Board Addresses Safety, Transportation Issues; Enrollment Up By 346

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (October 26, 2016): A2 STEAM@Northside, 912 Barton Dr

Some scheduling changes for the regular meeting: An executive session, scheduled for 5:30 PM, for the purposes of attorney/client privilege, has been cancelled. The regular meeting, previously scheduled at 7:00PM, was moved up to the 5:30 PM start time. The time change was posted yesterday morning.

The meeting will begin with a moment of silence for Community High student Justin Tang, who passed away Tuesday morning.

The trustees will hear an informational report on preliminary student enrollment and class size for the 2016-17 school year.

There are no first briefings scheduled.

A second briefing will be held on a teacher and administrator laptop purchase recommendation. The district is looking to purchase 94 Apple laptops, all bundled with the AppleCare Protection Plan. The purchase would be for a total of $112,248, paid out of the 2012 Technology Bond.

The trustees will take board action on voting to adopt a resolution on high school assessment.

Voting will be on the laptop purchase recommendation.

5:36 PM President Deb Mexicotte lets the assembled public know the meeting will begin in a few minutes. About 15 members of the public are present. She says that the tours through A2STEAM@Northside have taken longer than expected. The rededication of the Northside building took place earlier this evening.

5:42PM Mexicotte convenes the meeting. All trustees are present: Simone Lightfoot, Donna Lasinski, Susan Baskett, Andy Thomas, Patricia Manley, and Vice President Christine Stead

AGENDA APPROVAL

Agenda is approved unanimously without discussion.

 MOMENT OF SILENCE

5:46 PM PUBLIC COMMENTARY: Seven signed up

Britain Woodman, Open parent: here to talk about bus service. He details the times were routes were changed and communication was Open and other AAPS families have had buses break down, buses lost, bus routes canceled. Route 124 canceled – wants to know how that was chosen – bus with most kids and farthest away. Communication: Durham should respond to emails, phone calls, Twitter. Schools don’t get notified consistently from Durham. Yesterday, a bus driver told students there were no buses tomorrow. Inequity – not parity with other elementary

Ari Sammartino, Open parent: bussing issues. Scheduling woes. Last year, went to Scarlett Middle for pick up. Now students need to get picked up at 7:00AM, drive out to Pittsfield, then back to school. Bus 124 – starts at Mitchell at 7AM. More children than any other route. What remains inexplicable is parents haven’t been consulted. Essential to have reliable bussing transportation for socioeconomic and equity reasoning. Bus schedules should reflect when buses actually come. Buses have been as late as 40 minutes. Asks that bus drivers receive adequate pay and training. Bus routes should start at 7:15 at the earliest. Timely communication should happen from Durham and AAPS. If not possible, contract with Durham should be cancelled. People you are harming are people and families of Ann Arbor.

Stephanie Preston, AAPS parent: wants AAPS to address issues of getting kids to school safely by working with City of Ann Arbor. Asks that pedestrian crosswalk timing is increased. Flashing light needed at Geddes. She moved to Ann Arbor because of the school system, asks that it be safe for students to get to the schools. Demands action.

Sarah Cohen, AAPS parent: an emotional couple of days here. Here to talk about safety. You all have been playing Russian roulette with our children, and yesterday we all lost. Tang was let down by all of you. That family was torn apart. You have neglected the basics by keeping our children safe. We depend on you. This is your primary job, to keep our children safe. This tragedy is unacceptable. You have to fix this today.

Carol Galler, Huron parent: We are all hurting. Sorry all the way around. Her own children attend Huron, and her daughter has said they were not even sad; they were angry. Her daughter has had experiences where she has nearly gotten hit by cars as she has crossed in the same spot Justin Tang did. Asks that there be a School Zone sign or a flashing light. She wants something to happen and she wants it to happen now.

