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School Board Updates: Board hosts first community meeting at Huron

Emily Hu
AAPS board of education host a community meeting for families and community members at Huron High School to discuss the district’s financial condition on Tuesday, April 16.

On April 16, 2024, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education hosted an in-person community meeting at Huron High School’s cafeteria to explain the circumstances involving the recent announcement of the district’s financial condition. Before the meeting, the board released its corrective action plan on the AAPS website, available here.

The meeting entailed three parts: a budget breakdown, a table talk and a Q&A session. During the table talk, each group received two chart papers that read, “What improvements would you like to see in how information about budget decisions is communicated to the community?” and “What other considerations, suggestions, or information would you like for us to know?” Community members were given time to share their thoughts verbally or in writing and submit questions for the Q&A session.

Where did the $25 million go?
$14 million

Accounting error: state retirement funding counted as revenue and not expense

$3.7 million

Staff pay raises: about $800 per person

$2.8 million

Unexpected maintenance costs

$2.9 million

Pay for unexpected contracted workers

Operating budget breakdown

81% covers salaries and benefits for employees

10% pays for contracts for services including transportation, substitute teachers, and custodial work

9% funds utilities and supplies 

My general thoughts is the lack of claiming responsibility. Though there were factors, they were ultimately preventable, and the school board should take responsibility,” senior Isaac Gardner said. “[The school board should acknowledge] We passed this budget. We made this mistake. [The school board should claim] responsibility so next election, voters can make choices with accurate knowledge.”

The table talk was followed by a Q&A session featuring superintendent Jazz Parks, board president Torchio Feaster, assistant superintendent for finance and operations Marios Demetriou and board treasurer Susan Schmidt. They shared information about minimizing the budget cut’s impact on student learning, corrected misconceptions about the budget cuts and explained additional cost-cutting measures.

Demetriou clarified that the unaccounted-for $14 million, previously thought by many community members to be a driving factor in the current situation, does not contribute to the budget crisis.

“It does indeed give the wrong impression that we were better off financially than we actually were,” Demetriou said. “But it did not really affect the revenues and expenditures and I want to assure [you] that they have nothing to do with the financial condition of the school district.”

Moreover, the current district fund balance, akin to a savings account, remains at 4.06 percent. These projections indicate a balance of only 1.96 percent this year, which is far below the 5 percent fund balance mandated by the board policy and state. 

Parks also spoke on what the district’s financial conditions mean for students. Parks discussed the board’s commitment to ensuring that budget cuts do not disproportionately affect Title 1 schools, which serve disadvantaged students to meet high academic standards. 

“One of the things that we are making sure that we do through the lens of any reductions is making sure that equity is in the center,” Parks said. “We do not want to put any of our students in any of our schools that are Title 1 schools or schools where we know students need significant support at risk.”

Feaster echoed Parks’ sentiments. 

“We are supportive of doing those things to bring our district into a positive financial position,” he said.  “I do want you all to know that the board is committed to that goal in a way that minimizes the impact on classrooms and student learning.”

Feaster emphasized the importance of communicating accurate information. 

“Please only communicate the factual information,” Feaster said. “We want people to know what’s really happening, and we don’t want people to add gasoline to the flames of panic.”

Parks said the school board will continue to keep the school community informed. She said the school board will push out an updated FAQ document to the community by the end of the week. 

“We are going to collect all of the chart paper that represents the ideas, the suggestions, [and] the feedback you have,” Parks said. “And again, we look at every piece. We spend a lot of time after every time we do something like this looking at every piece because we are sincere in our desire to make sure the recommendations we make are informed by your feedback.”

Board president Feaster concluded the meeting with closing remarks.

“Thank you all for being here,” Feaster said. “This is a difficult time. There’s no way to say it but we have to find a way through this and we will do that. Please bear with us as we try to find the best way through this mess that we can find ourselves in. On behalf of the board, I apologize that we’re here, and I will do everything I can as president to try to help us navigate this as smoothly as possible. I thank you for all of your advice and comments. We’ll take all that into consideration to put the district back on strong financial footing.”

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Anjali Nadarajah
Anjali Nadarajah, Editor-In-Chief
Anjali Nadarajah is a sophomore at Huron High School, serving as co-Editor-in-Chief of the Huron Emery. She’s thrilled to be starting another year of captivating writing and collaboration with her peers! When she’s not writing, Anjali loves to thrift and hunt for vintage finds, travel, and spend time out on the golf course with friends. She is an active member of Huron HOSA and Inno Education, and can’t wait to start the year!
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Jamie Tang, Managing Editor
Jamie is currently a senior and has been on The Emery staff for two years. Outside of The Emery, Jamie is passionate about Go, a Chinese mind game with a 3000-year history. She is the collegiate-level American Collegiate Go Association co-founder and organizing director, high school-level American Go Honor Society president and Evanston Go Club outreach director. She’s excited to craft articles that represent the diversity of communities near and far.
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