Board Mulls Supporting Special Ed Millage Ballot Proposal

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (December 9, 2015): Ann Arbor District Library – 4th Floor Board Room

The board is holding an executive session at 5:00 PM, in which they will conduct an informal evaluation of superintendent Jeanice Swift. They will also be considering material exempt from disclosure under attorney/client privilege.

During the regular meeting, beginning at 7:00 PM, Jenna Bacalor will give the annual report on the Rec and Ed program. The trustees will hear first briefing reports, which include: a quote for the second phase of the soundfield replacement project,  a student achievement data warehouse bid recommendation, and a resolution to support the ballot proposal for the special education millage.

The board will be presented with a special briefing on the Pioneer High School boiler repair project for a cost not to exceed $69,900.  The amount would be funded through the Sinking Fund.

Voting tonight will be on the Pioneer boiler repair.

7:09 PM President Deb Mexicotte calls the meeting to order.

No changes to the agenda.

7:11 PM Tim Wilkins directs the 8th grade Scarlett Middle School orchestra, who play two songs for the board.

Trustee Andy Thomas says he’s been “keeping his ears on” the Scarlett orchestra program, recognizing the growth. He acknowledged Mitchell Elementary’s music program. Vice President Christine Stead thanked the students for their performance, saying they highlighted some of the best of the district. Trustee Simone Lightfoot encouraged the students to stick with orchestra through high school. Trustee Patricia Manley recognized

Superintendent Jeanice Swift said how proud she was of the Scarlett Orchestra. Mr. Wikins gave her a violin lesson about a year, and she said she would be “back again for more.”


John Birko, lead teacher for the AAPS Homebuilding Program, is recognized as the 2015 Builder of the Year. Birko was honored November 4 by the Builders & Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor, a “coveted award.” He and his students build a house from the ground up, to be sold at the end of the school year. Mexicotte said the board also wish to recognize Birko’s work. She presents him with a certificate of recognition from the board.

Birko says the program is not about turning out “nail pounding idiots,” but works on character building and team building. He said that he has leadership training program hidden inside a home building program. He exhorts the board to keep supporting technical education.


Liz Gray: 3+ decades in the district, now home bound tutor. Following up with LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelley. Bringing up district issues, not just home bound issues. Wants to mention Community Resource program – learning just in time, any time. 90 hours = half a credit. Three groups being affected negatively: kids at Skyline, kids who are failing, kids who are sick. Asking they expand that resource, looking it as a powerhouse in the district. It has done wonderful things for kids, she says.

Since she’s dealt with so many kids at so many buildings and has addressed failure at so many levels. Ann Arbor transcript reflects Es when those Es reflect lack of attendance. She would like that they separate out attendance from lack of trying. She is suggesting that they instead change it to “no credit.”

As an educator and now as a tutor of students out of Skyline, Skyline students don’t have access to Community Resource program. Gray suggests that AAPS goes to a year-round schedule, saying she will speak

Jeff Gaynor: moved to Ann Arbor in 1968 to attend school. Daughters attended AAPS. Teacher at Clague. Sadly, he says, this year will be his last year of teaching. He says that each year, he discovers more needs, more to teach. He is still learning, concentrating on what he needs to do for his students. He works hard and long at preparing effective lessons. Until recently, he had the flexibility to use his professional judgement. But not for the past eight years. More restrictions each year. He is now teaching 140 students in assembly fashion, without collaboration. He has received reprimands when he has taught to his student needs. Teach and measure against an arbitrary standard. For students, learning is an artifice, with no room to engage. Who bears the responsibility: federal, state level, and district leadership, as well as the board. Only consolation: can focus on his students. We’re having a good year. He will continue to stand up for his students, rather than to simply follow orders.


BPSSG: Representative acknowledges the influence Manley had on him when he was a student. saying 55 to 60 new families represented this year. 12/17 at Carpenter Elementary all are invited to a Kwanzaa celebration. Next regular meeting is January 12 at Arrowwood Community Center.


Swift is “so proud” the division is in the district, as their goals are aligned so closely with the district. They are able to leverage out-of-school time to increase learning, she says. Rec and Ed “is our community.” The program is self-sustaining and in district. Can only look to about only three other programs in the country to benchmark to:  Madison, WI; Rochester, MN; and Boulder, CO. Most successful school-based rec and ed program in the state.

