AAPS Board Looks to Save by Outsourcing Grounds Maintenance; Hears BIS Program Updates

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education regular meeting/study session (June 17, 2015): 

7:01 PM Forsythe Middle School. All trustees, except for Patricia Manley, are present.

7:03 PM Board of Education President Deb Mexicotte calls the meeting to order. She notes that Manley is out of town.

No changes or additions made to the agenda – the agenda is approved unanimously.

7:05 Public Commentary: no one is signed up

Less of an audience at this board meeting than the previous.
Less of an audience at this board meeting than the previous.

Monthly Budget Report

7:05 PM Superintendent Jeanice Swift introduces the monthly budget report. Marios Demetriou, Assistant Superintendent, Finance & Operations gives the report. He notes it is the next to last report in real time. Final word on 2014-15 budget comes in the fall when the outside audit is conducted.

7:06 PM Revenue is approximately $12M higher than last year, in part due to increase of ~350 students and other factors. State aid payments come in over the summer.

Expenditure compared to last year, spending $3.2M more.

$25.5M spent in May. $24.5M came out of General Fund. Not usually that high, but in May – three pay period.

Compared to last year’s General Fund, there is an increase of about $5.3M. Revenues collected almost 81% as of May 31. Still more activity in June, July, August. Expenditures almost 78%. Still have quite a bit of activity to go through the rest of the 2014-15 year.

7:11 PM Trustee Andy Thomas thanks Demetriou for the monthly budget updates. He notes that some of the numbers could give people “the wrong impression.” The year-to-date Fund Balance is showing $20.8M. At last meeting, the Fund Balance was predicted to be at ~$12M. He asks why the Fund Balance would decrease so much just between the end of May and the end of the budget.

Demetriou responded that there is still “quite a bit of activity,” such as payroll that will happen. Even though this an interim report, he noted, they can still expect to end the year at the $12-$13M mark in the Fund Balance. Thomas summarized what Demetriou said.

7:16 PM Thomas also asked about the increase of $10M of revenue from this time last year, noting that it was not due to the “benevolence of the state.” Demetriou said that there was not yet the additional revenue from one-time adjustment from WISD. Despite the increase in real estate values in Ann Arbor, the school district does not see a significant increase from the state. Funds from Rec & Ed and Food Services are generally set to be break-even. Thomas wants “the public to understand that there is still a lot of adjustment that will take place between now and June 30.”

7:21 PM Trustee Simone Lightfoot wants to know what is still outstanding from WISD. Demetriou says that the district receives payments from the ISD six times a year. There is still a one-time settlement of $4.6M that will be taking place at the end of June.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot
Trustee Simone Lightfoot

7:24 PM Mexicotte notes that there are still some things that don’t hit until later on into the year, which won’t be finalized until October.

First Briefing Items [not voted on at this meeting]

Grounds Maintenance RFP (Annual Contracts)

7:24 PM Swift notes that the district has issued an RFP for lawn maintenance, athletic grounds care, removing snow, and grounds maintenance. The district is looking to moving to a model of greater efficiency. This past year, the district has supplemented with contractors. Swift says that the model of using a number of contractors will help the district “meet the real-time needs and increase our agility in keeping our grounds in really good shape.”

7:27 PM Demetriou and Executive Director of Physical Properties Tim Gruszczynski present. Chose to have one company do all lawn maintenance – AM Service, Inc from Ann Arbor for $330,089.85. Athletics Field Care went to Great Lakes Environmental Services. Snow removal is split between three different companies, divided by zones. General grounds utility also went to Great Lakes Environmental Services. For 12 months of work, Demetriou notes that all the contracts would cost about $990,000. Currently, the district is paying slightly more.

7:31 PM Lightfoot says she is slight confused by the layout. She clarifies the savings – Demetriou says it will be about $250-$300K of savings. Gruszczynski says that there AM Services is one of the only companies who have had previous experience working with the district. Lightfoot notes that she has been disappointed in the service this past year. Demetriou says they have supplemented the district’s own grounds service with some of the vendors this past year. Lightfoot wants to know why it costs so much, saying that she “thinks about her own yard.” One of the primary factors, Demetriou says, is that will the grounds be better off than they currently look. And he believes they will with the newer model. There are 33 buildings, some with extensive grounds.

