Action Alert: 2 Bad Bills Need Your Voice

I am going to share Steve Norton’s message today so that you can easily take action by following the links in his message.  These bills are both bad for public education: 1) road funding bill is in conference committee and the House version further defunds public education; 2) the early warning bills only exacerbate reporting requirements for financially at risk schools; they do nothing to actually alleviate the financial issues.  Please take 3 minutes or less to take action on these.  Steve has made it very easy to do so – but it is important that we do!

Steve’s message below:

This message will “hit the streets” later this morning. Please spread the word – we need everyone speaking out on these remaining bills!
We’d like to thank you for making the effort to contact your lawmakers during this “lame duck” session. Because of your efforts, along with many others across the state, we’ve been having a real impact. There are only a few days left in the current legislative session, and anything not passed into law at that point will fade away (possibly to return in new wrapping next year). So far, it seems that two of the “bad ideas” we featured in our recent article ( won’t be making the cut: the 3rd Grade Flunking bill and the A-F school “grading” bill. That’s the good news.

The no-so-good news is that two bills are still in play: the “deficit early warning” package and the road funding bills. As you surely remember, the House idea to fund roads was to take the money away from schools and local governments.

Lawmakers are trying to hammer out their differences on road funding in a conference committee, and we need to keep reminding them that whatever solution they find should just leave our schools alone. Even if you have already taken action on this issue, it can’t hurt to do it again! The pressure is on. Click here to take action:

On the “deficit early warning” bills, the House may act today to move them forward. We’ve already written about them, but here is what the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education has to say about the bills:

“As we alerted you last week, these bills require limitless reporting, do nothing to prevent schools from falling into distress and provide ZERO financial support or resources to help troubled schools. Most concerning is that the school community tried to work in good faith with Senate leadership to improve the bills, but the sponsors were unwilling to compromise and disregarded our suggestions. When these bills were voted on in the Senate they received bipartisan opposition, and we are hopeful with your help we can reach members of the House as well.”

To take action and remind your lawmakers that schools need adequate funding and not more excuses for state takeover, please follow this link:

Your voice can be crucial in swaying a Representative or Senator who is uneasy about the bills. Let them hear you today!

Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools

Honoring the Service of Glenn and Irene

Last night we honored the many years (21 years combined) of service that Glenn Nelson and Irene Patalan dedicated to the AAPS.  They have seen our district through many changes, a lot of change in leadership, difficult financial times and evolving expectations.  As Irene said, they are leaving the district in good shape and expect us to continue to be good stewards.

Glenn and Irene

I took this photo of them prior to giving my remarks, as they were honored last night.  The folks that showed up were some of our most dedicated parents and education leaders – and staff.

Irene and Glenn have demonstrated what it means to be a good trustee.  As Deb has mentioned, we all play our role.  And they have played theirs.  Irene has always been the warmth on the board.  Glenn has been one of the hardest-working, most dedicated trustees one might imagine.  He never misses an event in our district, which is impressive, given our size.  They will both be missed.

I wanted to acknowledge their commitment, service and dedication to the AAPS.  We became quite a good team.  We will look to the future to remain a good team, but with new members as we welcome Donna Lasinski and Patricia Manley.  If you haven’t thanked Glenn and Irene for their service, please do!

Thankful for Many Things in AAPS

As we prepare for time with families and friends, there is much to be thankful for in the AAPS now, and in the future.  Dr. Swift actually summarized many highlights so nicely this week, that I will share her Thanksgiving blog:

There is an excitement and renewed hope in Ann Arbor, and the AAPS is a big part of that.  I am particularly thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve this community as we continue to evolve the AAPS into a district that we can shape – and that works for us all.

Thanks for being such a great team, Ann Arbor!

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.



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