Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Should voters give the county-wide school millage a passing grade?

17. October 2009 • Chuck Warpehoski
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In just a few weeks Washtenaw County voters will decide on a proposed 2-mill enhancement millage.

If passed the millage would raise about $680 per student in the county according to Brian Marcel of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

The 2 mill tax mean that a homeowner with a $200,000 house with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $200 more a year.

The campaign comes after each of Washtenaw County’s 10 traditional school districts passed resolutions asking that this be put on the ballot and as the state.

Proponents argue that the millage is important in the face of state cuts to school spending, that it is important to keep Washtenaw County’s economy from slipping further, and that per-pupil funding from the state has decreased 9 percent since 1994, after inflation.

Opponents criticize irresponsible school spending, claim that the increase is too much, and that the millage would be an example of taxation without representation.

That’s what they say. What do you say?

  1. Okay, after reporting what others say about this, I can give my opinion.

    I think some of the arguments opposing the millage are just nuts.

    Given the cuts to school funding and the failure to even keep up with inflation, I think the “irresponsible spending” argument is hokey. I’m not saying all the spending is smart, but there have already been a lot of cost-cutting efforts.

    And try as I may, I cannot understand how a voter-approved millage on voters’ property is “taxation without representation.”

    Furthermore, opponents often ignore that this is a county-wide millage, and they use this convenient oversight as a basis to attack Ann Arbor’s high per-pupil funding, ignoring the crisis situations that Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts are in.

    Those arguments I find bogus, but the question of “should we be paying another 2 mills” is an important one, especially as there’s talk of possible human services and transit millages.

    Right now I’m leaning toward voting yes, I think education is important and I don’t see how Michigan or Washtenaw County can survive if we short-change our children.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 17 '09 - 04:38AM    #
  2. I was resistant for a while and the $200 figure hit me hard just now since that is just about where we are. But it hit me the other day that I don’t have the information or knowledge to assess the need and competence issues, and I can’t justify not voting for it, as its basic merit (education for continuance of civilization as well as children in the local community) outshines any cost to me.

    The total tax burden will be an issue as other millages come up. But cheer up – property values are down and maybe your TV will catch up with your SEV any day now.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 17 '09 - 04:58AM    #
  3. Ypsilanti schools just received a big capital improvements millage a short time ago. Willow Run’s money troubles have far more to do with a disastrous series of management fiascos than anything else. Throwing more money at WR before their school board is ready to behave like fiscally conservative adults would be foolish.

    If Ann Arbor residents would like to give your schools, or other people’s schools, more of your money, please feel free to do so. I believe that it’s even tax deductible if you do.

    If the individual school districts are too cowardly to put their own millage requests on the ballot, then they don’t deserve our support.

    More at

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 17 '09 - 05:53AM    #
  4. $600/year isn’t the best but I think it’s worth it.

    Now the human services millage is an awful mistake and I am absolutely against it. As a board member of several local non-profits, I can tell you that we now look at the City and county money as a “bonus” where we used to count on it. We have changed and adapted and have become stonger and more focused organizations because of it.

       —Marvin Face    Oct. 17 '09 - 06:06AM    #
  5. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the ongoing Michigan economic mess has left many (the majority? – at least the majority of non-public sector employees!) county homeowners on the brink of financial ruin. The county treasurer’s office has been inundated this year with tax delinquencies and foreclosures.

    Now is not the time for any sane governmental organization to propose YET ANOTHER tax! Who will be left to pay it when this latest theft from our empty wallets ends up driving more homeowners and businesses from the county?

    We in Eastern Washtenaw County simply cannot afford to pay this, no matter how much my Ann Arbor friends want to impose it upon us.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 17 '09 - 06:08AM    #
  6. How about passing a moratorium on home foreclosures instead of passing new tax increases? Home values and hence taxable values are dropping due to foreclosed homes being dumped on the market. We could implement a moratorium by simply not funding the program that pays the teams that go out and evict people from their homes. I have a son in the Ann Arbor school system and I can tell you there are a significant number of teachers gliding to retirement who should not be entrusted with teaching young people. Getting rid of bad teachers means kids will spend more time with good teachers although class sizes go up. I contend that a lot of kids working with a good teacher is much better than a few kids working with a bad teacher. Here is another problem with a 2 mil increase; we are proposing to raise taxes on people losing their health care, losing their retirement funds, losing their homes so a lot of bad teachers can keep their health care, retirement benefits and homes. If you can get rid of the bad teachers, there are more than enough funds to raise the pay of good teachers. If you cut funding, it will force the districts to establish a method for cutting positions; the cuts should be based on objective results. We could also look at getting rid of some expensive administrative positions as well; again, this could be based on performance. Ann Arbor’s willingness to fund its public schools is laudable, however, there is a lot of dead wood that has grown in the system over the years and this fiscal crisis is a great opportunity to clear the dead wood out. If you really want a school system that is responsive to our young people, you have to get rid of people in responsible positions who are not performing. Being in a responsible position means being responsible and accountable. We should chop out enough dead wood to not only maintain the salary and benefits of the remaining staff, but increase their compensation.

       —ChuckL    Oct. 17 '09 - 06:54AM    #
  7. “If the individual school districts are too cowardly to put their own millage requests on the ballot, then they don’t deserve our support.”

    Individual school districts (with a few exceptions) are not allowed to request their own millages since the approval of Proposal A. As I noted on your blog, if we were back to the system of funding prior to Proposal A, a lot of the school districts in the county would be getting a lot less funding than they do today. Why? Because the state education tax takes tax dollars from more affluent parts of the state and redistributes it to school districts that don’t have the tax base to support the level of funding provided under Proposal A. In conservative lingo, that’s known as a “massive transfer of wealth”, a transfer that was endorsed by that conservative icon, John Engler. In Michigan, those transfers largely benefit property value poor urban districts and property value poor rural districts.

       —John Q.    Oct. 17 '09 - 09:07AM    #
  8. John Q. – you are correct, my comment about the Ypsilanti district needs to modified, because it was a bond they passed for capital improvements, not a millage.

    I agree with ChuckL though, in that I wonder why the teachers union has such an inflated sense of entitlement that they believe it’s OK “to raise taxes on people losing their health care, losing their retirement funds, losing their homes” so that this privileged class of public school employees “can keep their health care, retirement benefits and homes.”

