Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Greenhills School

2. July 2007 • Juliew
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Monday, July 2 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda


  • Greenhills School Site Plan and Development
  • Stormwater Ordinances
  • Resolution to Create a Taskforce to Examine the City of Ann Arbor Joining the Urban County (“The Urban County is the decision making body for the allocation of HOME and CDBG funds for local jurisdictions who are members of the Urban County.”)
  • Several interesting DDA communications including resolution to provide $630,000 to fund a “downtown streetlight retrofit program” to replace all downtown streetlights with LEDs.

  1. What does this mean? Are they expanding?

       —Liza    Jul. 2 '07 - 06:31PM    #
  2. Yes. If you view the Council item online, you can see the details of the expansion including the site plan.

       —John Q.    Jul. 2 '07 - 08:27PM    #
  3. Enrollment for Greenhills is not going to change (they are limited to 510 students by their special exception use zoning), but they are proposing to add 11,000 sq/ft in building expansion over the next five years and do quite a few updates to the current buildings.

    I saw some of the proposal at the Planning Commission Meeting and it is pretty exciting. They are doing a lot with green building on the expansion and even going back to the existing buildings and reworking them to be more environmentally friendly. They are going to add gardens and an “outdoor classroom” to try to enhance the connection with the environment.

    Here are a few excerpts from their plan: Work will begin in Phase I to gradually shift heating and cooling from the existing boiler and condenser unit system to geothermal heating and cooling. This, along with other proposed strategies, including energy efficient lighting, design for use of natural ventilation, use of daylight, and the installation of photovoltaic panels, will reduce the school’s use of fossil fuels, minimizing its carbon footprint. Water use will be minimized through the use of waterless urinals, and ultra low-flow toilets. A proposed gray water processing system will allow lavatory water to be reused for plant watering in the green house.

    (1) A proposed green roof over the new addition and portion of the renovated High School wing would allow storm water volumes to be filtered and to reduce runoff. (2) Rainwater capture on membrane portions of the existing roof will be used for irrigation of playing fields. (3) New paving would be limited to pedestrian walkways, made from porous pavers to allow the replenishing of the underground aquifer.

    The project’s sustainable goals are expected to reduce the project’s impact on air and water quality: (1) Reduce peak electrical load by 33 percent. (2) Provide 5 percent of total power from on-site renewable energy. (3) Reduce gas consumption by 20 percent initially and eventually eliminated totally. (4) Reduce water consumption by 50 percent. (5) Reduce NO2 emissions by 20 percent. (6) Reduce CO2 emissions by 15 percent. The project is expected to LEED certified (gold level).

    Of course, about 100% of their students come via single car, but at least this is a big step in the right direction as far as the building is concerned.

       —Juliew    Jul. 2 '07 - 11:09PM    #
  4. I’m glad I’m not paying to send my kids there, and footing the bill for this….

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 10 '07 - 03:21PM    #
  5. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to invest in facility improvements that will result in lower utility costs (and possibly reduced tuition costs) and benefit the environment at the same time. Better to keep spending dollars on utilities instead of on the students.

       —John Q.    Jul. 10 '07 - 05:11PM    #
  6. When I was growing up in East Lansing, private school enrollment within the school district was (per Census) approximately zero. The general sense was you’d be crazy to move to East Lansing and pay its high school taxes and house prices if you were going to opt out of its high quality public schools.

    Obviously the tax structure has changed since then, but Ann Arbor schools today are at least as good as East Lansing schools were in the 1960s and 1970s, so the array of thriving private schools here is a bit surprising.

    Greenhills is supposed to be a great school, no argument, but the tuition would represent a major sacrifice for a middle class family — and next to impossible if they had multiple kids. And in the meantime there has to be money put away for college.

