M-TAC Rally a Success!

It was a pleasure to be part of the M-TAC rally last night on Liberty Square!  Dr. Swift was exemplary in her knowledge of where we are and what needs to be done.  Representative Jeff Irwin did a wonderful job discussing the state political challenges, as well as his understanding of how we have worked to improve things and where the problem lies.  Our other representatives were there as well.  Lisa Brown was also very inspiring in a pragmatic manner that folks could relate to.

MTAC legislators

Quinn did a fantastic job in organizing the event, keeping everyone fired up and I really loved his ‘largest classroom’ activity where we tried to fit as many people in a small part of the square to mimic what Governor Snyder has done with the EAA, where 100 kindergartners are in one classroom – the activity made the point of just how constructive that environment is to an education.

Further, it was great to see so many wonderful teachers and staff there.  I was also happy to see Donna Lasinski at the event!

Stead and Lasinski at MTAC


AAPS Rating by MDE: State Response to NCLB Waiver vs. Accurate Assessment

The recent rankings by the state’s latest tool to ‘rate’ schools is difficult to understand and the color-coding is misleading.  Keep in mind that this color-coding system has been under legislative debate ever since its inception two years ago, with several legislators pushing for a grade scale system.  The color-coding system follows on the heels of the top-to-bottom classification system (Priority, Focus, Reward Schools).  All of these coding systems are part of the state’s waiver for No Child Left Behind requirements.  Every state has done something to achieve a waiver, including Michigan.

Read the AAPS Superintendent’s blog about AAPS’ recent score here.

Dr. Swift notes some key components that our public should be aware of when reading through the color coding system.  I will highlight a couple of them:

  • AAPS is rated on many more subgroup categories than smaller districts because we are a larger district (and therefore have enough students in more of the subgroups than a smaller district might);
  • In several of our poorest ranking areas, the scoring was driven by student participation in testing, missing by a few students in several cases.

The ‘faith’ that our community should put in these systems is limited. Our BOE has worked with the SBE in the past to improve the top-to-bottom ranking system.  As a result, districts that were scoring 95% or higher on the MEAP went from focus schools one year to reward schools the next (Wines Elementary is a good example).  Another example of how misaligned both systems are is in Allen Elementary: Focus School, but Lime.  Also consider our ‘red’ ranking at Skyline and Pioneer: Pioneer with a long history of excellence and Skyline establishing itself with excellent magnet programs and top student performance and graduation rates.

What should be important to families is the education environment and the outcomes their child is likely to have in that environment.  The teaching staff, administration and families in a community are important.

While the AAPS has much work to do in improving performance in all of our subgroup student categories, progress is being made.  Further, a Bridge report found that at-risk student populations are much more likely to perform better in the AAPS than would be expected (#8 of all schools in Michingan; #3 of affluent school districts). There is some merit in considering other sources and rankings, especially when trying to hone in on at risk student performance.

Certainly districts need to be accountable and families should be able to make choices on clear information.  And yet Michigan education leaders introduce new systems every other year, which take years to refine so that they are clear and can make sense.  I don’t believe we are there yet with the color coding system; I also am not sure it will survive another year as the state looks to consider yet another change to a grading scale system.

At the end of the day, we deliver our education locally – to our community.  We are working to provide the resources and supports that are needed, especially for our at risk student populations.  Providing adequate resources is a particular challenge in a public education environment that grossly undervalues traditional public education.  Nonetheless, we will continue our work with our community and continue to make progress.



AAPS Annexation of WLPS: Possibilities, Milestones and What We Know Today

The annexation opportunity is simple, yet complex.  The opportunity is essentially one in which AAPS becomes a larger district, thereby allowing Whitmore Lake residents to continue to be able to educate their children in their community.  There would also be an improvement in programming.  The specific programming would not be completed by November 4th (election day).  Rather, we would need to conduct an assessment of what set of programs would be most important in the community and work from there to initiate new programs – magnet programs, STEAM, arts, AP, computer science, etc. – all of these are possibilities.  This assessment would likely occur during this year if we were to move forward with the annexation, which would be effective July 1, 2015.  Assessment, planning, hiring, infrastructure work – all of this would need to be done in order to launch new programs in the Fall 2015.

Why The Fast Timeline?

Both boards believed it was important to have this opportunity voted on by our communities in a general election; not a special election for several reasons, including: broader voter participation and no additional expense to run a special election (no additional cost to taxpayers, which would be needed if an election is held later).  In order to meet the November timeline, the following deadlines are in place:

  • Letter of intent to annex is due to State Superintendent Flanagan on August 1, 2014; (submitted)
  • Letter of approval of annexation is due from State Superintendent Flanagan on August 1, 2014; (letter of approval was received on August 1, 2014)
  • Application of grant funds available for consolidation or annexation is due to the Michigan Department of Education on August 1, 2014; (submitted)
  • Approved ballot language must be completed by each County Clerk by August 12, 2014;
  • General election date is November 4, 2014.

