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Posted on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 8 a.m.

Transportation must remain top priority for public schools

By Guest Column

The first of four “Community Dialogues” was held at Clague Middle School on March 28, and it drew a sizeable crowd. Hosted by alternating AAPS school board members, these meetings are an invitation to the community to share creative ideas on how the district might generate more funds to stave off or reduce further cuts.

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Several participants brought forth proposals deserving consideration. However, not surprisingly, the majority of time was filled by parents, teachers, coaches and a student, expressing concerns about possible cuts to or elimination of athletic programs, the fifth grade instrumental music program, the theater programs, block scheduling, the seventh-hour option and the foreign language program. They spoke against larger classroom sizes, reducing teachers’ pay and a shared-principals model. Parents of Community High and Roberto Clemente students extolled the virtues of each. Almost every cut or reduction under consideration had one or more passionate opponents- with a few exceptions.

In some cases proposed cuts are based on an expectation that programs can attract more private or corporate funds, or that staff can consolidate functions. Rather than pitting proponents of specific programs (or opponents to their cuts) against each other, perhaps the conversation should be framed as a discussion of principles and data that should guide the decision making process.

Several of the night’s speakers eloquently addressed the values intrinsic in a school system that maintains its arts, music and theater programs - that gives students with those interests and gifts an environment that appreciates and supports their creativity. Few would deny the importance of establishing a guiding value that states our community wants schools that support the success of a diverse student population.

Much to my surprise two very drastic cuts with far-reaching consequences went unmentioned during that first Community Dialogue (at least until — with two minutes to go — I raised them):

  1. Eliminating high school transportation ($466,000 savings), and
  2. Eliminating middle school transportation ($1.2 million savings)

Both measures would create at best an inconvenience and at worst incredible hardship to many AAPS families. Hardest hit will be families who live furthest from their home schools, particularly those without cars and/or with inflexible work schedules. Families with low incomes will be disproportionally affected, of course, and for some it might be nearly impossible to get their children to school. Consider for example high school students living at Carrot Way, a supportive housing complex off Dhu Varren Road. Mapquest estimates it would take them over 2 hours to walk to SkylineHigh School. Currently the high school graduation rate for economically disadvantaged AAPS students hovers around 67 percent — meaning one in three AAPS students from families with low incomes does not graduate high school. This number will likely worsen if transportation to middle or high schools is eliminated. And, since African American students are disproportionally represented in the economically disadvantaged category, the much-lamented achievement gap will no doubt grow wider.

As the discussion of AAPS budget cuts continues, perhaps the examination of the values intrinsic in these decisions should be clearly illuminated. While Ann Arbor values diversity, families with low incomes often don’t make it on the radar of decision makers. Without a doubt, cutting middle and high school transportation will hurt many students from economically disadvantaged families disproportionally. A community that makes those cuts sends a clear message about how much importance it places on the investment in their success.

Will AAPS cut transportation to middle and high schools? Certainly if no or few objections are raised during these Community Dialogues trustees will be justified in concluding that is not important to parents. There are two more Community Dialogues opportunities to express your opinions: April 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the downtown library, and April 20, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Scarlett Middle School. Emails to the Board of Education can be sent to:

Joan M. Doughty is the executive director for the Community Action Network.


Bill Wilson

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 11:40 p.m.

SuperiorMother and vintagetimes4me have provided the ideas that will solve the problem. Keep transportation in place, but replace the school custodians with labor from teachers and other staff. Thirty minutes per day by each teacher and staffer should provide more than enough man-power to keep the schools clean. Outside maintenance can be done by outside companies via competitive bidding, or by city workers. Teachers care deeply about their students, so getting this small extra effort from them will be something they'll be happy to do in order to help their students. Kudos to SuperiorMother , and vintagetimes4me, for creative, out of the box, type thinking.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

If the BOE has their way, this discussion will not be happening in 5 years because there will be no transportation in 5 years. They plan to get rid of it. Doesn't or didn't anyone see the community board meeting on the comcast channel a while back? They did mention a 5 year plan. Guess what parents, you will be driving your own to school and/or buying your own a car so you won't have to deal with transportation nightmares. So unless AATA has a plan of their own? Which I don't see happening any time soon? Get ready for some early morning risings.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

'"Transportation must remain top priority for public schoolsTransportation must remain top priority for public schoolsTransportation must remain top priority for public schools" - what utter nonsense. The top priority for schools is education - all else is, at best, secondary.

