AAPS Focused on Allen Elementary Relocation Plan

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (August 24, 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

During tonight’s regular meeting, beginning at 7:00 PM, two moments of silence will be observed, one in memory of Skyline teacher Christopher Peterson and another in memory of Muhsen Almohri.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift will give an update on the future of Allen Elementary after the flooding that occurred last week. Information reports on the Rec & Ed facilities and a student health update, focusing on immunizations, Zika virus guidelines, and the nutrition environment will also be given.

A special briefing will be brought forward to the board to authorize Swift to execute the lease agreement between AAPS and Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS).

An update to the local wellness policy is up for a second briefing. The update is being made to bring the AAPS Local School Wellness Policy into compliance with new federal guidelines.

Voting will be on the policy update and the lease agreement authorization. The board will also move on two action items: administrative contract approval and a resolution to the State School Reform Office.

7:07 PM President Deb Mexicotte calls the meeting to order. Trustees Simone Baskett, Donna Lasinski, Andy Thomas, Patricia Manley, and Vice President Christine Stead are present. Trustee Susan Baskett will be joining later.

AGENDA APPROVAL

Mexicotte refers to the resolution on the State School Reform Office. She says that she and Stead had been working on it. were working on it, and she had dropped the ball on it, without the board  The resolution can either be sent to the trustees this evening or can be shelved for next meeting. The trustees decide to review it tonight.

MOMENTS OF SILENCE

Skyline teacher Christopher Peterson and elementary student Muhsen Almohri are remembered in moments of silence by the trustees.

PUBLIC COMMENTARY

John Turner, Allen parent: Frustrated by having to deal with inconvenience and he’s mad. Big concern shared by most parents: the way communication is being managed. What hasn’t been happening is the leadership from our school has yet to approach our community to ask for questions. It’s shameful they’re getting better info from the press and the school Facebook page than from the district. It’s disheartening their leader isn’t at the board meeting. When we came here tonight, we were really hopeful that there would be an opportunity to get answers to their questions. Parents want to know how they can get involved. Want to know how they can help. Transportation and mechanical questions. Parents want to know about preschool and aftercare. There are a lot of families who don’t have internet or computer access and not even aware of the problem. Want to know exactly what they are looking at in terms of time. Painting additional detail into the picture would help tremendously. The infighting of parents is at “Level 11.” Getting better leadership from leader of PTO than from the leader of the school. Young 5s, where will meet the teacher be held. What caused the water main break, which set of insurance – city or school – will be paying for repairs. Student organizations would like to participate in helping. We could gel as a community or it could splinter and we could lose families. That is what is happening because we are not getting the attention and information from you tonight. Glad to be here, sad he needs to be there, and he’s mad.

Turner receives applause from the ten plus members of the Allen community who are present.

Mexicotte says this is a great opportunity for clarification. Admin has been working “night and day” to figure out how they are going to open for school by opening day. She asks Swift if she could speak to Turner’s points.

Swift thanks Turner for sharing this evening. She says they don’t have answers to many of the questions he poses. They don’t want to put out incomplete or inaccurate information. It was just today the first team was able to get access to the building. Still working on getting lease negotiated. She’s happy to work at the discretion of the board to move the Allen Elementary update up on the agenda. Trustees choose to move it up.

INFORMATION ITEM: Allen Elementary Flood Event

What occurred: the school sustained significant damage when presumably a water main broke under the school the evening of Thursday, August 18. Engineers have been in the past couple days to determine the extent of damage and the length of time needed to repair and restore.

Current work in the building: 

  • cleaning and restoration to restore from the impact of the water and flooding of the building
  • assessment of the full extent of the structural damage to determine next steps

Temporary location:

  • maintain the school students, staff, and community all together in one location
  • situate the school community for a longer-term location, in order to be prepared in case that is needed
  • educational experience and services for students and staff will be full and robust as they were before; they will not be diminished.
  • provide the fullest support possible for the students, staff, families, and comment during this time.

Negotiations are in-progress to secure a lease on West Middle School located at 105 N. Mansfield in Ypsilanti, 4.5 miles away from Allen. All Allen attendance-area students will be provided with transpiration to the temporary location. West MS was chosen as it is an empty school that had not been officially shuttered.

