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Posted on Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Washtenaw County schools will see decreases in special education funds despite millage renewal

By Kyle Feldscher

Despite passing the special education millage renewal passing by a large margin earlier this month, local school districts still will see a drop in reimbursements for special education in 2011-12.

The Washtenaw Intermediate School District will reimburse districts 73 percent of their special education costs next year, down from 77 percent in 2010-11.

However, the funding cut increases in 2012-13, when the reimbursement rate is expected to fall to 56 percent, according to Ann Arbor school board trustee Glenn Nelson.

According to a presentation made to the board of education, the WISD will take in $77.51 million in revenue in 2011-12, but will spend about $89.93 million, with all but about $6.3 million spent on special education.

The $12.42 million gap in funding will be filled by using the WISD’s fund balance, commonly referred to as a rainy day fund.

“They’re largely holding that reimbursement rate close to the same level as this year, given what’s happening in the state, that’s a big help to us,” Nelson said. “In fiscal year 2013, there is no reserve to be depleted.”

The WISD fund balance currently sits at about $14 million, and about $2.5 million would remain in 2012-13.

Nelson said the significant drop in funds comes from a combination of grant funds ending, the funding of programs like the Widening Advancements for Youth, Early College Alliance and the International Baccalaureate program and a loss of one-time funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The drop in reimbursements from the WISD means local school districts will have to commit more of their general funds toward federal and state-mandated special education programs.

The hit to the WISD and Washtenaw County school districts would have been worse if the special education millage renewal did not pass on May 3. The special education millage provides about $14 million annually to local school districts.

AAPS interim superintendent Robert Allen said school districts would still have to offer the special education services, despite the lack of reimbursement coming from the WISD.

“The obligation and expenditures will not decline,” he said. “The impact will be on the general fund when that revenue and the reimbursements continue to decline from the WISD.”

Board president Deb Mexicotte said she believes the fact that the WISD knew this drop off in funding was coming and actually asked for a decrease in the special education millage renewal was a mistake.

Mexicotte was the lone no vote on the resolution of support for the budget that the Ann Arbor school board passed Wednesday because she said the WISD decided to ask for less funds with the same millage rate instead of asking for the same funds with an increased millage rate.

“Not only are we spending down the reserve but we knew that this is what would happen, even with the overwhelming support we ended up having for the millage renewal,” she said. “This was a missed opportunity.”

Nelson said the WISD was concerned about going to voters with a higher millage rate due to the failure of the school enhancement millage in 2009 and other taxes since that point.

“Yes, we chose the more conservative route this time,” Nelson said. “You could argue the fact that we were living in 2009 when it was 2011.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Sun, Jun 5, 2011 : 11:20 p.m.

As a staff member for the schools [special ed hourly staff], I can't help but feel even more discouraged. I rallied for the millage renewal, only to see news like this. It seems like the little people always get the shaft, and not just the students either. I put my own money back in to be able to do my job the way AAPS/WISD wants me to. I love my job, and I'm good at it. News like this makes me feel I need to get out of public education fast.

zip the cat

Tue, May 31, 2011 : 6:29 p.m.

71 votes 5 no votes We win,you 5 wa wa wa

Greg Gunner

Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:02 a.m.

This is just another case of a school district fearing the worst and accepting the less worse. Had the WISD asked for enough millage to fully fund the special education programs, they feared voters would turn them down. The question becomes do we want to provide an education for our special needs students, and are we willing to pay what it costs to deliver such services. It appears that once again the politicians have decided to mandate services and failed to fund them. As a result, the local districts will be forced to use their local funding, which has already been cut to the bone and beyond by our "leadership" in Lansing to fund a program mandated by the federal and state government. Another case of you must do this, but we are not going to give you the funds to do what we mandate. As for those who claim, I've got mine (a free public education/subsidized college tuition/and free public education for their children)and I shouldn't have to pay for yours. Your real choice is to educate our youth or deal with the problems an uneducated and unemployed youth bring to the streets. It is our duty to educate our youth, whether it is my child, yours, or the neighbor child down the street. Failure to adequately educate our young and provide them well-paying jobs (not minimum wage Rick Snyder jobs) will result in a failed society. And we will ultimately pay the price of failing to provide our youth with the same opportunites we had. Greg


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 2:16 a.m.