    Much as I hate to disagree with the highly esteemed John Q, it’s not a question of spending dollars on utilities versus spending dollars on students. Rather, I would see it as giving up a large part of one’s income to buy something that is also available for free.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 10 '07 - 05:58PM    #
  7. Greenhills is full of rich kids whose parents want them sheltered from the riff-raff in public schools.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 10 '07 - 07:42PM    #
  8. I wasn’t arguing the merits of sending ones kids to Greenhills or the type of kids that go there. CH’s comments were directed at the improvements being undertaken by Greenhills. If AAPS was undertaking similar improvements, would CH make the same kind of comment about ones tax dollars being spent that way? That’s how I interpreted the comment. Perhaps CH can clarify that.

       —John Q.    Jul. 10 '07 - 07:56PM    #
  9. AAPS has been making environmental changes. All schools now capture their runoff and Skyline will, when it is completed, be one of the highest LEED rated schools in the nation.

    Also, it would be interested to see how many middle income kids are actual students. Not many probably. And I heard that they are now pulling from a wider geographical area to attract students. Less are coming from Ann Arbor.

       —Liza    Jul. 10 '07 - 08:12PM    #
  10. Larry,
    What if you lived in Ypsilanti? Would you send your kids to Ypsilanti Public Schools?

       —Ypsi Resident    Jul. 10 '07 - 08:32PM    #
  11. If I lived in Ypsi and was sending my kids to school, I might move. Or I might send them to one of the many charter schools around.

    But if I could afford $15K annual tuition, I could probably live somewhere else than Ypsi.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 10 '07 - 09:25PM    #
  12. YR, I went to public schools from kindergarten through high school, in Chicago as well as East Lansing. My father taught in public high schools and junior college until he got his PhD; as history professor at MSU, he was deeply involved in training high school history teachers, and even chaired a national conference on Advanced Placement courses in high schools.

    In short, I’m very committed to public education, and I would hesitate a long time before sending my daughter to a private school. If the schools weren’t providing what she needed, I’d be more inclined to stay and fight on her behalf than to opt out.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 10 '07 - 10:42PM    #
  13. Larry,
    I appreciate the response. I share a similar background as you. I went to public schools; my mother was a public school teacher, and in theory, I am a firm supporter of public schools and teacher’s unions.

    Also, I have fought and fought as you suggest. I have seen many other parents do the same; however, the system continues to prove woefully inadequate. What if you didn’t succeed in your fight? Is there a point when you would pull your daughter out?

       —Ypsi Resident    Jul. 10 '07 - 11:17PM    #
  14. YR, yeah, depending on the situation, I don’t rule out getting frustrated and giving up. After all, a child’s needs are NOW, and holding out for a long-term victory may not be constructive.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 10 '07 - 11:29PM    #
  15. We considered the schools when moving to Ypsi; my (EMU-trained) public school teacher / g&t advocate mother’s consent to having her future grandchildren go to YPS was enough to make us comfortable with that part of the deal. (And, on the flipside of the equation, a house in Ypsilanti is enough cheaper than an equivalent house in Ann Arbor that, should we decide the public schools aren’t working out, private school tuition or homeschooling on one income would be much more financially feasible.)

    Cooler Heads – I’m glad to see that your having nothing to contribute to this conversation doesn’t keep you from trying.

       —Murph    Jul. 11 '07 - 01:07AM    #
  16. Now, now, Murph. I indeed can contribute.

    I am firm supporter of public schools, although I can take or leave the teachers union. I don’t strong public schools depend on unionized teachers. But I do think they depend on highly educated, continuously improving teachers.

    For the record, Ann Arbor has the highest percentage of children attending private school of any district in the state, including western districts where religious schools are quite popular here. For some reason, Ann Arborites more than those in other disticts, do not support public education—at least not by sending their kids to public schools.

    Greenhills sort of repels me. It’s no better than any of the high schools in terms of course offerings. Yet for some reason, people think it’s better. I wonder why.

    As for the renovations, the school desperately needs something. It is a mess, in terms of its physical plant.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 01:46AM    #
  17. See, I knew you had something to say! As long as you include actual content along with the snark, we’re dandy. (It works for PSD!, at least…)

    ps, Where’d you find numbers on private school attendance rates?