    I also wonder why the cowardly local school boards think it’s OK “to raise taxes on people losing their health care, losing their retirement funds, losing their homes” so that the board doesn’t have to make the difficult choices needed to get their budget in line with revenue projections.

    All of the other local (and county) governments are making those hard choices – and so are all of those taxpayers and voters. Our additional $200+ would be coming out of our family’s grocery budget, because we can’t afford to turn our heat down more or the pipes will freeze.

    I have a friend who lives nearby who is probably a typical example of the taxpayer/voter/homeowner this tax will hurt most. She has children in the public schools, as do I, and is of course concerned about the quality of the education her children receive. However, her job (actually in the public sector) is threatened by budget cuts. Her salary, if she can keep the job, barely gives her any financial cushion each month to put away for the future, despite deep personal budget cuts over this past year.

    For the tax supporters reading this, I would ask “Which of the following should we and my friend take away from our children to give to the WISD – food or shelter (heat, light, or mortgage)?

    Lost jobs combined with already high property taxes are driving people from their homes. It is crass for the cowardly school boards to think that now is a good time to pile on more.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 17 '09 - 04:26PM    #
  9. I guess that one of the things that tilted me over to decide to vote for it was the continual drumbeat of news from the state budget proceedings. I gather that the Republican majority in the Senate has blocked any type of revenue raising (I know, I know, taxes by any name) and that school allocations are taking a cut.

    Regarding the “dead wood” and “responsible people” arguments, I’m afraid that those questions are up to local school boards and parents since most of us can’t get a handle on what is going on. I’ll admit to a certain leap of faith here.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 17 '09 - 04:36PM    #
  10. Vivienne,

    The whole point is that this flawed and cowardly process insulates those local school boards from the same consequences the rest of us are dealing with in the real world. The school boards are already saying that this is not “their millage” – in that case who exactly is responsible for this millage? WISD says that they’re only putting it on the ballot because the state law says they must.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 17 '09 - 06:28PM    #
  11. The thing that really gals me about this proposal is that I am not seeing much tangible evidence that the public is getting much in return. The plan is to make more funds available to the general operating funds of the 10 districts; no new programs or services are being offered. The way I see it, the school systems are proposing to earn a pass to avoid making changes they should have been making in normal times but have failed to do; that is, weeding out non-performing teachers and administrators. I am also disturbed by the “world as we know it will cease to exist” fear mongering that is being used to pass this millage. Yes, things are bad and the school systems need to show they are part of this community too by doing their fair share of cutting back; just like everyone else is.

       —ChuckL    Oct. 17 '09 - 07:27PM    #
  12. I think any decision about whether or not to support the millage has to focus on the KIDS. School funding supports our future. And, in addition, schools themselves are major economic engines in every part of our country. The schools are some of the biggest employers in our county.

    ChuckL points out that “we are not getting much in return,” and I think that is right, but here is why: the state has proposed, right now, per-pupil spending cuts of over $160 per student. However, the latest estimates from the state are that the School Aid Fund is going to be much more short of funding than $160; the Michigan Association of School Boards estimates that it is the equivalent of a $330 per pupil hole. So this millage is the proverbial “boy holding the finger in the dike,” it doesn’t add anything extra—it will help us recover some of what we will lose from the state. Which does irk me, but I’m still going to vote yes. But I’m also going to try to convince the legislature that they shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the backs of our children. And I hope you will join me.

    If you want to read about the Michigan Association of School Board information (based on State Treasury estimates), you can find them here:

       —schoolsmuse    Oct. 17 '09 - 10:21PM    #
  13. Citizens For Responsible Student Spending is an organization which makes a lot of sense.

    Students in this county already have extensive support from taxpayers. Nothing more is necessary.

    We need cutbacks in spending, not tax increases.

       —Annette Gilbert    Oct. 17 '09 - 10:37PM    #
  14. From what I see, the local school districts are making difficult cuts. The Ann Arbor Public Schools have cut 14 million in expenses over the past 3 years. When Ypsilanti was hiring its new superintendent, school board members flying out to interview candidates were asked to pay their own way.

    For me, my support for this comes down to two issues of self-interest:

    1. Michigan’s economy: As America’s manufacturing sector shrinks, an educated workforce will be necessary for Michigan to compete in the 21st-century economy.

    2. Schools for my kids: Okay, I am not currently a parent, but I expect to be at some point. At that point, I will want well-equipped schools with up-to-date resources and qualified teachers. All of those cost money. And if I wait until I have school-age kids to start trying to ensure those, it will already be too late.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 17 '09 - 11:11PM    #
  15. Chuck,

    That same Ypsilanti school board approved a contract with their new superintendent that is embarrassing in its financial generosity. The overly generous wage and benefits package makes no sense when the district knew it was facing the need to go back to its workers to ask for give-backs and cuts. This WISD millage is just an attempt to avoid that painful but necessary process.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 18 '09 - 12:15AM    #
  16. D.C., according to, the salary is within the median range of salaries, though at the high end. It does look a bit high to me, but I also respect the challenges that they will have to bring in someone who can get the district working well, with or without the millage.

    The superintendent’s salary is tiny compared to the $4 million projected deficit of the school district this year.

    State funding for schools has failed to keep up with inflation. That’s the fundamental problem. The Prop A promise of paying school districts enough to educate their students isn’t working, so school districts need to find new funds.

    I wish there were better alternatives to the millage, but I don’t see them.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 18 '09 - 02:30AM    #
  17. Chuck,

    The Ypsilanti schools did not hire a superintendent with many years of experience in leadership of urban school systems. They also did not hire a turnaround expert who has the specific skills and past success in turning around a district in trouble. They hired someone with little experience at this level, and a skimpy track record overall. Such a person may be perfect for the district, but they should not be receiving an initial salary “at the high end.”

    It is exactly this sort of mismanagement that we the voters would be rewarding if we approve the WISD millage.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 18 '09 - 03:08AM    #
  18. “If you can get rid of the bad teachers, there are more than enough funds to raise the pay of good teachers.”

    ChuckL brings up a good point and one for which I don’t have an answer (naturally :)). What is a good teacher? What is a bad teacher? Obviously, I’d love to weed out the “bad ones”—and believe me, I have my own ideas about what a “bad teacher” is. I think I’m a good teacher, but I’m sure that teachers with different styles or teachers who just plain old don’t like me (I know. I was shocked too) may have a different opinion.

    I do agree with ChuckL though that a lot of students with a good teacher > a few with a bad one…I just don’t know how to measure good/bad and who should do the measuring.

