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The Politics of Money: “We Got Plenty o’ Transparency, So Zip It,” Says School Board Treasurer

In Sunday’s AnnArbor.com paper, AAPS Board Treasurer Randy Friedman had this to say about the notion that school finances are being mismanaged, and that the district’s finances are not transparent enough to the taxpayers who foot the bills:

“…Friedman said…people were misled and didn’t understand the district’s finances. They [WISD millage opponents] said there needed to be more transparency. I’m sorry. There’s plenty of transparency and transparency doesn’t pay teachers.”

That’s not exactly true, if you think about it. The opposition to the WISD millage charged that the AAPS finances were far from transparent. This argument obviously resonated with voters who then went to the polls and voted down the millage. Thus, it would be fair, perhaps, to say that transparency would indeed have paid teachers, administrators, the electric bills, to have the lawns mowed in summer, and the sidewalks plowed in winter. Friedman’s response, in fact, is shocking in its hubris. Ann Arbor Board of Education Trustee (and Treasurer) Friedman’s response demonstrates exactly what happens when people in charge for years (Friedman was elected as a trustee to the school board in 2002) get completely entrenched and assume that everyone knows what’s what and who’s who.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the Ann Arbor electorate is a bunch of class pinheads concerning the school district’s finances, and they don’t understand the finances at all. The issue, then, is that Randy Freidman and his fellow trustees, along with the Superintendent Dr. Todd Roberts (and his merry band of fiscal services workers) need to stand on their heads, jump through flaming hoops and explain (like taxpayers are all five-year-olds) exactly where every district dollar goes, and why. Someone needs to tell Trustee Randy Friedman that educating the masses is a tough job, Laddy Buck. Then again, so’s working a 50-hour a week job to pay property taxes to foot the school district’s bills.

That’s why taxpayers get to ask as many really irritating questions about the district’s finances as they want, and we get to ask the same question 5,000 times. We get to not understand even though, to the Randy Friedmans of the world, dammit, we should understand. We get to be stupid and pig-headed. We get to be suspicious and freaked out that $190,000,000 dollars a year is burning a hole in the pocket of Superintendent Todd Roberts’s Armani suit. Friedman’s response, in short, is an indicator of why the millage was destined to fail. It took real cojones to ask for a tax hike in the midst of the Great Recession, and even more cojones to do it after years of running a deficit with one hand, and handing out pay raises and step raises to teachers with the other hand. Is it any wonder taxpayers were confused about AAPS District finances?

Let me be a class nerd and point out that Friedman is one of the same people who recently negotiated a “pay freeze” for the AAPS teachers that included, well, raises. Step raises. Not real raises. Get it? Giving out only a step wage increase is really a pay freeze. District officials inked a contract that called for the distribution of $5 million dollars in step increases, but told the Press, and Ann Arbor parents that the teachers’ salaries were frozen. In short, Ann Arbor’s Board of Education members were able to mislead taxpayers, because most taxpayers don’t understand the District’s finances, nor does the average non-unionized worker understand the concept of a “step” raise. It’s a raise that rewards worker longevity. The majority of the non-unionized workers in the United States (some 75 percent of U.S. workers) don’t get raises for just hanging around until they reach the top of the negotiated salary scale.

In the “pay freeze” caper, a little misunderstanding of the district’s finances suited those who signed that labor agreement just fine. That is until the millage opponents came along and had the audacity to point out that in the midst of a budget deficit, and while asking for a huge tax hike, the AAPS trustees signed a contract that raised teacher pay. The AAPS has been in deficit for half a dozen years, and every year the School Board has negotiated with the teachers’ union to give salary increases, as well as step increases.  

So, is Friedman right? Is there plenty of transparency? Maybe if the AAPS were a covert branch of the CIA you’d call the financial information district officials and the Board of Education make available to taxpayers “transparency.” 

