2013 AAPS School Cuts - What gives?

Here we go again. Another round of cuts to our historically excellent schools and A2 parents are pulling their hair out. Our complaints to the district mount about increased class size, reduced transportation, too much testing and decreased core or specials offerings. And we cry out “Why is AAPS doing this to us? What can we do?”

The root of all evil is not the AAPS district. Whatever the district’s faults may be, the cuts that threaten our kids’ high quality education are the result of years of mismanagement and current anti-public school ideology at the state level. Yes, Virginia, it is the State’s fault.

A little proposition named “A” is where our tale begins. In 1994 the State Legislature came up with a magical plan – unlike any the nation had ever seen – to centralize funding of schools to be distributed from Lansing on a per pupil basis. Its promise was to bring struggling districts up to the level of successful districts like Ann Arbor. It shifted school funding from locally levied property tax to state administered sales tax – restricting districts from raising money locally for their highest cost, instruction.

The villain of our story is “Unfunded Mandate” and his sinister cousin, “Lack of Political Will”. The most corrosive mandate was the seemingly minuscule portion of every dollar required from districts for all state employees retirement contribution (MPSERS). Just like the cost of gas and milk, that number began rising but there was no political will in Lansing to address the increasing chunk that inflation plus this unfunded mandate, among others, would take from our kids’ schools. By last year, the MPSERS contribution had skyrocketed to $1,366 of the district’s $9,020 per pupil allowance. This is crippling every district in the state. (BTW… other states do not link their retirement spending to a per pupil allowance.)

Feed a fever, starve a district. In the spirit of prop A our public schools are all lumped together while at the same time there’s a fever of excitement over the “charter” possibilities. The problem is because of per pupil funding our tax dollars go to “for-profit” charter school businesses that don’t have to meet all the same mandates as public schools. Remember education companies exist first and foremost to make money and not to educate every kid equally regardless of their individual needs. Lansing is working to pass piecemeal bills that make it easier for charters to avoid the same standards as public education and effectively cannibalize our community schools under the guise of choice.

It takes a village. Where would we be without the unifying presence of our public schools? We support our teams, we debate the merits of Everyday Math, we go to those amazing concerts and plays and we do the artwalk downtown. We come together with our community to ensure our kid and every other kid (even the one whose parents we don’t like or understand) has a chance to have the same high quality foundation of knowledge and experience that will prepare them to be successful citizens.

Think locally but act state-wide. As we face millions of dollars in cuts and a superintendent search let’s hold our district accountable but also give the board and administrators the same benefit of the doubt and support we would want in our own jobs. The AAPS strategic plan is focused on a central theme of individualized learning for every student but they cannot get there in a structural deficit.

So let’s direct our energies at the real source of the problem… Lansing.

  • Enlist our friends and family around the state to relentlessly lobby the governor and the legislature.
  • Tell the state that Michiganders support more funding to keep pace with inflation, to fund mandated government requirements and to institute proven education reforms like reducing class size.
  • Demand that education experts in curriculum and finance design our school funding policies – not ideologues or “for-profit” special interests.
  • Tell Lansing that democracy is served only by a public education system which holds all K-12 learning to the same standard and funds it for success.

Here’s how to contact Governor Synder and the Legislature: click the “Take Action” link at the top of the page!

At the precipice

Ann Arbor Board of Education balks at massive cuts to the school district. But where do we go from here?

In a grueling meeting that ran eight hours and ended in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the AAPS School Board’s Committee of the Whole stepped back from some of the largest cuts proposed for the next fiscal year. The list of potential cuts, originally presented as options to the Board back in April and described at a number of public forums since then, had been assembled to deal with an anticipated $17 million deficit in the 2012-13 school year. While the Board indicated their willingness to accept a range of cuts, they held back on reducing teachers, cutting transportation and closing an alternative high school program. Their decisions last night are not the last word on the budget, but provide guidance for administrators in assembling their formal budget proposal.