       —TeacherPatti    Oct. 18 '09 - 06:11AM    #
  19. In my opinion, money spent on education is the best investment we can all make.

       —Ryan McGee    Oct. 18 '09 - 08:50AM    #
  20. Ryan,

    Just providing funds with no expectations or performance requirements will simply result in money being wasted. TeacherPatti raises a good point; we need an objective standard to grade teachers and I am sure people who research this issue have a good answer. If we pass a millage, I want to see how they are going to remove bad teachers from the schools; in other words, the public should get something for its money. Another sore point for me is the construction of Skyline High school. The way funding works in the state, each school system only gets so much money to spend on its students. Spending money on a new building raised the operating costs that took money away from funds available to pay teacher salaries.
       —ChuckL    Oct. 18 '09 - 05:46PM    #
  21. Long before the recession, pretty much everyone paying attention to our state’s economic future concluded that Michigan has a built in structural deficit. It needed to be fixed then, and it still needs to be fixed now. Since our elected leaders in Lansing are too incompetent to even approach the problem, the only option is to engage in these silly special millages to make sure we can provide the bare-bones services we need. Like it or not, we need good schools, public safety, and roads. Put simply, if we continue to underfund these services, things will continue to get worse.

    By continuing to underfund our schools, we are balancing our state’s budget on the backs of children who depend on us to ensure they receive a proper education. If we cannot provide them the educations they deserve, we will continue to remain utterly non-competitive as a state. Businesses consider schools when deciding where to locate, and they do not locate in states where the public schools are underfunded or where they suck. If having underfunded schools were something businesses were seeking, Arkansas and Mississippi would be economic powerhouses.

    People can whine and moan about spending all they want, but anyone involved in the public schools knows that schools have cut to the bone. More cuts will result in the wholesale degradation of the core service provided.

       —trusty getto    Oct. 18 '09 - 07:51PM    #
  22. trusty getto,

    “…anyone involved in the public schools knows that schools have cut to the bone…”; I see a lot of bad teachers who should not be teaching who never leave since the benefits and pay are too good to pass up. If they cut to the bone, why did they build Skyline? I also do not have a problem funding schools; I have a problem giving out more resources without getting any performance commitments back in return.
       —ChuckL    Oct. 18 '09 - 08:24PM    #
  23. I’m voting yes. Here’s why:

       —schoolsmuse    Oct. 19 '09 - 04:04AM    #
  24. Teacher Patti: I’ll bet you know exactly who the bad teachers are. I’ve been in the teachers’ lounge, I’ve listened to teachers talk, and I know they know. This idea that teaching is some kind of mysterious activity that cannot be evaluated is nonsense. The fact that school officials cannot require ineffective teachers to be involved in improvement in their teaching is crazy.

    On another note: there are plenty of pet projects in the schools. Let’s get rid of those, raise fees, etc. before writing a big check to the county’s school districts.

       —just a homeowner    Oct. 19 '09 - 05:24AM    #
  25. Oh, ouch. Full disclosure: I used to be a teacher. No, at the college level. But I’m aware of the whole issue about student evaluations, student capability, and teacher sufficiency (if not excellence). Some people seem to think that teachers can be given an objective score. But whether pupils or students do well does have something to do with their own effort and capability, and at the lower levels with parent involvement. There is a complex human behavioral and social interaction question here. “Bad teachers”, if negligent, should certainly be disciplined, but I’m tired of hearing teachers blamed for every problem.

    “Pet projects.” “Raise fees.” Those have to do with one’s own perception of what a good education entails. I know next to nothing about current practices in our elementary and secondary schools but I would hope that they include plenty of choices like art, music, computer lab, individual sports, advanced classes, special needs classes, math club or whatever. These kids need to have an opportunity to reach full potential and explore all facets of their capabilities. There will never be another chance in their lives like this. For our future as a culture and a community we want to give each of them every possible opportunity.

    And the whole idea of fees for everything above the basic skills is counter to democratic ideals. We should not place economic gateways between students and all the fulfilling activities that they should be engaging in. Otherwise, we are programming for a society stratified by economic class.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 19 '09 - 05:55AM    #
  26. Vivienne: for starters, why do Ann Arbor students pay just $35 annually to play HS sports, while these fees in other districts are much higher? Why do we have so many small schools, both high schools and elementary schools?

    Education is a democratic venture, designed to serve as many students as efficiently as possible. That means that we need to evaluate spending in terms of what serves the most kids. It means we can’t offer all things to all people. Education isn’t what anyone wants it to be. It’s what serves the civic society best to create educated citizens. In a time of dwindling and scarce resources, that means we have to be thoughtful about our choices.

       —just a homeowner    Oct. 19 '09 - 05:50PM    #
  27. JAH, thanks for your answer. The more specifics, the better we can have that discussion.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 19 '09 - 06:59PM    #
  28. The Governor vetoed funding for 20j districts. This will add a new angle to the tax vote discussion with Ann Arbor facing another $3 million in cuts.

       —John Q.    Oct. 20 '09 - 08:23AM    #
  29. Increased spending on education has absolutely no correlation to improved test scores or better educated children. Extra funds will allow districts to hire even more administrators that won’t have a direct impact on student learning. Parental involvement, better disciplined students, and high expectations would have a far greater impact on educational outcomes and would cost nothing. It should be obvious that with record numbers of foreclosures in the county that this is the wrong time to increase taxes.

       —EOS    Oct. 21 '09 - 03:29AM    #
  30. There seem to be two schools of thought here: the commuters and the tire-kickers.

    The commuters believe their fate is tied to the fate of the school district and want to keep it running at the same level of quality.

    The tire-kickers don’t like the car and don’t trust the mechanic. They want to stop putting money into the car they have and start shopping around for a new car on better principles.

    When deciding whether to keep a car or to start shopping for a new one, it often comes down to a question of condition. Will the public school in this district keep running acceptably if we pay the money to continue funding them at this level? Probably, yes.

    There’s also a question of trust. In my view, trust is earned by regularly doing constructive things over a substantial period of time. The schools have done that. The tire-kickers haven’t done anything except complain.

    Vote YES on Nov. 3.

       —Fred zimmerman    Oct. 30 '09 - 06:00PM    #
  31. I voted for it (absentee, already mailed) precisely because the kinds of arguments presented in #29 are unsupported and unpersuasive. (Apart from the foreclosure statement; I suspect that this additional tax burden might tilt a few people over, but without any data we can’t be sure that it is a real factor.)

