Trustees Talk Guns, Safety in Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (February 21, 2018): Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Rd

The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Board of Education (BOE) trustees will meet tonight for a regular meeting beginning at 7:00 PM.

Tonight’s meeting will begin with a performance by Bryant Elementary student Khara Gilmore, Scarlett Middle student Kevin Payne, and Pioneer High students Kenyatta Campbell and Seth Dyer in recognition of Black History Month,

Superintendent Jeanice Swift will be presenting information on her upcoming Listen & Learn 2018 Tour. Swift embarked on a similar tour around the district when she was first hired on in August 2013.

The trustees will hear four first briefing items. The items will include: 2018 Sale of Bonds; the 2018 Communication & Network Maintenance Contracts Recommendations; Planetarium Servers Replacement; and the 2018 Purchase of School Buses.

There are no second briefing items on the agenda.

The consent agenda will include approval of meeting minutes and donations.

Board action will be taken on the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) Board of Directors Election.


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Present: President Christine Stead; Vice President Susan Baskett; Trustees Harmony Mitchell, Patricia Manley, Jeff Gaynor, Jessica Kelly, Simone Lightfoot; Superintendent Jeanice Swift

7:05PM President Christine Stead calls the meeting to order.

AGENDA APPROVAL

Gaynor asks for a place to have a beginning of a discussion on the aftereffects of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida and the board’s response to it. He thinks they need to start asking questions of how they need to respond to the national conversation and how to respond to their students.

Stead recommends either putting it in Items From the Board or Agenda Planning. Gaynor’s concern is that that is at the end of the meeting. Lightfoot asks if Swift is going to make comments on that. Stead says she and Swift are both planning to comment on it.

Baskett recommends it after committee reports and after the Board President’s and Superintendent’s Report.

Stead agrees to add it right after committee reports. Manley wants to make sure that will be after Swift and Stead speak. The change Gaynor suggests is to add a discussion item at the table right before information items.

Kelly asks that they put a time limit on the discussion. Stead says that because this is such a big topic, it’s okay to have trustees to make a statement. She suggests that it not be a back and forth discussion, but that each trustee take the opportunity to make a statement.

She asks that they consider what to add as an item for agenda.

Baskett makes a friendly amendment suggestion to have the discussion item before the committee reports, as a discussion like that makes more sense to have right after the President’s and the Superintendent’s Reports.

The motion passes unanimously. 

BLACK HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATION: Student Voices

Swift gives an overview of how students through the district have been celebrating Black History Month.

Three students present in front of the trustees.

Khara Gilmore, Bryant Elementary 1st grader, performs “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. [Khara’s performance brings tears to my eyes.] When Baskett asks why she chose to do this poem, Gilmore replies that she was so excited to do this poem, and that she was “always, always there without any fear.” Mitchell says Gilmore has this confidence that is “just out of this world.” Gaynor says he misses being in the classroom when he meets students like Khara.

Kevin Payne, Scarlett Middle School 8th grader, performs Beethoven’s Sonatina in F Major. Kelly asks if Payne plays piano at school, to which he says that he plays drums in the jazz band at Scarlett. Manley says he was excellent. Lightfoot says that it is “dynamic” that he is as smooth on the piano and he plays drums in the jazz band.

Kenyatta Campbell and Seth Dyer, Pioneer High School juniors, perform “Glory.” Mitchell asks for John Legend to come out. Campbell and Dyer said that while the song was controversial at Pioneer because Dyer is white, they wanted the message of unity that there can be white allies fighting alongside.

PUBLIC COMMENTARY

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ASSOCIATION REPORTS: 

District Wide Black Parent Student Support Group (DWBPSSG), Barbara Malcolm: At the next DWBPSSG meeting, they will be giving the awards for the Black History month essay contest. She says that while they appreciate all that is going on for Black History month, more needs to happen.

They were told that the African American Humanities course is in all high schools through the district, except it’s only at Skyline and Huron. She says it is important for students of color to see their greatness. She asks why they have to fight with the board to get these classes into all the high schools. She says the fight was done 20 years ago, when they were told the African American Humanities was going to be in all the high schools. She asks if they are fighting against the board now again for this class.

Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), Linda Carter:  Carter thanks several of the trustees for their presence at the secondary caucus meeting. She draws attention to Orchestra Night, tomorrow night at Hill Auditorium. Carter says the student performances tonight were inspiring, saying music saved her life.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

Stead says “these are solvable problems,” in reference to the culture of guns, the access to them. She gives Australia and Japan as examples of countries who have solved these problems. It is students who are driving this change.