       —Murph.    Jul. 11 '07 - 02:12AM    #
  18. The census has numbers, but by jurisdiction and census tract, not (as far as I know) by school district.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 11 '07 - 02:35AM    #
  19. Actually, I read this in a report done by the school district that was shown to parents several years ago when they were fussing with redistricting. I cannot lay hands on this report, although I know it’s in my house somewhere.

    To back up this claim, the district contacts the parents of every student who leaves the district (and doesn’t move out of the district) to learn why students leave. That’s because each student is worth $8k to the district and they’d like to have more students educated in public schools in order to up the state funding. One of the things they try to find out is why private schools are more appealing in Ann Arbor.

    I’ll look around for this statistic. I know I’ve seen it somewhere. The percentage of AA students in private schools is about 20%.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 05:02AM    #
  20. Just guessing here but I would bet that Ann Arbor parents substitute private schools for homeschooling where homeschooling is a more popular option in other areas. Also, few communities of Ann Arbor’s size are served by a single school district. It’s hard to make direct comparisons when most cities are broken up across multiple districts.

       —John Q.    Jul. 11 '07 - 05:31AM    #
  21. Really? That seems a very strange thing to say. What Michigan cities are broken up across multiple school districts? I doubt any of the large ones are split more than trivially. And what difference would that make anyway?

    I think what you mean is that the Ann Arbor school district takes in the entire territory surrounding Ann Arbor, the “suburbs” if you will, or what might be called the Ann Arbor urbanized area.

    By contrast, the Detroit school district is coterminous with the city of Detroit and includes no suburbs. Flint and Grand Rapids are similar, in being approximately 100% “city proper” school districts.

    But there are countless smaller communities around Michigan where the school district geography is just like Ann Arbor’s: the central city plus surrounding suburban/rural area together in one district. Say, Grand Haven, Traverse City, Rochester, Monroe, Midland, to name a few.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 11 '07 - 06:26AM    #
  22. Warren and Sterling Heights are two that come to mind. The same can be said of many of the suburban communities that don’t match A2’s population but are similar in demographics. I don’t consider Detroit or GR to be peer cities to A2 due to their much larger populations. But even if they are, the fact that the districts are coterminous with the city limits would argue against using them as comparisons to A2 because A2’s school district embraces a much broader community than just the city.

    My point is that it’s difficult to look at most of the peer communities and make accurate comparisons about public school attendance because few of A2s peers are covered by a single district and few of the districts are similar to A2s in embracing the central city and the surrounding townships.

       —John Q.    Jul. 11 '07 - 07:51AM    #
  23. Warren and Sterling Heights are relatively unusual communities because they were whole townships which incorporated as cities. Townships are typically cut by school district boundaries. That kind of division is very unusual for incorporated places which started as urban settlements.

    K12 education is organized at the school district level, and so the relevant unit of comparison here is the school district. Surely Ann Arbor can be compared to other school districts on a district to district basis.

    Obviously each district has a different mix of urban/suburban/rural, different demographics, different population size, etc. I would think those are the relevant considerations, rather than whether a district’s boundaries match city or township lines. Few do!

    That being said, I agree that there are some fundamental differences between Ann Arbor and other communities which are reflected in its school district setup. But those differences don’t make comparisons between districts invalid.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 11 '07 - 10:13AM    #
  24. I am surprised at the proportion of AA students in private schools. Nationally, 10.4% of students attend private school. That is half the percentage in AA. Why do AA parents decide not to support public schools by sending their kids to those schools?

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 04:50PM    #
  25. Statewide, slightly more than 10% of students are in private school.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 04:57PM    #
  26. How about providing a link to the stats for private school attendance in A2? It’s hard to comment on the why of that when you don’t provide any numbers to review.

