Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ann Arbor superintendent prepares to tackle budget

Between the start of another hard budgeting process and the rollout of a new five-year strategic plan, Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Todd Roberts has a lot on his plate in the next couple of months.

And that doesn't include the day-to-day stuff, or even the fast approaching opening date of a new high school.

Roberts talked about two of the biggest issues - the budget and the district's new strategic plan - as he got ready for students and staff to come back from winter break.

Q: What are some of the big issues facing the district?

A: Work on the strategic plan was completed prior to break, thanks to staff members, community members and parents, about 150 people, who worked to put it together. It's the end of about seven months of work.

It will be going to the (school) board at their first meeting of February (Feb. 6). We're working right now on the phasing of the plan - it covers five years - as well as how it impacts the budget.

We're also beginning to develop the budget for the 2008-09 school year. That will take place over the next several months. We're working on getting our projections together in the next couple of weeks. We'll go out to the community to get their input and hope to present it to the school board in the late spring.

Q: What should parents look forward to in the strategic plan?

A: Some of the real emphasis in the plan is on making learning more personal. That includes personalized learning plans for each student, along with how we can make our schools more personal.

It also looks at how do we ensure that we have adequate resources.
We also looked at our education program and not only how we measure up locally, across the state, with the nation, but also internationally.

We also talked about how we make sure we are doing a good job communicating with our community.

Q: Are there big changes included in the strategic plan or just minor tweaks?

A: Some of them are tweaks of things we are doing. Some of these are significant, such as world language at the elementary level.

Q: Will the district have to make cuts in the 2008-09 budget as it has been doing over the last several years?

A: We certainly are projecting a deficit. Hopefully it won't be as significant a deficit as in previous years, with the retirement rate being rolled back as well as us getting the benefits of previous year's cuts.

Q: The district recently received $4.8 million from the state in a settlement of a dispute over tax money from the Scio Township Downtown Development Authority. Would that wipe out the deficit?

A: The $4.8 million is money that was our money. In the 2004-05 school year, we ended with a $6 million deficit, a lot of which was the result of the state taking the money away from the district.

This is one-time money. We don't expect the state to continue to give us $4.8 million each year. That means we shouldn't use it for recurring costs, or we'd be faced with the same issues next year.

It will allow us to look at some other needs in the district that are not recurring costs. With the new state standards for high schools, we are looking at some new textbooks at the secondary level.

It still doesn't solve our structural problem, with costs increasing more than revenues are.

Q: Are you projecting any increase in the per-pupil aid coming from the state for the 2008-09 year?

A: We're going to project a zero increase, like we did for this year. If there is an increase as we move through the budgeting process, we can change that.

Q: What else is going on in the district parents should be looking for?

A: There will be a lot of opportunity for input around the budget as we work through that process. We'll also be out talking about the strategic plan. Parents should pay attention to be part of those opportunities.