This week I was fortunate to be able to attend Skyline’s Magnet Showcase Event, which highlights the capstone projects of its students. You really couldn’t help but be impressed with the quality of the projects that the students had produced.
The health magnet showcased amazing work, including excellent research and cellular & molecular biology techniques that weren’t available to me until my 3rd year as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan (albeit a while ago….). One student, Carmen, poses by her work which was presented both in the research poster, but also in a cookbook she had made:
Tom Pachera’s students showcased several major projects, including ones that had won federal and state grant funding as well as venture capital and angel funding (via SPARK). The project shown below creates distilled drinkable water by sitting on top of available water and using solar energy and filters. The students have a stage 2 prototype that is being invested in.
Tom also shared a wonderful story with me about the impact of the program. An example he used was that of a student that started the magnet with a strong curiosity and ability to try new things (and fail, but learn) while struggling with grades. This student was partnered with another that was also passionate, but less willing to try new things. This student had very good grades going into the magnet. The two have partnered together and both are doing extremely well. Their work is one of the projects winning external funds – a huge accomplishment for high school students.
I have been working with Shoham Geva, a student in the policy magnet, and Pat Jenkins. Shoham has made two excellent public announcement projects that I will release here and use in other ways to help promote awareness of the need for school funding to change. The link to the first public service announcement can be found here: Board of Education PSA1
I got to meet the student that did the voice over at the event as well. Another very talented student (Andrew).
I have spent a lot of time with the magnets this year so that I could better understand how they were doing. The students in the health magnet invited me to attend their class, which I did, and was impressed with a presentation they had prepared for me as well as impassioned discussion regarding the opportunities they now have through the magnet. I met with Sulura Jackson to go through data and demand as well. I have to say, I am impressed with the program and the opportunities these students have. If anything, I might recommend ways to expand the program to better meet demand.
I am looking forward to the continued opportunities and growth that the magnets offer our students. This is a high performing part of our district that warrants more attention so that more people can be aware of yet one more great program available through the AAPS. I am grateful for those that have invited me to see their program and to the students I have gotten to know and work with.
There are a couple of additional costs associated with proposed reductions that must be taken into consideration. These will add to the amount of money that the budget must be reduced by in order to pass a ‘balanced budget’ for FY14:
- Cost of borrowing: plans to borrow $10M to address cash flow issues over the next six months will cost an estimated $150,000.
- Unemployment insurance related to staff reductions: any staff that are laid off may apply for unemployment insurance, which the district is obligated to pay. I have asked Nancy Hoover to provide an estimate of what that might be so that we can consider those costs. In discussion, we thought the cost might be $8,500/person. If there are 50 teacher FTEs, that would cost $425,000. There may be other groups that are also impacted by reductions and that we may also need to add into this figure. If we added 10 more FTEs, the costs goes to $510,000.
- Reductions in Title 1 funds: $200,000
Total additional reductions are likely to be near $860,000, or a total of $9,550,000 in reductions to general operating funds for FY14.
On the revenue side, we did hear last night that $140M was agreed upon by the House, Senate and Governor’s office to add to the SAF. The devil is always in the detail, and I’ve already commented on the many ways that $0 is more likely to make its way to the AAPS. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see a small portion of the almost $800M in additional revenue make its way to our children.
Please keep in mind that there are ~ 5 bills in play right now that take funds out of the SAF permanently. So, we may still see additional reductions to the SAF this year.
On May 15th, the BOE met to discuss administration’s recommendations and other areas to be explored in order to develop a budget that is ready for the public hearing on May 22nd (next Wednesday).
Our community came to the meeting and many argued against some of administration’s proposed cuts (Reading Intervention, Pioneer Theater and Theater Tech position), while others asked that the teachers compensation be reduced instead of cutting programs.
I wanted an update on the state’s revenue consensus conference, which Nancy Hoover provided (essentially: no new funds from the state for FY14, even though they have almost $800M more revenue than expected between FY13 and FY14). That was important context, as I was hoping that even in our all-GOP state-run government, $800M might seem like enough to allocate some relief to public education. But, that will not happen. Revenue might go to stabilize (or decrease the likelihood of increases) in the MPSERS rate schools have to pay – but the impact there is more likely in FY15 and beyond.
