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Ann Arbor schools face $17.8 million budget deficit

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Michigan school districts are struggling with growing budget deficits. Even relatively wealthy districts are facing unprecedented cuts.

The Ann Arbor Public School district faces a $17.8 million deficit. The district's budget for the 2011-12 school year is $183 million. 

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen met with the district's Board of Education on Wednesday, where he laid out three possible plans to deal with the deficit in Ann Arbor – each one progressively more severe. 

All three proposals include:

  • teacher layoffs: Plan A: 32 teachers; Plan B: 48 teachers; Plan C: 64 teachers
  • closing Roberto Clemente, one of two alternative high schools in the district
  • cuts to transportation*

*Plan C calls for getting rid of high school bus routes entirely.
Ann Arbor School Board president Deb Mexicotte says the cuts are "reaching the bone," and "if you keep cutting, you’re going to reach the place where you can no longer maintain what you do well."

Mexicotte blames the state for what she says its chronic under-funding of education:

"This is not the story of our smallest districts or our districts that have struggled because of their tax revenue package. We’re talking about districts that people generally think are insulated from these kinds of things." She adds, "we’re all in this together."

Mexicotte says the growing deficit is due largely to rising retirement costs and a lack of local control when it comes to raising money for the school’s general fund.

The major difference between Ann Arbor and many other struggling school districts is that Ann Arbor has around $18 million in so-called "rainy day funds" from which it can pull. Though Mexicotte points out that they've been pulling from those reserves "bit by bit" over the years, so their fund equity is less than what it was when she first joined the AAPS board nine years ago. Back then, she says, they had roughly $40 million in rainy day funds; today it's less than half that at around $18 million, according to to Deputy Superintendent Allen. 

Here's a list of other cuts being considering in order to deal with the Ann Arbor school district's deficit, according to AnnArbor.com:

  • Eliminating the district’s three police liaison officers for a total reduction of $350,000 or about $118,000 per officer.
  • Cutting the middle school athletic directors for $37,500. Or sharing athletic directors among multiple buildings.
  • Eliminating four counselors ($400,000). Under the existing union contract, Allen said the district must maintain a 350-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio. Right now, AAPS has 250 to 300 students assigned per counselor, he said.
  • Disallowing the use of general fund money for entry fees for athletic competitions ($58,000). Allen said this would be for weekend, non-league tournaments and invitationals. The sports boosters possibly could provide funding instead for those tournaments.
  • Reducing high school lacrosse to a club sport rather than a varsity sport ($93,000). Allen said this proposal was on the table last year.
  • Disallowing the use of district funds for summer band and music camps ($60,000).
  • Outsourcing the district’s noon hour supervisors ($75,000).
  • Reducing the budget allocated for classroom substitute teachers ($200,000).
  • Consolidating the district’s summer school program into one building instead of multiple buildings ($80,000).
  • Restructuring the information technologies department ($200,000). Allen said this is not intended to impact the number of full-time employees, but it is dependent upon the upcoming technology millage passing. He said otherwise, there could be between $50,000 and $75,000 that would need to be added back in to the budget.
  • Doing away with the early notification incentives for retirements ($400,000).

A more detailed budget proposal will be discussed at next week's AAPS Board of Education meeting on Apr. 25 at 7 p.m.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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