Greg - Since the court decision, the state has had to provide more money to support special education. This year according to the AAPS budget (which is wrong, but it is the best available document) the state increased funding for Special Education for AAPS by $800,000.00 to $12,620,000.00. WISD chipped in $20,120,000 up from $1,320,000 from 2010. So the total funding from outside sources for the 2010-2011 school year increased by over $2,000,000.00 from 2009-2010. This money went only to Special Education. In addition there was some Federal Money and some Grant money not in the budget document. I find it interesting that on page 13 of the approved budget, the money from the WISD covers all of the cost of special education. So the state money seems to be in excess. I KNOW this is wrong, but it is what the budget says. So, I don't think the state is shirking its responsibility.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

AAPS Board members see the recent slight uptick in tax collections and perceive it as blood in the water, economic recovery done and game on for tax rate increases. What they let slip is that services are not reimbursed from WISD at 100%, hoping this was a surprise to many that will support a perceived underfunding of AAPS. However, it is nothing new that the reimbursement rate is not 100% or that there can be significant year-to-year variability in the rate. The other fact that they didn't let slip is that the school districts throughout the county together help set the reimbursement rate, so in bemoaning the trajectory of the rate they are complaining about a decision regarding 2011-12 and 2012-13 rates in which they participated. The school districts in the remainder of Washtenaw County have taken their haircut due to the economic downturn, and tightened their fiscal management greatly. These districts have had to understand the present necessity of focusing on the principal mission, namely classroom education, and maximize their operational efficiencies. Meanwhile, AAPS continues with facilities renovations that are not germane to the core educational mission (Pioneer athletic facilities, Community Rec and Ed who litter our mailboxes instead of going green and paperless). Implying that WISD has inappropriate mission creep in the midst of tough economic times with programs such as the International Baccalaureate may be true, but ultimately seems like the pot calling the kettle black.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:12 p.m.

snoopdog is incorrect in stating that teachers have received pay increases. Most are making less money than two years ago due to give-backs for insurance and delays in the step increases you refer to. The A2 superintendency, though, there's a giant pay increase. Is misinformation like snoopdog's dangerous, or do these comments simply not matter, readers?


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 2:17 a.m.

I just checked the 2010-2011 budget that the school board for AAPS passed (which is out of date and has a number of errors in it). There is a set aside of $1,940,000 for step increases in the budget that was approved in November for teachers. I wonder if this is also an error in the budget.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

justcary - Be careful on what you post as well. There are 10 districts in the county. Not all districts have done the same things. Some have made step increases available, others have deferred them. Some have stopped annual raises, some have not. Some have capped health care, some have not. I bit of research will show you which are which.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 5:08 p.m.

We all pay for education because it's American; and because we all live in this community where we all benefit from educated citizens living next door, not impoverished dropouts. I don't drive a car; should I have lower taxes because I don't use roads? I never commit crimes; should I be paying for courts and police? I have fire insurance; should I pay for a fire department? Can someone please zip the cat?