Andy Seidl, AAPS parent, Huron and Tappan students: He’s been driving his son to school at Huron – every morning as a driver, he’s terrified he is either going to hit someone or see someone get hit. Two years ago, he contacted people, and the situation hasn’t changed. Angry about it. We should know better. It’s going to happen until we make a concrete change to make it stop. Frustrated we cancelled so many buses, but now there’s someone dead. If we could spend the money to prevent that death, we would all go back and happily do that. We can’t, but we can stop the next one. We need lights or bridges.

Mike Zawacki, Open parent: offers condolences to Tang family. Came originally to speak about the bus situation, but reducing traffic at the school sites by consolidating to buses, keeps less traffic on the streets. What enrages him as a parent of a daughter who rides the bus is the safety issue. When his daughter’s bus route was canceled, it was unsafe because there were children at the bus stops waiting without supervision. Terrible route planning, terrible communication. Looking forward to hearing from all of you what you’re going to do to fix this. To get our students to school on time and safe.

6:10 PM Mexicotte thanks all the speakers. With the consent of the board, she is going to move some items around on the agenda. Wants to speak to transportation and safety.

SAFETY

Thomas  is a member of City Schools Transportation Safety Committee is composed of representatives from AA Police, Pittsfield Township, City of Ann Arbor, AAPS, WISD, concerned citizens, and BOE. When Thomas first joined committee, they went over some of the issues that had been through committee to review the status. One of them concerned the crosswalk on Huron Parkway immediately east of Huron HS – connects Huron with AAATA bus stop. Had been advocating for three years for City to do that. While not time to assign blame, Thomas wants public to know that AAPS has no authority or power to do anything to affect roads of Ann Arbor. This is the responsibility of the city. On more than one occasion, AAPS has offered to provide funding. After a lot of haranguing, the City said they didn’t have enough money, they applied for a grant and were denied. They applied again for a grant, denied again. This year, they applied for a grant and were still waiting to hear back. Thomas was told City Council would need to approve any appropriations for improvements to city streets. He says he’s contacted council members and Mayor Taylor. Shortly after, City Council passed measures for crosswalk improvements.

While there have been improvements, they have happened too slowly for BOE members, says Thomas. One of the first things Swift did when coming into the district was to meet with AA city officials regarding pedestrian safety. When Thomas met with Councilwoman Sabre Briere today, she said she shared his concerns. District is still waiting for police report from yesterday’s accident. It might take weeks before they know exactly what the circumstances were. There is now a dedicated pool of money for the City for crosswalk improvements. District is pushing as hard as it can, and Thomas says he will push even harder to get this taken care of. Police will have a greater presence on Huron and Fuller. Absolutely unacceptable situation. City has been dragging its feet on this, Thomas says. If there’s anything positive to be gained by this tragedy, it will move things along at a much faster pace.

Stead says there is also a City Schools Committee. Recognize City Schools Transportation Committee is closest to this, City Schools Committee is working to coordinate pressure on the city. Says they’ve asked for no activity today to let the district community grieve, but then there will be more of a response from the City.

Prior to Thomas, Mexicotte served on the City Schools Transportation Committee. She was also frustrated with the timing. The light that is out from the parking lot on the Fuller side took about five years of negotiations to get in place. Now that it’s there, couldn’t imagine how they functioned without it. She asks the community to help the district with their advocacy piece. “Help us,” Mexicotte says. She urges people to contact their councilperson and the Mayor, to join AAPS in their mission.

Swift: in the spring of 2015, an accident occurred near Huron HS. Following that, Thomas was able to make progress on those flashers. When Swift and Huron principal spoke to City Council, the council welcomed them and gave money. Dangerous pattern of something happening, then action. She appreciates the outrage of the community and they share it. “Parents should be able to send their students to school without terror.” Mayor Taylor emailed Swift to say: “this is truly devastating. Let us know what you need and we will work to get it done.” Swift says they will not rest until they make progress on this matter.

TRANSPORTATION

6:29 PM Swift apologizes to parents who came out tonight to talk about transportation; she’s sorry they needed to.

