AAPS Receives Positive Financial Audit; Lasinski Resigns

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (November 16, 2016): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Board of Education (BOE) trustees will meet in executive session at 5:00 PM this evening, citing attorney/client privilege. Executive sessions are closed to the public.

The regular meeting, starting at 7:00 PM, will begin with a moment of silence for Huron High student Benjamin Pierce, who passed away November 8.

Skyline High School student Darius Hall will present. Special recognition will be given to Executive Director Ann Farnham and the PTO Thrift Shop.

The trustees will hear two informational reports: the monthly financial monitoring report and the FY 16 Annual Financial Audit, conducted by Plante/Moran.

There are no first briefings scheduled.

A second briefing will be held on the snow removal contract recommendation. Three local companies have been recommended for the job, splitting the district into 10 zones. The minimum unit price per push [the cost of snow removal each time it snows] will be $94,054 with the approval of the recommendation. The contracts will be funded through the General Fund.

Voting will be on the snow removal contract.

7:15 PM President Deb Mexicotte calls the meeting to order. Present: Mexicotte, Vice President Christine Stead, Trustees Patricia Manley, Simone Lightfoot, Donna Lasinski, Susan Baskett, and Andy Thomas. Absent: None

MOMENT OF SILENCE

A moment of silence is observed for Huron High student Benjamin Pierce, who passed away on November 8.

AGENDA APPROVAL

The agenda is approved without change.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION: PTO Thrift Shop

Executive Director Ann Farnham and the PTO Thrift Shop is recognized. Since Farnham’s tenure, the thrift shop has donated over $1.9M to AAPS. Much of the money goes towards providing late buses for after-school activities, transportation for field trips, and other programs throughout the district.

Lightfoot thanks Farnham for her leadership, as does Lasinski. Baskett recalls when she first heard the idea of the thrift store. Manley and Mexicotte thank her for all the work.

PUBLIC COMMENTARY

Sophia Gideon, AAPS parent: asks the board to extend bus transportation to students who live within one mile of their neighborhood school or who have unsafe walking conditions. While a bus stops near her house, her daughter isn’t allowed on the bus because they live within the mile and a half radius. A bus system is not a luxury, but a safety measure. Schools are for students, not employees. The excellent programs of the district are only possible if students can attend.

Monet Tiedemann, AAPS parent, AnnArbivore: asks for an update on the Durham contract, noting one is not on the agenda.

Harmony Mitchell, AAPS trustee-elect: thanks the Ann Arbor community for electing her to the board. She thanks Mexicotte and Thomas for their work. She looks forward to working with the board. She says she hopes she brings her name to the board.

Swift clarifies that she will be giving an update on the transportation issue in her Superintendent’s Report.

Mexicotte, speaking to Gideon’s point, mentions that they will be implementing a space-available transportation policy, come January.  Swift also says that if any walking route is treacherous, the district addresses it on a case-by-case basis.

7:40 PM ASSOCIATION REPORTS

PTOC: Ed Nains, PTOC board liaison, thanks PTO Thrift Shop for their Veteran’s Day raffle. He notes they had a launch party, where each BOE candidate was able to make a speech and have a  table. Offered two nights of PTO Officer training. Upcoming meeting: November 27, 7:00 PM. Topic: grant writing.

AAAA: Kerry Beal, Allen principal, shares good news from various principals around the district. She notes that it has been a tough year for Allen Elem, but she thanks the

AAEA: Linda Carter, President: 52nd day of school. She thanks members of the AAEA for their energetic efforts during the political season. We must continue to provide a safe, welcoming environment for students. Congratulates Lasinski on her win of the 52nd State of Michigan House of Representative seat. She looks forward to the transparent process of the board filling her seat.

PRESIDENT REPORT: None

SUPERINTENDENT REPORT: 

Swift says it has been a challenging fall. Loss of four high school students in the fall, a student last spring, a staff member over the summer. Hear in the community a desire to come together and work through this loss. So proud of teachers, admin, staff members who work so hard to assure that students’ needs are met. These losses are community losses. In addition, have seen across the state and the country, sensitive that students are feeling that tension on top of these losses. She hears people ask how can we come together, how can we be more unified. AAPS is committed to ensuring every student feels valued and welcomed.