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

" I don't drive a car; should I have lower taxes because I don't use roads?" You do. How much have you paid in gas tax last year?

zip the cat

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

And the school funding circus keeps on a rolling Keep bleeding me dry and nickel and dime me to death with your out of control school spending and I will donate my estate to a university and then you will get ZERO taxes. People who have never had kids in schools or those who are retired should be exempt from school funding. If all you goodie two shoes want your little darlings to have a top notch education then you and only you can open up your wallets and pay. Try living on a fixed budget with all these knee jerk tax increases. ruffell my feathers a few more times and I will cut off the flow of funds on my end


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

Dear government: Please no longer collect taxes from me for Social Security and Medicare as I do not currently benefit from these items. Please instead collect my share for these items from "zip the cat." While I recognize that this additional expenditure will decrease the fantastic estate that zip might then donate to a university, I am willing to accept the consequences. Thanks, A2Reality

Jake C

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

"Keep bleeding me dry and nickel and dime me to death with your out of control school spending and I will donate my estate to a university and then you will get ZERO taxes." Funny how I usually hear rhetoric like this coming from people who barely have an estate, let alone one worth donating to a University. Do you usually base your charitable contributions and estate planning on spite?


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

"Ruffle" is a word I hope is covered in the schools he doesn't want to pay for.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:35 p.m.

Nah, Meg, zip doesn't need anything. ZIP WILL CUT OFF THE FLOW OF FUNDS ON HIS END. Seriously, zip, why do you think you should be exempted from funding schools any more than I should be exempted from funding the military? It's the same argument--I don't "use" the military (even though I do benefit) and you don't "use" public schools (even though you do benefit). So what makes you so special that your feathers should never be ruffled and your wallet should never be impacted? Because you certainly DO benefit from an educated society.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

I'm sure that will work well when you need educated people to care for you in your declining years. Social contract. We all benefit from educating children.

Martin Church

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

This is why I said we need to do away with the WISD. It is just another clog in the system that drains the funds. it is time to do one of two things merge all school districts into one unit and have the citizens hold that unit accountable or restructure the system so the local school districts report are truely controled by the people using them. That means vouchers. We have been burned by the WISD several times and we are still to stupid to learn. Education begins in the home with the parents. Not the schools.

John B.

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.

Hey look, something shiny! Over there! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Deb Mexicotte said: "Yes, we chose the more conservative route this time," Nelson said. "You could argue the fact that we were living in 2009 when it was 2011." Get a clue Deb, no one is making more money than they were two years ago except teachers that have gotten step raises. My pay was cut in early 2009 and with higher insurance costs/gas prices and overall general inflation, the average Washtenaw county taxpayer is worse off now than they were two years ago. You folks are so out of touch it is just amazing ! Good Day

Rob Hamada

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

People who voted for the tax increase should feel stupid. If you look at HISTORY, every time a local, state, or federal government asks for a tax increase to "solve the budget problem" they come back later asking for more money to "solve the budget problem" that they supposedly solved with the last tax increase. People who blame democrats, republicans, conservatives, or progressives are really small minded and missing the bigger picture. They usually do. They cry about how much the children need to services and without the money the children will not get the services they need. That is a bunch of crap! It's about there ideology or political opinions. School districts and the people who work for them have a sense of Union entitlement. They feel that everybody owes them something, pension, health care, tenure, etc. They won't allow people ,who think differently than they do, to be creative in the classroom to solve problems. The bottom line is that there is a feeling of entitlement within the education community. The feeling that they don't have to live within a budget or play by the same rules as every other tax payer. Don't get me wrong, there are really some good people that work in education. The problem is the Union leadership (who create that sense of entitlement for their employees/members and pit them against employers) at all levels and the politicians who think they have any sort of knowledge on how to balance a budget or run a business. The bottom line is that school districts need to be run like businesses. If you don't think that school districts and governments are businesses then you are very misguided. Just because you don't make a "profit" or are "non-profit" doesn't mean you shouldn't run like a business. Businesses, and everything else for that matter, have a bottom line budget. If the business goes over that budget they go broke. In your home, if you spend more than you take in you are br


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

You mention "HISTORY." Tell me why Unions came to be.

John B.

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 7:02 p.m.

