The Politics of Education: In A2 More Money Is the Answer To Everything. Right?
We had dinner with friends not too long ago, and fell to chatting about the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Bobby shook his head and said when people ask him about the public schools (and thanks to his job, he gets asked pretty often), he replies that the school system isn’t that great. His kids went to elementary school in the AAPS, but then to Greenhills for middle and high school. Several children with whom our son went to elementary school are now attending private school, specifically Greenhills. Their families, at least to hear them tell it, can’t afford the $17,000+ tuition, but thanks to financial aid, are determined to have their kids where they feel they will thrive academically, and that’s not at Clague Middle School, Huron or Ann Arbor’s newest high school, Skyline. About 1,800 kids in Ann Arbor attend private schools, including the religious schools. In a District of about 16,000 students total, the 11.2 percent of kids whose parents opt them out of the public school system, are costing the AAPS a bundle in lost state funding, $9,723 per pupil in 2009, according to funding data published in the Detroit News, or $17,501,000 dollars.
Just imagine what the AAPS could do with that money? Why, with more money the Ann Arbor Board of Education could give the incoming Superintendent a $70,000 raise over what former Sup. Dr. Todd Roberts was taking home. Well, it turns out the School Board members, at least four of them anyway, don’t need no stinkin’ $17,501,000 in additional state funding to give the incoming superintendent a $70,000 raise even before s/he begins. At the most recent meeting of the Board of Education, Board President, Deb Mexicotte, listened as a consultant explained why paying more would result in Ann Arbor getting a “different tier” of candidate applying.
A “different tier” of candidate?
They were, however, magic words spoken to a Board of Education President who cares more about not looking like a fool, than actually understanding what she’s being told, and looking after the interests of the parents and students.
Then, the consultant compared Ann Arbor’s school district and superintendent compensation to that of “other” towns with major universities. Well, kinda. The consultant’s comparison included districts with nowhere near the same number of students enrolled. Some had double the number enrolled, others had fewer than one-third. For those who missed fifth grade math, what the consultant did was contrast Ann Arbor’s school district to those much larger and those much smaller, not compare multiple districts of similar population, geographical size, or overall enrollment. He used towns with “large” universities, like that “large” university in Knox County, Tennessee, known as the the UT Extension campus, and “large” universities in Sacramento, California, such as the University of Sacramento—a college that enrolls about 1,500 students.
Nonetheless, most of the intrepid BOE members weren’t bothered by the fact that the consultant’s “comparison” wasn’t a comparison at all. Obviously, not a single one of them had bothered to check the consultant’s work which he had emailed to them prior to the meeting. For instance, the consultant pegged the enrollment in the Cambridge School District at 6,500. The web site of the Cambridge School District has enrollment at 5,971 in 2010. When Trustee Andy Thomas reasonably suggested Ann Arbor should not be paying a superintendent “the same as a superintendent would get in a district two to three times larger,” Mexicotte shot back that “the job is the same, regardless of the number of students.” And she knows this how? Because she organized the Dance for Mother Earth in 2001 in her job as Assistant Director of New Student Programs at the University of Michigan? This is one of the more ridiculous comments Mexicotte made; it is the lunacy of an individual who would argue that 40 kids in a classroom is the “same” as 20.
The real reason why Mexicotte and her three Big Spenders (Patalan, Nelson and Stead) could rationalize the need to give the new Supe a $70K pay bump wasn’t so hard to puzzle out. The four of them suffer from a disease that targets elected officials here in Ann Arbor. It’s called Chronic Inferiority Complex Syndrome (CICS). The “reasoning” of the BOE members infected with the disease goes like this: If Cambridge, Mass., with ten thousand fewer students, and a 2010-2011 annual budget of just $137,000,000, can pay its Superintendent more than Ann Arbor, why something must be very wrong. Very. Very wrong. CICS sufferers inhabit an insular little world where certain elected officials with access to tax dollars believe that Ann Arbor can buy its way to the big leagues. Kinda like Ann Arbor “businessman” Rick Snyder bought his way into the Governor’s mansion.