Convened Superintendent’s Student Advisory Group – 20+ students from AAPS high schools. She asked the students how they should work towards bringing the community together. She says the students spent 90 minutes talking through. She charged the group to put together an event that would be witnessed by the community. She is pleased to introduce Darius Hall, Skyline HS junior, who will summarize what they came up with

STUDENT VOICE: Darius Hall

He walks through the nine points the students coalesced around.

  • Advertising: How will advertise? How will they show their assembly is not a usual one.
  • Giving common ground – why am I here, why am I at this assembly. Disarm distrust.
  • Genuine: this assembly would be something that would matter to students and the community.
  • Band-aid versus stitches: issues have to be acknowledged. This community has felt a deep wound. Can’t just put a band-aid on it. Stitches hurt at first, but better in the long run.
  • Addressing grief – going to cover a lot of grief at the assembly. Focused on grief and coming over
  • Commemoration of lost students and staff – thinking about a piece of art with a poem dedicated to each person.
  • Transition: moving on, not too abruptly. Move from the negativity and turn into positive.
  • Guest speakers: looking for local speakers who can address the grief and give reassurance.
  • Positive event: with lasting impact.

Manley thanks him and the group for their work. She offers the board’s assistance if they need it. Lightfoot echoes this. Thomas thanks Hall for his leadership. He asks about the scope of the event – is it directed towards high school students or across the district? Hall says the higher magnitude of grief is felt at the high school level. Swift says that once the high school students have the assembly, then the high schoolers can trickle it down to the middle schools.

Baskett asks about logistics. Hall lets her know it would be district-wide, about half a day, on December 2. Mexicotte says it’s telling that they look to the arts to help people feel they can connect in a more emotional, deeper way. She looks forward to what is going to come from this.

Swift indicates that if the board is willing, the Student Advisory Board will update the trustees on the outcome of the assembly.

SUPERINTENDENT REPORT (continued)

During the remainder of her report, Swift highlights programs and students around the district. At the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner this past weekend, 130 students honored for academic achievement. Pilot furniture classrooms are all set up, across district. Open houses to try out the feedback begin next week. Joint meeting with city – agree to work collaboratively to evaluate every area of the city around the district’s schools. Will be bringing a report back to the district in 6o days. Addressed City Council in addressing safe zones around the schools. Have agreed to improve the lighting around Huron HS. Transportation advisory committee at the city level. Need for action steps and working on those action steps moving forward. Monday – met with the Superintendent Student Advisory Council.

Transportation: will be bringing an action item December 7. Durham and AAPS worked to create contract amendment. Followed the direction that was discussed by parents and board. Meeting regularly with Durham to review metrics. Last week, pleased to report that they were on time with buses between 92-100%. Buses arrived and departed within five minutes of stated time. Drivers for every route. Getting more consistent with drivers. When there are issues, call in. Afternoon MS transportation does have a few remaining routes that are delayed or late because of structural problems in scheduling. That amount of delay is between 2 and 10 percent of time. Ann Arbor Open: seeing increase in ridership from last year. In Oct 2015 – 52 students. Average between 60 and 70 students in the morning. In afternoon, running close to 100 students. Will continue to work with Open parents to make improvement. Follow up meeting will happen with those parents at their request. When met with Brad Tate, met with external auditor (at the cost of Durham). Talked about enhancing software on the buses, WIFI on the buses.

Stead: generally, as a district, don’t provide transportation to magnet programs. Has provided to Open to better ensure diversity. She wonders if that is being achieved and wants to see the numbers. She asks how the school is working to achieve diversity. Based on the lower number of free and reduced lunches at Open, she fears they’re not achieving their goal, despite the transportation provided.

Swift says they asked the outside auditor for a chart that shows the transportation they provide for the students in the outside of the 1.5 mile range and all the other transportation.