Tackling the legacy of racism: miles to go before we rest

[Ed note: the following essay was posted on AnnArbor.com by MIPFS Executive Director Steve Norton in response to the online furor over efforts at Dicken Elementary to create support groups specifically for students of color. The original post, with comments, can be found here.]

Some thoughts regarding the uproar over the “African American Lunch Bunch” at Dicken Elementary in Ann Arbor:

Since I normally write about school policy and funding issues, I was reluctant to jump into this fray. So many people were making so many unfounded and poorly informed accusations, so quickly, that it was impossible to keep up. What really ought to be an open and honest conversation within the Dicken community was being caricatured and hyped by those eager to launch accusations of “reverse discrimination.” Commentators who counseled restraint and understanding were being drowned out by those eager to condemn the schools.

But I feel I cannot remain silent on this issue. There is an undertone to many of the comments on these stories that really disturbed me. It wasn’t so much open racism; that might have been easier to confront. Rather, it was an effort to deny any problem exists.

What can I do right now?

Wondering what you can do right now to help keep Ann Arbor’s public schools the kind of place where you want to send your kids? We have a few ideas… Feel free to pass this along!

Data brief: "A price tag on each student's head"

The AAPS Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the 2010-11 budget next week. This is the home stretch in a process that began last fall, when AAPS officials held public meetings to discuss proposed budget cuts. The reductions are necessary because the district’s revenue, cut substantially in December and likely to be cut next year as well, have opened up what could be a $20 million hole in the budget for the next year. So we thought this would be a good time to shed some light on common questions about AAPS’s financial condition.

Our schools are in trouble: stand up and be counted!

AAPS holding budget meetings April 12 & 13

This is a critical time for public schools in our community and in our state. Crucial decisions will be made that set the direction of our schools for years to come. It’s at times like these when the voices of parents, and all citizens who value strong public education, need to be heard loud and clear. You will have the opportunity to do this locally in the next few days, and at the state level over the coming weeks.

Hard times ahead: developing a crisis budget

AAPS district officials began their public meetings about next year’s school budget at Huron High School last Thursday night. It’s a sign of the times that despite the slick, snow-covered streets, more than 100 parents, staff and interested citizens showed up to talk about school budget cuts.

A detailed list of the proposed cuts, as of the 7 January meeting, follows the article.

Facing a clouded future: options

Part II: The problem, and a glimpse at solutions we might consider

The poor state of Michigan’s economy, combined with bad tax policy choices in earlier years, mean that school districts across Michigan are having to make huge cuts after years of belt-tightening. The defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage has removed one option we had to soften the blow.

But remember: we still have kids to educate. AAPS’s total enrollment actually increased this year. Unlike, say, the auto industry, our schools are not in trouble because of a lack of customers. Demand for a good education has never been higher.

Moving forward, we have two issues on each of two levels: revenues and costs, at the local and state levels. Let’s look at each.

Facing a clouded future

Part I: Reflections on the defeat of the Washtenaw Schools Millage

We as a community will be faced with unpalatable choices as we try to close the $15 to $17 million budget gap that Ann Arbor’s schools will face over the next year, with more cuts to come in the coming years. But before we can make sound choices, we must have a real understanding of what our schools do and what resources that requires. And in order to do that, we must get past the caricatures which were painted during the millage campaign and instead speak to each other as real people with real concerns.

Reality must trump rhetoric when it comes to our schools

An Open Letter to Mr. Albert Berriz and his campaign committee, the Citizens for a Responsible Washtenaw

“…I have called publicly on my fellow members of the Ann Arbor community to get involved in the difficult choices that face our schools, and to educate ourselves about what our schools do and why. But I do not believe that we will find magical ways to reduce spending without significantly reducing the services offered by our schools. This is the very choice which the Washtenaw Schools Millage was designed to avoid. But now that we must come face to face with these hard choices, I call upon you, your company and your campaign committee to stop promoting wishful thinking and start facing up to the painful decisions which face our schools and our community.”