What Are the Tax Implications?

  • The state currently requires school districts that are participating School Loan Revolving Fund (SLRF) to levy themselves 7 mills to service the debt.  WLPS is doing this now, and will have a 7.95 mill for their bond debt that they will have 2014-2015.  If combined, the district would have to levy 5.35 mills, which would effectively pay off the debt in one year.  We are asking the state if it is possible to either a) forgive the debt, which would mean no millage increase for Ann Arbor, or b) allow our combined district to spread the millage burden over several years (5 to 8 years).  The current loan is for $20M.  If we were allowed to spread out the millage burden, it is possible our millage rate would only increase by 0.5 mills (so from 2.45 for 2014-15 to 2.95 in 2015-16, which would be the same for the following two years and then start to decrease again, assuming our property values continue to increase at 2% each year).  If property values increase at a faster rate, the effective millage rate will be less.
  • For WLPS residents, their net homestead mills would increase by 0.3341, which includes the primary residence hold harmless millage of 4.4442 mills; sinking fund of 1 mills; decrease on debt for property of 4.51 mills and decrease on recreation mills of 0.6 mills.

What is ‘In It For Me’?

  • WLPS: This is essentially an opportunity to do what the state has prohibited most traditional public schools from doing: invest in education so that they can survive.  With more foundation allowance, there will be more financial resources to pay staff, invest in new programs, attract a talented education staff and improve the quality of education available to their students.  It also means protecting the district from dissolution, which they are essentially one year away from (the state has already opined on this fate for them).  A dissolved district would hurt everyone in that community: children, families, home owners, businesses.  A stronger district would improve home values, draw economic activity and improve the overall quality of life in the community.  It also allows them to pay off their debt and keep their children educated locally vs. being broken into 3 new district areas (likely Brighton, South Lyon and Ann Arbor).
  • AAPS: High quality education in small learning communities is good for everyone.  Being a larger entity would allow us to achieve some additional economies of scale, but having three buildings with capacity would also allow us to continue with our growth strategy and offer small learning communities to those interested in that environment.  There are other incentives that we are also aggressively pursuing with the state in order for this to be a ‘win-win’ for both communities, which includes: higher foundation allowance so we are not losing money to go through with this annexation (which currently we would be: $8/student FTE); additional incentive foundation allowance of $500/student to allow for sustained program improvements; transition assistance from the consolidation grant fund of $4.3 million, which would allow us to adequately invest and launch new programs – and run them efficiently.

What We Don’t Know

  • Incentives from the state: we heard on Wednesday night that there was bipartisan support and interest in this annexation being pursued.  They would help change laws, provide incentives and fast-track anything we might need.  We will see what they actually can provide, but right now they need to do more so that this is a collective ‘win’.
  • Enrollment for WLPS in 2014-15: any significant decrease in enrollment could be problematic for WLPS, with $48,000 in fund equity.  They are very close to being in deficit.  Hopefully this opportunity will inspire folks to stay confident and help participate in new program design, but we will see.
  • Sustainability: ultimately, all traditional public schools have been under attack.  We know we need changes in Proposal A, but until we get them, we will continue to be under attack.  There are no guarantees and the current legislators have been wildly aggressive at underfunding traditional public schools, creating massive incentives for for-profit charter schools while being lax in quality requirements, and creating a huge mis-alignment in pension funding such that charters don’t have to participate, which puts an increased burden solely on traditional public schools.  Will our state change its tune?  Is there recognition of the direct link in economic viability with the quality of education available in a community?  While we don’t know exactly the jobs children today will have, we do know that they will require more sophisticated skills and we need a way to provide them those skills.

Maybe we will see positive activity on behalf of our collective community from many fronts: state and local government and local communities.  That is the opportunity.  For one, I am inclined to support the more positive future where this is a ‘win’ for everyone and children can be educated locally in a high quality setting.  That’s something worth working for, which I will continue to do as I serve on the subcommittee that has been working on this effort.

Please email me or call me with your thoughts and concerns.


AAPS BOE: Student Performance, Audit Outcomes & Co-op Opportunity

Last night’s 7 hour BOE meeting included several important items that are central to the work of the AAPS – so let’s start with why we are here: educating our students.

Student Performance

Student performance measures were still good, showing progress in some very key areas (disaggregated groups showed significant improvements, especially African American students).  However, much remains and we discussed some of the programs and supports that we had put in place that were having a real impact – the Behavioral Interventionists showed many student stories to this effect, as well as an overview of the programs that they had developed.