Trustee Donna Lasinski noted that when they talked about this, they talked about additional criteria, such as grass height. They will never let the grass get past a certain height.

Lightfoot wants to know if they will pick up the dead grass. Gruszczynski says that the stipulation is that they will not leave the dead grass, and they will especially not leave it near the entrances to buildings. The vendors will be required to edge at least twice a year. There will be an intense late summer clean-up, that will include weeding of flower beds.

Thomas asks about the terms of the contract, why the contract would be a 16-month contract this year. Gruszczynski noted that it was just for this first year. Next year, it will be a 12 month contract. Thomas also asked why snow removal is contracted out through zones, saying that it sounds counterproductive rather than having one company do it. The answer: hoping for competitive bids from small businesses. Also could allow for some redundancy – if one company fails, they could rely on the other two companies.

7:42 PM Gruszczynski noted that he called in service for the air conditioning (the auditorium has been stifling).

7:43 PM Trustee Susan Baskett said she was trying to get a bigger view of why they sent out this RFP. She asks about the current grounds crew. Gruszczynski confirms this – noting that each of the vendors has agreed to give interviews to all of the district’s crew. Basket surmises that the loss of quality was probably because the district had been making cuts. The grounds department had been supplemented before by the custodial crew. Before, they had staffed to be “over-resourced” so people could learn on the job, but there is no such flexibility any longer. Baskett requests that the criteria given to the vendors be made public so the community could see what they should expect from the services.

7:46 PM Swift asks if the specs could be in the RFP.

7:46 PM Baskett questions edging only twice a year. Currently, the district does no edging. Great Lakes Environmental is also the company who does the parking. Baskett asked about wages. AM Service $9.50-11.50/hour, Great Lakes $15-16/hour , JCC $14-15, Superior $17.50/hour. Baskett asks that wages at each company be added, along with the specs.

7:50 PM Swift clarifies that in the case that the district is not getting the service what is the exit arrangement?

Demetriou says that they are planning to negotiate it. There will be a 30-day termination notice if vendors are not meeting the district’s standards.

Swift says that while she is excited about the savings, she also knows that Mother Nature might have other plans. Snow fall could increase the costs. The bid, as is, is for 20 pushes of snow. Mexicotte also noted that if it rains a lot, the grass grows.

Baskett asked if the grounds crew will need to have the regular background checks. General grounds/Utilities and athletic fields will need to have background checks, as they may have contact with students because they will be on the grounds while students may be present.

First Briefing Item: Increase in Chartwells Breakfast and Milk Costs

7:53 PM: Swift notes that breakfast and lunch costs have not increased since 2004. She said that Ann Arbor will still be on the low end of price compared to other area schools. There is a proposed increase of $0.25 from $1.00 to $1.25 for elementary breakfast, $1.25 to $1.50 for secondary breakfast price. Milk would increase from $0.40 to $0.50.

BOE Vice President Christine Stead (L), BOE President Deb Mexicotte, and AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift (R)
BOE Vice President Christine Stead (L), BOE President Deb Mexicotte, and AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift (R)

Lightfoot said she has read studies that so many students are eating breakfast at school. She asked if there has been an increase in breakfast participation. The representative from Chartwells said that participation increases about 2-3% each year. Students at Pathways to Success campus are offered dinner service, as of this past April.

Vice President Christine Stead said the board continues to talk about quality of the food. Looking to source more local food, using school gardens and local foods. She said that the price increase might allow the district to provide higher quality food to the students.

Swift has noted that since they have offered dinner service at Pathways, attendance for credit recovery and classes has increased significantly. She says that she is looking forward to seeing what happens with next year, hypothesizing that there   will be an increased graduation rate.