We went through a lengthy discussion of each proposed item. Items that the BOE voted could stay as is (i.e., would be cut from the general operating budget) included:
- Reduce fine arts/PE through attrition (maintains program; 3 FTEs; asked for clarification on what % of reduction to program FTEs this is, as stated 1.8% seemed too low): $200,000
- Reduce counselors (3 FTEs; 15% reduction): $300,000
- Reduce noon hour supervision (recruit volunteers; increases student ratio by 5 students; 12% reduction): $71,000
- Reduce library material purchases (freeze purchases for 1 year; 60% reduction): $100,000
- Eliminate HS transportation (10% reduction for general transportation services): $466,000
- Reduce athletics (changed admin recommendation to have AD’s review pay to play increases in a manner that preserves middle school athletic proposed reductions for baseball, softball and basketball): $512,685
- Reduce Reading Intervention teachers by 50% and focus resources on highest-need schools (50% reduction; 5 FTEs): $500,000
- Reduce operations per administration’s recommendations (no new furniture/fixture purchases for 1 year; reduce natural gas purchases through lower price negotiations; energy savings program; eliminate outside recreation trash pick-up; expand every other day cleaning schedule across district; eliminate crew chief; 17 FTEs reduced): $1,230,000
- Reduce food purchases for meetings (reduced this amount a bit so less than 100% reduction): $65,000
- Reduce conference/travel expenses: $50,000
- Close middle school pools (eliminates middle school swimming and synchronized swimming program; pools were open 12 weeks/yr and MHSAA does not recognize synchronized swimming as a sport): $70,000
- Suspend table rentals for events: $15,000
- Reduce Central Office positions/restructure (includes elimination of COO position, HR Assistant Director position eliminated, SISS OP eliminated; Finance OP reduced to 0.6 FTE; Grant Coordinator position eliminated, responsibilities go to Business Partner/Volunteer Coordinator; Election Coordinator eliminated; 1 Executive Assistant eliminated; reduce Balas Exec Asst to OP for savings): $477,540
- Concessions from non-represented groups (Cabinet, others): $114,000
- Theater funding (as per recommended by theater program leadership; reduces shows by 1 per school; allows program to stay in place): $77,068
- Fund 7th hour through tuition, since state is only required to fund the 6 hour schedule: $500,000
- Allow Skyline to address how to reduce 3 teacher FTEs in a manner that maintains trimester schedule: $300,000
- Eliminate theater technician role: $50,000
- Eliminate 32 teacher FTEs (4 likely to come from elementary level; 0 from middle school; 28 from high schools): $3,200,000
This brings us to $8,298,293
New areas that we asked for more information on (with estimates) include:
- Advertising revenue (these are huge electronic billboards): $100,000
- Block scheduling at Community: $300,000 (or another mechanism to reduce operating costs by this same amount)
- Roberto Clemente program savings: $100,000
- Principal sharing across 6 elementary schools using a Lead Teacher: $300,000
- Reduce our PE requirement at the high school level, which is higher than the state’s: $400,000
- Reduce Office Professional staff (we have 101.25 funded through the general operating budget): $600,000
- Reduce pupil support staff (TAs, TCs, Community Assistants, others): $350,000
The list above could provide up to $2,150,000 in other areas to consider, which may replace items on the list that will be available for public hearing on May 22nd.
I do want to highlight that AAAA, our union for Principals, has been very vocal on everyone else making cuts. Their contract expires at the end of this year. They asked for the Superintendent, cabinet and teachers to make cuts. They made recommendations for cuts that they know require an overhaul of some contracts. And yet, they have yet to make any concessions. The remaining 3 groups that have not made concessions could yield savings of $266,000. That is significant and could go to off-setting other cuts important to students. I continue to be grateful to our AAEA which took 3% reductions to generate $3.4M in savings; our cabinet for agreeing to 3% reductions and the elimination of several positions. AAAA?
Many people offered ideas throughout this process, and many of those ideas are reflected here. All of our Athletic leaders were at the meeting and were helpful in answering questions as we considered changes to recommendations; same with the arts program director. Our cabinet was also very helpful in answering questions. They did a lot to prepare us for this meeting, including respond to the 75 questions we had asked to better understand. We’ve asked for yet more, and I expect they will provide more answers when we discuss this again.
The collective thinking of teachers, staff, principals, athletic directors, administrators, families and students is much appreciated – and needed! Thank you for what everyone has done to contribute to the discussion so far. Looking forward to continued participation and thinking to get to a final budget that preserves as much as what is special about AAPS as possible.
I was pleased that Lucy Ann Lance and her team invited me to talk about the AAPS last week. Deb Mexicotte also participated. Check it out. I appreciate any opportunity I have to talk to folks about what is happening with public education and the future of our district. There are many things going on and I am trying to fight hard for sustainability of the concept of high-quality public education while suffering a serious attack from Lansing to underfund and undermine public education in Michigan. Their initiatives are centered on spending less as the primary facet – not about what’s best for students, families, communities and our state’s future.
I welcome feedback, comments, questions and ideas – as always.
