Answers to Questions Posted on mLive

My answers to questions posed on mLive are below:

  • How many SOC students does it take to make WLPS buildings stay open?  Moving from WLPS foundation allowance to AAPS’ foundation allowance creates $1.7M in recurring annual revenue and likely $2.7M once the HB is passed that would yield $150 in an increase for AAPS due to annexation.  That does not include any new students from WLPS, but provides significant revenue to invest in new programs.  Our next focus would be in attracting back the 25% of WLPS students that left WLPS over the past 5 years.  That would yield even more incremental revenue to invest in students and programs there.  We would keep class sizes within our target range, so hiring new teachers would be part of growth and new programs.  There has been no assumption or calculations of additional SOC students, even though the possibility of attracting them has been mentioned in information sessions.
  • Teacher evaluation and how can we get rid of poor teachers: We are already doing much here, using the Charlotte Danielson evaluation model.  The state has asked to use our model as the consider re-crafting the teacher evaluation legislation.  Factors that should be part of the model include student achievement, parent and student input, principal evaluation and perhaps a peer component.  Current law already allows us to remove ineffective teachers after they have had two consecutive years of an ineffective rating on their annual performance review.
  • Growth: what is good for AAPS students vs. not good?  First, in a financial environment where expenses exceed revenue from the state, growth is essential in achieving maximum use of capacity.  Growth allows for investment in programs and students; not growing means that we can only cut programs as we address that gap between revenue and expenses.  That is NOT good for AAPS students.  Once we reach capacity, we need to consider options for further growth in building capacity.  That will need to be a community discussion and approval process.
  • Inclined to sell wooded areas to achieve future cuts?  I am not inclined at this moment.  If the city will guarantee that the land will be maintained as natural space, then possibly.  I think this discussion warrants more community engagement.
  • Later high school start time?  We are putting this on our agenda now.  We will be exploring this again.  Cost effective transportation has been a major consideration in the past; however, we have moved more high school transportation to AAATA.  We want to make sure our kids can get to school as well, so we will be exploring the possibility and the potential impact.
  • 1/2 day KG?  Know that the state will decrease our foundation allowance by 50% for any child in a 1/2 day program.  When we explored continuing to offer this 2 years ago, it would cost us $3.5M to keep all students in 1/2 day KG.  Moving to full day cost $1.5M to hire the 19 new teachers we needed.  Flexibility is great, but our state makes it financially difficult to offer flexibility in that regard.  Further, I do believe most of our families wanted all day KG.  During that transition, we received a lot of positive feedback.
  • Testing?  Testing is an important way of understanding how our children are doing, as well as a means to provide differentiated instruction, which is part of our strategic plan.  Being able to show progress over the year is also important.  The standardized test can be important in helping parents gauge where their student is relative to other states and countries, which is who they will be competing for in college entry and for jobs.  Federal funding also is tied to standardized testing.  For example, if we decided to not issue the MEAP, we would lose all funds associated with federal grants.  That’s a pretty big $$ in AAPS (~$40M).  I would love to see changes to the MEAP and reduction of testing, but it is unlikely that the MEAP is going to change to meet all of the needs we have for it – one being showing growth over the academic year, which inherently means testing more than once that year

Why is a Growth Strategy Important for AAPS?

During my 4.5 years on the BOE, we consistently have had reducing general operating funds available to apply to the classroom environment.  I expect that this will continue to be our reality until we can change the funding model and appropriations for K12 education.

In the meantime, we can expect declining general operating revenue to continue.  A foundational element of our current funding mechanism is that the foundation allowance (read general operating funds) follows the student.  If you can attract students and grow, that is the only realistic way to grow revenue in the current funding and political environment – especially for the AAPS, which also receives the least incremental funding during each budget cycle, relative to other public schools due to the 2x formula the state uses to allocate funds and their efforts to create inordinate advantages for charter schools.

If we can grow, we can expect incremental funds that will allow us to invest in new programs, support services and staff.  New revenue creates opportunities that otherwise do not exist.

Over the past 1.5 years, AAPS has embarked on a growth strategy as an important means to create a more viable and sustainable district.  Growth means enhanced and improved programming; it means more teachers and smaller classroom sizes; it also means a more financially sound district.  This strategy has shown some remarkable success for Year 1 with the addition of 43 new teachers to support 7 new initiatives, which accommodate ~370 new students.  Last year was the first year that we did not cut programs and teachers – because of anticipated growth.