       —John Q.    Jul. 11 '07 - 05:37PM    #
  27. I will fess up. I work for the AAPS district. Right now our market share is about 82% of district students. That is lower then we like, obviously. That wasn’t the case in past years prior to charter schools and Proposal A. It is truly the charters that pull from the district. There is always expected pull from religious and some private schools. But the charter pull is also a bit unstable since many come back to the district after the first count day. That is another issue that public schools have to deal with…families leaving to go to a charter because they were recruited for count days then returning to the district a few weeks later. It does come down to dollars and cents. And we do do “exit interviews”. It is smart business (yes, business) to try to learn why they leave our district and how we can do better. Did you know that we have close to a 1/3 turnover rate each year in students – we are a transient district.

    Public schools also need to market. That is a different mindset for public schools and we need to embrace it and understand the level of competition now with charters. But taxpayers are generally not comfortable with public schools spending money on marketing but it is a fact of life with the charter competition. Have you seen or received the four-color slick post card or brochure from the local charters? If the public schools produced these type of materials we would be critizied for spending tax- payer dollars. A comparable district such as Troy has 92% of the market share (market share = students). We are aiming for this percentage but they also don’t have as many charters competing for their students. While charters offer more choice it does force ( a good thing for parents and students) for publics to be competitive.

    We can also learn from Greenhills as they can learn from us.But basically they can offer smaller class size and can pick who their students are. We can’t. What do you loose or gain? That is a questions that each family has to answer. Diversity, real-world experience, a broader choice of curriculum, more extra curriculars…those are a few things that public schools can offer compared to private and charters.

    In recent years we have captured more middle school students who may in the past have chosen Greenhills thus Greenhills has reached beyond Washtenaw County to pull in more students from the Novi area…from what I understand.

    Sorry for the extent of the response….

       —Liza    Jul. 11 '07 - 07:21PM    #
  28. You know, I wrote a post with all details about AA school enrollment, and i thought i posted it.

    i will get the link and post….

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 08:13PM    #
  29. Here’s the link:

    You can add the total enrollment in private and religious schools, and find the public school enrollment, and then do the math to get the percentage.

    These figures do not include charter schools, that are public schools but not included in the public school enrollment figures.

    The point is that AA has a rather large percentage of kids whose parents opt out of traditicnal public schools. That seems surprising in a town with the values Ann Arborites purport to have.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 08:19PM    #
  30. I see that trend with Greenhills…more kids going to AAPS middle schools.

    What astonishes me is that parents would pay for Greenhills when the school offers less than the AAPS do. But most of the kids who I know who go there are kids who couldn’t manage the public school setting. They need much more adult attention in order to manage school.

    I also know Greenhills is working hard to recruit minorities and offering scholarships to those students. But still the school is overwhelmingly rich and white.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 08:23PM    #
  31. After reviewing some the numbers, I think there are some obvious trends:

    1) The Ann Arbor area offers a more diverse offering of alternative school choices than most suburban districts. In addition to the “traditional” Christian and Catholic school offerings, those of Islamic and Jewish faiths also have school options that probably aren’t available in many school districts.

    2) Much of the enrollment growth in private schools has been in the Montessori schools which I know appeals to the liberal side of the private school audience for various reasons. This captures a group of students who are often not served by traditional religious or charter school programs.

    3) Most of the enrollment growth in private schools is in the K-6 (and under) segment. I would guess that many of these kids move into the public school system for middle and high school.

    Without reviewing the demographics in more detail, I would suspect that the numbers are a reflection of Ann Arbor’s relative affluence compared to many other Michigan communities. For many families, moving outside the public school system represents a significant financial investment (as comments here have confirmed). But where money is not an issue or is not the deciding factor, as is likely the case for some Ann Arbor families, sending your kid to a more “liberal” or “conservative” or “homogeneous” school is a factor that can be considered in where you send your kids to get educated. It would be interesting to compare these numbers to a district that operated in a voucher-style system to see if parents, freed of the financial burden when choosing, would send their kids to a range of private schools that Ann Arbor parents support.