If you’re infected with CICS, you don’t question a consultant’s assertion that significantly more money will get you a significantly “better” Superintendent. You don’t ask the consultant for examples of “different tier” candidates, or inquire exactly what the hell “different tier” means. You don’t remember that the teachers in the District just took a pay cut, and that the former Superintendent slashed his own pay by 8 percent. You don’t remember that you just got your clock thoroughly cleaned by voters when you backed the latest grab for an enhancement millage.
You sure as hell don’t stop and wonder how come Cambridge can pay its Superintendent more, give the teachers a raise, spend more per pupil, have more K-12 teachers, fewer administrators, and do it all on a budget that’s $50 million dollars less than Ann Arbor’s. That would be the best question of all, you see. You don’t ask it because the answer would betray the fact that Trustees like Irene Patalan, Deb Mexicotte and Glenn Nelson have been negligent in their duty to oversee the District’s financial health, and the past two superintendents.
So, what’s up with Cambridge?
First off, Cambridge has a more diverse and robust tax base, thanks to not having any entity that even remotely resembles Ann Arbor SPARK. Ann Arbor SPARK, of course, has been funded with millions of tax dollars skimmed from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, thanks to a TIF scheme approved by elected officials, one of whom (John Hieftje) now sits on the Board of Ann Arbor SPARK. SPARK’s CEO Michael Finney is paid over $250,000 per year. According to the fine folks at GuideStar, who study non-profit funding, Mr. Finney’s salary is commensurate with that of a CEO at a non-profit with a budget ten times larger than SPARK’s. So, in exchange for his super-sized salary, our city has experienced a net loss of 6 percent of its total jobs, according to a piece posted to CNNMoney.com. It’s economic development Ann Arbor style.
Back to managing the School District Ann Arbor style.
Here’s a table with data from both the Cambridge, Massachussets school district 2010-2011 approved budget, and the Ann Arbor school district 2010-2011 approved budget:
|Ann Arbor Public Schools||Cambridge Public Schools|
|Total enrollment K-12||16,536||5,971|
|Total teachers K-12||831.37||1,039|
|Special Ed teachers FTEs||291||37|
|School Administration FTEs||121.85||48|
|Total district employees||1,948.09||1,232|
|State funding per pupil 2009||$9,723||$6,129|
|Total district spending per pupil||$12,000||$24,467|
|Total district budget 2010-2011||$183,640,000||$137,492,000|
|Superintendent Compensation||$245,000 (proposed)||$200,000 (advertised at $200K in 2009 search)|
According to a November 7, 2010 piece posted to the AnnArborChronicle.com:
Bill Newman of Ray & Associates summarized a table he had e-mailed to the board earlier in the week, which listed the 2010-11 salaries and 2011-12 estimated salaries for nine districts near other large universities – Iowa City, Iowa; Knox County, Tenn.; Lincoln, Neb.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Seattle, Wash.; Cambridge, Mass.; Socorro ISD, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Sacramento, Calif. The average estimated salary of these districts for 2011-12 was $246,001, with a range of $189,520 to $272,950. All of the districts listed had enrollment at least double that of the 16,536 students in Ann Arbor Public Schools, except for Iowa City (12,500 students), and Cambridge (6,500 students).
Newman added that the board should take into account that although a lot of these districts are larger, they might have attracted candidates who might have looked at AAPS. Setting a higher salary attracts better candidates, Newman stated, explaining that each increment of roughly $25,000 would attract a different tier of candidates.
After telling Board members that Dr. Roberts had been hired in four years ago at $175,000, Mexicotte put forth a resolution to pay Roberts’s replacement $245,000. Trustee Irene Patalan seconded the motion.
Mexicotte’s motion passed 4-3. Know why? Because every member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education up for re-election this past November ran unopposed.
I created a poll for interested A2 politicos to weigh in on the subject. One vote per student. If you want to email Deb Mexicotte directly to ask where your $70,000 raise is, click here.
Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=4882