First Briefing: Tech12-020 Tech Bond Bid Pack 7 – Security Equipment Upgrade

8:01 PM Swift is excited to move from an analog to a digital system to help provide greater security for buildings and technology in buildings. There will also be a card-entrance into “tech-rich” rooms in buildings. In partnership with WISD and Michigan State Police, includes the installation of additional AI phones [allows secretaries to view who is at the door] in high traffic areas, like child care entrances – at no impact to General Fund or Building Fund.

Upgrading high school security service and data storage capability. Installation of lighting motion sensors to hallways and computer rooms. Wireless card access entry devices. Accelerate entry video systems. Contract for security equipment upgrade recommended to go to ROK Systems, LLC of Milford, Michigan in the amount of $ 1,329,776.94.

8:07 PM Thomas asks for clarification on where the funding for this upgrade will be coming from.  Swift and Gruszczynski confirm that it will be paid for entirely by 2015 Bond that just passed. The 70 AI phones will be paid for through the grant by the WISD and the Michigan State Police. Thomas wants to know if a theft like the one that happened at Huron High School could be prevented with this newer technology.

8:12 PM Baskett confirms that all buildings will be enhanced. The bid is only for Phase I. Phase I of security includes the entire video package. Should the board approve the cost, work will begin immediately. All the work on the high schools will be done by the beginning of the school year. Other buildings will be worked on over the course of the year.

Lightfoot mentioned that they previously talked about elementary schools being equipped first. Swift says that they will be working the community and their team to see what school entrances will look like. Last year, schools that did not have visual contact with their front doors were given first priority. Some schools might even need a vestibule or a front entrance added. Lightfoot wants to know why Skyline, Huron, and Pioneer are given first priority over Community High and Pathways to Success. The three comprehensive high schools already have equipment in place and will be upgraded.

Lasinski says that she sees this package as more securing “their assets, less their buildings,” except where it overlaps with the AI phones. Stead says this helps work to solve the problem of securing tech assets. Work with AA Police Department was to put together a more robust plan to connect with AAPD. Administrators at Balas Administration Building will have real-time access to things going on in the buildings. Price is a “bit more than expected,” but Stead is excited to get this up and running, especially at Skyline where it seems to be needed most.

First Briefing: Tech12-021-CO Tech Bond Bid Pack 8 -Data Storage Upgrade

8:23 PM The Bid Package 8 – Data Storage Upgrade equipment includes 1 Petabyte of data storage, backup systems and a 5 year maintenance package.

The District’s professional team, comprised of Barton Malow and AAPS ITD/Physical Properties staff, conducted post-bid interviews with multiple bidders and recommend a change order based on voluntary alternate 8 be awarded to Sentinel Technologies of Downer Grove, Illinois in the amount of $892,027.00. The project will be funded by the 2015 Bond Fund.

Lightfoot asks what will they be able to do now that they have not been able to do previously. With the enhancements, will allow them to do it more with “enhanced resolution” and will retain that data for all the 33 buildings. The district believes that they will have enough data storage for what they need. Lightfoot wonders why the bids are going down.

First Briefing: STEAM Northside Phase 2 Bid Pack 4 – Athletic Wood Flooring

8:26 PM Recommends the contract be awarded to Foster Specialty Floors of Wixom, Michigan in the amount of $82,405.00 based on qualifications and price. Foster is a woman-owned, minority-owned company. Only one bid was received. Gruszczynski says they are having a difficult time getting bids because of the tight time turnaround.

First Briefings: Policies

First Briefing: Revised Policy 5800-Anti-Bullying/Cyberbullying

8:29 PM Mexicotte introduces revision to district bullying policy. Passed as anti-bullying legislation last year. Brings cyberbullying into bullying policy. Hard to police all internet, all social media, all new apps, but when that bullying enters the school environment as a disruption, that is when they are able to take action. “At school” means in the classroom, on school buses, or at a school function. Principal of school is primarily responsible for this policy. Any one who reports bullying is ensured confidentiality.

8:32 PM Lasinski asks for clarification about “off-campus conduct,” noting that it opens wide the door for what exactly that means. Swift says the vehicle is different, but where it tips into the purview of the school is if it disrupts the teaching and learning environment. This could mean that the cyberbullying happens outside of school, but the effect ripples into school. At that moment that it disrupts learning, it becomes the school’s problem. It applies to the disruption of a single student’s education, notes Mexicotte.

