In a meeting last week, the Ann Arbor Public School Board announced its plan to cut the district budget by $15 million in response to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for cuts to education funding in his proposed state budget.
In his proposal, Snyder details a 15-percent cut to higher education funding, totaling approximately $213 million in state allocations. Additionally, his plan translates to a reduction of about $440 per K-12 student in the district of Ann Arbor, raising concerns among community members about the impact the cuts may have on the quality of education and potential threat to jobs.
Liz Margolis, director of communications for AAPS, said this year’s budget cuts follow a pattern of reductions seen within the district in the last several years, including an $18 million cut in the last fiscal year.
“The district has been in deficit mode, cutting for the past seven years, and that’s really the big issue in regards to how this state funds public education,” Margolis said.
The proposed changes within AAPS were announced at their April 20 meeting and include the elimination of 70 teaching positions, the implementation of a shared principal system at the elementary schools and the removal of the high school bus transportation system, Margolis said.
The countywide education millage on May 3 will determine if another $6 million will be cut from the district budget. Margolis said these cuts will have serious implications for the school district this year, adding that because 85 percent of the district’s budget lies in personnel, the potential loss of teaching positions will have the most impact.
“It will be a different school district than what we’ve had in Ann Arbor for many, many years,” she said. “It’s not something we want to do.”
At the Community Budget Forum on April 25, Margolis said parents, students, and other community members expressed concern about the district proposal, particularly the plan to merge principals between paired schools. The current plan states that one principal will be delegated to Wines and Abbot elementary schools and another to Angell and Pittsfield.
“The principals are working together on a plan,” Margolis said. “We will add more support services at those schools as far as teacher support and extra office support to help out when that principal is not in at that school for that time.”
At the forum, a group of high school students also expressed concern with the proposed elimination of high school busing. However, Margolis said the high school transportation system comprises $1.3 million of the district budget, a substantial portion that if reinstated would lead to further cuts elsewhere.
“If there is a decision to bring the busing back and take that off the reduction list, we would have to find another $1.3 million somewhere to offset those reductions,” Margolis said.
While Gov. Snyder’s cuts to education funding may potentially impact schools across the entire state, Margolis said in previous years AAPS has been more fortunate than other districts and wasn’t forced to sacrifice as much as surrounding areas.
Margolis said the implications of this year’s budget cuts reflect a need for the state to reevaluate their approach in funding public education.
“We really need to get the message to the state that the way they fund K-12 education is not working … ,” Margolis said. “They can’t cut anymore, there’s nothing left to cut.”