Thomas: asks if it would be possible to add a third column for students transported for student needs. District is legally required to provide transportation to students, regardless of where they live. AAPS transports 9000 students a day, 106 routes, $750/student/year. Comparison to Michigan and country for the cost.

Baskett asks about the increase in ridership to Open this year; Swift repeats the numbers she said earlier. Swift asks how many student attend open, to which Dawn Linden, Executive Director Elementary Education, estimates 600.

8:31 PM COMMITTEE REPORTS

Planning: Stead notes they talked about the finthat the singular topic they talked about will be addressed in a meeting.

Performance: Talked about the audit. Will be presented later in this meeting. Will be discussing school start times in December.

Thomas: City Schools Safety Transportation: combined meeting with City Schools Committee. Lazarus and Mayor Taylor, along with several council members. Frank discussion of safety issues, concentrating on tragic accident near Huron on Fuller Rd. Lazarus acknowledged there had been a problem in communication, and he will fix it. Concerns will flow up much more easily. He did not think it appropriate for the committee to be told a project couldn’t go forward because a grant was denied – the city should find the money. City Council meeting: Swift presented a letter to the committee to consider a safer school zones, around the district, with reduced speeds. Targeted schools with the highest traffic volume. At A2STEAM, the city has received a Safe Routes to School grant and will be working to improve safety around that building. Unintended consequence: more traffic around the school. City has committed to a comprehensive review of crosswalks around schools, completed within a 60 day period. Thomas thanks Councilwoman Jane Lumm for introduction of a resolution for better lighting around school crosswalks.

Thomas was asked to continue serve on the transportation safety committee as an ex-officio representative.

Governance: At the last meeting, discussed contracting, contract disclosure, prevailing wage, and how the board looks at quality contracting and fiscal stewardship. Initial discussion: looking to add some additional language that reflects how the board goes about reaching a diverse group of contractors, pay a fair wage, and how the board addresses the need to remain fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. Mexicotte drafted language based on their conversation that would be added to “the grid” – a roadmap of protocols for administration to find contractors to do work. She says the trustees will study, discuss, and come back to the board for approval.

Manley reiterates how the grid was developed over time. Now a matter of tweaking and putting policy into place so everyone understands what the district is looking for. Lightfoot says she wants to articulate “a lens” for the administration, to help guide them through determining hiring. Mexicotte says the grid is a regulation piece, not a policy piece.

Stead says their team has done a good job in picking good partners. Many of the district’s vendors are paying above prevailing wage. Market competitive, and rates have been increasing. Worries about restricting the district by creating too many restrictions. Mexicotte says they have discretion on choosing who the best qualified bidder is. Will bring recommendation around to the board after they’ve had opportunity to discuss it further.

INFORMATION ITEM: October Monthly Financial Monitoring Report

8:51 PM: Jill Minnick, Chief Financial Officer.  General Fund: increase of revenue by about $3M from last to this year. General fund expenditures: exceed where district was last year by about $4.7M – increased staffing and benefit costs.

Monthly expenditure: hover in the range of $17M – saw this last year. For 2016-17, can expect expenses to be within a $18-18.5M range. October: $19M. Minnick explains that has to do with increased invoices.

Summary of all funds report: Overall, amount of revenues collected – about 25% of yearly budget. Expenditures about 24% of yearly budget.

Thomas would like to see a year-to-date budgeted column before he retires from the board.

Laskinski: asks about October expenditures increases. She confirms that that increase should be seen across the board each month, given the increase in staff.

Stead asks when they can expect to see incremental revenue increase, due to increase in students. Minnick says there should be a change in December. The budget will be amended in the winter.

INFORMATION ITEM: FY 16 Financial Audit: Plante/Moran

Swift: When she arrived in 2013, the district was so far away from where they are now. They had reached the lowest point in 2012-13 and 2013-14 when Fund Equity dipped below 5%. When district’s dip below 5%, trigger an warning to the state, when districts have a lot less control over how schools are run. Lost 200 students in fall of 2013, larger class sizes. At that point, experiencing a bad dynamic – when students are choosing away from their local public schools. The district had to diminish the district in order to stay afloat.