Next Steps

  • open with Allen staff in the temporary West Middle School location as scheduled on Monday, August 29 – contingent on successful negotiation on lease
  • open with students as scheduled on Tuesday, September 6
  • share FAQ document on Thursday, August 25
  • open Allen school hotline to address individual question from Allen parents and community, 8AM to 8PM daily
  • host meet & greet event, Wednesday, August 31 at 5PM at West Middle School location

Swift notes that the K-1 furniture will be moved to the West MS location, as the height adjustable furniture at West can’t adjust low enough. She thanks all the the people who have been working to get the progress made. For every answer they have, there are still ten questions they don’t have answers to. The district’s commitment is that Allen will be even better in the future than it was before, says Swift.

Dawn Linden, executive director elementary education, goes over the FAQ document.

Linden says that West MS does not meet the preschool licensing requirements. Instead, the Allen preschool classroom will be temporarily located to the Westerman Preschool and Family Center until the Allen school is safe for return. Bus transportation from the Allen area to the Westerman Center will be provided each day if families have need of this service.

7:45 PM Baskett has arrived and asks Linden about transportation and start times for preschool. Linden confirms that transportation will be provided for preschool students. The start time will be determined as transportation is figured out, Swift says. The district is working to keep start times as close to usual as possible.

Start and end times for Allen are still being determined. They are tied to transportation. Additional buses will be needed to provide transportation for the students who would usually have walked to school.

No changes have been made to staffing. Before and after care will be provided at West MS, as well as the Westerman Center for preschool students.

A Meet & Greet will be held at the new location on August 31 at 5PM. A bus will be provided at Allen Elem for those who would benefit from transportation to and from the event.

Restoration and cleaning is in process now. The safety of the structure is being assessed by engineers. The district’s goal is to “work diligently” to return Allen to a safe learning environment.

Stead asks Swift to share “who is on the job:” engineers from Robert Dardis Engineers, Mitchell and Mouat Architects, surveyors from Midwest Consulting, insurance adjuster. Swift says it looks like much of the curriculum can be saved. Allen principal Kerry Beal and Linden will be working with Allen staff to tag what they want moved from the Allen school to the new location.

Swift has asked Allen’s staff to begin to determine what kind of help they need. Linden assured the Allen parents and teachers who are present that most of the library books are okay. The library shelving will need to be replaced, says Linden.

Thomas says they’ve had floods before. He asks if they have any idea of what percentage of the floor plan appears to have structural damage. Swift cautions him, saying that they aren’t able to visually tell that the building is structurally sound. That’s why the engineering and surveying reports are going to be key.

Thomas notes that as the BOE liaison to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Foundation, he has been in contact with the executive board, letting them know support for Allen could be a districtwide focus. He singles out the leadership who is “responding to the best of their ability,” while still acknowledging the frustration and anger felt by the Allen community.

Baskett begs the Allen community to “be patient,” as they don’t have all the answers. She assures them they will “build a stronger Allen.”

A member of the community asks if the grounds around Allen is safe. The playground has not been cordoned off. She asks for more clarification. Jen Hein, interim executive director, physical properties, says the playground has not yet been assessed, but an orange safety fence will be put around any unsafe areas. Hein says there is no reason to be concerned for the playground areas, however.

Mexicotte asks they do what they can to “build a perimeter” around any area that might be affected. She also asks about families who don’t have access to internet and who might not be aware of the extent of the problem. A mailing will go to out all families once start times and transportation are confirmed, as well as phone calls.

Another community member asks if in-district transfers will be allowed after the extent of damage and timeline is determined. Mexicotte says the community will be informed as the timeline is figured out. She says they will “cross that bridge” when they get to it.

Lasinski is “hesitating” because it is so hard to be comfortable with uncertainty. She offers her support and understanding to the community. She notes there were many blessings, as students weren’t in the building, staff wasn’t in the building. She’s grateful to Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) for offering their building.

Thomas notes that this evening, the board has deviated from their usual process of not taking questions from the community members who are present at the meeting. He appreciates Mexicotte’s adjustments and believes it was appropriately exercised.

The flooding was “a shock to all of us,” says Mexicotte. She’s confident the district has worked diligently and has a good solution moving forward. In all of her time on the board, she can’t think of another time there’s been a building so damaged that it can’t be opened. She asks the community to let them know how else they can help with this “unprecedented event.”

A community member says that it’s not about “control,” as Lasinski had mentioned, but that it’s knowledge in a timely fashion to feel confident and to move forward.

Swift thanks Turner and the other members of the Allen community for speaking tonight. She says they don’t want to put out inaccurate information. Turner speaks up and says he would prefer something, in place of nothing. Another parent says she has appreciated the information from the district. this kind of back and forth from the audience and

Mexicotte thanks YCS for stepping up so quickly and working with the district, with nothing but concern for AAPS students in mind.