Despite the success of the program, Swift is proud that they keep working to improve. Moving from excellent to exemplary, says Swift. Fall catalog has been nominated for a national award.

Jenna Bacalor, Executive Director Community Services & School Wellness presents the report. She first recognizes her team, specifically calling out the 32 years of Sally Searls, who will be retiring in January.

Rec and Ed’s Mission: enhance the quality of life in our community through recreation and education. Programs are available for newborns on. Re and Ed’s budget is self-sustaining with no district subsidy or tax payer dollars.

Programs Offered

Early Childhood:: First Steps, Early On, Preschool Classes and Camps, Safety Town. Total registrations in 2014-15: 3,529, with about 2,000 of those being First Steps enrollees. Provided $34,776 in full or partial scholarships.

K-12: Afterschool Classes, Break Camps, League and Instructional Sports, Child Care. Total registrations: 18,983. Provided $145,595 in full or partial scholarships.

Adult: League Sports, Instructional Sports, Enrichment Classes Adapted Programs. Total registrations: 16,359. Provided $17,110 in full or partial scholarships.

2014-15 Trends: 

  • Increase in K-12 Enrichment, K-12 Summer Camps, youth and adult tennis, adult fitness and yoga, and most adult team sports.
  • Enrollment in early childhood programs, adult music, and adult languages is holding steady.
  • Decrease in adult dance and art and youth and adult baseball and softball.

Top Three Challenges

  1. Sustainability: increased marketing efforts; realigned job functions to focus on growth areas; fundraising
  2. Aging Facilities: provide high quality instructors, classes in convenient neighborhood locations and affordable fees
  3. Staffing: Decline in community ed training programs means hiring people with other backgrounds. Increase base pay and added retention bonus for child care workers.

Top Three Successes

  1. Investment in STEAM Learning: adding to camps, seen increases in registrations
  2. Community Partnerships: maintaining on-going partnerships, gaining new partners
  3. Increased Social Media Presence: increase in Twitter and Facebook followers; increase in unique visits to Rec & Ed blog

Strategic Priorities for 2015-16

  • Continue to diversify resources, including financial and human resources
  • Expand professional development systems for staff
  • Identify customer service improvement opportunities
  • Explore option for more adaptive programming to serve people with disabilities.

8:25 PM Trustee Commentary and Questions

Trustee Susan Baskett asks how does Rec & Ed determine which classes to offer and how do they find instructors. Bachelor says class ideas come from suggestions, Go to, click on classes to submit a proposal.

Trustee Donna Laskinski asks about the ease of applying for scholarships. Bacalor says they have tried to simplify the process, noting that if families qualify for free or reduced lunch, there is a single sheet to apply.  Lasinski also asks about the limiting factor of the growth of the early education program, surmising that it was the aging facilities. Bacalor agrees and acknowledges they have work to do on marketing early education programs.

Lightfoot asks how Bacalor’s team communicates up to her. How do they work internally to get that information shared, she asks. Seth Dodson says that as soon as they hear something either positive or negative, they meet with Bacalor to address it. Lightfoot also encourages Bacalor to increase the offerings for high school students.

Stead shares how important Rec & Ed is in creating a favorable first impression of the district to many people. She emphasizes the importance of the Rec & Ed division to introducing the district and thanks Bacalor and her team.




Swift recognizes several of the district accomplishments, some of which include: Angell and Wines Elementary Schools were recognized as 2015 National Blue Ribbon Schools, online ranking and review site ranked four of AAPS high schools were in the top 12 of best public high schools in Michigan. Rankings include state test scores, college readiness, teacher quality, student and parent reviews.

Ribbon cutting at A2STEAM, as well as Science Fair at A2STEAM.


Planning Committee: Met December 4. Tech bond series 2 is starting. First of the series II part of the technology bond. Context for special briefing item: haven’t always had the resources to invest in the infrastructure as they would like. Will expect that within the year, will have a better idea of what high priority needs will be. May be other infrastructure related items that come up this year now that there are funds to repair. Privilege in AAPS to begin thinking about long term sustainability of the district. Stead says it is “an honor and a privilege” to begin talking about these things.