We have been careful to construct a growth strategy that is grounded in high quality programs.  We want families to choose AAPS with confidence that the AAPS will provide their children with the best preparation for their next step in life.  I expect that this approach will continue to be our approach in how we grow: it will always be centered on relevant high quality programs that enable academic growth and success for all students.

Growth will allow AAPS opportunities to invest in our programs, and therefore our students.  Not growing guarantees cuts to program, which quickly leads to a cycle of instability and more cuts that is not in our community’s best interest.  This is the current reality of public education in Michigan where any increases in funding is not going to the classroom.

In the meantime, I will stay committed to working on changes to Proposal A and the overall funding model such that communities in Michigan will be allowed to adequately invest in education – something that should be a top priority for us all.

Both efforts (growth and advocacy) will move us toward a continuing brighter future for many years to come.  And when we get the funding policy right, growth will be less important for overall viability.  In the immediate future, growth remains a critical stabilization and viability strategy.

Latest CRC Report Identifies K12 Funding Realities

With the mid-term elections upon us, there is much debate lately about whether K12 school funding is up or down.  Both sides claim that they are ‘right’ (GOP: increase in funds; Democrats: decrease in funds).

The CRC issued Memo 1130 today that does a nice job detailing the macro level truth.  Please find the report here.  Briefly:

  • There has been an increase in K12 funds, but not to the classroom.  Increases have gone to off-set the rising legacy retirement costs, which further escalated with the economic downturn in 2008.
  • Changes in use of the School Aid Fund for higher education, MBT Reform and other reductions in revenue have reduced funding that can be used for the K12 classroom setting by $1.8B.
  •  Since funds follow the student in Michigan, to the extent that student enrollment declines, funding also declines.  Most districts in Michigan have experienced a decline in enrollment, also exacerbated by lifting the cap off of charters such that there are >300 in Michigan now; the vast majority being for profit since they do not have to pay into MPSERS.

This report largely reflects our presentation to the SBE in June, where we documented the signficantly decreasing amount of funds that can be applied to the classroom.

The CRC memo does not address inflation-adjusted dollars.  If we were to include those adjustments, which we did, the real dollar impact of declining funds is even more significant.  Please find the full presentation here.


Constituent Questions RE AAPS School Board – Christine Stead

MLive is offering a live chat with candidates for 24 hours on Thursday, October 23rd.

I would like to offer a different format: if you have a question for me regarding my platform, voting record, or future vision for the AAPS and how I would envision continuing to serve Ann Arbor Public School District constituents, please submit your questions here.  I will happily address any question anyone might have.

Thank you.


AAPS and WLPS Annexation: Updated Information

Our Superintendent, Dr. Swift, has provided important updates to questions that were open when we voted to proceed with the work such that both communities could vote on this important topic and that state leaders had an opportunity to improve the situation for the Ann Arbor community, particularly, since the current laws were not appealing for our community to proceed with annexation.  Under current law, our taxes increased and our foundation allowance decreased.  We recognized that this is an unacceptable situation for Ann Arbor, which we specifically expressed to state leaders during our BOE meeting on July 30th.

Since then, there have been some changes.  I will reference our Superintendent’s blog, as she does such a nice and thorough job covering progress to date.

Briefly, we are close to having our concerns addressed, but not across the finish line yet.  Taxes are likely to go up $25 annually for a home valued at $200,000 in Ann Arbor.  While this is not a lot, it is an increase nonetheless.  However, it is better than what the current Treasury’s policy would require.

In addition, if the House is successful in passing a bill this week or next, the combined foundation allowance of the new district would be $9,145 – which essentially brings in $2.7M of incremental revenue to the expanded district.

We were awarded an additional $1.4M in grant funding to assist with transition costs related to the annexation.  We will also have an opportunity to apply for the next round of grants in the same category, should the annexation be approved by both communities.