Overview: AAPS contracts with Durham to transport approximately 4500 students to and from school, along with athletic, field trips, arts, and various endeavors.

What has occurred:

  • increase in ridership, increase of enrollment – initial adjustments for increased ridership
  • critical shortage of drivers across Ann Arbor and nationwide
  • Struggling with poor communication, both internal and external.
  • changes in specific routes that were not authorized or communicated to AAPS admin in advance
  • failure to meet expectations for all routes
  • particular lapses with athletic trips
  • an inconsistency in drivers, coverage, competency, and service.

So far, have not achieved the quality level of transportation service that our students, staff, and families expect and deserve.

  • On Monday, Oct 24, a number of unscheduled driver absences caused five routes to be cancelled (3 routes didn’t run, 2 ran after notice was given that they would not run).
  • 53 students received no transportation, and 107 students received bussing via altered routes.
  • Communication regarding the lapse in service on these routes came to AAPS teams late in the morning, and so communication with our parents was not completed in a timely manner.

Swift she learned about the bus cancellation at 7AM on Monday morning, and in her world, that was two hours too late.

What should have occurred:

  • Durham’s Number One priority: Getting students to school safely, on time, and ready to learn.
  • Durham is contractually obligated to supply all services necessary to ensure sage, consistent, friendly quality transportation
  • assumes responsibility for timely delivery of students to and from school programs.

Swift says they are going to take decisive action immediately. This will not happen again. Next steps:

  • immediate contact with Durham VP on Monday resulted in seven additional drivers relocated to Ann Arbor in order to meet transportation needs.
  • AAPS request that Durham immediately conduct a comprehensive review of AAPS transportation processes/procedures, develop and present to admin and BOE detailed report of areas of concern and root cause, and articulate Plan of Improvement on their findings.
  • Independent audit of transportation operation.
  • Propose an increase in hourly rate for drivers to attract and retain a stronger, more reliable driver work force – start at $20.32/hour, effective Nov. 1 – an increase of $4/hour. UofM and AAATA are paying more per hour than AAPS.
  • articulate a plan to complete the “communications package software” on all our busses, to include real-time transportation communication with families.
  • will update process on all these areas of improvement through a Monthly Transportation Progress Report, including metrics around driver attendance, customer service ratings, driver retention, routes run, and percentage of on-time delivery. Report published to board and to the community.
  • continually monitor twice a day. Swift says she has lost significant trust [in Durham]. Will review the status of our AAPS transportation agreement on November 16 and December 7, providing direction for admin as tot he next steps for the district.

Swift says they can never again have students waiting for a bus that does not come. Committed to taking appropriate and decisive action. Now that they are aware, they will follow these steps and any other steps trustees feel that they need to add.

Brad Tate, Great Lakes Regional VP, Durham Transportation: apologies aren’t enough, given a community who has heavy hearts. Nothing on Swift’s plan seems out of place, he says.

Stead: not many other districts that are the size of AAPS in Michigan. Multi-million dollar contract for Durham. Stead is cautious about Durham’s due diligence report because she can’t imagine that they are just now finding out about this now. Would be very interested in Tate’s comments – and would expect a lot of them, or else they should be looking to put together an RFP soon.

Stead is not interested in the apology, but wants more tactical. Tate says it boils down to communication and enough drivers. With enough drivers, a lot can be solved. Communication is key, he says.

Stead says he’s not answering her questions. Swift has come to board with a plan. Stead wants to know why they don’t have the communication package with Durham. While they have GPS, somehow unable to close the gap between routes and where buses are. Wants to know if an increase of that amount would be enough to get regular drivers.

Tate cites unemployment rate – low in Ann Arbor compared to State and National rates. Stead says unemployment rate hasn’t changed a whole lot since RFP of two years ago. Tate says starting wages for Durham should have been okay. Same package offered here has been successful in Plymouth.

Stead says board is responsive; had Durham let the board know in August, they could have upped pay then. Tate says that coming to the district for the money is the last thing Durham likes to do.