It’s difficult to pull out of that position, particularly with Michigan’s school funding, says Swift. She thanks the board for working through position.

Enrollment has increased over the previous three school years by over 1000 students. Class sizes reduced since 2013. Programming: STEAM, Project Lead the Way, International Baccalaureate, Preschool, Young 5s.

Swift says that while they’re proud of the progress and the fiscal turnaround, but they don’t make decisions on one-time dollars. Swift expresses her gratitude to the community for voting yes to the 2015 Bond and the special education millage. But in this business, they are vigilant about the money “because their future can change in a blink of an eye.”

While it’s a cause of celebration when the district can make a deposit to the Fund Equity balance, she also preaches caution because the district has to be prepared for emergencies such as the Allen Elementary flood.

Laura Claeys, Jennifer Chambers: Plante/Moran. All school districts are required by state law to have an audit, submitted by November 1. AAPS submitted their audit on time. As a result of their audit, Plante/Moran rendered an unmodified or “clean” opinion. The audit of the district’s federal programs had no findings or questioned costs.

Highlights: 

  • financial successful year
  • variances from budget continue to be small
  • district continues to invest in the classroom, reducing class sizes
  • $5.5M in capital investment through 2015 Bond fund
  • bonds supported by taxpayers and no millage rate increase was required

Challenges:

  • continual balancing between additional programming and gauging demand for new programs
  • consideration of investments in additional staff and services with ongoing funding challenges
  • infrastructure investment needs to continue

Key Takeaways

  • continued success is a community and district collaboration
  • for the third year in a row, enrollment has increased by the largest percentage in the last decade, resulting in a current year increase to revenue of approximately $3M
  • Fund Equity balance increase this past year was because of one-time only payments: district relinquishing AADL shares and sale of Roberto Clemente building. Currently operating in a balanced budget, and should not count on those one-time funds.

Continue to:

  • advocate at state level
  • build fund equity to ensure sustainability of the organization
  • monitory monthly budget reports
  • control expenditures
  • make sure providing competitive wages

Swift thanks all of AAPS employees who provide the quality education. She specifically calls out the work of Jill Minnick. She thanks the board, as well, for their wise counsel and the tough decisions they’ve made, both “when they are fun and when they are tough and bitter.” Swift also thanks the community for entrusting their children with the district.

9:34 PM Stead compliments Swift for her and her team work. She harkens back to the student growth over the past three years. The board needed to make significant cuts starting in 2008. 2014 was a “pivotal year,” says Stead. In that year, Swift launched seven new programs. Took a leap of faith when doing so, but has proven to increase student enrollment.

Stead asks about the MPSERS (Michigan Public Schools Employee Retirement System) rate. When looking at projections state-wide, the rate is going to continue to increase and level out at the 36.5% rate for about ten years, then drop because of new retirement contracts.

Stead says they have health insurance rates that allow for teachers to choose a plan in place where they don’t have any out-of-pocket monthly costs [premiums?] She says the district doesn’t restrict choice of insurance for their staff, like some other districts do.

Thomas thanks Plante/Moran for delivering a positive audit. He offers a historical perspective on the district’s budget over the past eight years. One of the items of note: in 2010, district lost the 20J payments they had been receiving. [The 20J payments were initially made to districts who had been taxing themselves at a higher rate to provide more money for their schools. After Proposal A, those schools were still paying higher rates but the Foundation Allowance they received did not reflect that higher self-imposed tax rate. The 20J payments were a way the state tried to reconcile the two.]

Because of the decisions made by the board and Swift, says Thomas, they are on the upward swing. He’s optimistic the district will be able to maintain a 10% Fund Equity balance.

Lightfoot thanks Plante/Moran. She also congratulates the board on the work they’ve done to get to this point. She asks Plante/Moran if they could predict what the growth rate for MPSERS would be. Continue to monitor the projections from the state. The state has tried to shore the program up by steering new hires towards 403-B plans versus a pension program.

In 2015-16, AAPS received $12.2M from the state to help cover the increases in MPSERS costs.