In 2014-15, AAPS had an open carry incident that inspired action from the board. On April 15, 2015, the board passed three policies that addressed the issue of weapons on school campuses. Stead walks through the three policies: 5410, 5420, 5420.R.01. Since those policies were enacted, a district parent sued the district for these policies. The policies have been twice upheld in the court of law, and the case is slated to go in front of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Laws are so lax, Stead says, that we can expect a mass shooting every 60 hours in the United States of America. The board and the administration will continue working to create and follow best practices to keep students safe.

Stead  says they took the unpopular step of locking the doors to the schools, in order to keep students safe. They will commit to keep the students safe. If students are not safe, there is not much they can do to advance the goal of education. More guns aren’t the answer. She asks that voters take a look at which candidates the NRA is putting their money into.

SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT

Swift shares highlights from around the district from NAAPID (National African American Parental Involvement Day) celebrations, to Leadership A2Y Education Day at A2STEAM to the Huron Rhythm Rat Jazz Orchestra being named Outstanding Band, to a Huron teacher being awarded a 2017 International Baccalaureate grant, to tomorrow night’s Orchestra Night.

Swift assures the community that students’ safety remains the top priority of AAPS. They continue to extend their support for the students in Parkland, FL. She reached out to the superintendent of that district.

Teachers, staff, and leaders have been trained. We are as prepared as one can be, Swift says. It is clear to everyone that the efforts of school teams is not enough to keep students safe, though.

Number one strategy in schools across the country is to stay connected. If you see something, says something. If folks are uncomfortable with reaching out to an adult in a school, you can report anonymously. Swift says they have received anonymous calls in the district and they have gotten students help.

She reminds the community that AAPS has long been a leader in keeping students safe, by working to keep weapons off campus around students. Students who are afraid cannot learn. A weapon on campus constitutes an emergency, determined by AAPS Board policy. These policies have been upheld at two court levels.

The safety and well being of students, staff, leadership, and parents is first and foremost, says Swift. The presence of a weapon in a school runs contrary to everything they are wired to do for educating students.

Swift reviews the safety practices in schools. They have implemented a buzzer system for more secure front entrances. She says that while it is an extra inconvenience to ring the buzzer, this is the standard practice across the country and they will be continuing that practice. They are working with local law authorities to continue developing best practices. Teams have been trained in the ALICE protocol.

There are resources and partnerships the district can make available for support for students and staff. She encourages people to make use of them. She says they take immediate steps to investigate reports that arise. Counselors in the schools are also available.

Some students chose to exercise their First Amendment rights by walking out of classes today. Protests occurred in all five high schools in the district. Students acted in a safe and respectful manner in their protests today. Swift is proud of the voices in this debate. AAPS fully supports the rights of students and respects the desire of students to raise their voices. She applauds their maturity and their insight in what is likely the most critical issue in public schools. Student voices are clearly key and critical in bringing attention to this issue. “This is the teachable moment in our country” and we support the students moving forward, says Swift.

Swift: We need legislative help. We are compelled tonight to call for action beyond the scope of trustees and superintendents and building leaders. We compelled to call on everyone at the state and federal level. We are grateful to all the groups who have aligned their work with ours to call for this change.

Swift’s voice breaks as she describes the “heartbreaking” emails she has been receiving from families in the wake of the Parkland shooting. It is a terrible time in our country when families have to have those conversations with their children on the way to school, says Swift. Together, we do have the capacity to solve this problem, she emphasizes. We will continue this conversation.

Stead says they will make student safety practices more readily accessible for families to see. Swift noted that they do not make the details of the drills public.

BOARD DISCUSSION: Roundtable Discussion on Student Safety

Each trustee issues a statement.

Manley: We can’t let up.  We cannot become lax, she says. She emphasizes the “if you see something, say something” mantra. She asks people to keep their ears and eyes open if they hear something concerning.

Gaynor: He thanks Swift for her presentation. He has more questions than solutions. What strikes him is both the complexity of the issue and the opportunity. If people are changing their views on the Second Amendment, then they need to express it. There’s an opportunity to examine our beliefs, to debate and question. He asks how they support student voice without co-opting it. He wonders what happens if there is a sustained student protest, where students begin to miss significant amount of class. It behooves them to address these kinds of questions, he says.

Mass shootings are rare, though. He is concerned about the increasing levels of anxiety and paranoia. That is an important part of the balance.

Kelly: It feels as if we are at a tipping point right now. Student voice matters and gives it critical mass. She wishes the CDC were allowed to study the implications of gun violence. She wants their role to provide a place where student voice is amplified, and teacher voice is amplified, and parent voice is amplified.

