The Long Road to AAPS FY14 Budget
This is going to be our most challenging year yet, having had to address $70M in 5 years (or an average of 10% of our general operating budget). Two years ago we were ‘cutting to the bone’. Any more interesting analogies won’t do justice to the kinds of cuts we have to entertain – and ultimately implement. As a Board, we have pursued local allowable mechanisms that we believed would be successful – and have been. These include the renewal, but not increase, of a special education millage two years ago and an IT millage last year. These help our district provide critical IT infrastructure as educational curriculum is increasingly assuming the infrastructure is in place. The special education millage was structured at a level that we believed would be supported by our community, not what we actually needed. It did pass, but it also adds to the budget deficit that we need to cover each year. Our WISD reimbursement rate is also declining, further exacerbating that driver of the deficit.
We have consolidated services (transportation), outsourced services (food/nutritional), reduced administration by 25%, increased class sizes, negotiated health care that allows us to preserve more funding for schools, cut athletics and arts funding, invested in IT that allows for more efficiencies, etc. We have done what we can to preserve programs; much of which is accomplished by ‘cost shifting’ to the students and families that are interested in certain activities (e.g., support for the summer music camp, increasing pay to play and moving more sports to club sport status).
We have updated our financial accounting practices from bottom line to line-by-line. Next year we will be using a zero based budgeting model for budgeting purposes and we will finally be able to track, trend and analyze costs by item. And yet, we need to cut our operating budget by 10% yet again this year.
As we start down this road, the Board is reaching out to community members to have more personal conversations with people – a dialogue to enable a real exchange of ideas and information. I am looking forward to this work. Administration will then share their recommendations, which we will continue to vet with the community and among ourselves. This will take the collective best thinking of all of us. It is important to do this as the community that we are.
It is disheartening to watch our different groups pit themselves against each other. Mike Madison’s list of cuts that he rattled off at the Board meeting last night would require a substantive renegotiation of the teacher’s contract. It was nice of him to offer so many changes to the teachers; however, as not one of them, that kind of ‘teamwork’ tees up an adversarial response from teachers. Recently Linda Carter launched her own campaign against the Superintendent and our administration. This is not the kind of leadership that we need right now. Many of Mike’s suggestions would be inordinately bad for students (like redistricting all elementary schools for the sake of leaving no one untouched, not based on need or what is best for students and families). I hope I see markedly different behavior from the leaders of our employee groups. I do look forward to working with our community and the AAPS administration to get this done.
We all need to come together to solve this one. There are layers to address: as a community, what can we continue to support? Are there cost-effective ways to maintain some of our unique/special programs? In the long-term, what are we willing to do together? Do we believe in education enough to have more people taking a message to Lansing that we, in Ann Arbor, have donated enough? That we need to be allowed to fund education to reflect our community’s values? That we believe education is a foundation to a strong democracy, economy and excellent quality of life? We need to peel back this onion – address each layer – as a team. This will take real leadership and real respect for one another.
Rather than pitting program against program, employee group against employee group, building against building – we must keep our priorities in laser focus to get this done. As we go through this process, we need reliable information to keep ourselves informed; not sensationalism. These are the tasks that lie ahead.