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Gun Concerns Propel AAPS to Cancel School on Election Day 5/3

AAPS Board of Education Study Session (March 30, 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Road

After a cancelled regular meeting earlier this month, the AAPS Board of Education (BOE) holds a study session. Tonight’s study session focuses on bond planning and the special education millage.

Study sessions allow the trustees to explore a topic more in depth than is usually allowed for at a regular meeting. There will be no voting at tonight’s meeting.


7:11 PM President Deb Mexicotte and trustees Simone Lightfoot and Susan Baskett approach the board table. They are followed by Vice-President Christine Stead and trustees Patricia Manley and Donna Lasinski. Superintendent Jeanice Swift follows.

7:15 PM Meeting is called to order by Mexicotte. Trustee Andy Thomas is absent.

7:17PM Student performance by Wines Elementary 5th grade chorus, led by Beth McNally. Several of the trustees gave their accolades. Wines principal David DeYoung recognized McNally for her teaching efforts.

7:29 PM AGENDA ITEM ADDED

Mexicotte said they were set to have a discussion for AAPS school buildings for elections moving forward. As they had a fairly “robust” discussion, they wanted to bring it forward to the public.

PUBLIC COMMENTARY – None

DISCUSSION ITEM: 2015 Bond Planning and Advisory Update

 7:30 PM Swift leads by saying that it’s been hard to believe it’s been a year since the community voted the district a $35M bond – passed at about a 79.5% approval rating. The district wants to update the public on how that money is being spent by the district.

Last year: new buses have been purchased and secure entrance upgrades have been implemented. Moving forward, the Bond Advisory Committee Facilitators have been asked to make a comprehensive plan for the future, using a “full and robust” process, engaging the community and district staff. Bond Advisory Committees (BAC) have been selected and have met for the first time.

Dawn Linden: Purpose of the BACs: engage community members in a process to help collect data, establish goals and expectations, identify exemplars and to bring forward recommendations to Swift. Linden says they are “going slow to go fast.” They want to do the work right the first time.

Bond Advisory Committees:

  • Athletic Fields & Facilities
  • Auditorium Upgrades
  • Musical Instruments
  • Playgrounds
  • Classroom Environment (combines classroom furniture and technology)

Jenna Bacalor talks over the process for the BACs. Initially: enlist and form advisory committee. Had 77 applications for BACs. Invited 61 of the applicants to join various committees. Also reached out to fill some gaps. First meeting was March 21. Next steps:

  • community engagement.
  • Look at exemplars – at this stage, students will be involved.
  • Use common decision process – using TregoED Decision Analysis Tool
  • Make recommendations – milestone of 2017

Lightfoot commends Bacalor for saying they were going to include students. She asks if that is only at the “looking at exemplars” stage. Bacalor says that students will also be included during the community engagement step.

Lasinski wonders if there is a stage in which research standards will be investigated. This will occur, says Bacalor and Swift, during the community engagement and the exemplar stages.

Advisory Group Norms: the BACs will be held to a set of standards. Being mindful, keeping students first.

Criteria for Recommendations: based on Strategic Plan and feedback from Swift’s Listen and Learn tour.

Merrilyn Colligan discusses committee communication. The BACFs wanted consistent manner of communication. For the public, there will be a website: a2schools.org/2015bond. The BACs will be updating both Swift and the BOE.

Bond Advisory Kick-off on 3/21/16. Initial meeting and break-out sessions for each committee.

Next steps:

  • Gather and share information and data: in-district surveys, contractor review, information from department and experts, review exemplars, conduct field trips
  • Articulate the ideal
  • Prioritize based on bond criteria
  • Present recommendations to Superintendent

Swift: students from low-income families generally get the short end of the stick when it comes to school buildings. She appreciates that they are articulating their vision for the future of the district. There will be an objective analysis of the district’s current status. Like infrastructure across the country, AAPS’s needs renewal, Swift says.

DISCUSSION ITEM: 2016 Special Education Millage

8:11PM Swift: the district is now out on tour to share information about the special education millage. Will be asking the community for a special education funding increase. An increase of 1.5mills over 10 years. The amount will help to cover approx. 97% of the cost currently spent on special education services, as opposed to the approx. 55% reimbursed now.

Special education services are important and mandated. The services cost AAPS about $40M per year, of which about 55% is reimbursed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD).

Benefits for all students. General fund dollars now diverted to cover the costs of mandatory special ed services will be available for funds for all students. If the millage is approved, AAPS will see a significant increase reimbursements from WISD.

Benefits of millage

  • Money currently diverted from general fund to pay for special education services
  • Millage dollars stay local
  • AAPS would see an increase of about $9.2M in special education reimbursement from WISD
  • about 1 in 7 students receive special education services

Who does the millage support?