The 2009-2010 budget on the AAPS web site was scanned in and then posted as a PDF. Sloppy work. The 116 page scanned document isn’t searchable, and it’s difficult to read. Evidently, no one at the Balas Building has an Excel spreadsheet that could have been saved as a PDF file. Previous year’s budgets? They’re sitting on someone’s hard drive over at the Balas Building, instead of archived on the AAPS’s web site. How about posting the district’s check registry online?

According to the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, there is a long list of Michigan school districts that allow parents to view, online, the districts’ check registries, including the Troy School District, as well as the Bloomfield Hills Schools. The AAPS has a mountain of financial data that is poured over, massaged, trimmed, clipped and viewed obsessively by the 15 full-time fiscal services employees, all done on a modest budget of $1.8 million dollars. Looked at another way, it costs taxpayers a little under one percent of the total $190,000,000 budget to have 15 people count the money and pay the bills. Comparing the 12,229 student Troy School District budget to the 16,421 student AAPS District budget is a revelation. The budgets for every elementary, middle and high school in the Troy District are included and broken out. In the AAPS budget, all spending is lumped together. 

There is absolutely no reason why the only financial data posted to the AAPS web site is a blurry copy of the 2009-2010 budget. There should be monthly financial statements, as well as the district’s check registry. The AAPS should do the Troy School District one better, and post the monthly credit card statements of every AAPS District employee who is issued a credit card. Most financial information is kept in electronic format now. To refuse to share it with taxpayers is either a deliberate attempt to withhold financial information from those who pay the bills, or a shocking lack of ability on the part of the 15 people who manage the district’s finances to use simple accounting software to generate reports, data, and spreadsheets. Either way, the AAPS District’s practices make Randy Friedman look like a class clown for defending the district’s so-called “transparency.”

Furthermore, the district’s lack of fiscal transparency makes Friedman’s cuddies on the Board of Education look like the class bumpkins; have they ever bothered to take note of the plethora of financial documents made available on the web pages of other school districts in the state? Opening up the AAPS District’s books is going to elicit even more questions from taxpayers about how their money is being spent. Randy Friedman might want to get his doc to write a scrip for some valium, because if he thinks taxpayers are a pain in the butter bell when they don’t understand district finances, he’s going to need some tranquilizers to keep from having a nervous collapse when taxpayers do understand district finances.

Fortunately, I’m sure Friedman will get a great price on the pills from one of the stores in his Harvard Drug Group.


Take a moment and vote!

November 13th Weekend Poll: Keeping Up With the Joneses! Should AAPS Follow Saline’s Lead and Re-Open The Teachers’ Contract? 

A2P Note: This post about Trustee Friedman has been updated to reflect new information posted to AnnArbor.com on November 19th.   A2Politico posted an entry about Ann Arbor Board of Education Trustee ...
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The Politics of Money: AAPS Superintendent Candidate Signs With Larger Virginia School District For $70K Less Than Ann Arbor Job Pays
The former Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, Dr. Todd Roberts, left in October 2010. Since then, the District has been headed by an interim Superintendent. In November, when ...
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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=1666

20 Comments for “The Politics of Money: “We Got Plenty o’ Transparency, So Zip It,” Says School Board Treasurer”

  1. [...]  The Politics of Money: “We Got Plenty o’ Transparency, So Zip It,” Says School Board Treasurer: [...]

  2. Randy Friedman claims that transparency does not pay teachers; not true! If Skyline had not been built, there would be more money to pay teachers. Apparently, the administration was involved with suppressing more accurate projections that showed the crowding problem would solve itself. The voters were conned and made decisions on bogus information spoon fed by the AAPS board. Where was Randy when all of this was going down? Randy saw to it that the “right” people got contracts to build Skyline and, I assume, the “wrong” people will get pink slips to cover the loss.

  3. I think Maverick’s comment is a classic. Obviously, if you favor not letting the public know how their money is being spent, you must be a Democrat, right?

  4. [...] To view the orginal blog posting please click here. [...]