ASSOCIATION REPORTS: None

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

8:33 PM Mexicotte reiterates her thanks to YCS and to the admin for their hard work on addressing the Allen Elementary school issue.

SUPERINTENDENT REPORT

Swift thanks YCS trustees for their openness and helpfulness in addressing the Allen flooding relocation. She also highlighted several of the district construction projects that have happened over the summer, most notably the Mitchell Elementary expansion.

She also notes the summer programs at Rec & Ed, including Safety Town and several summer camps. Swift also recognizes AAPS as the only district that takes choir, band, and orchestra to Interlochen over the summer.

District theme: A2gether, centering around equity for all students. As a school administrator said, “It’s not me against you; it’s us as a team against the problem.”

Staff additions: two new principals. Jazz Parks, former Tappan Middle School principal, has taken on a new role as the executive director for middle education. Jill Minnick has been promoted to Chief Financial Officer. Swift says that for the first time, there will be a full K-12 leadership team with elementary, middle, and high school executive directors.

Back to school documents, as well as updates on Allen Elementary, are available on the district website.

INFORMATION ITEM: Rec & Ed Summer Update

8:52 PM Jenna Bacolor, Executive Director, Community Services & School Wellness, presents. Eleven weeks of summer camp offered. 184 total camp sessions with 4,040 registrations. There were 477 fee waivers for a total value of $66,259 – this number has been added to this week.

There were 130 high school volunteers who commit to spending a full week at a camp, for a total of 7,810 volunteer hours.

Baskett thanks Bacolor and asks her to talk more about the high school volunteers. Outreach to students happen in the spring. Students apply to be part of the program. Bacolor says the volunteer program is a pathway to a job with Rec & Ed.

INFORMATION ITEM: Student Health Update

School Nutrition Environment

FDA released final rules for school nutrition environments. The district is in good shape to be complying with smart snacks rules. The federal government wants the healthy choice to be the easy choice, says Bacolor.

Bacolor also notes AAPS’s Farm to School focus. Chart wells’ Nutrislice interactive

Immunization Rates

AAPS immunization rates increased from the 2015 to the 2016 school year. The total immunized increased from 3,763 (89%) to 3,969 (94%) in 2016. Waivers for other non-medical, non-religious reasons decreased from 260 (6%) to 140 (3%) in 2016.

Bacolor believes success in immunization rate increases is due to Michigan waiver law of 2015, great health partners, communication campaign and persistence by school nurses and office professionals, and growing national rejection of un-scientific claims linking vaccines to autism.

Zika Virus

Bacolor: Most people who get Zika don’t develop obvious symptoms. In children, the two most common symptoms are fever and rash. Michigan is not currently within the estimated range of the mosquito that carries Zika virus.

Three travel-related cases of Zika in Washtenaw. No Aedes Aegpti mosquitoes have been identified in Washtenaw County.

Because Zika virus isn’t transmitted from person to person by casual contact, it is not necessary to issue a school-wide notification. Isolation or quarantine is not needed. Develop protocol for school-related travel to areas with local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. After Baskett asks, Bacolor says they could develop that protocol within the first few months of school.

9:15 PM Trustees will take a ten minute break, with an additional 5 minute time to review the proposed State School Reform Office resolution.

9:39 PM The meeting resumes.

SPECIAL BRIEFING: Authorization to Execute Lease Agreement

Swift says the request is for authorization to execute the lease on the West Middle School property. She says there is “good, solid work” underway with YCS. Swift’s commitment is to keep the trustees up to date on the leasing information.

Thomas is unclear on what authorization Swift is asking from the board. He asks if she is asking for authorization for her and her council to negotiate a lease to the best terms possible. If the authorization is not given, the trustees would have the right to ask for them to be presented with the lease, then have another meeting in order to approve the actual lease.

Thomas wants to know if the board would approve a final lease after the negotiations. He wishes he knew a bit more about what was involved in the lease. He notes that he is raising these questions because he wants to get a feeling for how much authority they are delegating. For context, Mexicotte says, the YCS trustees gave their superintendent the authorization to negotiate a lease on their behalf.

Swift was hoping to bring forward the generalities of the lease to tonight’s meeting; however, the lawyers had just begun working on the particulars today. The authorization to execute the lease, Swift says, is requested in order to move in a timely manner.

Mexicotte says they can determine that the lease be made a public document as soon as it is available.