These are my additional questions that I am interested in responses to as we prepare for what will be a very important study session on the topic. I have shared these with administration and they are working on them. Please feel free to add yours through comments or you can email me: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to avoid cuts to the classroom and programs:
- When can we expect to see reductions from AAAA? They were quick to offer cuts from administration and teachers; why haven’t they stepped up with reductions?
- Can we decrease high school assistant principals by 1 across the comprehensive high schools?
- Can we decrease administrators in SISS?
- With the federal sequester impacting IDEA grants, can we be allowed to cut program costs? This will likely need to be addressed by the federal grant overseer, but I can’t see how they can cut our funds and demand that we not be able to cut program costs in this situation.
- Can we decrease cost of Roberto Clemente per student (teacher reduction or increase student FTE; currently at >$19K/student FTE)
- Can we decrease secretaries across the district (currently have 101.25 FTEs)?
- Can we sell any property that might be unoccupied? The Freeman School we recently approved continuing to lease to Go Like the Wind Montessori school, which will generate >$1.5M for the AAPS in the next 5 years.
- Can we decrease teaching assistants?
- Can we decrease community assistants?
- Can we decrease teacher consultants?
- Can we put an incentive in place to decrease use of substitute teachers that is cost-effective?
- Can UM do music teaching for 5th grade instrumental and then can we use the funds supporting that to go elsewhere?
- Can we reduce transportation services in other ways than complete cuts by level?
- What impact can we expect to have in terms of financial savings with line-by-line accounting in place next year?
- There should be an opportunity to integrate HR/Finance/IT more: what potential savings could come from that?
- Can we go with the athletic departments original ~$500K proposal so that we don’t completely decimate middle school athletics, since this is how we accomplish PE at the middle school level?
- What is the impact of allowing high school students to do something similar as middle school: participate in athletics and get credit for their PE requirement through that avenue? How much can we reduce PE and does that allow more flexibility in programming for students (I am expecting $$ estimate on PE staff reduction and some idea of program opportunities for high school students).
- What additional costs will occur with transportation services based on substitute, fuel and homeless transportation costs and the mid-year impact of healthcare reform implementation?
- Are there elementary schools that can be closed this summer, based on capacity there and capacity at nearby schools that can absorb the students in a manner that does not require entire redistricting?
Anticipating cuts to the classroom:
- What is the anticipated impact of teacher FTE reductions: by building, on graduation rates, AP participation, course offerings (especially electives)? Where will the 32 teacher FTEs come from (by building, by program)? What is the impact to our graduation rate, electives/choice for students, class sizes by building and grade level?
- Are there opportunities for flipped classrooms and moving some courses to more practice/group-based curricula that would allow for improved growth, higher value-add time with the teachers, and team-building?
- Are there alternatives to the 7th hour schedule that would allow for more opportunities for kids while decreasing costs?
- How many teacher consultants can we anticipate to be added next year as a result of teacher reductions (e.g., the actual net savings)?
- What can we explore with packaging items for targeted giving?
- What is the most effective way to give to the AAPS more directly? AAPSEF; PTO Thrift Shop; direct donations to AAPS; combination thereof? I want to be able to point people to the most responsive, constructive routs(s) possible that save programs and can sustain them, in a timely manner that allows us to make good budgeting decisions for FY14.
The Q3 report identifies several areas that are not entire surprises; and yet also not how we budget:
- Transportation-related increased costs of $700K are driven by increased retirement rates, increased staff turnover due to the low hourly rate and no benefits that are training with the WISD and then taking better-paying jobs elsewhere, aging fleet requiring more repairs, increased # of students claiming ‘homelessness’ and requiring transportation to the home school (McKenny-Vento Law), and increased cost of fuel. During our quarterly transportation committee meeting, the WISD discussed these issues at length. These costs are a good example of one of Rick Snyder’s ‘best practices’ can end up costing us more than we expected ($1.5M last year; $700K this year; next year?).
- Substitute teacher costs: despite reassurances that moving substitute teacher accountability to the building principals, this has not generated cost savings (per last year’s budget reduction strategy). This area must be addressed through changing events that drive the need for substitute teachers (meetings during the 170 school days) and leadership from both the AAEA and building principals.
- Healthcare costs: Finance is asking for $300K to be allocated for this expense in case we need it. I am fine with approving this, but there are implications for FY14 that we should be incorporating into the budget process.
Looking forward, I asked what the expectations might be for Q4. I was reassured that this adjustment to our budget would likely not all be needed, but that this would be important if we did need it. I have long been advocating to maintain our fund equity at a level where we don’t need to borrow to make payroll. We have a Board policy that requires us to maintain a 15% fund equity balance (this would be closer to $28M). We have voted to reduce fund equity to below our policy in order to maintain programs and smaller classroom sizes. Our colleagues nearby are at 40 -50 students/classroom. We want to avoid that because we believe smaller classroom sizes are an important component of a high quality education.