       —John Q.    Jul. 11 '07 - 08:49PM    #
  32. What’s more interesting, I think, is that one of the goals of public schools is to foster the notion of civic responsibility and tolerance. They are supposed to bring together children from the diverse population of the US and, in addition to teaching them academics, also educate them in how to live in a civil society, valuing tolerance and acceptance.

    For some reason, AA parents don’t much value that as they are sending their children to schools that are sectarian or selective or somehow exclusive rather than inclusive.

    It’s a shame, I think.

    John Q. you make it sound as though parents, if freed from the financial burden of paying for private schools, would leave the public schools in droves. In other words, the only reason people attend AA public schools is because they are free—not because they are good schools or embody important civic values.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 11 '07 - 09:54PM    #
  33. AAPS is a mixed bag. Some outstanding teachers, the curriculum is good, but only one alternative school for
    elementary grades. Special education support is not so good,(I am being kind) and everything is on a very large scale. Lots of room for things falling through cracks. Bureaucratic, unresponsive, and lack of individualized service are some real reasons people leave the system. I don’t think it is the diversity that is the problem, but how individual problems all day long are handled, or more realisitically, not handled.
    It gets to be a long day for your kid.
    The real number to watch would be how many families have tried the public school and then left.

       —Emilia    Jul. 11 '07 - 11:32PM    #
  34. “John Q. you make it sound as though parents, if freed from the financial burden of paying for private schools, would leave the public schools in droves. In other words, the only reason people attend AA public schools is because they are free—not because they are good schools or embody important civic values.”

    I think the numbers in A2 represent the upper end of the number of parents who would go outside the public school system because many of those who want to can afford to do so. I suggested comparing the percentages to a voucher system because it would demostrate whether that’s the case or if absent financial concerns, more or less people stay in the system. I think the reasons that most people send their kids to public or private schools are largely for non-financial reasons but it must play a part for some families.

       —John Q.    Jul. 11 '07 - 11:47PM    #
  35. I’ll make a wager then. I will wager that the percentage of students in Millburn NJ who attend public school is higher than the percentage in AA. Millburn is the wealthiest town in NJ (well, actually 2nd wealthiest). It makes AA look like Detroit. But I will bet you that more people send kids to public schools, percentage wise.


    This I can’t prove, but I will guess: because the entire district is rich and white. The public schools look like Greenhills in terms of student population. No poor or minority riff-raff.

    Unlike AA schools which are much more diverse in terms of race and class.

    I would hypothesize that the reason many people remove kids from public schools here are for elitist views fueled by beliefs about race and class.

    I don’t know about the percentages in Millburn, but I’ll now go try to find out.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 12 '07 - 12:36AM    #
  36. Interesting:

    Newton, which is a fairly well-to-do suburb of Boston is slightly smaller in size than A2 (80,000+) residents with slightly smaller school population (10,700). It has a much lower percentage of minority population (88% white):,_Massachusetts#Demographics

    but still exhibits the same “high” percentage of private school enrollment. I think I’ll stick with my affluence theory over the racial/riff-raff theory.

       —John Q.    Jul. 12 '07 - 02:07AM    #
  37. I agree w/ Liza—public schools need to market. I work for DPS (that’s Detroit, not Dexter), in special education. In my biased opinion, our special education services are WONDERFUL—you will get real classroom teachers, not just teacher “consultants”. Okay, there’s my commercial for DPS :)
    Seriously though, the migration to private schools and homeschooling scares me, esp. for kids w/ special needs. About 13% of students are classified as being special ed, and the actual numbers are probably much higher (because many are not tested). Of course I am biased, but I have never heard of a private/charter or “home“school doing much good for kids with special needs. (I’m sure they are out there; I just haven’t known any, personally).

       —TeacherPatti    Jul. 12 '07 - 02:38AM    #
  38. Typically, public school staff is horrified at the idea of special ed kids not being in public schools, but I know several who were not well served in the system, and do very well out of the system, (charter/private)but not so much home schooled.