After Stead keeps asking Tate if $20.32/hour is enough to get enough competent drivers, he finally says it will. Stead wants to make sure they are benchmarking against the right things, given that unemployment in Ann Arbor has been lowest in Michigan, in Washtenaw County.

There is also a communications issue that needs to be solved, Stead says. That’s not an hourly wage concern. “If you don’t pick up the phone and call our administrative team, you need to be,” Stead says.

Mexicotte says her understanding is that Amy Wolfe, Durham General Manager, is working hard to manage it, but when Mexicotte hears stories such as, “There are seven phones ringing and I’m the only one here to answer them,” that’s a problem. Need to hire more people who can answer phones, etc. Those people don’t need the same certification as drivers.

Lightfoot says she’s not in favor of privatization, in general. A couple of weeks ago, she says, she was struggling with transportation. Her issue: if they are contracting with Durham, and that contract isn’t being fulfilled, how is the district going to recoup some of that cost. Swift put together something, but she wants something from Durham. Common sense tells her that Durham needs more staff.

Lightfoot likes the audit, but can’t understand that the district is needing to cover more cost. Durham needs an audit. She wants to know where Durham’s getting their data. Lightfoot says they hired Durham to get out of the transportation business, but now this has been taking up so much of district manpower and time.

This is the first time the district has upped the hourly wage, but has worked to add hours and offer bonuses. Lightfoot says she sees the costs inching up – she wouldn’t be upset about that if the quality of service matched it.

Lasinski appreciates that Swift put in front of the board a plan to improve. She does not anticipate that the district should cover the cost of an audit – that the burden should fall to Durham. There should be a change in a profit margin this year for Durham. Not just a profit loss, but a loss of faith and trust in the community.

Baskett introduces herself to Tate, saying that he might remember her as the trustee who asked a lot of questions, then voted no on their contract. Wants a better sense of where the $20.32/hour wage came from. Swift says that when they look at AAATA is paying, they felt that they needed to be competitive. Needed to break the $20/hour threshold.

Jill Minnick, Chief Financial Officer, says they three rates of pay $16.32 – current new hires, $17.34 and $18.36/hour – rates from WISD those drivers were hired in at (based on seniority) for bus drivers. No steps included. Swift says she’s bringing a number, then Minnick, David Comsa, Deputy Superintendent Human Resources/General Counsel, would go into negotiations with Tate.

Swift says she is looking for direction from the board in if they can go forward in negotiations.

Manley asks if the $20.32/hour would be for all the drivers or for seniority. Swift says she’s asking for new drivers to begin at that, then Minnick and Comsa would build out wages for other drivers.

Baskett wonders if there is some underlying issue, other than pay, that makes it difficult for Durham to retain drivers. She shares stories where she has interacted with drivers and at least one has “not been too friendly.” She says they don’t want to be doing this every year, every semester.

Baskett also brings up issues with the district having a job fair for Durham – concerned that the district is shouldering the cost of that job fair. Swift says Durham is contributing to the cost of the fair. She also notes that the job fair will be for jobs around the district, including lunch supervisors, paraprofessionals, after school care.

Baskett confirms they are in the second year of a three year contract, with an annual evaluation with Durham. Baskett suggests that they should try to move forward but that they are ready as soon as possible in January to get an RFP going if needed.

Thomas clarifies number of schools transportation is provided to: all schools but Community? 106 routes serving about 4500 students per day. As secretary, it’s Thomas’s job to respond to emails sent in. Since the beginning of the year, he’s heard from a lot of Open families, Skyline, concerns form Lakewood and Bryant. Haven’t heard from a lot of other schools regarding issues of transportation. He thinks that no news from other schools is good news. Are the problems experiencing with transportation system wide or is it issues with particular schools?