Graduation rates (2013): 86.78% (4 year cohort)
Graduation rates (2012): 87.44%; 5 Year Rate: 90.19%

While down slightly, the overall rate is an improvement from 2011’s 83.57%.

MEAP Scores

MEAP results showed gains in most areas, including relative to state gains.  African Americans showed very strong growth in reading, math across many grade levels.  We still have much work to do for economically disadvantaged, ELL and others – we know this.  However, the program supports we have put in place have demonstrated some success (including sustained reductions in suspension rates, assisted by our Behavior Intervention Specialist Program).

Across all grade levels, AAPS outperforms the State in Reading by 8 – 22 points; in Math by 27 to 33 points.  When we benchmark AAPS across the county, similar sized districts, and high-performing districts, we are among the top performing districts (keep in mind the comparison with a charter is with one building vs our 31).  Our data is even more impressive when we recognize that 25% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

I’ll publish more on this when we have the report available, when MME is released,  and/or I can put some data in charts.

Audit Outcomes

Plante & Moran shared the outcomes of our performance audit that they conducted this year at our request.  They reviewed the following areas:

  • Compensation
  • HR
  • Finance
  • Facilities
  • IT
  • Energy
  • Enrollment
  • High school scheduling
  • Central Office organizational structure

They noted that we have reduced FTEs by 321 since 2004/5, while student enrollment stayed relatively the same.  We reduced Class 1 employees (Balas, the Cabinet, etc.) by 27%; Secretaries by 54%; tech support by 36%; Principals by 5% and teachers by 8% (I am omitting some categories).  Their findings showed AAPS to be very much in line with similar districts for instructional costs.  We are a few % points over in key areas – areas that I argue we are investing in because we know we achieve better student outcomes.  For example, by maintaining small learning communities in our 21 elementary schools, we certainly have higher administrative costs – and we also certainly have better outcomes for all students.

Where they did identify opportunities, we have already put plans in place to address them:

Some examples: Administrative costs were 72% of the average, while total operations & maintenance were 121%; other support services were 124%; compensation was very much in line (min as low as 95% of the average; max as high as 133% of the average in one category); operational staff costs were lower than the average, but so was their productivity; paraprofessional costs were higher (152% in minimum salary for special ed).

Finance and IT: there are opportunities to realign services and reduce some costs; need to revise policies and procedures to do this, as well as leverage new software that we have just implemented (New World); this should also help with HR.  As a district, we can be more efficient by moving our paper processes to streamlined electronic processes.  Process redesign would be likely to help.  The consultants noted that outsourcing IT had not demonstrated cost savings – so this work will likely be our own.

Facilities and maintenance costs were showing that we were too low in Supervisors, but also our staff were not as productive as our region or state (e.g., grounds FTE in AAPS have 50 acres vs. 81 and 75 in the state and region, respectively).  Energy was another area where we are high: $1.61 per SF vs. region’s average of $1.24 and the state’s $1.11.  We have been saving here, but we changed contracts for this area as well this year; hopefully we can bring those costs down as well.

Most areas where we have opportunities, we also have plans in place as part of this year’s work to improve operational improvements; however, there are more areas to improve.  Most importantly, we have a good administrative team that is interested in doing this work.  When the full report is available, I include a link to it.

Co-op Opportunity

First, let me say that the co-op idea is a good concept.  The fact that Zingerman’s is exploring this option substantiates that this could be a good idea.  Second, we need to be able to offer a living wage for folks to live AND work in our community, but are unable to in the political and funding environment we find ourselves in.  Third, the work of the community, BOE and Administration is to work toward substantive changes made in state funding so that we can invest in our schools to ensure a high quality learning environment.

The co-op idea that was discussed so much recently is still really just that: an idea.  Last night the BOE issued a resolution to describe why we could not consider the revised document that the co-op group had prepared at the end of the day on June 26.  There are many issues with the process used and the document itself; all of which are outlined in the resolution.  Further, there are serious financial flaws in the proposed fee that make what was proposed unrealistic.  Noteworthy flaws with the document include:

  • Submitted outside of the bid process and the negotiating team;
  • Untimely and nonconforming (to the RFP);
  • Submitted by a non-material person (community member; not part of the negotiating team or part of the new co-op organization, since no organization structure and/or key personnel were identified as part of that structure).

Beyond issues with the document, process, etc., the bigger issue is funding.  The kinds of reductions we must make in operations continues in our state’s political climate.  In Ann Arbor, we must work to create other funding opportunities so that, at least in this community, our public schools can better reflect our community’s values.  That is our work ahead.

In the meantime, I do hope that those interested in forming a co-op of any kind can review the resolution, learn what would be needed, learn from what Zingerman’s is doing and continue to be creative.  The district must comply with laws that govern our RFP processes, how we employ people, etc.  At the same time, I know we are all looking for creative ways to sustain our education environment.