Baskett wants to reassure the public that they are going to be fiscally responsible. YCS was in the position to sell the space; AAPS is begging for the space. [The West Middle School building in intended to be the future home of Washtenaw International High School and Washtenaw International Middle Academy for the 2017-18 school year].  Swift says their insurance gives a blanket amount for all costs incurred to be $1,000,000. It is possible expenses over the insurance amount will be incurred.

Stead thanks Swift for what she has done personally in six days. She is worthy of handling a crisis. She is not sure that she is in the position as a trustee to put caveats or caps on what is needed for the Allen Elementary community.

Thomas agrees with Stead. He’s already resigned to the fact that expenses over the insurance will be incurred. The district is in a good position to handle the costs of the crisis. He puts a lot of trust in Swift, the legal counsel, and her staff. He wants the public to understand that they are delegating a large amount of responsibility to Swift.

Swift says she intends to keep the board apprised of all costs and information regarding Allen.

Lightfoot acknowledges the extenuating circumstances and reminds the public of the stewardship of the trustees. She is thankful to YCS and asks YCS Superintendent Edmondson to “be kind” as the lease is negotiated.

SECOND BRIEFING: Local Wellness Policy 5700

The policy was amended to comply with the healthy snacks in schools federal guidelines. No questions from the trustees.

CONSENT AGENDA

  • Authorization to execute lease agreement
  • Local Wellness Policy 5700 update

Baskett asks to remove the authorization to execute lease agreement. Mexicotte moves it to a Board Action Item.

The update to the local wellness policy update is unanimously approved.

BOARD ACTION ITEM: Administrative Contract Approval

Paul De’Angelis – HS executive director. Would begin Monday, August 29.

The contract is approved unanimously.

Mexicotte congratulates Swift for having filled out her team with the hire of De’Angelis and the promotion of Jazz Parks to MS executive director.

BOARD ACTION: Authorization to Execute Lease Agreement

Baskett is not confident to give an “open checkbook” for this, despite her confidence in Swift. She would like to acknowledge to the community they have had this discussion. She would feel better with some parameters around the lease negotiation. Baskett knows Swift will communicate with the board.

Thomas thanks YCS and says his trust extends to them. He is grateful to them and is confident that whatever the terms of the agreement will be “fair, reasonable, and appropriate.”

Mexicotte says they have worked to be good stewards of the district, balancing financial stability against all competing areas of the district. They have demonstrated their stewardship in such a way that engenders confidence, says Mexicotte. If something unexpected happens to one of their school communities, the board will be there for them. Allowing the admin to execute the lease, even in the face of uncertainty, communicates the message to the Allen community, posits Mexicotte.

The authorization to execute a lease agreement is approved 6-1, with Baskett dissenting.

ACTION ITEM: Resolution to State School Reform Office

Given the School Reform Office’s announcement that they will shut down the bottom 5% of schools by June 2017, the trustees, headed by Stead, have crafted a resolution opposing the closure approach. 

The board opposes the SRO’s strategy, opposes Michigan’s “continued assault on public education,” and recommends the State of Michigan embark on work that reverses the downward trend of education in Michigan.

Lightfoot asks if there has been some impediments to the SRO’s plan, as the entity that the SRO is now under has not had governance over schools for the required three years.

Stead says time is of the essence. She notes that districts in the community have already had conversations with the SRO.

Thomas wants the public to understand how “pernicious” this plan is. The Governor is able to close any school in the state for whatever reason he thinks is appropriate, based on whatever criteria he might come up with, says Thomas. Governor Snyder, through the SRO, lied.  And now the Department of Education has been removed from the process, now that the SRO resides in the Department of Treasury. “It’s not just what they could do to the schools in Detroit, bad as it is; they could do it here.”

Thomas then offers a suggestion to the resolution, asking to cut out “though predictable,” saying it is snarky and that’s not the tone they want to convey. The board is amenable to the change.

Lasinski brings up charter schools that are allowed to operate with huge degrees of failure. She is offended by the  move of the SRO to Department of Treasury and that the M-STEP is being used to determine the failure of schools. Overall, Lasinski is in support of the resolution but is hesitant to give specific policy recommendations.

Mexicotte says the recommendations are the least important part of the resolution, that the heart of the resolution lies in the “whereas.”

Lightfoot advocates for the recommendations to give as many choices as possible. She wants to include “poverty” as an important issue when speaking of at-risk communities and schools. She also brings up the fact that the M-STEP is likely to change in the next year.

The resolution is unanimously approved. 

AGENDA PLANNING: None

ITEMS FROM THE BOARD: None

Meeting is adjourned: 10:45 PM


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