8:36 PM Mexicotte says the district will not be monitoring the Facebook profiles of all students at all time. Stead says that it’s really important that cyberbullying be called out specifically within the bullying policy. What the district is most concerned about is that students are able to carry on learning without feeling threatened. Kudos are given to Dave Comsa, Deputy Superintendent Human Resources & Employee Relations, as he was the one who reworked the current policy.

8:41 PM Stead asks if the district still gives students a guidebook on proper use of technology. Mexicotte says that publication is not being distributed currently, but the district does educate students on proper use of the internet and cyberbullying.

First Briefing: New Policy 2700 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Procedures & Guidelines

8:42 PM Mexicotte notes that this comes directly from the state. Included in the policy is the exact way to request a FOIA from the district, the costs that can be charged. Overtime cannot be charged in order to fulfill a FOIA request. There will be a five-day response period. Mexicotte says that it “must be adopted wholly as a whole.”

8:44 PM Baskett notes that she has seen the document twice, as all public boards are required to adopt this policy. She notes that incarcerated citizens are not allowed to FOIA. She asks if the first $20 of a FOIA request is waived for people who declare indigence. Comsa notes that it is included. Baskett asks that both those points be included in the summary, for sake of transparency.

8:47 PM Thomas notes that sometimes information is requested that is not readily available. Mexicotte clarifies that a “public record” means that the writing has been prepared already. It is not something that is created for a FOIA request.

8:51 PM Mexicotte calls for a 10 minute break while they set up for the study session.

Study Session: Behavioral Intervention Specialist (BIS) Program Updates 

9:04 PM Mexicotte welcomes back the trustees and the public. Study sessions allow them to delve more deeply into a topic. Swift says it is “their great honor” to have the team of the seven behavioral intervention specialists, hired and managed by Dr. Elaine Brown, Executive Director Student Intervention & Support Services. Swift says that although the Performance Committee has already heard this presentation, she felt it was important enough to have the whole board hear the information. Swift says the preliminary data is “not just good; it’s phenomenal.”

9:07 PM Giving some history, Brown said the district had been identified as being significantly increased in suspending African American students with IEPs in 2012. At that time, the Behavioral Intervention Specialist program was initiated – two years ago. Now the program is implements in seven schools: Skyline, Huron, Pioneer, Scarlett, Slauson, Tappan, Pathways. This year, 107 students were served. District stays continued on suspensions. October in 2014 – visited by the state and found that they had drastically decreased suspensions. Out of 80 students last year, one student eligible for special education. This year, only one student identified as being eligible for special ed. Before, the district was reactive, now proactive.

Presentation of the BIS program

9:11 PM Each of the specialists introduced themselves. An overview of the program was given by Harold Wimberly, the specialist at Scarlett. The program is funded by IDEA funds. The program objectives: to improve behavior by reducing referrals and suspensions, to increase GPAs, to improve graduation rates, and to decrease truancy. Five strategies were identified as ways to facilitate student performance. Enhancements to the BIS program for the 2015-16 year: expand to Clague Middle School, increase district knowledge of the program, increase district professional development, and develop parent orientations and workshops. Looking to expand the program more outside of the classroom, giving students the opportunity to “shine and grow.”

9:22 PM A video about the BIS program is shown. Some highlights: The BIS has seen the number of suspensions decrease since the inception of the program. Student achievement has increased, as evidenced by the increase in average GPA. The program also utilizes guest speakers, field trips, summer camps to help students. Peer to peer mentoring is used in Huron High, and one-on-one mentoring is used throughout the program. Several students were profiled as they spoke about how the BIS program has impacted them.

9:31 PM Stead said they bragged about the specialists “all the time,” and said she was very interested in additional expansion of the program. The specialists are part of the “missing link,” that they provide a touchpoint for the students.