  • learning disabilities
  • speech and language impaired
  • disabilities that range from mild and severe

Election: Tuesday, May 3

If there are questions, go to district website at a2schools.org, contact Swift by phone or email. District officials are also touring around the district to discuss the millage.

Stead: every year, there are about 100 or so bills that eat away at the School Aid Fund. The Flint Water Crisis will hit the taxpayers at a state level. This millage is meaningful and timely to keep the district strong. The local control is important, and it allows the district to think strategically about priorities for the community. In general, this community does value education. This is one of the few tools available to leverage local control. As elected officials, they can still advocate for things. Doing their best to protect education and democracy at the same time. This is a good way to do it.

Lasinski: she says she’s been getting questions from the community about the local control. AAPS: donor district. For every dollar AAPS community sends to Lansing, the district gets back about 34 cents. With this millage, every dollar comes back to the district and the other districts in the WISD.

www.a2cmc.org: Ann Arbor Citizen’s Millage Committee – group has been around for over a decade.

DISCUSSION ITEM: AAPS School Polling Stations

8:33PM Swift: AAPS school buildings have served over 30 precincts over many decades. The district’s focus was to be “warm and welcoming.” Despite the district’s best efforts, they have experienced some things that cause the district concerns about student and staff safety. District policies and guidelines are devoted to one top priority: keeping students safe. Since March 8, the administration has worked through legal and complicated details of honoring student and staff safety and community commitment to having schools as polling stations.

There is not enough time to make any changes for May 3 election, Swift says, but they will be discussing options for polling stations in the future. The district has met with city officials – they have the city’s full support for the district’s decision. What has become more complicated in recent years, months – how to honor both purposes of sacred democracy and education. Polling locations – open and uninhibited access to voting stations.

Swift recommends closing the district on May 3 for voting – received confirmation from state that it would be considered one of the six forgivable days. Rec and Ed will provide a full day of enrichment for families for whom this decision causes a hardship – will be paid for out of general fund. Will not have huge capacity (about 300 students), so ask that they prioritize families who it will be a hardship for.

Swift says that she realizes that some will think this is a reasonable step, and that there will be others who think this is not the right thing. They will err on the side of student safety, if the board approves. She asks that the board will approve the district moving forward in discussions with the city for the future – will work up a menu of possibilities.

Manley supports the decision to close the schools on May 3, but expresses her sadness at the need for it. “It’s perplexing and sad,” she says. Lasinski agrees with Manley. She says it was a great thing for her kids to see democracy in action when voting took place in their schools. While it is statistically one of the safest times to be alive in the United States, there are enough anecdotes that give reason for pause.

Lightfoot says they can do something about it at the legislative level. It is these “unintended consequences” that weren’t thought through as the legislators appease the gun advocacy community. Pleased that the community supports the district.

Baskett wants to clarify for the viewing public: close schools on Tuesday, May 3. Due not to nature but human behavior. The district will not be penalized by the state for the lost instruction time and will not be required to add it on to the end of the school year. For those families who will find it difficult to find daycare, Rec and Ed will provide enrichment free of cost.

Baskett is angry. AAPS serves 30 precincts. As a board, she knows they have to protect their children. But as a citizen, she is angry that through an act of what she sees as voter suppression, they will need to possibly change polling locations, which could possibly disenfranchise voters. She asks that the City Schools Committee take it up as an issue.

Stead hopes that there is unanimous approval for this, but she is disappointed that it needs to happen. It is wonderful to have the public in the school buildings they pay for and for students to see people come in and vote. There is a “striking need to change the trajectory we are on,” she says.

Mexicotte supports the closing of the schools on May 3. She says: on an election day, you are not allowed to wear a pin on a shirt supporting a candidate. Even on a t-shirt, you cannot express a political view. You cannot hand out literature within 100 feet of a polling location. However, you are perfectly able to carry in a loaded side arm in a polling place. “This is madness.” Because this board has taken the stance of no guns in schools, and because of poor taste and of bad behavior of “selfish and self-serving individuals,” students’ education is being held hostage. Started off the conversation politely and obliquely, but no guns in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and no political literature within 100 feet, either. Not going to jeopardize the safety, security, and well-being of students, staff, and other voters.

8:57PM AGENDA PLANNING – None

ITEMS FROM THE BOARD

Stead and Lightfoot: will be hosting another coffee klatch in April.

Baskett: Washtenaw Democratic Party has endorsed supporting the special education millage. Last day to register vote for the millage is the beginning of April.

Swift: STEAM @ Northside Expo tomorrow evening. Spring break is held in compliance with the state law guidelines.

9:01 PM MEETING IS ADJOURNED


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