Joan Doughty

Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:47 p.m.

Yes. I agree. I didn't come up with the headline, did that. My proposed headline was: PARENTS WISHING TO PRESERVE TRANSPORTATION TO MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOLS SHOULD SPEAK UP NOW I'm guessing that was too long.... and I am grateful ran the piece. To an earlier commentator: Yes the example of Carrot Way students needing to get themselves to Skyline would be one of the more extreme outcomes if high school busses are eliminated. But it is very relevant, as that community specifically houses low income families, and Carrot Way falls in the Skyline district.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Thanks for your column, Joan. It is baffling to me that the BOE would concurrently consider further work on closing the achievement gap whilst also considering cutting transportation. While transportation may not be a mandate, isn't the first step in closing any achievement gap getting the students to school? Clearly, there are many points on the road between busing everyone outside of the walking radius, and cutting transportation completely. If changes are going to be made in transportation, it needs to be talked about within an intelligent dialogue of "is there a more efficient way to ensure all students can get to and from school?" rather than "we aren't required to provide transportation therefore we are not going to." Should the BOE adopt the latter stance, then I think they forfeit their right to spend any further resources on closing the achievement gap. The problem requires a solution, not a hammer.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 11:43 a.m.

Kids need to get to school. They need to get home. One way or another those busses NEED to keep rolling. Way too many cars on the road to have our kids walking the streets. How about cutting back the cleaning crew --- teachers, kids, other staff can chip in & help clean. Its an idea-

michael Limmer

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 1:44 a.m.

We all believe in less government. This is what it look like.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:44 p.m.

How about pay to ride? Lots of other districts do it. Rather see this cut than core curriculum.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

SE Corner of the district: 1. Probably the lowest incomes 2. Only quadrant without a major high school 3. No public bus transportation anywhere near here 4. Only quadrant with a middle school ranked lower than the others. Are they really suggesting the children on St. Martin Court, for example, should walk 3.18 miles in the dark, in unplowed areas without sidewalks, to catch a bus at nearest stop, Meijer, say leaving their home around 5:30 or 6:00 am?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

Has the school board considered charging for transportation instead of cutting it? Say, $200 per student per year, with funds available to waive the fee for low-income families that meet specific requirements. I don't know how many kids in Ann Arbor qualify to ride the bus, but say it's 10,000 - $200 per kid per year would be $2M. That would more than make up for the approximately $1.7M that could potentially be saved by eliminating busing for middle school and high school kid. (And once again, I suggest allowing out-of-district students to ride the bus, for a fee, on existing bus routes where there is room. I would gladly pay a yearly fee so my son could ride the bus to a family friend's house after school. I strongly believe that Ann Arbor would attract more out-of-district students if more after-school options were available at the middle and high school levels, for those whose parents work and cannot pick them up right after school.)


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

Here is the caveat of the deal. If you are homeless? Want to come to Ann Arbor? We have to drive to your area and dive you to your school of choice. State law. Look it up. Can't get around it no way and no how. Same with special needs. As for charging parents to pay for transportation? They can.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

Looks like DonBee is correct - Michigan does not allow school districts to charge parents for transportation of resident students: However, that says *resident* students - I wonder if that would preclude them from offering transportation (again, on an existing route on which there is room) to "schools of choice" students, for a fee.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

SuperiorMother - By law, public school districts can NOT charge for transportation.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

Only solution is to start charging families for this service, so simple just check out other states like in California, you want a ride to school then it comes out of your pocket along with the property taxes you've paid. No other way to get around.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Massachusetts has been doing that for years. $500 a pop.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 4:36 p.m.

The example of living on Dhu Varren and trying to walk instead of bike is extreme. Most of Ann Arbor is more reachable. Why should everyone pay for the few who live on the outskirts, especially those rich enough to solve the problem themselves? I want to support low income families, but we should limit school spending diverted to diesel fuel to the minimum, when there is real hardship.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

Remember when, 2 years ago? Parents were screaming because there were not enough buses to get their children to school? They ended up adding 2 more buses to that area just to ease over crowding on the buses. If we want to eliminate pollution in the air then we need to increase transportation and less cars on the road. The Asians do it, Europeans do it and I can't understand why we don't either. Besides, diesel is becoming a cleaner solution for buses then they were years ago. Look at the new buses compared to the old. Which smells worse?