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Oct. 30 '09 - 07:13PM    #
  32. Fred, I’m amazed that, after all the debate and discussion, this “commuter/tire-kicker” thing is the best you could come up with. I’m also disappointed to read the same tired tripe about how people who are against the WISD millage hate the public school system. Nice try.

    I have children in the public schools, and I’ve voted in many a school election. I support high quality public education, and I believe that there are many teachers in our schools who are doing their absolute best under difficult circumstances.

    However, it is exactly those difficult circumstances that need to be changed, and pouring more money into the hole by approving yet another school tax won’t do it. I would be happy to be a part of consolidating school districts and especially district administration, and a part of privatizing and/or sharing non-academic services to make more efficient use of public resources for education.

    Once that sort of real business reform is successful, I will be first in line to support a stable revenue source for high quality academics. Absent that sort of reform, I will not agree to pass along more from my dwindling bank account for the school districts to waste.

    Vote a resounding “No!” on the WISD millage next Tuesday.

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 30 '09 - 07:43PM    #
  33. Designated Conservative, it amazes that after dissing my commuter/tire kicker analogy (which, admittedly, was far from brilliant) you say in the next breath that “pouring more money into the hole by approving yet another school tax won’t do it.” Gee, that sounds exactly like my analogy. We are both talking about how to take care of a valuable and vulnerable asset. I am in the “keep pouring money into it” camp because I am far less confident than you in the magic of “real business reform.”

       —Fred zimmerman    Oct. 30 '09 - 10:00PM    #
  34. To contine Fred’s analogy, a new car is always more expensive than keeping your old car. Consolidating school districts at the county level (if that is ever politically attainable) might save money in the long run, but the transition would be expensive.

    Moreover, any function that depends primarily on humans interacting with each other is not necessarily cheaper when done on a larger scale.

    The Mythical Man-Month documented how adding more programmers to a big project slows it down, making it more expensive and less likely to succeed. This truth is not limited to writing code. The bigger an organization, the greater and more costly the administrative structure it requires.

    Large school districts that exist today are among the most dysfunctional, and not just because of the poorer population in some large districts. Even given similar populations, small school districts can and do outperform large school districts.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Oct. 30 '09 - 10:34PM    #
  35. Larry,

    What about combining Ann Arbor with Saline? Or Ann Arbor with Saline and Ypsilanti? We have 10 districts that make up the WISD, what if we reduced the number to 5? Ann Arbor built Skyline based on overly optimistic population projections; by combining with other districts could it be possible to shutdown some older buildings and combine resources? The reference to the Mythical Man Month is interesting but that book was written by a project manager for IBM who was relaying his experience with an operating system for mainframes. The problem was that adding more programmers increased the number of communication paths and so slowed down the code writing process. More programmers also required more supervisors which further raised cost but did not improve the product. The case we are talking about is keeping the number of teachers but removing administrative layers. Your reference to dysfunctional districts that are large seems based more on perception than on measurement. How do you measure dysfunction?
       —ChuckL    Oct. 31 '09 - 03:51PM    #
  36. ChuckL —

    I live in Ann Arbor and go to church in Saline, so I can tell you that merging the school districts is a nonstarter. No one wants it and it’s not going to happen.

    As for the dangers of large school districts, surely even a moment’s thought will remind you of such sterling examples of large school districts as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Washington, D.C., New York, etc. Given these extremely obvious examples and the fact that you are the one calling for reform, I think the burden is on you to produce examples of county-wide school district consolidations that have produced measurable results.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Oct. 31 '09 - 08:19PM    #
  37. the Mythical Man Month is interesting but that book was written by a project manager for IBM who was relaying his experience with an operating system for mainframes. The problem was that adding more programmers increased the number of communication paths and so slowed down the code writing process. More programmers also required more supervisors which further raised cost but did not improve the product.

    And you don’t see the analogy to school districts? How many communication paths does Detroit need compared to Saline? A larger organization needs more layers of administration, not less.

    Here’s another one from construction: a large office building costs more per square foot than a small office building. That’s because the larger building is likely to need more space for hallways, a larger heating plant, more substantial structural elements, much more elaborate fire protection, elevators, and so on. Each incremental floor in a high rise building costs more than the one below it.

    The architect Christopher Alexander, in The Oregon Experiment, cites a study of newly built school buildings in Oregon. The larger the school building, the more it cost per square foot.

    Mass production is a wonderful thing, but the efficiencies of mass production don’t really apply to human activities which require a lot of communication — like writing code, or teaching.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Oct. 31 '09 - 09:32PM    #
  38. Management of big businesses has been flattened in recent decades, as decision-making has been moved down the chain of command closer to the producers (or the factory floor). The “chain” of command itself has been transformed, as middle-management became an endangered species.

    Unfortunately, this is not as true in the public sector, especially our public schools – which have not been touched, until recently, by the financial forces of our recession and the profit motive which governed America’s private sector. Now, the Michigan Depressocratic economy has reached the schools, and the response, unfortunately, is “we need more of your money.”

    Public charter academies have shown how the the private sector and the for-profit model can be successful in making efficient use of resources to educate our children.

    The public schools need to squash their bloated organizational structures, privatize all non-academic services, and consolidate administrative functions. In the Ypsilanti area, we have three districts with three superintendents and three admin. offices serving a smaller population base than Ann Arbor does with one district.

    Whether we consolidate the districts entirely under the WISD, merge certain districts together, or do something entirely different makes no difference to me for this election. My point is that the school districts FAILED TO MAKE A PLAN for real reform and streamlining of their business operations before bringing this millage proposal forward.

    What is most important right now is to send a strong message back to the districts’ leadership and the teachers union by voting a resounding “No!” against the WISD millage on Tuesday!

    Once that’s done, we can start a real reform process to bring our public schools into the 21st century where the rest of us live. More at

       —Designated Conservative    Oct. 31 '09 - 11:18PM    #
  39. All this high-minded talk about “reform” will be forgotten the day after the election, no matter what the outcome. It’s just an attempt to change the subject from the question before us right now.

    For years, the state of Michigan has been in the grip of a bipartisan coalition against education. No party or faction in Lansing really puts any priority on what’s good for actual kids in actual classrooms. That isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future.

