a.m.
Here is something else for the school board to consider at their June 26 board meeting, tell the City of Ann Arbor thanks but no thanks for the $1.4 million windmill they want to build at Pioneer High School using the federal Government's grant money. "the developer ... is willing to guarantee the turbine will produce a minimum of 66,000 kWh of electricity per year. " That is worth $6,600. Maintenance costs on windmills are substantial, and this boondoggle will chew up that $6,600 for sure. The project would lose money if not for the developer's guarantee to indemnify the schools for any losses. But the school staff time spent on this boondoggle isn't free. The staff should focus their limited bandwidth on some more productive energy savings projects (@DonBee has a list with some suggestions to consider). This will lower energy usage and lower expenditures freeing up money for other priorities.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.
Most of the liberal democrat party politicians in town are in on the joke about the alternative energy windmill project at Pioneer. That is their way of falsely claiming they are environmentalists while rewarding their liberal special interest friends. Neat.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.
These funds should be used to keep teachers in place period.
Stephen Lange Ranzini
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.
Here is a tweak in the budget for the AAPS board to consider, restore the 30 teacher positions they eliminated and the special education and teaching classroom support staff they eliminated by instead eliminating the $4.5 million expenditure they approved in the budget which will be spent from the building operations discretionary account. In an era of tight finances the school board should decide ALL line item expenses and how the money should be spent down to the penny! This is a basic principle of line item budgeted and zero based budgeting. Nothing should be left to discretion and certainly not a $4.5 million expenditure. If the choice is between paying for trips to Cedar Point and pizza parties or more teachers who would argue for fewer teachers? But, maintaining ANY discretionary funds essentially chooses these fripperies over teachers. Of course this will require the PTOs and perhaps generous individual and corporate donors to step up through the education foundation to help truly needy students and worthwhile causes more, or require the superintendent to make the case to the AAPS Board for specific items previously paid for from discretionary funds that ought to still be funded, but so be it!
J. A. Pieper
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:26 p.m.
One of my former principals totally misused the discretionary funds supplied to the school, it was totally embarrassing to me. I can see serious questions about this fund, and if this continues, its use should be documented to the board by each and every building, and then published on the AAPS web page. We were given Christmas gifts every year through use of this fund, and when i reported it to Balas, NOTHING was done about it. I know there is some specific state requirement that the schools supply what is needed as basics for educating children. Hence, the schools no longer supply tissue, and we ask parents to donate such items.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.
I think it is reasonable to ask families to provide things like: writing utensils, paper, folders, gym shoes, appropriate gym clothes. Not reasonable: science lab supplies, biology lab supplies, tools for woodshop/metal working, etc. It doesn't go by what we may think is reasonable, but what the law (and the class action suits against school districts) have laid out.
The Infinite Jester
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.
discretionary funds also pay for things such as lab materials and other science equipment. should students be expected to buy their own chemicals to use in a class?
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.
TTBO- See my post further down for the Michigan Department of Education guidelines about school supplies. It is true that schools are required to provide students with basic supplies if their parents do not for any reason. This is usually handled pretty well at the AAPS elementary schools I've been in, but I've never seen any provision made for school supplies in the middle and high schools. The majority of the discretionary fund has been used in the past to fund district-wide consultants like PEG and the Tripod / Professional Learning Community effort, to provide food and drink for staff meetings and evening events like School Reading Nights or public forums on hiring the last Superintendent, and as slush funds for AAPS building administrators. Some of that last category does get used to buy school supplies, copy paper and toner, and provide rewards to students who behave well as part of the implementation of Positive Behavior Support in this district. Some administrators use their funds very responsibly to support and improve the entire school community. Some have used them to hold illegal weekly pizza parties for students from a particular ethnic group. Some use these funds to cover some field trip expenses when neither the students and families nor the school's PTO can meet that need. The wide variety and very large total amount of this "superintendent's discretionary fund" show why AAPS is long overdue in moving to a line-item, building-by-building, zero-based budget.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.
While I send my kids with any and all supplies they need, I believe that I read on one of these forums that it is illegal for schools to ask parents to bring in supplies, or expect them. Thy can distribute a list of "suggested supplies", but they cannot require supplies. They must provide them. I think a parent sued the district because supplies were expected at one point. He won. I cannot remember the details. Does anyone have more info they can share?
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.
The discretionary funds also foot the bills for lots of staff food and parties, as well as any extra goodies administrators want for themselves!
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.
My child's school has asked for supplies to be brought in on a voluntary basis. In middle school they get extra credit, which I kind of question, but whatever.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.
Is the discretionary fund what pays for pencils/paper/scissors, etc that the kids use? When we started in AAPS with our oldest child, I was shocked that I did not get a supply list of pencils, paper, etc to bring on the first day. When I talk to the people I work with, they still need to buy those things for their kids. If the discretionary fund is truly paying for these items, I think it would be totally reasonable to ask parents to bring 1-2 dozen pencils, 2-3 folders, 1 box of crayons, paper, etc on the first day. Now I know people will say "What about families that can't afford it", well I would say if you are on free/reduced lunch, then the school or PTO can provide it, otherwise bring your own. I think it would be very helpful to know if this is in the discretionary fund and how much it costs, as it could lead to significant cost savings by having families bring their own.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.
The discretionary budget at the building pays for pencils, paper, workbooks . . . These aren't luxury items. Basic supplies are in the building budgets, not the big board budget.