The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education finalized its budget for the 2011-2012 school year in a meeting on June 8, bridging a $15 million deficit with reductions in teaching positions, cutbacks in high school busing services and a district-wide cutback of department budgets and course offerings.
The $195 million finalized budget cut approximately 62 full-time teaching positions and the 4 p.m. shuttle for middle school students participating in after-school sports. However, the effect is less drastic than the original proposal to cut 70 full-time teaching positions and high school busing as well as force the district’s four elementary schools to share two principals.
Board Trustee Andy Thomas said fewer cuts are a sign that the current situation of the Ann Arbor School District was “not as bad as it could have been.”
“I felt that it was the best that we could do in terms of maintaining the high level of education for our students and providing services for those students who needed it,” Thomas said, who was one of the five trustees who voted in favor of the budget.
However, the district should achieve the reduction of approximately 62 teaching jobs through turnover, retirements and resignation, according to Thomas. He added that he is concerned that this year’s cuts will diminish the quality of education in the city, especially since keeping the cutbacks out of classrooms was not possible.
Thomas also said he anticipates the district’s average class size to rise by two to three students, overextending teachers as they try to contend with larger classes. Because of this increase, he said he is concerned that teachers will be able to offer students less individual attention and feedback.
Liz Margolis, director of communications for the Ann Arbor Public School District, said the recent cuts have been among the steepest in the state’s history. She also echoed Thomas’s sentiments, saying that she is also bothered by possible ramifications of the uptick in class sizes, particularly because it will lead to the loss of full-time teaching positions that will narrow the variety of classes that will be available at the high school level.
“This community values education and they like that our high schools are able to offer a depth of programming, but that’s ended with the way we have to do budget cuts,” Margolis said.
In lamenting the budget cuts Thomas, Margolis and fellow trustee Christine Stead agreed change must occur in the future. While Thomas marked teachers’ disproportionate retirement benefits as the most daunting challenge to education reform, Stead — who voted against the budget due to its call for spending $1.3 million out of the fund equity — said reevaluation of education funding needs to be one of the state’s major priorities.
“As a state, education is not a priority,” Stead said. “We spend much more on corrections; we gave small businesses and businesses in general a huge tax break this year. But education, we continue to demonstrate, is not a priority of the state of Michigan.”