Performance Committee: Two meetings since last regular board meeting. At the first meeting, the committee heard the Rec & Ed presentation. At the second meeting, the committee heard a detailed Enrollment Report, which will be released publicly at a later date. The report shows a net increase of enrollment for 2015-16 year of 289 students. Increase was at all levels, with greatest increase seen in kindergarten. 420 new students from Schools of Choice (SOC). Student movement out of district mainly due to families moving away from the district.

Despite the growth of the district, the report shows no adverse impact on class size.

Mexicotte observes that the district has hired more teachers to maintain class sizes. Thomas says that one of the pledges they made when the district decided to go for increasing enrollment through initiatives such as SOC was that they would work to maintain class sizes. Despite the addition of 600 students over the past two years, the district has hired to maintain the same ratio. Mexicotte connects the capacity report and the class size.

Governance Committee: has not met since last meeting. Next meeting 12/18.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Special Education Millage Proposal

Swift says they are pleased to initiate discussion on the potential for special education millage. Scott Menzel, Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) Superintendent, is on hand to discuss the proposal. WISD would be required to put it on the ballot for the county. Menzel says his trustees are reluctant to put it on the ballot without talking to all the school boards in Washtenaw County.

If voters were to approve a 1.5 mill increase, it would allow for approximately a 90% reimbursement rate, which is currently at a 70% level.

Mexicotte clarifies that May 2016 is a possibility, primary in August, general election in November. Renewal doesn’t expire until end of 2017. Possibly ask for a 10-year authorization for the increase, with an eight-year authorization for the renewal.

Thomas makes three points: 1) spending for special ed is mandated by federal and state law. The district has no discretion over whether they spend the money on special education. 2) The services are expensive to provide. 3) previously reimbursed at a 70% level (usually at 56% level) This millage increase would allow for about a 90% level. The difference between cost and reimbursement comes out of the General Fund.

Lightfoot asks about Headley cap on what the district can generate. Is there a cap on what the district can keep? Menzel says no, but it’s a test on what is reasonable. A 10% reserve is base, he says, but a 15-20% reserve would be ideal. Lightfoot’s concern is that money was locked up when there was “a lot of hurt.”

Menzel says that money was not held in reserve without conversations with the county school board constituents. Mexicotte clarifies that the tax revenue collected, less the 10% reserve and the costs of services provided by the ISD, is distributed to the member districts.

Lasinski asks about the rationale for not putting the increase and the renewal into one question. Menzel says that because the renewal is for more than half a mill, they are not able to combine the language. And two proposals on one ballot can be confusing. Because the renewal doesn’t need to be looked at immediately, Menzel says, why not look at the increase first. The sooner the districts could receive more complete reimbursement, the better, Menzel proposes.

If no one else comes up with a ballot item for a May 2016  election, the proposing entity bears the cost of the election. Lasinski says that the return on investment of the cost of an election would “be unheard of,” if the millage passes. Very few levers to pull, Lasinski says, to keep the level of the General Fund. Special education students will get the services they need and deserve. But the millage gives the public a chance to keep more money in the General Fund.

Stead says there is support for the millage, based on surveys done. Looking ahead, she’s not encouraged. Funding at the state level is not keeping up with what is needed in the classroom. While an increase in funds is going to schools, a bigger and bigger chunk of the money is going to MPSERS, not the classroom. Stead thanks the superintendents who are part of WISD for having the wisdom to have the ISD reimburse at a greater rate, dipping into their fund reserve.

Mexicotte: not just that revenue is coming in at a lower level, but that looming cost shifts are in the future for the School Aid Fund. AAPS spends $35M on special education services. When consider a reimbursement of 90%, $31.5M held harmless in General Fund versus 60% reimbursement for $21M. Lasinski reiterates that this millage increase truly is an opportunity for the dollars raised to stay in the district.

9:48 PM FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Soundfield Replacement Project

Merri Lynn Colligan, Executive Director Technology & Information  Service: making a recommendation for Series II phase replacement and repair of sound field projectors. During the Series I phase, a third of classrooms around the district were replaced. Currently in Series II phase, where a second third of classroom equipment will be replaced. The remaining third of classrooms will be replaced during the Series III phase and will be repaired during the Series II phase.