Lightfoot: She appreciates the work Swift and her team have done. She emphasizes the important role students have in sharing the concerns they have about possible dangerous situations. She looks forward to any changes that need to be made to ALICE protocol based on new recommendations from law authorities.

Mitchell: She can’t get past the feelings of protecting children and protecting lives of those who go into a building every day to learn. It’s a sad day when you have to talk to your 10th grader about her survival, she says. She details some of the conversations she has had to have with her own kids. She tells parents to talk to their kids, to tell them they are loved every day. As a country, we need to make sure we are doubling down on politicians who are taking money from the NRA, Mitchell says.

Baskett: She is not comfortable with this format. She suggests Gaynor is coming up against the Open Meetings Act, as he wants to get a sense of where everyone is with this and have an open discussion. Baskett says we don’t hear about mass shootings in other countries. Other countries have mental issues, other countries have guns. While there is always room for improvement, the buildings are prepared for emergencies. She says they need to be better prepared for the “enemy within.”

She suggests that the board may need to have professional development regarding what they can do in terms of the policies and actions of the board. We don’t want to increase anxiety, but we want to increase the vigilance, she says. To students, she says, “Let us help you take action with a purpose,” whether that is calling legislators to a central place so students can speak to them.

9:15PM Stead thanks the trustees for their remarks. They take a 5 minute break.

9:30PM Meeting Resumes

COMMITTEE REPORTS

Planning: Manley says they last spoke about the 2018 Enhancements.

Finance: 

Performance: Tomorrow meeting discussing graduation rates

Governance: Next meeting Friday 2/23. Stead encourages people to attend. This year, the committee is reviewing the 5000 series of policies.

INFORMATION ITEM: Listen & Learn 2018 Tour

Swift says they are embarking on a Listen & Learn 2018 tour. The premise is: no one knows better the strengths, the challenges, the areas of improvements than the individuals who live in, work in, and bring their children to the district. Swift and her team will be touring through the district over the next five months (February through May), listening to the community, with a threefold goal:

  • Better understand the Ann Arbor community
  • Want to share the progress since the last big Listen & Learn Tour back in 2013
  • Align school improvement work with students, parents, and staff aspirations.

Swift notes they will be asking four questions:

  • What do we celebrate at our school(s) and across the AAPS schools?
  • Where do you see opportunities for improvement?
  • As we consider the future, what do we want and dream for our children?
  • What else do we need to know and understand?

They anticipate having a calendar out on the district website in the next week.

Baskett notes there is a need for a lot of conversations. She wonders when the conversations about Bryant-Pattengill and Carpenter will take place, referencing the future plans for those schools. Swift says they will do the listen and learn at those schools, in addition to more work at those schools.

Kelly asks what Swift expects the final product will be from this Listen & Learn tour. Swift says it is time to update the strategic plan, and they know no better way of updating the strategic plan than to engage the community.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Bond Update & Spring 2018 Sale of Bonds

Swift notes the bond sales is work they have done repeatedly. They sell bonds in order to fulfill the work voters have elected them to do. This time around it is the 2012 Technology bond and the 2015 Building and Site bond.

Once these bonds are sold in April, the district will have about three years to spend that money. Marios Demetriou, Assistant Superintendent Finance and Operations, makes the recommendation to issue $14M bonds in April 2018 to complete:

  • 2012 Tech Bond: $8M (total of $46M approved by voted/$38M already issued)
  • 2015 Building & Site Bonds: $6M (total of $33M approved by voters/$27M already issued)

A bond is a financial instrument that organizations use to raise money to pay for capital improvements, such as :

  • new buildings
  • additions to buildings
  • repairs
  • technology
  • buses

Demetriou compares AAPS debt millages to other districts. He walks through bond terms and conditions. AAPS is on the low end of debt levy. Gaynor asks about the debt comparison charts. He asks why it would be that more affluent school districts have a lower debt levy.

Swift says she sees the pattern Gaynor is alluding to. She also notes that many of those districts with higher levy levels are ones that have done recent construction. AAPS has chosen to maintain buildings instead of building new.

Baskett asks about the difference between Ypsilanti Community Schools debt of 8.0000 and AAPS’s debt of 2.4500. Stead notes that they don’t know what dollar amount other districts are trying to meet when they pass bond millages.

Debt limitation: 15% of the total assessed valuation of the schools district.

  • AAPS tax base: $8.6B x 15% = would allow $1.3B
  • AAPS Outstanding Bonds = $160M (12.3% of Debt Limitation)

Lightfoot asks if the legislation that just passed regarding enhancement millages and charter schools affects AAPS. Demetroiu says Washtenaw County does not currently have an enhancement millage. If, in the future, the county passes such a millage, charter schools would be able to benefit from it.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Communication & Network Maintenance Contracts 2018

These contracts come up every three years, notes Swift. Merri Lynn Colligan, Executive Director Technology & Information Services, presents.

