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After millage fails, Ann Arbor Public Schools asks for community input to fix budget gap

BY DYLAN CINTI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 30, 2009

Ann Arbor Public Schools are turning to the community to help plan for what officials are portraying as a major budget deficit that could result in employee cuts.

After a millage failed in a county-wide vote in November, officials from the school district are planning a series of forums for the public to discuss how to mend the budget gap they are currently facing.

The district projects cuts in state funding could range from $4.8 million to $8.7 million for this year, and up to $20 million for the next school year, AAPS Superintendent Todd Roberts said.

In the a county-wide vote early last month, voters rejected a property tax increase that would have provided AAPS with approximately $11 million in additional revenue per year.

The Regional Enhancement Millage was proposed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District — comprised of 10 school districts including AAPS — to help deal with mounting budget shortfalls. The millage received a majority of votes in Ann Arbor, but was defeated countywide.

The millage would have increased property taxes $2 for every $1,000 of taxable value over a five-year period, with revenue distributed to districts on a per-pupil basis.

Roberts said the millage tax would have helped alleviate some of the district’s deficit.

If the millage had passed, Roberts said AAPS would be dealing with a roughly $6 million to $9 million deficit versus the between $17 million and $20 million deficit it now faces for the 2010–11 academic year.

“By law, (the millage was) our only way to increase operating revenue,” Roberts said.

Without the millage revenue, the district must make cuts to deal with the anticipated drop in state funding, Roberts said.

To that end, Ann Arbor school officials will hold a series of public meetings in January to address proposed budget cuts.

The meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. and will take place in district intermediate and high schools. The first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 at Huron High School. Subsequent dates include Jan. 12 at Skyline High School, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School and Jan.19 at Pioneer High School.

Roberts said he hopes the meetings will serve as a forum for community feedback and suggestions.

“We’ll be asking for feedback from folks that are there at the meeting,” Roberts said. “If there are thoughts about possible savings, we’d take those from folks there.”

Roberts said district representatives are currently outlining cost reduction options for the 2010–11 school year, which they will discuss at the January meetings.

“Our goal is to maintain high-quality education programs and keep the cuts away from the classroom,” Roberts said.

While Roberts discussed plans in general, he refused to comment on specific cuts until a finalized budget is settled upon.

“We're looking at all options ... at this point we aren't talking about specific reductions,” Roberts said.

But no matter the plan, Roberts said cuts are sure to include staffing reductions.

“With roughly 85 percent of (AAPS’s) costs in people, we’re going to have to reduce costs in that area,” Roberts said.

Roberts said further cuts will target services AAPS provides, like transportation and facility maintenance.

Before the public meetings, AAPS representatives will discuss the budget deficit with the Board of Education this Thursday and will hold conversations with its staff in December.

“We’re looking at all our possible options, hoping to have as little impact as possible on students if we can,” Roberts said.

The district hopes to finalize a budget plan for the 2010–2011 school year by the end of February.