  5. [...] this postingplease wait…Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)Yesterday, A2Politico posted an entry about Ann Arbor Board of Education Trustee Randy Friedman, and in the comment section, a reader [...]

  6. Freidman’s response is classic AAPS.
    They aren’t as good as they think, it’s the ability of the kids going into the school that props it up so much.

  7. Bingo!

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/randy-friedman/

  8. That the Friedman’s send their children to DCD is absolutely true. Of course, that is their right and their business. So is the limo. However, it does make one question his motive for being on the Board.

  9. I remember hearing a long time ago from a former school board member that AAPS school board members usually remove their children from public schools within two years of their election. Anyone have any real data on that? I always wondered if it was because of the skeletons they found in the AAPS closet, or if their kids took too much abuse for their peers, teachers and/or other parents.

  10. Now I get it. Transparency can be touted as long as the CFO, Treasurer or Administrator-in-chief gets it. Trust us, we’re the experts… nothing to see here…And did we mention that we’re the experts?

  11. A2P, thanks! Let me know if you come up with anything interesting in the FOIA docs that relates to the Community Action Board or Workforce Development Board. Tomorrow the BoC is voting on my application to join the two.

    Many people cite the FOIA as being sufficient for tranparency. I disagree. Using FOIA is too time consuming and cumbersome for the average citizen who works full-time, has a family, etc. And every day we have fewer journalists to do the digging for us, which is why it is becoming more important for information to be accessible to the average citizen.

  12. An article I wrote on this was just posted on AnnArbor.com.

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/opinion/school-arent-the-only-government-entities-that-need-transparency/

    I attempted to break down one section of the county budget. The questions I ask and problems I run into are applicable to the AAPS budget.

    Yes, the AAPS budget is available online, but as with most budgets, there is very little breakdown. Without a breakdown, the numbers are meaningless. How can you have a public discussion about public finances if nobody knows exactly what the money is being used for on a line by line basis?

    FYI Maverick, The Mackinac Center is the best source for School Finances at this time. Most schools that publish their finances line-by-line do so at the request of the Mackinac Center. Also, if a school publishes their finances online (not at the request of the Center) the Mackinac Center provides links to them. And I don’t think transparency in government is a Republican or Democrat issue. I think most people would agree that accountability is a good thing, regardless of their political leanings.

    Janelle
    http://www.some-other-viewpoint.blogspot.com

    • Janelle,

      Congrats on the AnnArbor.com post. I have been using FOIA to get county documents that track finances.

  13. You claim not to be a bunch of Republicans, but you quote from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy… fail.

    • I suppose if I quote from the Koran, I’ll have to be a Muslim, or if I quote from the Vishnu Purana that’ll make me a Hindu? A2P expects, looks forward to, and generally looks forward to differing opinions. Logic, however, counts.

  14. Detroit County Day?!? Why would he want to sit on the board of education in Ann Arbor? I think this whole millage disaster (I voted for the millage) has shown us that it quite important to pay better attention to who sits on the board. Of course it also means more people need to take the time to run and serve who have children in the schools.

  15. Okay Folks, I’m not 100% sure on this, but I believe that Randy Friedman, Ann Arbor Public School Trustee, sends his kids to Detroit Country Day… by limo. Can anyone substantiate?

    Friedmans are big philanthropists, good for them, and, of course, we all make decisions for our kids that are personal and individual.

    But I can’t help but feel creepy about someone who would be on the school board but the public schools are not good enough for his kids….

  16. Adobe Acrobat is more than happy to OCR the AAPS budget. I think this link should work:

    http://www.mediafire.com/file/mgatymwy2hj/0910approvedbudget.pdf

    • Ross, thanks for the tip. Going through line-by-line is a good exercise, but searching a document is always a welcome opportunity.

  17. I did manage to find some quarterly reports on the AAPS website. The most recent one is through March 30, 2009 and is 86 pages. http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/admin.bussvcs/files/fy09_q3_report.pdf
    I’d be interested in A2Politico’s comments on these quarterly reports.

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