9:34 PM Thomas expressed concern for funding of the program after they “get out from under the mandate” of using SISS funds. If it has to come out of General Fund money, he said, then they will need to set aside money. He says he believes they would be able to provide the funds for professional development, but questioned the dollar amount for student incentives. One of the specialists says that often, the incentives are the only times those students get recognized.

9:39 PM Brown notes that she and Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, Assistant Superintendent Instruction & Student Support Services, were working on grants. She also said they were working to get exact dollar amounts for transportation and student incentives.

9:41 PM Stead brings up her concern about the security of the program. While she wholeheartedly believes they should be pursuing grants, she also hoped the specialists hear from the board that they support the program and will find the funds in the General Fund. She feels that the program is that important, it should be considered as part of their work.

9:43 PM Baskett says the program should be showcased. Granted, she said, the district was mandated to do something, but overall the program has had great results. After Baskett asked, Brown says the specialist at Clague has not been hired. Qualifications: needs to have a BA with some social-emotional and program-building experience, and who can build rapport quickly.

9:50 PM Lasinski noted that one of the ways the board can affect change is through policy. She asks if there were places in policy that could be changed to better support the BISs. She also asked that if the district was “working its way out of the funding loop” because they have been so successful. Brown says that currently, 15% of SISS funds is mandated by the state to go towards a solution to the problem of over-representation of African American student suspension.

9:54 PM Lightfoot says she “fell in love” with the specialists all over again, noting that they “look good.” She asks that they offer a proposed budget and proposed policies. Lightfoot asks to be invited as trustees to speak to the students. She also clarifies that the students who use the program not just African American students. Brown said that it didn’t matter that the district was “dinged for the racial part,” but that it was for any student who had a need. Lightfoot asks if there was some way to articulate that the program was for the broader student population.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift shakes hands with several Behavior Intervention Specialists
Superintendent Jeanice Swift shakes hands with several Behavioral Intervention Specialists

10:02 PM Mexicotte emphasizes that the board is very excited to be working with the BIS. They have seen not just incremental improvement, but points of improvement. She noted that it really highlights the efficacy of what the program is doing. It is a “sea change” in how they are thinking of changing behavior.

Study Session:  Continue the Conversation Report

10:05 PM The behavior intervention specialists are dismissed. Mexicotte introduces the continuation of Swift’s “Listen and Learn” 80+ meeting tour of the district Swift conducted in her first year of employment. Out of those meetings came the STEAM program, the IB program. This year, Swift continued the conversation.

10:08 PM Swift says the formal “Continuation the Conversation” report will come out mid-summer. What the trustees are looking at tonight is a draft version. Swift says that she hopes they can have a conversation. Goal of the tour was to follow-up on the Listen and Learn tour. During the continue the conversation: what is going well, what still needs our attention, and what else would you like us to know. Conducted 12 community engagement meetings. Met with a few hundred people this second time. Looking for patterns within a certain school community and for patterns that extend through the whole district.

10:11 PM Highlights: appreciate that AAPS parents and community members will take the time out to participate and will ask for things for other people’s kids. Not always the case. Swift said that she “loves that honeymoon is over.” These patterns that were found in the “continuing the conversation” tour were now are the “deeper work,” which she is committed to doing. Swift said that she would never forget the ‘beyond’ the school meetings, especially the meeting at PEACE Neighborhood Center.

10:17 PM Swift walked through some of the overriding patterns she heard on the Continue the Conversation tour.

  • After the Listen and Learn tour, “stuff has happened.” Parents were surprised that their concerns were listened to and acted upon immediately.
  • The reductions that are made that might inconvenience a middle to upper class family can sometimes devastate a family that is barely making ends meet. Parents need help knowing what to do for their students. Need more counseling.
  • Very positive remarks made about the quality of AAPS teachers. Swift noted that while teachers were given high praise, at each meeting, it was mentioned that she needs to attend to the “pockets of teachers who are not performing.” Thomas says that yes, the BOE supports its teachers, but when there are teachers who are not performing as expected, they “will take care of that problem.”
  • AAPS is a district that leads, cares, and inspires. The schools care about students. It’s “the first thing” parents will say. And they also know when they lapse.