    Anyone who thinks they can go up to the capitol and convince any of the leaders there to suddenly take an interest in these issues is just dreaming.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Oct. 31 '09 - 11:48PM    #
  40. Larry,

    If we vote this millage down; WISD will be back soon after. The voters will get a chance to approve another millage but the big difference will be that the WISD and the 10 school districts will have to come up with a better plan on how all of their dollars are used. I don’t think it is asking much for the schools in this county to do a better job of making a case for why more money is needed. If we just approve this millage, we will be missing an opportunity to improve the schools for the better. Why is that? An organization that never has to decide what’s really important since there has always been enough money to fund everything never has to understand if the money is well spent or what the true priorities are. The voters need to say no from time to time just to remind the school system that you can’t get away with using scare tactics and you can’t get get away with simply throwing more money at problems.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 1 '09 - 01:51AM    #
  41. Anybody who thinks charters outperform anybody is just living a pipe dream…been done, done that, lousy school with poor accountability and education. Many families try them, and recycle out, part of the Ann Arbor crowd, and that brings up their scores, not the actual education recieved.
    The millage doesn’t fix a thing, gives everyone a little more time to continue the same way of doing things. There’s no way out by to reopen contract negotiations, and since benefits and pensions are fixed and rising,is to negotiate lower pay,not fire staff, because the kids need to be educated.

       —emilia    Nov. 1 '09 - 02:19AM    #
  42. If we vote this millage down; WISD will be back soon after.

    Nope. If this millage goes down by a huge margin, and it will, WISD isn’t going to ask again.

    Like it or not, a 70% or 75% no vote sends this message: “Don’t ask us to raise our taxes for schools!”

    Lowering the millage amount, or coming up with a “better plan”, will never be able to reverse a massive 3 to 1 “no” vote.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 1 '09 - 08:04AM    #
  43. Larry,

    That is too bad; now is the time to make improvements and I don’t mind spending more money when it will improve the quality of life for the public at large.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 1 '09 - 06:26PM    #
  44. Larry, it’s news to me the millage won’t pass! Why do you think that?

       —Fred Zimmerman    Nov. 1 '09 - 06:37PM    #
  45. The old truism is that “Millages with organized opposition never pass.” All sorts of voters would like to vote “no” if they are given any sort of excuse, and joining in a movement of “no” voters is more than enough.

    Moreover, the opposition to this millage is not just a handful of dissidents with ragged handmade signs. McKinley Properties is spending at least $75,000 on ads, phone calls, mailers, radio ads, and so on.

    Have you seen the mailer? It is just heartrending, with topnotch professional models portraying weary, dejected families facing financial ruin. In one of them, a young son naively tries to comfort his father.

    Given the hue and cry that has been aroused over this, it’s hard to imagine half of the intermediate school district’s voters just shrugging off all the propaganda and voting “yes”.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 1 '09 - 08:40PM    #
  46. Larry,

    ‘…propaganda and voting “yes”.’ The “yes” folks are pretty good at spreading propaganda too. They are promising to keep what they got at the expense of many who are losing what they got. That is lame and the value proposition is not there. I also suspect that a higher millage rate could produce a short term windfall for the WISD but at the expense of a long term reduction in property values which would negate at least some of the benefit of the increase. A reduction in property values would also affect other non-school related government revenue streams. It is household incomes that sustain property values and property taxes; since household incomes are down, I would expect a long term reduction in property values that will be exasperated by increases in the millage rate.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 1 '09 - 10:27PM    #
  47. Why is McKinley taking this stance? To me it seems that for a realtor to campaign against sustaining education funding is biting the hand that feeds them: deteriorating education = deteriorating demand for property.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Nov. 2 '09 - 12:26AM    #
  48. Fred,

    Increasing millage taxes lower property values and pinch profit margins for property owners. It’s not hard to figure out. McKinley is calculating that any incremental improvement value brought about by the 2 mill tax will be more than offset by the direct cost to McKinley. The Ann Arbor schools will continue to enjoy a comparative advantage relative to other schools in the area so the tax does not improve McKinley’s bottom line.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 2 '09 - 04:57AM    #
  49. Larry Kestenbaum – “Nope. If this millage goes down by a huge margin, and it will, WISD isn’t going to ask again.”

    Larry, you’re fooling yourself if you truly believe this won’t come around for another vote. The individual school districts will pass another set of resolutions and compel the WISD to do this again if Tuesday’s vote fails. They will simply “wait ‘til next year” to do it, hoping that an improved economy (and perhaps more chaos in Lansing) will change the outcome.

    The key to their success next time is the same key to their possible failure this time: A PLAN. If the school districts and the WISD come up with a real plan for substantially reducing administrative and non-academic costs, reining in benefit costs, and potentially consolidating certain districts, they have a real shot at passing it on that second try.

    Right now, however, their failure to plan is not the voter’s emergency. We shouldn’t bail the public schools out yet again, or they will simply keep coming back for more! Vote “No!” on Tuesday!

       —Designated Conservative    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:43AM    #
  50. Fred, that’s a good argument for the long term. For the short term, defeating an increase in the property tax means big savings for a big landlord like McKinley.

       —David Cahill    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:49AM    #
  51. Larry,

    If what you’re saying is true (that the WISD will not try for another tax increase again); then I would say it just shows how dysfunctional they truly are. Why can’t they role up their sleeves and get to work figuring out how to deliver more value for every dollar spent? They say they care about the kids, so why not show us they truly mean it by making a real effort to improve the value of the services they deliver? The plan they have presented is nothing short of a sucker check on the voters and is insulting. I’m not an expert on how to do this but that does not mean I should allow myself to be played for a fool either. We don’t get many opportunities to hold the school system accountable for results, but this latest financial meltdown has given us a rare opportunity to do so.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 2 '09 - 08:18AM    #
  52. The “yes” folks are pretty good at spreading propaganda too.

    In this case, I’d say the “yes” propaganda is orders of magnitude weaker than the “no” propaganda.

    They are promising to keep what they got at the expense of many who are losing what they got.

    That sounds like “no” literature. Check the paid-for-by line.

    I also suspect that a higher millage rate could produce a short term windfall for the WISD but at the expense of a long term reduction in property values

    That is nonsense. Property values are not sensitive to small changes in tax rates. Ann Arbor’s property values grew rapidly for years, even as the millage rate increased. Two mills is a lot, but it’s a small part of anyone’s total property tax bill, and I can’t imagine that this specific millage would have any measurable impact on property values.