Cory C

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.

I thought that the federal "No Child Left Behind" required schools to provide transportation to any student that required it?


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

Wrong. NCLB is not that at all and this is not about transportation. Transportation was meant for those who were special needs. The children who need a ride and are not special need? In the state of Michigan? Will not get a ride if the buses are cut. The special needs are the only ones who get a ride under the Disabilities Act. And that my dear people, is the way the cookie crumbles.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

Cory, that is not the case. NCLB is really about measuring the performance of a school district, and it's students, based against a set of criteria. It does not speak to transportation at all.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

No one wants to cut their "sacred cow". Maybe make all extracurricular activities "ala carte"?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.



Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

I attended the Clague meeting and have listened to School Board members on other occasions and they seem commited to maintaining transport alternatives for those families and students that need them. Some synergy seems to exist with the Ann Arbor Public Transit bus system. That system is, I think, increasingly used to transport highschool students as routes are worked out to faclliate that. The AA transit system bus, for example, stops at the Carot Way apartments.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Dan - In many of the townships that surround Ann Arbor and are part of the district, there is little or no AATA transportation. Many of the roads that these students would have to walk/bike on are without wide shoulders or sidewalks. They require crossing on and off ramps for major freeways to get across M-14/US-23/I-94 - at the time that many of these students would be moving, it would be dark most of the year. Tell you what - Start at Gotfredsen and Plymouth-Ann Arbor Road and try getting to Huron on foot in a safe fashion. This is the outer edge of the district on the East Side. Then do the same thing from the Saline Fair Grounds to Pioneer - the Southern edge of the district in that direction.

Tex Treeder

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

The long-term solution is getting rid of the need for excessive busing and setting realistic start times for schools. Warehouse schools, particularly at the high school level, may seem to make economic sense by treating students as commodities to be stocked and sorted, but they do necessarily make good educational sense. We're stuck with Skyline for the indefinite future, but do we want to continue to build warehouse schools that require busing and allow kids to fall through the cracks more easily? I do not support that. The other thing to look at is start times. Who seriously thinks that starting high school at 7:30 is a good idea? We do that now so the buses can do the high school runs, then the middle schools, then the elementary schools. Again, good economic sense, but the tail is wagging the dog: school start times are set for the convenience of the bus schedule, rather than bus schedules being adapted for better start times. Gradually converting to neighborhood based schools would reduce the need for transportation and allow for better start times while simultaneously providing better educational opportunities for our kids.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

I hate to say it, we as parents voted on keeping the hours of school the same as it always has been. Didn't you get the memo? Or where you out with Green, to lunch?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 9:06 p.m.

The high school day doesn't end until 2:30, not 1:30. I grew up (Detroit-area) finishing the high school day at 3PM, not much later than AAPS ends the high school day now. I don't believe the need for athletic conditioning/practice is the driver of the start/end times.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Tex, I agree with almost everything you say except that I believe you have the wrong "tail" wagging our school schedule dog. The problem is not that bus schedules drives school schedules, it is that conditioning and practices for varsity athletics requires the end of the high school day to be 1:30 or 2:00 pm, which forces the start time to be far too early for teens to get a healthy amount of sleep. If we staggered the start times for each level by only a few minutes, we could pick up all the students along a route and drop them off at their schools, reducing cost, fuel consumption and time spent on the bus for almost everyone. The BoE rejected this approach out of hand, because it probably will require revising attendance boundaries and feeder schools to make them more geographically condensed, rather than the current assignments made to create greater racial and socio-economic balance.

Tex Treeder

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

I wish these posts could be edited. This: Warehouse schools, particularly at the high school level, may seem to make economic sense by treating students as commodities to be stocked and sorted, but they do necessarily make good educational sense. Should read: Warehouse schools, particularly at the high school level, may seem to make economic sense by treating students as commodities to be stocked and sorted, but DO THEY necessarily make good educational sense?