10:26 PM Themes that came out:

  • School/District Improvement: parents appreciate and expect school improvements and enhancements
  • Transportation: concerns about current delivery and that transportation reductions impact the most vulnerable students.
  • Programs: would like more of what was just added. Would like more Young 5s, more STEAM programming, more IB programs, and World Languages at younger grades, and as a core subject of study – possibly as an immersion program.
  • Teachers and Staff: overwhelming support for large majority of teachers and administrators who are exemplary. Theme of expectation after support and development process, the district must be adept at exiting long-term poor performers.
  • Additional Needs: Needs of more middle school enhancement. Need of additional communication, especially at the secondary level. Need for more counseling and social work.
  • Learning: Additional supports for students who require more academic support. Also more differentiation for students who are ready to move ahead of grade level. Parents like A2 Virtual Online – but they need more support with online learning.

10:32 PM As Swift spoke about middle schools, Lasinski said that the middle school programs need more of a focus,  that the program needs to be looked at more holistically. Mexicotte says there were “no good old days” of middle school and  recommends a study session focusing on middle schools early in the fall, so there can be reflection on the history of why the district is where it is with middle schools. About seven years ago, the district made $1.4M in cuts focused on the middle schools. Mexicotte says there is no exodus at the middle school level, while Stead says there is a little bit of an exodus at the middle school level. So they need to focus on improving the middle school experience for district families. They need to consider strongly revamping the middle schools.

10:48 PM Swift also noted that while parents feel tightly connected at the elementary level, they feel less connected at the secondary level. Lightfoot said she would like to get away from the “over-reliance on technology” to communicate with parents. Mexicotte briefly talked about the history of the cuts in the guidance department and the conversations they had regarding different models of counseling. Says that if they are going to think about resource allocation re: counseling, should be something they need to study. Lightfoot asks that they talk with the students and the counselors who are working with the students.

11:00 PM Stead says there are inherent challenges with any online learning. She worries about programs that rely more and more heavily on online solutions to bridge the gap. Baskett echoed Stead’s concerns, noting that students need to learn how to learn online. Thomas says there are pluses and minuses to the learning experience of online learning. He says it was a valuable tool, one that requires a significant amount of discipline.

11:06 PM Lightfoot asks that the trials of implementing online education be documented to be able to present to the legislation even as the state pushes towards more cyber education. Lasinski notes that as all the data shows that parents want more contact with school, of course they would want more help with online learning.

11:08 PM Mexicotte suggests they consider different models for online learning. But she said, “Cyber learning, no one likes it.” Will get a report from the A2 Virtual Online team at a later time.

11:11 PM Swift thanks the staff and the community who participated in the Continue the Conversation tour. The complete analysis will be completed over the summer. Swift says that they need to pull on their advisory groups to get real change done. Want to focus and go deep on the work – will have to say no to some of the “ideas that are beckoning them.”

11:14 PM No board action

Agenda Planning Items: 

11:14 PM Stead noted that there will be specifications to review about transportation at June 24 meeting. Baskett asks if the vendor could demonstrate how the improved technology in the buses works.

11:16 PM Baskett asks for update on Durham (transportation vendor moving forward). Would appreciate year-end report re: GCA Services, the private company the district hired to provide custodial services. She wants to be assured they will be able to the summer cleaning in a timely manner. Would like a report on WiHi graduates. None of the trustees could attend, as it was on a Wednesday. Would like to hear about their accomplishments and would like to learn more about them. Mexicotte said there might be timing issues around some of them.

11:18 PM Swift says that they could put data together for GCA; however Mexicotte worries that the agenda for next week might already be too full. Swift says they could probably bring something. Demetriou says they would have a comprehensive report in August. They currently know that staffing is approx. 134 – added 11 positions in the last couple months. As of last week, they were fully staffed. $300,000 worth of equipment that was purchased and brought to the district in April. Will receive summer cleaning schedule.

Items from the Board

11:22 PM Baskett invited the community to the Juneteenth celebration this Saturday at Wheeler Park, held by the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP.

Meeting adjourned: 11:24 PM 

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