What comes next? AAPS Budget Cuts

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What comes next? AAPS Budget Cuts

Dr. Roberts discusses the proposed budget cuts at a budget forum meeting on January 14th.

Dr. Roberts discusses the proposed budget cuts at a budget forum meeting on January 14th.

Dr. Roberts discusses the proposed budget cuts at a budget forum meeting on January 14th.

Dr. Roberts discusses the proposed budget cuts at a budget forum meeting on January 14th.

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In the weeks after the failure of the county-wide Regional Enhancement Millage, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, its students, staff, and administrators wondered what would happen next. Speculation was inevitable, but the conversation clearly united fact and fiction to the point where it was impossible to separate valid concerns from unsupported rumors.

The series of budget forums scheduled from January 7th to 19th seemed to attempt the impossible: set the record straight on the budget issue without alienating the district’s members. “This is an opportunity for the public to let the school district know what they value in education. They were able to get information about what it costs to educate students in the Ann Arbor Public schools,” said Jen Hein, Dean of Community.

Dr. Roberts discusses the proposed budget cuts at a budget forum meeting on January 14th.

With possible cuts reaching upwards of 600 dollars per student by the end of the 2011 school year (165 dollars in approved cuts, 230 likely by the end of 2010 and another 300 proposed for the end of next school year), changes are sure to come quickly.

Although these cuts are certainly unwelcome, the
alternative, a projected 19.1 million dollar budget deficit by the end of 2011, is equally, if not more distressing. “I think that the recommendations that were developed by the cabinet are the same recommendations in the same areas that I would take a look at,” said Hein.

The district has proposed a staggering comprehensive plan that is outlined on their website. While certain cuts will take effect during the second half of the 2010 school year, the School Board will meet for further discussions in late March and April.

These meetings will determine which of the proposed cuts for the 2010/2011 school year will actually be implemented.

The district faces a loss of 13 million dollars at the state level. On top of previous funding numbers, which AAPS Superintendent Todd Roberts called “inadequate”, this comes as a severe blow in bad economic times.

Hein explained that the way the state provides funding for schools currently creates a structural deficit. “…because some costs are continuing to increase that we have absolutely no control over, until that framework changes, we will always have to, as school district, cut 6 million dollars every year,” said Hein.

With these staggering numbers the district clearly has serious work ahead of them.
“[The budget cuts] could help us to become more efficient and in the long run, but overall I think that clearly there are going to be negative impacts on the school district in trying to deal with this. We’re just trying to do it in the most thoughtful way we can to preserve high quality education for students,” the Superintendent said.

Cuts during the next school year have not been decided upon but several things are going to change during the second semester of this year. The district was required to cut money halfway through the year to keep the budget under control. “We’re doing some things mid-year, this year, to reduce costs. Going forward, we’re looking at trying to reduce about 2.6 million dollars in costs for the second half of this year,” said Roberts.

Among the 2.6 million dollar cuts this year are 500,000 dollars in discretionary funding (textbooks, field trips, supplies, etc.) 400,000 less in health care costs and 855,000 dollars in unfilled positions such as administrators and teachers. Other cuts include limiting overtime, reducing noon-hour staff in high schools, reducing athletic transportation and reducing summer school costs.

Currently the district spends 9,723 dollars per student. After the state cuts, which Roberts called “an unprecedented loss of funding,” the per pupil allowance will return to 2001/2002 levels. State mandated cuts will lead to a loss of 165 dollars for every student in Michigan and another 233 dollars per student in districts that spend more than the state average. This means a 398 dollar per student difference in the funding at the beginning of the 2009 school year compared to the spring of 2010.

This is a total of 6.5. million dollars that the AAPS will no longer be able to access.
The 2010/2011 school year proposed cuts that involve a wide variety of areas including: limiting textbook replacement, rescheduling classes that have low enrollment, cuts to the discretionary fund budget, reducing noon-hour staff at high schools, energy cost savings, cutting the number of games freshman sports teams play, restructuring the Planning Centers in middle schools, consolidating bus stops, charging for optional buses, reductions in the food service, paying for extracurricular activities and moving to trimester scheduling.

