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:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bx15ozW6ZeUTcG80NWJUMVg1LXM/edit

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.

 

Newport Road Sidewalk – Improving Safe Routes to Schools for Wines/Forsythe/Skyline

For those that missed the public meeting held last night (Jan. 22nd), the city held a public meeting at Forsythe to discuss putting a sidewalk from Wines to Riverwood Drive.

A summary of the meeting agenda and presentation, as well as a feedback form can be found here:

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/project_management/Pages/newport.aspx

Please let the city know of your support.  There currently is not a sidewalk connecting this highly-traveled section of Newport for our students.  Newport Road improvements are scheduled for this summer.  Adding a sidewalk here should coincide with road improvements.

The AAPS is responsible for the sidewalk in front of Wines to the M14 bridge, which can be funded through sinking fund dollars.

Legislative Advocacy: Update

On Monday, January 27th, the Washtenaw Alliance for Education (WAE) will host a coffee with local legislative leaders to discuss what’s important for public education for this next legislative session.  

While folks had prepared for a discussion on a handful of bills and new changes coming up, I argued for a focus on improving funding.  Without more funding, schools will not be in a position to improve children’s success or enhance supports – all of which require more funding.  Even expansion of GSRP seats does not fully cover the cost of the program – meaning more funding is needed from each school’s general operating budget to expand that program.  

We are not doing our students a service if we dance around the core issue of significantly declining funds with many increased and unfunded mandates.  The political context of having $1B in incremental revenue is equally important.  If state legislators choose not to invest in education when we are emerging from a Recession, that is a competitive disadvantage for the the state of Michigan.  We have lost population as we endured the Great Recession.  If we want to attract businesses here, we need to invest in education to ensure a talented work force exists here AND that employees have a good place for their children to be educated.  These are just a couple benefits to investing in education, but they are relevant to improving our economy.

There has been no significant increase in funding to public schools since Snyder has been in office.  We are no longer in a Great Recession.  We must invest significantly more in education if we want Michigan to be on a different path for its future in every measure that is important: economic growth, employment, home values, student achievement, a healthy population, a safe and fun place to live for every stage of life.  

Our message to our local legislators on Monday will be to focus on adequately funding education as a core concern.  The other bills before them (teacher evaluation, holding students in 3rd grade, pension reform 2.0, etc.) are distractions that aren’t going to vastly improve the classroom environment in the near term.

Tax cuts: If no one has drawn any parallels from George W. Bush’s tax cuts that he implemented in his first term to the current proposed tax cuts, why?  What did we learn from that?  Further, what does international data show about economic health and tax rates?  The Economist, OECD and World Economic Forum study these things a lot.  General findings are that the overall economy suffers when the tax base is too low.  In Michigan, there are many proposals to continue to permanently reduce funds to the SAF and others, while we have many areas that require significant investments in order to catch up from long terms of under-investing (schools, our infrastructure in roads & bridges, healthcare).   

Please contact your legislators and share your priorities with them.  We are at the start of a new legislative session.  Funds are available.  They should continue to be available.  How should they be invested for the best possible benefits to our state?  Education has to be at the top of that list.

Community Engagement & Partnerships: Assessment Advisory Committee, Blue Ribbon Panel, UM Partnership

Anyone interested in engaging in an effort to look more closely at student assessment should consider participating in the Assessment Advisory Committee (details from the AAPS News can be found here, including an application and the commitment requirements: http://news.a2schools.org/assessment-advisory-task-force-now-accepting-applications/).  This will be important work, as student assessment continues to be debated.  There should be a balance with objective, comparative assessment that should be able to enhance learning (including differentiated instruction), ideally that meets state and other requirements, but isn’t ‘taking over’ instruction.

A Blue Ribbon Panel has been in place for this year and continues to meet.  They will hear the Listen & Learn report on Friday, January 24th.  The group is comprised of community leaders, which come from a broad spectrum of organizations.  This group can be an important voice and connection with our broader community.  It is one mechanism, of many, to enhance our partnership with our community.

In addition, the BOE asked for more focused discussions with UM – an organization residing in our city where we share mutual interests in the success of our respective organizations.  We need to work together more closely to ensure success.  EMU and WCC will be important partners as well.

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