    Larry, you’re fooling yourself if you truly believe this won’t come around for another vote.

    This countywide vote is costing the WISD tens of thousands of dollars. If this millage goes down as big as I expect, they’d be foolish to try again.

    It’s like running for office a second time after you lost by a 3-1 margin. Would you really be up for another whole campaign? Once again, with feeling?

    If the school districts and the WISD come up with a real plan for substantially reducing administrative and non-academic costs, reining in benefit costs, and potentially consolidating certain districts, they have a real shot at passing it on that second try.

    No, that is more nonsense. As long as McKinley is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars opposing it, this millage is going nowhere. It doesn’t matter what the plan is or what the rate is.

    And I seriously doubt there is still much money to be found in non-academic areas.

    Why can’t they role up their sleeves and get to work figuring out how to deliver more value for every dollar spent? They say they care about the kids, so why not show us they truly mean it by making a real effort to improve the value of the services they deliver?

    Because the only major variable they really control is the number of teachers. The other stuff is either small change, state mandated, or in the union contract.

    We don’t get many opportunities to hold the school system accountable for results

    The annual school board elections don’t count?

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 2 '09 - 10:35AM    #
  53. Larry, you are wrong about property value sensitivity to taxes. I know of two families who bought new homes in Ann Arbor, and only after realized that if they had bought an older home and renovated, their taxes would be about half. They both sold their new homes and bought older homes with lower taxes.

    Like it or not, the value of your home is affected by taxes.

    But it’s also affected by perceived school quality. And school quality is NOT directly tied to amount of spending. In fact, there is not much of a relationship. Spending is linked to efficiency, and that means school officials need zero-based budgeting. Everything needs to be looked, even the sacred cows like CHS. I would support this millage if there truly was nothing left to cut. And that’s not the case, so I vote no.

       —just a homeowner    Nov. 2 '09 - 06:25PM    #
  54. Larry,

    Ypsilanti has a higher millage rate and lower property values; I don’t think the two are unrelated. I agree the effect on a 2 mill increase would be hard to measure but that does not invalidate what I am saying. Increased taxes reduce the money available to pay the P&I bank loan part of the mortgage, which reduces the amount of money the buyer can offer the seller. I suspect the effect takes several years to play out and can be overtaken by other factors (hence your observation that tax rates went up while property values increased.) Also, I suspect the opportunity to make some real changes to the operating structure of schools will only happen when the schools don’t have all the money they want and have to decide what the priorities are. So, the annual elections have been ineffective in this regard.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 2 '09 - 06:46PM    #
  55. What is CHS?

    “Efficiency” is not related to “quality”. Efficiency implies that you do the least for a program to fulfill its requirements, not that you make it the best it can be.

    I’m amazed that so many people, like JAH, seem to have detailed knowledge of the management and finances of the schools. Think of those long hours spent poring over spreadsheets. I didn’t have this detailed knowledge and was confronted with the simple question of whether I wanted to keep my taxes lower or support a measure I was told was needed by the people we consider to be expert. I voted for the millage (absentee) because only wanting to keep my taxes low wasn’t a good enough reason to ignore the need.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Nov. 2 '09 - 06:48PM    #
  56. #55 — LOL! Vivienne, you hit the nail on the head. I’m amazed that all these private sector efficiency experts are still patting themselves on the back after all that has happened in the last year.

    As I said somewhere higher up, a lot of this boils down to trust. Apparently real estate companies and homeowners who get upset over %wise small increases in their tax bills don’t trust school administrators. Me, I don’t trust real estate companies or easily outraged homeowners.

    CHS is probably “Community High School.”

       —Fred Zimmerman    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:00PM    #
  57. I had major reservations about this millage—no accountability, the 30%+ Ann Arbor surplus going to other districts, the fiasco in Lansing with school funding not being resolved, et. al. But after carefully watching the battle here over the last few weeks and seeing the lunatics and their bullet points on the anti-millage side, I’m going to vote YES. I wanted to send a message but if the NO side wins, it’s not going to be the message I want to be associated with. I don’t trust WISD 100% and there are major things to fix with this process but I have less faith in the VOTE NO side.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:19PM    #
  58. And, as a parent of a Community grad, it is JUST this type of option that’s going to save the public school system—having choices that compete with charter schools. To bash CHS in this battle is insane and wrong.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:22PM    #
  59. #57 & #58 — on “The Office”, Oscar recently described himself as a member of the “Coalition for Reason.” ;-)

       —Fred Zimmerman    Nov. 2 '09 - 07:37PM    #
  60. I am happy to see that you have changed your mind, Alan. The state has basically abandoned K-12 education in this state, as well as pre-school and university level, including the Promise scholarships. We are left on our own to support our kids. Thanks!

       —Leah Gunn    Nov. 2 '09 - 08:11PM    #
  61. “Larry, you are wrong about property value sensitivity to taxes. I know of two families who bought new homes in Ann Arbor, and only after realized that if they had bought an older home and renovated, their taxes would be about half. They both sold their new homes and bought older homes with lower taxes.”

    This makes no sense. Your property tax rate is the same whether you own an older home or a newer home. If you’ve bought an older home, you also subjected to the pop-up that comes when a home that’s been capped in value pops-up to match the current market value.

    The total taxes you pay may be less but you’re still paying the same percentage of property taxes. I find it hard to believe that someone didn’t realize that buying a more expensive house would result in a higher property tax bill compared to a home with a lesser value. That’s like expecting to go to a department store and buying $500 in clothes and expecting to pay the same sales tax as when you buy $250 in clothes. That claim doesn’t add up.

       —John Q.    Nov. 2 '09 - 08:30PM    #
  62. Ypsilanti has a higher millage rate and lower property values; I don’t think the two are unrelated.

    Right! Ypsilanti has a higher millage rate because it has lower property values.

    Just think: say Ypsilanti lowered its millage to the same rate that Ann Arbor has. Would Ypsilanti’s property values rise to Ann Arbor’s level? I can’t imagine it.

    Detroit has an extremely high millage rate by Michigan standards. At the same time, Detroit’s property values are so low that a Detroit house would have a smaller tax bill than an identical (but much more valuable) house across the street in Grosse Pointe, Harper Woods, or Dearborn.

    Property values are sensitive to interest rates, the availability of jobs in the vicinity, the net influx or outflow of people from the area, and the ever-changing desirability of each specific location. Property taxes, as such, are low on the list, and small changes in property taxes hardly register at all.