Swift says some of the issues are systemic – the ability to communicate with parents in real-time is systemic. Another issue across the whole system is ensuring consistent drivers. There are some focused issues, in addition. Challenges from Open – students come from all over district. When they hear from parents re: ride times, some of those routes cover quite a distance. That’s one of the analyses Swift will want from Tate is if there is a way to be more efficient. Difficulties in both areas – systemic and focused.

Thomas clarifies that if the transportation is working at 90-95% of the locations, but not for 5-10% of schools, that is not acceptable. Swift says that one of the goals of the audit is to get inside the 5-10%.

When the contract with Durham was first being negotiated, Manley was in her first few months on the board. She is very frustrated with where they are now. Have to figure out how to resolve, and must be done now. Wants everyone who works for our district to be satisfied.

Swift adds that she wants to add that one more the systemic issues surround the elementary schools with buses not leaving on time. Those buses are impacted by high school and middle school buses.

Mexicotte says that the board was ignited by the bus routes canceled on Monday. Prior to that, they’ve been taking a step-by-step approach, as would be expected from a board of education. She wonders if during any point of what they saw as a seven week constant issue, did Tate ever reach towards the district? Tate says no, he did not. If his people needed help, and if AAPS was doing everything they could to solve the problem, they would expect that he would reach in to help.

Mexicotte asks if there is a role for advisory from parents, if we are looking at a particular school or particular area. Another strategy that the district could use is to use the community.

Lightfoot wants to know if they are actually saving money, especially as the district is expanding through growth in the area. Wants to put something in agenda planning. Swift says they do have that data prepared for the trustees.

7:43 PM Mexicotte thanks Tate for coming in and tells him that they look forward to working with Durham over the next five weeks in order to improve service.

ASSOCIATION REPORTS – None

PRESIDENT’S REPORT – None

SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT

The mood is somber, but Swift wants to share the news of the district. She shares some of district highlights.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

Planning Committee: Stead says they hired more teachers at the beginning of the year, so need more laptops. Technology bond money would be used for those laptops. Does not preclude any other spending they had planned. Also talks about strategic plan work.

Performance Committee: met yesterday. Focus school status – down to only one school in the district: Scarlett MS. Is in limbo status, since State has changed the focus school criteria. Has seen improvement at Scarlett, especially for sixth graders.

Mexicotte asks about the path off of Focus School status. Swift says it’s now in Purgatory because the State has changed the metrics. She says that the work is good work and would have been done anyway.  Mexicotte says that they should request for the state to articulate a path for Scarlett to get off, and if the State offers no path, they should vote Scarlett off of Focus School status any way.

Governance Committee: meeting next week,

INFORMATION ITEM: 2016/17 Preliminary Annual Student Enrollment & Class Size Report

8:04 PM Swift cautions that this is a preliminary report, based off of Count Day that happened in early October. Final report will be given in December, once full audit is completed.

Sustained a third year of significant growth in the district. Growth spans early childhood, Young 5s and K, elementary, middle, and high schools.

Swift says she thinks of the district as an airport, with lots of arrivals with people coming into the district and lots of departures with people leaving for other states, etc.

Class sizes, from elementary to middle to high school classes, are “significantly improved,” says Swift. She says she is grateful for families who choose AAPS.

Jane Landefeld, Executive Director Student Accounting & Research Services,

Overall student headcount: 17,450 for 2016/17. Increase of 346 students from last year to this.

+245 HS, +310 MS, +446 Elem – increases over a three year period, from Fall of 2013 to Fall of 2016.

Significant continuous increase in Kindergarten: three year increase of +198 in Young 5s and +135 in Kindergarten.

Preschool programs: total of 368 students in four different schools (mostly concentrated at Westerman Preschool & Family Center).

Schools of Choice In 2016 – 333 new students plus 112 students previously enrolled in AAPS, but who have moved outside AAPS boundaries. Total enrollment of 445 students through SOC.

Student Mobility: 141 students coming from charter schools, 54 from parochial, 110 from , 0 from other public schools in county, and 12 from home schooling.