       —Emilia    Jul. 12 '07 - 04:26AM    #
  39. Wow. I’ll give you that one.

    Except further research reveals that a high number of parents are quite unhappy with the Newton public schools and that test scores there have been falling—at least in math—for the past several years.,2933,146684,00.html

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 12 '07 - 05:15AM    #
  40. Just for fun, some statistics for public/private school percentages for nearby cities:

    Ann Arbor 87.7/12.3
    Dearborn 85.1/14.9
    Canton 89.6/10.4
    Westland 94.7/5.3
    Livonia 89.2/10.8
    Farmington Hills 82.2/17.8
    Southfield 85.2/14.8
    West Bloomfield 97.3/2.7
    Novi 94.8/5.2
    Troy 85.9/14.1
    Royal Oak 78.3/21.7
    Pontiac 88.4/11.6
    Detroit 92.6/7.4

    Statistics from website summarizing top ten best places to live 2006.

       —jcp2    Jul. 12 '07 - 07:13AM    #
  41. Wow. That is also interesting. Several of these are wealthy ‘burbs with access to private schools. I wonder why the differences among communities that appear so similar?

    PS. I am finishing a doctorate in education this fall. I am a statistical researcher who studies the effect of instruction on student learning using large-scale datasets.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 12 '07 - 03:35PM    #
  42. In the end, whether someone sends their kids some where will be performance driven, not black/white rich/poor. People will move to a different district if they think the schools are good. Even Detroit, at 92%, is not reflecting the flight out of the city that has been taking place, nor the trouble they had this year alone.

       —Emilia    Jul. 12 '07 - 04:58PM    #
  43. Those are interesting numbers but I wonder how they arrive at those percentages. For example, West Bloomfield schools only cover 1/2 of the Township and I think the Township is served by at least 6 or 7 school districts. So which entity does the number represent? The school district or the Township as a whole? Same situation in Novi where Novi Schools only cover 1/2 of the city and major portions of the city fall into Northville or Walled Lake Schools. The Pontiac numbers seem high considering how much noise has been made in the past by those outside Pontiac city limits who want to opt-out of the district. As you can see from this map of Oakland County, district lines normally don’t respect city and township borders.
    (this is a fairly large PDF file),1607,7-158-12540_13084-100538—,00.html
    [for those wanting to look at other districts]

       —John Q.    Jul. 12 '07 - 05:06PM    #
  44. I’m still puzzled as to why city and township borders matter so much to you in this context.

    I presume those numbers quoted above are by school district. So what if the West Bloomfield school district has different boundaries than West Bloomfield Township, which itself is a completely arbitrary rectangle of Oakland County suburbia?

    Sure, comparing incorporated places with school districts is apples to oranges, even if they happen to have the same name. But school district to school district should still work.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 12 '07 - 06:46PM    #
  45. Emilia, Michigan is one of the most segregated states in the nation, in terms of race. Most African-American students attend schools that are attended be predominanty minority students. Similarly, few whites attend schools with minority students.

    I don’t think this is an accident. I think white parents prefer to send their kids to school with other white students. Thus the schools have sorted themselves out this way.

    So it’s not a huge leap to imagine people sending their children to private school for the same reason—particularly in Michigan where the sentiment toward segregation seems high.

       —Cooler Heads    Jul. 12 '07 - 10:18PM    #
  46. Does the high segregation rates of students hold up with the move out of Detroit of so many people?
    What are the numbers now in Southfield, Oak Park,Redford, Romulus etc? I think people are still looking primarily at performance of the schools. Following you line of reasoning, people would be putting their children in with only white kids, avoiding Asians, Arabs, Africans etc I don’t think that’s the deal in this town, anyway
    In a left handed kind of way, if Michigan desegregated because of the decay of Detroit, that would be a kind of silver lining to that debacle.

       —Emilia    Jul. 12 '07 - 10:29PM    #