  • Plain Ordinary Telephone Service (POTS): Clear Rate Communications, 3 year contract for $152,832.60
  • Cellular Services: Verizon, 3 year contract for $362,797.20
  • E-Rate Hosted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP): Sentinel Technologies, 3 year contract for $779,523,99
  • E-Rate Network Maintenance and Managed Services: Sentinel Technologies, 3 year contract for $1,108,560.99

Lightfoot asks why they’d didn’t go with lowest bidder on the network maintenance. Colligan says the lowest bidder did not have any certifications in Cisco and did not offer SmartNet, which would cost the district additional money.

Baskett marvels at Colligan’s expertise in these contracts. She asks if POTS is an industry term [thank you for asking this! I wanted to know, too.] She asks for the addresses of the companies that bid. The costs have not increased over the past three years.

Baskett asks about hotspots, saying she thought they had internet everywhere. Colligan says they need to make sure if the internet goes down, they can still provide coverage.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: Planetarium Servers Replacement 

Colligan says they look at maintaining servers and longevity of the servers. The servers that are currently being used are out of warranty. The technology department recommends the purchase of the following items:

  • Digistar 6 software upgrade and two Dell servers, with a one year warranty for $28,200. The software allows the district to use the current three servers to be combined into an additional server.

Colligan notes that they are able to get a good deal on the servers since the company they are going. Servers usually run on a three to four year cycle, depending on the new software.

FIRST BRIEFING ITEM: 2018 Purchase of School Buses

Swift says they are getting close to wrapping up the replacement of the district’s bus fleet. This purchase will mark the third phase of bus  replacement.

Demetriou brings the recommendation of purchases of buses in June 2018.

  • purchase 23 new buses
    • 20 regular education ($98,712/bus; $1,974,240)
    • 3 preschool buses ($102,987/bus; $308,961)
      • total cost of $2,283,201

Baskett asks if the price includes the cost of the GPS software, to which the answer is yes.

Gaynor asks about the need for these buses. Swift says they made a promise to the voters about what the money will be going for. After the bonds were purchased, an advisory committee decided on how the money would be spent. Gaynor says he assumes that the buses they are replacing needed to be. Demetriou says that the buses that are going to be replacing with these new 23 buses have been in service for 13-14 years. They have passed their life expectancy.

Kelly asks about alternatives to standard diesel buses, given the environmental impact of such a large bus fleet. Demetriou says that when looking at the price of an electric bus (~$300,000).

SECOND BRIEFING ITEMS: None

CONSENT AGENDA

  • Approval of meeting minutes
  • Approval of donations

The consent agenda is unanimously approved. 

BOARD ACTION ITEM: MASB Board of Directors Election

One seat on the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) Board of Directors for Region 7 is up for election this year.  Each school district is allowed one vote.  Following the selection of a candidate, the Board’s assistant, Tiffany Helton, is designated to vote on behalf of the AAPS Board of Education following selection of a candidate.

Baskett recommends the trustees support Michael Murphy. She makes a general statement about MASB: they are not a very diverse group. She encourages MASB to do a little more recruiting to be representative of the school districts they service. Gaynor is concerned with the non-activist nature of MASB. It’s hard for him to make an informed vote on this.

Kelly notes that they have to make a decision before March 7. There are two more regular meetings before then. She posits moving this board action item to next meeting in order for the trustees to find out more about the candidates before they vote. Baskett says she’s not interested in doing more research on the candidates, but she understands that others might want to do that.

The trustees first vote on the motion of supporting Michael Murphy.

Baskett: Y, Gaynor: N, Kelly: Y, Lightfoot: Y, Manley: Y, Mitchell: Y, Stead: N

Outcome: The motion passes 5 to 2. The Board’s assistant will cast the vote for Murphy on March 7.

ITEMS FROM THE BOARD

Baskett recognizes the passing of Letitia Bird. She talks the experiences she had at schools on NAAPID, saying it was good day. She speaks about her experience in D.C, acknowledging that they need to do more like that, to remain engaged with what is happening across the country.

Lightfoot thanks Swift for compiling photos of NAAPID across the district. She says she wants AAPS to be more involved with NAAPID at Night.

Kelly is looking forward to the debrief of the Equity Conference in D.C. several of the trustees recently attended. She also thanks the Secondary Caucus for having her, Gaynor, and Baskett attend. Girl Scout cookie time!

 

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