Lightfoot asks about ways of districts raising revenue. Plante/Moran says for districts to have access to unrestricted funds, those generally come in the way of millages.

Mexicotte points out that salaries and benefits 95% schools based (instruction and instructional support and school building administration). Central administration is 1%.

10:01 PM Trustees take a five minute break.

SECOND BRIEFING ITEM: Snow Removal Contract

10:12PM No changes to the recommendation. No questions or comments.

CONSENT AGENDA:

The trustees vote to approve the snow removal contract and donations.

The consent agenda is unanimously approved.

AGENDA PLANNING

Stead wants to add a name opportunity for the agenda for the Planning Committee. She would love to revisit policy for where hate crimes sit. Wants to send a strong message to students that hate crimes and bullying will not be tolerated in AAPS. Mexicotte says that the hate speech policy fits into the Governance Committee.

Lightfoot asks about racial slurs and bullying that come from other school districts when they play AAPS. She says that if they are going to hold AAPS students to a certain level of respect, they should hold other districts to the same. Mexicotte says it could end up in Governance, but what they might want them to do is have the district Athletic Directors speak to the Performance Committee to give context. Mexicotte echoes Lightfoot’s sentiment that this has been a long term concern.

Mexicotte also asks if they could get some diversity metrics from each school. Swift says they will be bringing that to the Performance Committee at their next meeting.

ITEMS FROM THE BOARD

Thomas: distributing grants from the AAPS Educational Fund and grant money from the Karen Thomas fund. Grant was for integration of language and music.

Lasinski: began her journey to the school board two weeks after her youngest son was born. Started off as PTO Treasurer, moved to PTO president, then PTOC, then school board.  Brought letters with four different resignation dates. She thanks each trustee for their individual gifts. Mexicotte: for her commitment, her passion, her ability to herd cats; Stead: her sharp-witted knowledge of numbers and always keeping students in focus;  Manley: her passion for children and learning. Lightfoot: her cadence of speech and ability to bring it in focus for people; Baskett: her ability to put a stake in the ground where it’s needed; Thomas: his mentorship. Swift: so fortunate to see her fingerprint on the district.

She signs her letter of resignation, effective this evening.

All of the trustees share their reflections on Lasinski. Lightfoot compliments Lasinski on the way she ran her race, saying that proved to her she was ready. Baskett says that she appreciates Lasinski’s commitment to all of the district’s children. Great role model for other women. Need more women in the pipeline, Baskett says. She will miss her, saying Lasinski caught on to the dynamics quickly. Thomas also recognizes her tenacity and strength. Manley says she learned a lot from Lasinski. She laments that she didn’t have enough time with her. Stead says that Lasinski’s win in last Tuesday’s election was the “only bright light.” So much worth preserving in Michigan, but policies have students 48th in the nation. Counts on Lasinski to make a difference in Lansing.

Mexicotte says she’s so grateful to get to know Lasinski and thanks her for her work. She “can’t wait to see [her] next chapter.” Swift says she always reminds her that they see the work they do through the student experience. Knows she approach her work in Lansing with the deepest sense of social justice. Swift says she’ll lend a hand to fight the fight with Lasinski.

Lasinski says she chose tonight because she needs to be sworn in by January 1. She can’t do that after December 22, and needs to be unencumbered before that. If she waited until that date to resign, the 30 day period the board needs to fill the seat would be over the winter break.

Mexicotte: Housekeeping issues. Lightfoot is Parliamentarian. She will need to work with Board Executive Assistant to put forward the method to the board. Lightfoot says the process is tried and true and has been used before. The process will be posted online on the district website. Will be looking at dates and how they will be working from their meeting schedule. Governance committee meeting will probably be rescheduled.

Swift says there will be a public reception to celebrate Lasinski – says watch for updates.

Mexicotte: happy Thanksgiving. Washtenaw County turned out in numbers and voted. Peaceful and earnest and forthright the community is. She thanks the community as a whole for the process. Congratulate the two new trustees: Jeff Gaynor and Harmony Mitchell.

11:02 PM MEETING ADJOURNED


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