Facing $21 million shortfall, AAPS tries to keep cuts out of the classroom

Aaron Augsburger/Daily
Ann Arbor Public School Super Intendant Todd Roberts speaks to the public at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School about proposed budget changes in the future of the district in the evening of Thursday January 7, 2010. Buy this photo

BY DYLAN CINTI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 8, 2010

Todd Roberts, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, told more than 100 people at a meeting last night that the district faces up to $21 million in cuts over the next two years, largely resulting from state funding reductions.

In November, county voters rejected a property tax increase — the Regional Enhancement Millage — that would have provided AAPS with approximately $11 million in additional revenue per year. The millage passed in Ann Arbor, but was defeated countywide.

Yesterday’s public meeting — held at Ann Arbor’s Huron High School — was the first of four scheduled for this month. The meetings offer a forum for the public to respond to cuts proposed by the district, Roberts said.

Robert Allen, AAPS deputy superintendent for operations, began the meeting by outlining the district’s operating budget.

Allen pointed out that the district spends 85 percent of its total budget on employee salaries and benefits, making layoffs an unavoidable part of the cuts.

But Roberts said that the district will do its best to keep cuts away from the classroom.

“Our goal has been to not disrupt classrooms for students,” Roberts said.

Reductions will mainly center on employees outside of the classroom, like administrators and other staffers, Roberts said.

One proposed cut would reduce custodial and maintenance costs by $2.5 million, according to an Annarbor.com article published yesterday.

The district’s proposal currently includes cutting 34 staffers, the Annarbor.com article reports.

Additionally, Roberts said that the district is discussing a potential $5 million cut in employee salaries and benefits for the next school year.

“We haven’t gone into negotiations about it with teachers or other staff groups yet, but we’ll begin those conversations soon,” Roberts said.

Roberts went on to discuss additional cuts that will absorb the roughly $18 to $21 million shortfall. He said the district plans to reduce the cost of textbooks and summer school, and to decrease the salaries of athletic and substitute teachers. Another substantial cut — projected at $700,000 — would limit the “overtime” costs incurred when district schools remain open for special events on non-school days by limiting these events.

Roberts also discussed the possibility of offering more online classes at the high school level in order to reduce staffing costs.

“This is something we’ve been building toward for a number of years,” Roberts said.

He pointed out that the state of Michigan already requires one “online learning experience” beginning with students graduating in 2011.

Roberts said the district is also examining ways to increase student enrollment, which would bring in more money from the state to the district, to help deal with the shortfall. As part of this effort, AAPS may open 150 “school of choice” seats—a move allowing students in neighboring districts to attend Ann Arbor schools.

Additionally, Roberts discussed expanding the district’s magnet program by encouraging students within the district who are either home-schooled or take classes in other non-traditional ways to enroll in the magnet program, which would again bring in more money from the state.

Roberts said the district is trying to deal with the cuts by looking at what makes the most sense educationally.

The crowd’s response was largely positive, with several audience members praising the plan’s structure.

“This (plan) is comprehensive,” said Wayne Baker, an AAPS parent. “It looks like the right thing to do.”

Dedrick Martin, superintendent of Ypsilanti Public Schools, attended the meeting to help prepare for cuts in his own district.

Martin emphasized his district’s similar budget situation in an interview after the meeting.

“We are looking at a lot of the same things, making cuts that are not directly in the classroom,” he said.