What is important to me is the following:

  • To be successful as a traditional public school in Michigan with the current legislative leadership in Lansing, we must be growing.  A stable or shrinking district requires substantial cuts to operating budgets that are inconsistent with maintaining high quality programs.
  • The WLPS annexation would be aligned with our growth strategy that we embarked on over a year ago.  Further it would make AAPS the 4th largest district in the state, allowing for some additional operational efficiencies to taxpayers in Michigan.
  • Should AAPS continue its growth strategy, we will need to acquire or build new space soon.  We are already building on two campuses.  The acquisition of three under-utilized buildings would be an incredibly economically efficient way to address capacity related to growth.
  • If the annexation is successful, we essentially maintain our neighborhood school model that we currently have and the children in Whitmore Lake will not be deprived of an opportunity to be educated locally.  Further, we have an opportunity to enhance programming in Whitmore Lake that may bring back families that have sought other opportunities in the last few years, as general operating funds to traditional public schools have been so dramatically cut.
  • If the annexation is unsuccessful, a very likely scenario is that WLPS will be dissolved soon.  If so, AAPS could be assigned some or all students in that community; however, we will have no additional funding support and we will certainly have additional transportation costs and capacity needs.  This will be an additional strain on our general operating budget that could be significant at a time when we still are funded less than we were in 2003 in terms of foundation allowance dollars (not adjusted for inflation; that would mean we are under-funded by $20M a year).

This is an opportunity to grow, maintain high quality education and make AAPS stronger.  If the state can address the foundation allowance issue, this will be a very compelling opportunity for Ann Arbor AND Whitmore Lake to become one district, yet again.


AAPS Increase in Enrollment – Just the Beginning

A year ago we set out on an expansive effort to reinvigorate the AAPS.  Our Superintendent and her team worked tirelessly (90 community meetings, several reports and BOE meetings, etc.) to develop community-relevant programs that would take our education environment to the next level.  As a result, we had two ribbon-cutting ceremonies this fall for very new programs and campuses and several other new programs and initiatives.

We budgeted for an increase in 400 students.  Last night, our preliminary enrollment estimates exceed that number (425; which still can change).  This may be the largest increase in students in any traditional district in Michigan this year.

I want to congratulate our team: Dr. Swift and her leadership team; our Principals and Teachers; our families and students – this is a huge achievement for everyone – and all of us will benefit from it.

However, this is just the beginning.  We will continue our work to reinvigorate our programs.  Last night’s BOE meeting covered the many STEAM programs that are either in place or starting across the district at all levels (including being one of the first public schools to have Project Lead the Way in elementary schools).  Skyline’s Principal gave a wonderful overview of their magnet PLTW programs and how STEAM is infused throughout.  However, we also heard from our middle school teacher about the wonderful programs they are doing – including developing roller coasters which integrates science (physics), engineering, math and now business/finance.  This program has been going on in the AAPS for 9 years!  Our colleagues from Singapore will be visiting us in November.  They will be learning from us as well.

Our increase in enrollment is a huge vote of confidence in the AAPS.  But it is just the beginning.  It is an opportunity to work harder on behalf of our entire community.  I look forward to the work ahead and a brighter future for AAPS!

A Closer Assessment of the State’s Color Coding Accountability System: Destructive, not Just Misleading

As I sit at my AAPS BOE meeting, I am trying to find the humor in the state’s color coding system intended to provide a ‘simple color code’ so families can make good choices on behalf of their students.  Laughable: 2 of the 4 ‘green’ (highest-ranking) schools in Michigan are closed.  Destructive: there is an inverse relationship between proficiency results and the color-coding.  Please see the table below for an example, thanks to the analysis of Trustee Andy Thomas:

Color Coded Ranking and Proficiency Comparison

Ashley high school was rated Green, but has no proficiency scores in math available.  This is one of our state’s 4 highest ranking schools in the color-coded system.  Mayville is ranked near the bottom in the top-to-bottom ranking and <36% of their students are proficient in math; however, they are ranked ‘lime’ – which is supposed to be a family’s sign that this is a good school.  In contrast, Pioneer High School is 93% (near the top); 80.9% of its students are proficient in math; but it is ranked ‘red’ – which is supposed to be a family’s sign that this is a bad school.

In comparing Pioneer with other ‘lime’-rated schools, this trend is maintained.

Color Coded Proficiency Comparison

It is hard to imagine that this accountability system is sending the right message to our state’s families.  Rather, this seems to be part of a more concerted effort to destroy our traditional public schools – especially those that are diverse, large schools.

Our BOE has already sent this report to the State Superintendent.  We will also be sending this to our esteemed chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, as they consider changing this system to a letter-graded approach.  If they use the same methodology, but substitute grades A – F for Green – Red, respectively, we have not changed the message to our families.