We find ourselves with an estimated FY13 fund equity balance of just below $7M (we started the year with $16M in fund equity; planned to use $4M of it based on false estimates that we only needed $9M to cover payroll). Since we now have to do what many other districts are already doing, we will be borrowing $10M to cover cash flow from gaps in the timing of receiving tax revenue disbursements from the state (gaps exist in July, Sept and end of Dec/early Jan). This borrowing means we will have to cut another ~$150,000 from our general operating budget.
I asked what the # is that we need to cover cash flow and finally have an answer that I can believe: $14M – $16M. Let’s call it $15M. This should be the bare minimum in our fund equity. However, that just helps meet cash flow requirements. It does not help absorb our capacity to incur increased costs (some of which more financial controls will help, but several are driven by outside entities like the federal government, state government and cost of goods like fuel).
Q4 Implications: I believe we will have yet another negative adjustment for Q4, ending the year with less than $6M in fund equity. While we may not need to use the full $1.3M allocated, we continue to ‘find things’ as we move to line-by-line accounting (a practice we asked of this Superintendent when we hired her, as well as zer0-based budgeting; we had been trying to get Finance to implement this for two years with no movement in this direction, so this was a big expectation of her).
FY14 Implications: In both recent quarterly reports, there are several things that we should be using to budget for next year; all of which would translate into more cuts, but would avoid these kinds of ‘surprises’ for next year’s quarterly report – which we will no longer have the fund equity to absorb. Here’s just a few that translate into more cuts (for me) for next year:
- If we maintain transportation at the current service level, we will likely incur the same cost overrun – plus some. The things driving this adjustment will not change from this year to next, so we can expect to spend about the same ($5.5M) in transportation costs.
- In addition to the transportation costs we had this year, the implementation of healthcare reform will cost us more for transportation services, which we have constructed as a ‘pass-through’ contract (meaning we pay for any increased costs; only contracting privately would avoid this). Next year, the WISD will have to offer health insurance to these employees since they exceed 50 FTEs. I asked the WISD to develop 3 cost scenarios for us to consider, including incurring a fee for not providing health insurance. This cost will hit is mid-fiscal year next year, since the law takes effect in January 2014. I expect this will be another significant cost overrun – unless we budget for it now.
- The use of teacher consultants to offset increased class sizes will save us much less than the projected savings for any teacher FTE reduction. I have been asking for the average cost of a teacher consultant and a teacher assistant for over a month now. If I ever do get that #, our net savings will be ((# teacher FTE reductions)-(# requested teacher consultants)=net savings. I could estimate that the savings would be closer to $15K – $20K per teacher FTE reduction (vs. the $100,000 we’re estimating).
- We need to add the interest cost of borrowing $10M to our budget, or another $150K.
- Since we did not adjust professional development days as part of the calendar, we can expect similar costs next year.
- I have not seen a plan to mitigate substitute teacher costs, although I have asked for one.
- The federal sequester will impact IDEA grant funding, meaning we will receive less funds for special needs students. This will have to be ‘covered’ by the general fund and will feel like a ‘surprise’ unless we budget for it. Most discretionary budgets (which this falls under) were cut by 5 – 8%. We could estimate that impact and budget for it.
- Reduced best practices funding and other sources from the state: if we have a similar experience as last year, the state will adjust downward what they actually pay us for best practices. If similar to last year, this will occur after we have approved our budget. There are $0 proposed for best practice funds from the state for the FY15 budget, so this will increase the ‘gap’ we need to fill by ~$3M.
- We should also be budgeting for some decline in students. I would normally argue against this, but since we no longer can absorb cost overruns, if our population were to decline, our revenue associated with our general foundation allowance declines accordingly.
- I do believe there are wellness incentives that we can explore that would minimize increased healthcare costs. There are many organizations that are developing technologies to make it easier to track exercise, food intake and lifestyle/fitness levels as well as remote monitoring of chronic illnesses. There are many payors (insurance companies) and employers developing wellness incentives. These should be fully explored.
If you watch our Board meetings on CTN, you will hear me cover each of these issues. If you read one media source, you will not be made aware of these concerns (and they have a concerted effort to edit out my discussion points). When we see the criticisms start to roll regarding how inept the Board is, it will appear that these items above are not being discussed. I can assure you that this is not the case. Between DonBee (I believe this is Bob Rourke, but that’s just my guess) and some of the other self-proclaimed experts on one blog, the negativity will fester. We need to remember that during this time of great need for a vastly different public education funding model (more, not less), we have to stick together as a team to solve these problems. We have to rise above the negativity and be part of the solution. Some of us do have these concerns and are expressing them.