    Two mills is a whole lot of money, no kidding, but in the context of the tax bills people have now, it wouldn’t change things much.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Nov. 2 '09 - 10:40PM    #
  63. Be wary of the ever-popular “bloated overhead” argument commonly used in campaigns to defeat millages, both here and across the country. As seen in the current opposition against the WISD funding proposal, this time-honored, tax-revolt convention again raises its head in a big way. And once again, it could prove to be a very effective tactic.

    Astute hard-line Republicans and libertarians know that bureaucracies of all kinds have an inherent tendency over time toward bloat, autocracy and inefficient service. One general strategy they use in this context is to play a game of political cherry picking. They denounce those bureaucracies which support social programs or causes they dislike or give low priority — helpfuly pointing out the financial waste, arcane rules and ineptitude — while quietly, willfully ignoring these very same qualities inside those bureaucracies they hold near & dear (the Pentagon, Wall Street institutions, large corporations, private health insurers, law enforcement agencies, et al.).

    We’ve handed over about a trillion dollars of our taxes to various Wall Street gamers, who have been partying with it. Bonus time! Thus far this decade we’ve spent a similar fortune on firing assorted weaponry at the locals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only a few anti-tax conservatives of conscience choose to actively oppose such policies, so for the rest the $2 trillion total in taxes must be considered a perfectly worthwhile giveaway. Now, the anti-tax crowd enthusiastically jumps out of the woodwork and storms Washtenaw’s barricades over taxing a few more mils for public education. Every public school dollar must be carefully examined under a microscope, yet it’s no problem at all to throw away literally hundreds of millions on defense contractors.

    Bureacracies can nearly always be made to run better and cheaper (and, in the context of schools, this can be done without attacks on unions), so — yes — let’s definitely look into fixing that. Locally, for example, the decision to build Skyline will look foolish in the long term; a second Community High is what most seemed to want, based on demand.

    However, if some time and money gets lost in the near-term through inefficiency and poor decisions, public education provides a better context for this than most — it’s well worth the risk. Don’t buy the conservative line that not another dime can be spent on education until its bureacratic practices reach perfection. As a rule, they do not preach this line consistently; very few of them would want to be caught dead applying this same standard to brokerage firms, federal defense procurement or insurance companies.

    One day, when we finally turn away from massive war spending and gifts to Wall Street bankers, and return to fully taxing the rich like this country did 50 years ago, we’ll have a huge surplus on hand to support schools, universal public health care, expanded mass transit, and so on, while paying the same or less in taxes overall. In the meantime we are like medieval village serfs squabbling over how to distribute crumbs while the lords hold huge feasts back at the manor.

       —yet another    Nov. 2 '09 - 11:03PM    #
  64. Leah,

    I still have issues with how the money is being spent and don’t know how those are going to be corrected. But teacher and union bashers and their ilk who’ve surfaced on this woke me up to the fact this is now a bigger issues than two more mills on my tax bill. It’s turning into a clear up/down vote on the future of public education. I guess I have more faith in the Public School system than I do with the Republican party teabaggers though it took me a few weeks to come back around.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Nov. 2 '09 - 11:38PM    #
  65. New homes are valued at a much higher rate than older homes, at least in Ann Arbor. Look at the values vs market value. I actually have done some research. I also know quite a bit about school finance. I’m also a parent of a CHS student, and I can tell you that my child is forced to take lots of classes elsewhere because not much of what upperclassmen need is actually offered at CHS. My child is often the only kid on the bus that runs back and forth to the other schools. What’s that all about?

       —just a homeowner    Nov. 2 '09 - 11:42PM    #
  66. My use of efficiency was…getting the most for your money. It meant zero-based budgeting, looking at how much revenue you have and then building a budget on what you actually can afford. No one does that at the schools. They look at what is and whittle away, rather than thinking about what they need and going from there.

    Ann Arbor has enough money to operate an effective school district that offers high-quality to most of its students. But that means you can’t have everything for everyone.

       —just a homeowner    Nov. 2 '09 - 11:45PM    #
  67. So, who is left out?

       —Leah Gunn    Nov. 2 '09 - 11:58PM    #
  68. yet another,

    Your making appeals to group identity, which is rank politics. If you really care about the schools, making sure the money is spent well is in the long term best interest of the school system. We should not say either yes or no all the time. There is value in saying no this time and waiting for our local schools to come up with a better plan. You admit Skyline was a mistake (I thought it was too and now the bill has come due and we can’t afford as many teachers since the operating costs of that school are eating up extra money) but do not want to come up with safeguards to prevent another like incident. Skyline was voted down at first and then the AAPS came back with another proposal and got it passed.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 3 '09 - 01:03AM    #
  69. Larry,

    What makes you so sure the process works only one way (that is, low property values lead to higher taxes)? I believe the other way is true as well (that is, high millage rates lead to lower property values.) I would say Ypsilanti is caught in a fiscal death spiral; nobody wants to build or invest there since the tax rate is too high. Once a community digs a nice deep tax hole, it is hard to undue the process. I will say I see one advantage to the WISD millage is that it is county wide, so no community is disadvantaged versus another (over-all, county wide is a better way to fund education.)
       —ChuckL    Nov. 3 '09 - 01:13AM    #
  70. #68 — “We should not say either yes or no all the time” — a lot of the “No” posts seem to come back to the theme of saying “no” occasionally just to keep the schools on their toes. I don’t see that as an exceptionally thoughtful strategy.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Nov. 3 '09 - 01:23AM    #
  71. I support cost cutting, not millage increases.

    There is little correlation between spending on school districts and student achievement.

       —Jerry Gilbert    Nov. 3 '09 - 05:09AM    #
  72. I’m supporting the millage and I urge you to as well. And then—if you care about kids—I encourage you to a) call your legislatures, and the leadership in the State House and Senate, and tell them that you are willing to fund statewide education through [take your pick here: graduated income tax, expanded sales tax on services, a few pennies more on beer]. And I encourage you to b) get involved in your local school district. A lot of the problems are really complex to unwind—it’s not simply a matter of dollars and cents. It’s about the kids.

       —schoolsmuse    Nov. 3 '09 - 06:45AM    #
  73. Your making appeals to group identity, which is rank politics.