It is sad that our legislators continue to get away with this kind of poor policy-making.  I do hope we can elect new legislative leaders on November 4th that are truly interested in helping families across our state make good decisions for their children.


Start of 2014-15 Academic Year

The 2014-2015 academic year at AAPS has officially begun for our students!  This is the most excited year yet.  There are many new programs that we are launching this year – and more to come!

Dr. Swift’s Welcome Message

Dr. Swift’s welcome message issued today lists out the many exciting things happening in the AAPS (excerpt below):

“2014-2015 is already shaping up to be an incredible year as we continue to extend and enhance the quality for which Ann Arbor Public Schools has long been known. The Ann Arbor name represents quality teaching and learning experiences and top-shelf academic programs. AAPS educational outcomes, including ACT, Michigan Merit Exam (MME), and Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) consistently place AAPS among top-performing districts in Michigan and across the country.

Rich and plentiful performing arts, elective and extracurricular opportunities abound. After-school, Rec & Ed, athletic, and other enrichment offerings continue to make Ann Arbor Public Schools the envy across the region. The wide variety of opportunities available for students illustrates the Ann Arbor community value of providing a quality ‘whole-child’ learning experience.

AAPS expansions this year include:

-additional Preschool and Young 5s Classrooms,

-phase one of World Language expansion featuring the addition of Chinese, Arabic, and Sign Language offerings across several schools,

-opening of two new school programs:

Ann Arbor STEAM at Northside, K-8 and the Pathways to Success Academic Campus,

-continued technology infusion and enhancements across all AAPS schools, and

-K-12 International Baccalaureate Programming transitioning into Mitchell Elementary, Scarlett Middle School, and Huron High School over the coming three school years.

The most important resource we offer for students and their families in AAPS, however, are not our incredible programs – they are our amazing and talented educators – our teachers and leaders are caring, competent, and committed. You will find that they are exceptional, A+, and that they embody the AAPS mission to:

“ensure each student realizes his or her aspirations while advancing the common good,

by creating a world-class system of innovative teaching and learning.”

AAPS schools also benefit tremendously from a highly engaged, supportive network of parents, community leaders, non-profit organizations, business and higher education partnerships that support and ensure educational excellence in our Ann Arbor community. In Ann Arbor, we are fortunate to enjoy a ‘village’ approach to ensuring quality education for our children.

Our continuing goals this year include ensuring frequent, accurate communication, continuous improvement in levels of responsiveness, problem solving, and quality delivery throughout the organization. We value face-to-face opportunities for community outreach and engagement, and we will soon share more about our 2014-2015 community engagement focus that will take us to every school neighborhood again this year to continue our community conversation. Please watch for more details coming by mid-September.

We are a school district growing and innovating our way forward; we are an organization on the move. We commit ourselves to serve as educators who lead, care and inspire across every classroom, for every child, every day.”

-Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift, Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Swift’s sentiments expressed today.  I want to thank the teachers and administrators that spent so much time over the summer preparing our schools for all of our programs.  Our facilities and custodial staff have done an enormous job preparing our buildings.  The schools I have visited so far today all look impressive.

AAPS Attracting International Families

During a visit with a new family to the Skyline community today, I wanted to share that this family moved to Ann Arbor so that their children could attend school here.  They moved from Singapore and are new to Ann Arbor as of 3 weeks ago.  During a Spring 2014 visit, they felt that Skyline was the best choice for them.  This was an interesting conversation, given the AAPS trip to Singapore this summer, thanks to our partnership with Toyota.  There are so many great things happening across our district!  It’s exciting to get started on a new year.

Board of Education Work

While teachers and administrators are doing their work, the Board of Education continues with its own work.  We will release a letter to the State Superintendent of Schools, Mike Flanagan, next week that describes our experience with the recent color-coded accountability system and highlight other data that could be more informative for families (which I believe was the intent of this system).  A group of us continue to work with state leaders to improve the near term value for Ann Arbor of a possible annexation of the Whitmore Lake Public Schools, while preserving their opportunity to attend local public schools.

Best Wishes – Great Year Ahead!

Best wishes for a wonderfully successful 2014-15 academic year in the AAPS.  A special thank you to all of our AAPS community – students, families, teachers, administrators, staff.  It’s going to be a great year!

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.




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