Students coming back to AAPS from within the AAPS boundaries:

  • 230 in 2015
  • 317 in 2016
  • 547 = total over two years

Lightfoot thanks Landefeld for the report, saying it helps quell the “wrong narrative” that AAPS is poaching students from neighboring districts. Manley echoes this, as well.

Lasinski thanks Landefeld for her work and appreciates how easy she makes it for the board.

Baskett wants it clearer where the 333 students are coming from. Also wants to know what the percentage of SOC students come from students who are within the district. As the district is growing, wants that data to be clearer.

Thomas says they are able to get good data on how many students within the district are attending charter schools, but can’t get reliable numbers on home schooled or privately educated students. Even using census data, it’s difficult to come up with a base number of school-aged children in the district.

Baskett asks about what defines Young 5s – students the same age as a kindergartner, but typically has a birthday after May.

Class Size

  • Young Fives – 100% of classes at target of 14 or under
  • K – 100% of classes are at or below target of 23-26
  • grades 1-2 – 99% of class sizes below or within range of 24-26
  • grades 3, 4, 5: 99% of classes below or within range of 26-29
  • middle school – 98% of classes below or within range 30-33
  • high school – 94% of classes below or within or range 30-33

Thomas: there is “no magic formula” for what makes optimal class size. For 12 years, district showed a loss of an average of 28 students each year between 1st through 5th grade. But for the past couple years, have seen a reversal in that trend. Now seeing an increase of 25 students each year from 1st to 5th grade. He attributes it to changes made districtwide: IB, STEAM, changes at elem level.

Stead acknowledges that when there is that kind of growth in the district, it allows for the district to grow and allow for crises to be handled, such as Allen Elementary.  “We can change our destiny,” argues Stead. The growth in enrollment is testament to that.

Landefeld thanks the trustees for their leadership in nurturing the growth. Baskett thanks her for her years of service, as Landefeld is retiring and this is her last report to the board. Lightfoot also thanks her, calling her one of the “unsung sheroes.” Thomas says “from one data geek to another,” he really appreciates the work Landefeld has done.

8:54 PM Swift pays tribute to Jane Landefeld’s 33 years of service in the district. Fitting that Landefeld’s last report is at Northside, since when Landefeld first moved to Ann Arbor, she moved into the Northside district and raised her family here. A short video honoring Landefeld is shown.

9:06 PM Board takes a 10 minute recess

9:20 PM Mexicotte reconvenes the meeting.

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM:  Teacher and Administrator Laptop Purchase Recommendation

No changes have been made to the purchase recommendation.

Mexicotte asks about the expected release of new MacBooks tomorrow. Merri Lynn Colligan says they usually look to improving their technology, but for this recommendation, she wants them to be the same models as the ones they are supplementing. Mexicotte clarifies that this would be a very small percentage of the overall fleet.

CONSENT AGENDA

  • Teacher and Administrator Laptop Purchase Recommendation

The trustees unanimously approve the consent agenda.

BOARD ACTION ITEM: Resolution to Use SAT for 11th Grade Assessment; Eliminate M-STEP at 11th Grade

Stead is bringing forward a resolution on high school assessments for consideration. TheState Superintendent is putting forth “massive changes” in student assessment.

Stead reads over the proposed resolution, which is to use the SAT for 11th grade assessment and to reduce redundancy in testing by eliminating the M-STEP at 11th grade.

Mexicotte says that she thinks this is an incredibly well written resolution and offers the right number of appropriate recommendations.

The resolution passes unanimously, without discussion.

ITEMS FOR AGENDA PLANNING

Thomas says there’s been some interest from the public for the board to take a position on daylight savings time. Might be something to discuss in executive committee.

ITEMS FROM THE BOARD

Stead: Washtenaw Alliance for Education holding a county-wide leadership conference on 1/28/17, for work to support Washtenaw students.

Thomas: concert with Okemos HS and Pioneer HS orchestras this past week.

9:41PM Meeting is adjourned.


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