School districts and government should be run exactly like businesses? I think not. The whole reason for having a government is to provide for the common good, in order to have a civilized society, not anarchy. I don't want a division of ExxonMobil running my local government (which is why Snyder's takeover of local goverments is so disgusting, and against everything our nation stands for), or a subsidiary of GE running my children's schools, thank you very much.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

sallyxyz The students you see getting off busses from other districts are actually WISD students. WISD rents classrooms in local districts and staffs it with its own teachers and therapists. WISD provides direct services to students whose needs cannot be accommodated in their local districts. Some of these students attend High Point School and some, especially those who do not need a nurse in the building at all times, go to classrooms located within other districts so that the students are in the least restrictive environment possible. Ann Arbor has students who attend WISD classrooms. Ann Arbor or the other districts where these classrooms are located do not fund the classrooms or provide the staff. They just rent the space to the WISD.


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

Just wanted to add that there is a large population of sp ed students who do not qualify for WISD, but who are seriously disabled. These students are placed in self-contained classrooms funded by AAPS (not WISD) or are placed in regular classrooms. There is a lack of adequate assistants for these students, as funding continues to be cut for these positions, and the number of students continues to increase.


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

Actually, there are many students from other districts attending AAPS that are not WISD students. They are sent to AAPS due to "lack of adequate special ed space, teachers, etc, in their home district, such as Saline or Lincoln." Sometimes, they are placed in AAPS because the sp ed "program" in the home school could not handle the behavior of these students. Whatever the reason, these children are adding to the regular sp ed population in AAPS (not WISD) and there is in some cases inadequate support provided and overcrowded classrooms (25 children in an elem classroom with 6-7 sp ed kids added and one assistant).


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

@Sallyxyz It is my understanding that if a student from one district attends a special education program at another district, which is funded by that district (receiving one), then the sending district must pay for that student to attend. If it is a WISD run program, not sure? With statistics for the ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorder) nationwide at 1 in 110 children diagnosed (1 in 70 for boys), it IS no wonder why our special education population is increasing. I believe the WISD had statistics on the % increase in the county, and it was around 250% increase at one time. ALSO, more children are surviving past the age of 2 with serious health and developmental delays compared to 15-20 years ago. We have two major hospitals in the area which help these children survive, however, it is often left to our public school system to provide, not just a free and appropriate education but Speech, OT and PT services, which come out of school funding. The health insurance companies limit access to these services and make it challenging for some families to navigate the health insurance red tape (denial, denial, denial after denial). Some health companies do provide services but only if your child has had a tramautic event (e.g., stroke, head injury), NOT a developmental delay or speech delay. Families need to start challenging these health insurance companies to provide some services.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

Cette writes: "Everyday, the special needs community grows. Of course,they need more money." This is true. The sp ed needs in the A2 community itself grows continuously, and children with special needs continue to stream to A2 schools for services from other districts. Just stand outside of any school in the district and watch who gets off of the sp ed buses and where they are busing them from, not to mention the other buses from Lincoln, Ypsi, Saline, etc., with sp ed kids getting off in A2, and the taxi cabs being used to shuttle kids around on the district's dime. Yes, this is happening. I don't know how the funding works between districts when sp ed kids from Lincoln or Ypsi or Saline, for example, attend A2 specifically for the sp ed services, but I can tell you that A2 is getting a large number of kids from other districts. Unfortunately, there are situations in A2 schools with large numbers of sp ed students in classes and inadequate support (not enough assistants).


Mon, May 30, 2011 : noon

"This was a missed opportunity." Chicago style Rahm Emanual politics right here is Washtenaw County. If the facts had been presented before the election the results may have been much much different. I'm talking a NO vote. How the heck did WISD accumulate a $14 million fund balance? No school district has a balance even close to that number. WISD has lost credibility and any attempts to consolidate services under the WISD umbrella should be opposed. WISD is just another public sector bureaucracy defending the vested interests and we should openly question their finances.