Superintendent Evaluation Results

This year our Superintendent took another step to lead by example and will post the results of her 360 survey to our AAPS site, which we reviewed with the public last night.  Her average score across six major categories was a 3.5 (on a 1 to 4 scale, 4 being the highest performance rating).  As I mentioned last night, one of her biggest challenges next year will be improving on an excellent rating from this year.

I also wanted to share the statement that the BOE made after her evaluation, which was released to the media:

“The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education could not be more pleased with Dr. Swift’s leadership in her first year as Superintendent.  Dr. Swift has put the Ann Arbor Public Schools on a growth path, creating a forward looking vision for our district, even in the face of continuing financial challenges.  Dr. Swift has created relevant, competitive new initiatives founded on the community’s feedback, giving the Ann Arbor Public Schools a brighter future.  We are encouraged, and inspired, by her leadership; her responsiveness; and the “Yes We Can” culture that she is infusing in the AAPS.  We look forward to Dr. Swift’s continued exemplary leadership of the Ann Arbor Public Schools – and the path she has set for excellence that will continue to raise the bar for our students and community.”

Congratulations, Dr. Swift.

AAPS Testimony to SBE: Underfunding Education Putting Economic Future of Michigan at Risk

On Tuesday, June 17th, I went with a strong leadership group from the AAPS to share our data on what our experience has been – and to offer solutions on how both constitutional law and policy must be changed.  Dr. Jeanice Swift (Superintendent), Marios Demetriou (CFO) and Deb Mexicotte joined me in making our case to the SBE.

Our presentation can be viewed here:


Our presentation clearly shows the Ann Arbor experience, as well as the specific ways in which funds have been cut in real terms across Michigan – and its impact on our overall performance.

We proposed several solutions to the state.  Our most important one was a statewide base foundation allowance and local levy authority.  This solution would be budget-neutral for the state, while allowing local communities the democratic option of being able to invest more in education if that was important to them.  Districts cut the most under recent policy and Proposal A are also the economic drivers of our state.  By putting them increasingly at risk, our legislators are putting our state’s entire economic future at risk.

Our next most important one was that all public education organizations have to share the MPSERS cost burden, as we are all public education institutions (that means charters).  This would solve the escalating costs borne only by traditional public schools and remove the profit incentive so we might no longer be the state with the highest % of for profit charter schools.

I want to especially thank John Austin for creating the opportunity to provide testimony.  Without his leadership, this opportunity would not exist.

I also want to thank our team that worked tirelessly to get this presentation done.  Glenn Nelson did an excellent job researching key economic data that went into several slides.  Having our Superintendent, Board President and CFO all there was also a very strong representation of the AAPS.

While we can’t say what will happen, we will stand by willing to help make our case and advocate for our community so that our public education system thrives here in Ann Arbor – and hopefully across our great state.

State School Funding Proposals – Impact for AAPS

Michigan, for the first time in over a decade, has emerged from a recession.  Unemployment, while still among the highest in the US, is declining.  More importantly, state revenue has increased.  In addition, or local home values will increase again this year, on average 4.67%.  One would think that our FY15 will be much better and we can look forward to investing again in one of our most important economic drivers: high quality education.

Until you review the state’s proposals ($$ shows the impact for AAPS):

Governor’s proposal: $55,000
Senate proposal: ($2,171,000)

House proposal: ($1,276,000)

There is a serious disconnect in how our schools are funded, the state of our economy, and any local community’s ability to do anything about it (currently).

The state’s revenue conference is on May 15, where we will learn estimated revenue from the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies.  We will end up with one of these proposals, most likely.  We are looking at further disinvestment in education for FY15, despite economic recovery and increased home values (which means increased taxes).

 Ann Arbor continues to get less and less revenue from the sate for traditional public education.  The state has improved funding for charter schools ($110/student for a charter school in Washtenaw last year as an example).  We can expect more of the same.  Worse: while our state has funds to distribute, we can expect continued disinvestment in public education.
There is no stronger correlation to home values and economic growth than the quality of the public schools in a community.
Please see the AAPS analysis of the proposals here.

Input Sought on State Funding of K12 Education

I need to applaud John Austin, President of the State Board of Education, for initiating an effort to begin exploring changes to how schools are funded in Michigan.

John, and the State Board of Education, has started a process to seek input from different organizations on the impact of Proposal A and the general funding experience for public education.  The process will shift to take input from community members and school systems over the next few months.  Presentations made so far can be found here.

I will accompany the Superintendent and CFO from the AAPS on June 17th to submit the AAPS experience and recommendations for changes to Proposal A.

I would be interested in hearing from those in our community that have specific suggestions as we prepare our submission to the SBE.



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