Recommendation is to MacProfessionals, Inc for $499,200.00 to install 400 units. This is a purchase out of the 2012 Technology Bond.

Lightfoot asks Colligan to convince her that the equipment is even needed. Swift says that student achievement improves with use of these systems. Two students in the audience agree, saying that when the systems work, they like it.

Lasinski wants to know how teachers are encouraged to use it. Mexicotte says that when the sound field projectors were first introduced, teachers were skeptical. Over time, however, use of the projectors have increased as teachers realize how it helps students and helps save their voices. Swift says the expectation is that teachers will use them in the classroom.

This is a first briefing item. Will come up again for a second briefing at the next regular meeting.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Student Achievement Data Warehouse Bid

AAPS currently utilizes the Data Director, a data warehouse assessment system, in a consortium with the WISD and LISD. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has announced that DataDirector will only be supported through 2016-17. Ann Arbor will need to transition our data warehouse and assessment system to a new product. The costs for the current data system, Data Director, are $3.90 per student.

During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, WISD, along with local districts, reviewed available data warehouse systems. In this process, the WISD requested participation from all districts to review the responses, attend demonstrations of the products. Through this bid process, two of the products rose to the top. Pearson’s SchoolNet and Illuminate Education.

It is the recommendation that the district enter into a three year contract with Illuminate Education. The cost for the Illuminate Education solution will increase to $6 per student at the beginning of November 2015, but they are still honoring the $5.50 for the remainder of 2015 to Michigan partners. In addition, they are extending the 18 months for 12 month cost – so if we sign before the end of 2015, January through June will be at no additional cost.  TRIG 2014-15 Grant funds, which must be used by June 2016, can support the Year one costs.

Thomas asks how difficult transition from DataDirector to Illuminate Education will be. Colligan says that the transition should be relatively easy, and basic training will be provided.  Illuminate Education is more user friendly, she asserts.

Lightfoot wants to know why the district can’t do this in-house. Colligan replies that it is difficult to create something to both warehouse data and house online assessment data. Outside vendor information is already populated in the system, as well.

SPECIAL BRIEFING: Pioneer High Boiler Repair Project

Boiler repairs are needed at Pioneer. Jennifer Hein, Facilities and Operations, recommends awarding a contact to Monroe Plumbing to repair and re-tube the Clever Brooks Flextube Boilder located at Pioneer High School, in the amount not to exceed $69,900 based on qualifications and price. The project is funded by the District’s 2010 Sinking Fund.

Lightfoot asks if routine maintenance has been conducted on the boiler. Thomas asks for rationale for repair versus replacing. In the long run, he wants to know, is the money better spent on replacing it.  Hein says it would take 12 weeks to build a boiler, as each boiler is built specifically to the building. Repairing is more expeditious and they want students and staff at Pioneer to be comfortable. Swift mentions that the temperature dropped in the school last week to 60 degrees.

Hein says that in about six weeks, the board will be getting bids for Pioneer’s chiller, which is more in line with how proactive they would prefer to be. Stead says that sufficient heat is going to be needed in the building. While there is a tradeoff between repairing instead of replacing it, ultimately, there is a significant risk of not having a functioning boiler during the coldest months. Most important – to have a functional boiler at Pioneer.

Mexicotte says that “fixing something is not a bad strategy.” She emphasizes that if it had failed in May, they might have had a different conversation about replacing it, but it is not a “decrepit patchwork” but a repair.

This is a special briefing, which means it will be voted on at this evening’s meeting.


Bid award to Monroe Plumbing in the amount of $69,900 to repair the Pioneer High School boiler, as recommended.

Unanimously approved.


No items for agenda planning


Thomas enjoys being able to give out grants from the Karen Thomas Fund, which he was able to do recently. He is so proud of the work being done at Scarlett and Mitchell.

Baskett: thanks to the Educational Foundation. First grant that Pathways to Success campus received.

Lasinski grateful for donations from tech community. Those companies are putting their faith into a school district that produces Blue Ribbon schools.

Stead: further compliment John Birko: humble, smart, strong advocate for students in the home building program. It was a privilege to share that moment with him tonight, she says.

Mexicotte: Scarlett orchestra was a fantastic way to start the meeting. Proud to be part of a community that values the arts as much as AAPS does.




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