Tue, May 31, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

The state instructs districts to have a fund balance. Remember that funding changes throughout the year. A school year does not go along with the state fiscal year. Having extra funds on hand allows bills to be paid if there are things like say a government shut down (it happened before) or if another government entity has not given its funding yet.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

"How the heck did WISD accumulate a $14 million fund balance? No school district has a balance even close to that number." Well, according to figures from the State, in 2009 (the last year for which figures were available) Ann Arbor had a fund balance of nearly $28 million. During the AAPS budget discussions that took place earlier this calendar year, AAPS said it had a fund balance that was "below $15 million," with $15M being its fund balance goal. So AAPS has a fund balance that's not only "close" to that number, it likely exceeds it. (Saline had a fund balance in 2009 of $3.7 million. Right now, Saline's is around $2.9 million.)


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:57 a.m.

The school millage last year didn't pass for a few reasons. The teachers had yet to negotiate thier contracts, so without their concessions, it turned people off to the countywide millage. Who was going to fork over a few hundred extra dollars without seeing some sacrifice from the teachers? Especially after those busdrivers and janitors were getting thrown under the bus. But this year was different, Rick Snyder has manage to mobilize voters. I suggest the schools try a school wide millage again, especially after what this upcoming year is going to look like. Maybe eventually the county can be independent from the state for funding....that's more local control than the insanity we have now.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

Don Bee, maybe so, and I certainly agree, nothing happens in a vacuum. The cost cutting will continue over the next year or so, and the nonsense that does go on will diminish, and these kids still need to get educated.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

cette - Sure the rich county can be free of the rest of the state and then what happens to the rest of the state. But, then most folks are all about "ME", so why not. Proposition A was passed, about 6 months ahead of what would have been a lawsuit, following a pattern in other states. That lawsuit would have been a discrimination lawsuit and based on results in other states, it would have won. Then we could have had the Federal Government tell us how to fund schools and where teachers needed to be deployed and which districts needed to merge for balance. But we tend to forget there were good reasons for the funding mechanism we have. As to a county-wide millage, given that teachers and administrators are not seen by the general public as having given in at all (which is not quite true) it would fail again. Just think of the flyer that will be done that shows the High School Stadiums and the Headline: "When money was tight AAPS chose to spend $600,000 on Football stands instead of fixing bathrooms." This is just one example of dumb choices the district has made. Until they fix how the budget and get the overhead under control, I doubt enough people will vote yes for a general millage to pass.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:23 a.m.

Everyday, the special needs community grows. Of course,they need more money.

Gary Stauffer

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:14 a.m.

DennisP, Are you serious? "If you really need it, just ask". What do you think happened in 2009? The WISD and friends worked their butts off and explained the need clearly........and you think somehow we really didn't need that money? Do you think the economy has improved to the point that a tax increase would have been easily embraced in 2011? Another way of looking at this is that the WISD learned from 2009 and avoided a dissaster by NOT asking for and loosing a second tax increase request in two years. I am certain that a "renewal" was perceived differently by the conservative juggernaut that killed the 2009 proposal, because they didn't rally any significant oppposition to this proposal. Remember the definition of insanity?

Carl Ebach

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 11:13 a.m.

The increase millage rate would never have passed which is the something4nothing crowd really want. You have to get what you when you can. And with the tax cuting for the rich crowd in the state house tax cut and funding cuts is all we are going to see for the next few years.


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 10:39 a.m.

This is why I feel stupid whenever I vote to support a tax. Now, they'll be coming back again after draining discretionary funds. If you desperately needed something, you should have asked for it. I voted for the tax specifically because I felt it would protect my school district's regular funds (and because we have an obligation to the kids who need special ed services). Now, the local districts will have to draw on resources that will take away from other kids to meet federal mandates. I should have voted no which would have forced all of the districts to "care for their own" and, maybe, get rid of an unnecessary middle-level bureaucracy in the WISD. If you really need something, make your case for it and ask for it. Voters aren't imbeciles. Politicians are too clever by half...


Mon, May 30, 2011 : 10:34 a.m.

Mexicotte is right. Not just a missed opportunity, but a misrepresentation to the voters!