At Community, a number of rumors have been circulating since the announcement of the budget cuts earlier this year. Claims of the school being moved into Skyline or closed altogether were voiced, but this will not likely happen. Dr. Roberts added, “Closing Community is not something we’re looking at,” he said “We have no plans to do that but it is hard to look too far down the road and tell for sure.”

It is possible that these rumors were fueled by the string of comments on AnnArbor.com suggesting the school be closed. As with any anonymous suggestions it is hard to know for sure how many people actually share such an opinion. Judging by responses from school administrators and staff, as well as those who attended the budget forums, Community High School is not a subject of contention. It seems that when looking at the facts, most people are able to see that Community is just as viable as Huron, Pioneer or Skyline.

“This is not the first time the public has responded this way [to Community]… the difference this time is that we know what it costs to educate the average student at Community High School. We are in alignment with Huron, Pioneer and Skyline in terms of cost, so that idea that students are getting a private school education at public expense, that myth, is being put to rest,” added Hein.

Although closing Community is not a proposition on the table at the moment, there is a chance schools might need to be closed. “In March, we are looking at the number of buildings we operate,” said the Superintendent.

For Community students the most noticeable differences would most likely come in the areas of transportation and athletic participation. “I think that reduction of the shuttle services would be noticeable,” said Hein.

Eliminating the shuttle buses from Community to Huron and Pioneer is the most visible cut likely to affect Community. These buses could be reduced, eliminated, or left as they are. This will not be decided until the budget plan for 2010/2011 is finalized.

Shuttle buses make split enrolling, an integral part of Community High School, possible. While classes that students split enroll into could be moved to the beginning or end of the day, changing the shuttle bus schedule would certainly affect split enrollment.

However, the shuttle buses are expensive for the district to run and serve a fairly small percentage of the student population. Limiting shuttle buses would certainly not be ideal but it would be a better alternative than closing Community altogether.
“We are looking at different ways of doing things. And possibly having something worked out with city transportation,” said Roberts.

There has been much talk about a “pay-to-play” athletic system as a possible option for the district. Not many specifics have been outlined about the plan, but there is a general sense of the program. Students who wished to participate in after-school sports would be required to pay for the opportunity. This would offset the cost the district pays for transportation, equipment and coach salaries. “Essentially, right now the district’s contribution [to athletics] is around 2.9 million dollars,” said Roberts.

Students who were unable to afford these costs could still participate with the help of a scholarship program. “The goal is not to eliminate the ability for students to participate. So we certainly wouldn’t want any student to not be able to participate based on not being able to afford it. We’ll make sure that any student who demonstrates financial need [is able to play],” added Roberts.

One looming question is the possibility of personnel cuts. Nothing has been decided for sure, but with 85 percent of the district’s budget going to salaries or benefits things are likely to change somewhat.

“To lose a member of their school community is a loss, and it’s very difficult to learn that people that you know and work with may be out of a job,” reflected Hein.

19.1 million dollars is a lot of money, but these are seriously disturbing economic times. When asked if the district could still be in the red after the cuts of the next two years, Roberts responded: “We have proposed a balanced budget for 2010/2011 but with the economy the way it is in Michigan we will have to address any funding shortfalls going forward.”

Roberts and the school district have maintained that they hope to proceed with these budget cuts without affecting the student learning experience. “What we’re really trying to do is to keep the impact as far away from students and instructional programs as we possibly can,” said Roberts.

This is all very well, but in a school district that has cut back costs significantly, already keeping reductions from harming student learning may be impossible.

Roberts has cited non-instructional services such as salaries, benefits, transportation, maintenance, and custodial services as programs that may suffer cutbacks before the instructional budget. “20 million dollars is a significant deficit so we’re not going to be able to keep [cuts] away from the classroom completely but we are going to start with non-instructional services,” he said.

It is clear that the changes have already started and this semester could be the first in a long line of alterations coming to our district. However uncertain the future may be, it is clear that the students and staff of Community High will continue to persevere and make the most of all possible academic opportunities. Hein seems to agree: “I think that the faculty and the students here have one thing really going for them,” she said “and that is their ability to be flexible and adapt.”

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View the approved budget for 2009/2010. | View budget forum presentation.

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