    And, speaking of which, rank politics does very well describe the gutting of our graduated tax structure during the last several decades. Under Nixon, Reagan and Bush II, income tax rates increasingly flattened. Today the structure is a shadow of what is was under Eisenhower. This long-term trend effectively steals money from the public treasury and gives it back to the very well-off, like Robin Hood acting in reverse. A New York Times editorial columnist recently described the condition of contemporary rank politics:

    “Headlines that ran side by side on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times summed up, inadvertently, the terrible fix that we’ve allowed our country to fall into. The lead headline, in the upper right-hand corner, said: U.S. Deficit Rises to $1.4 Trillion; Biggest Since ’45. The headline next to it said: Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses.

    “We’ve spent the last few decades shoveling money at the rich like there was no tomorrow. We abandoned the poor, put an economic stranglehold on the middle class and all but bankrupted the federal government — while giving the banks and megacorporations and the rest of the swells at the top of the economic pyramid just about everything they’ve wanted.

    “…I’m amazed at how passive the population has remained in the face of this sustained outrage.”

    When even the NYT says it’s time to storm the Bastille, then you know things are really, really bad. Our state of national affairs — essentially a class war undertaken by elites who wish to scuttle the New Deal legacy — combined with Michigan’s insufficient flat rate state tax (which burdens the working poor), leads us to throw our public schools and most other public services onto the chopping block.

    For schools, the feds and the state need to step up to cover property tax revenue falloff, but instead they both continue to retreat, except for Obama’s stimulus funds. Not surprisingly, with a big budget axe swinging in the air, a new millage request comes forward — followed by long discussions like this one at AU. Also, Andy Dillon, Michigan Speaker of the House, was recently quoted as saying this:

    “Next year will be worse … Indeed, this year’s badly balanced budget was possible only because the state had a billion federal stimulus dollars to throw into the hole. That money won’t be there next year.”

    Welcome once more to the tricke-down Reaganonomics of budgetary collapse. Starve the top layers, and so goes most everything else further down. Hence, here we are today, debating with one another over how to divide the remaining crumbs. Should we pay a little extra to aid struggling school systems, or should struggling families keep the money to pay bills? Anti-tax zealots traditionally delight in falsely framing issues of government funding in this manner. It’s a proven, highly effective smoke & mirrors game which distracts us from the key question of how to fix badly deformed revenue models.

    If you really care about the schools, making sure the money is spent well is in the long term best interest of the school system.

    I do not understand how a reasonable sentiment like this can translate into a “No” vote. Instead, channel your concerns into voting for new school board members who will reflect your priorities — or become a candidate yourself. Facilitating budget mayhem through rejection isn’t the only option for asserting control over fiscal management and correcting past errors, like Skyline.

    In a bad economy, voters live with very real frustrations, but why scapegoat school systems when the real problem lies elsewhere? Saying “No” to students and school families means that we wish for them to pay the penalty for our stubborn unwillingness, as a state and as a country, to rebuild fairness and rationality into tax & revenue systems. Most countries in Western Europe do not face the privation in education and social service funding which we now experience here.

    Don’t toss education under the yellow bus.

       —yet another    Nov. 4 '09 - 05:17AM    #
  74. yet another,

    Ann Arbor has hardly tossed education under the yellow bus; how is it fair that we increase taxes on people losing their health care, pensions and homes so school employees can keep what they have? I don’t buy the notion that they have cut back enough. They live in this community and this community is cutting back; their salaries are the 4th highest in the nation when Michigan has long sense drifted to the middle in per capita income. Yes, when auto workers were getting theirs it was unfair to keep teachers from getting theirs as well. But those days are over; the UAW jobs that were the tax base to support the high compensation packages of school employees are gone and going. You know, the MEA could throw its considerable political weight behind getting single payer health care for the people of the State of Michigan, but they are only interesting in taking care of their own; my sentiments are the same and I will take of myself by voting no today.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 4 '09 - 05:53AM    #
  75. As I understand, local teachers have made initial post-contract concessions in response to the current situation, which is quite reasonable. It’s probable there will be more later, in return for holding back on layoffs, should district finances fall into the abyss before the contract ends.

    As far as comparing salaries and wages, I have no interest in pitting teachers and their good salaries against other area workers and the self-employed. Especially in context of the UAW’s ongoing death spiral, let’s not do anything to encourage a race to the bottom in terms of wages & standards for employees, in general. To rebuild our local living standards, we’ll ultimately need more unions, not fewer — although genuinely democratic, employee-owned workplaces (very rare) are best.

    I suspect you are right in regarding the MEA as being unwilling to put a whole lot of energy or finances into championing legislation or projects that will advance the well-being of all Michigan residents. In addition to single payer health care as an example, I would add the promotion of statewide living wage legislation and restrictions on at-will employment.

    During the postwar era, major American unions too often developed a culture focused around contracts and other narrow interests. They got away with this in the boom era between the late ’40s and the early ’70s, but have paid a huge price since then in terms of membership, contract terms, and political clout. Large unions in Western Europe (here I go again…) are said to have a much better track record on putting heavy resources into proposed legislation and other causes designed to raise living standards for everyone — union member or not. This represents one important reason why overall quality of life is better in these countries.

    Still, neither disappointment with a union’s artificially restricted social vision, nor the past decision making blunders of the school board, are enough to counterbalance the points in my previous comment above. Lastly, I go with the “Yes” vote knowing that it will get harder to ‘take care of my own’ when the larger community chooses to back away from taking care of itself. As B. Franklin once said in regard to independent action: We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

       —yet another    Nov. 4 '09 - 08:42AM    #
  76. yet another,

    We’re not as far away from each other as it might seem. It looks like the millage is going down 43% to 57% so I contend that the WISD will be back. The proposal won handily in Ann Arbor and appears to have lost in just about every other area of the county. It is interesting to me that Ann Arbor would have been a donor community, increasing the return on investment, but the other communities did not care. I admit, the AAPS has some hard choices to make but I also believe the process will benefit the AAPS as well. I am particularly disturbed by the process that resulted in the decision to build Skyline. The information was available to show that doing so was a really bad idea; this information was intentionally suppressed. The voters were given bogus information with which to make a decision. The people behind this knew attendance would drop off and were calculating that if they did not ram Skyline’s construction through when they did, it would never happen. There has been no accountability for this and the people and lack of transparent processes that produced this result remain in place.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 4 '09 - 05:06PM    #
  77. We have SIX high schools. Close a couple.

       —just a homeowner    Nov. 4 '09 - 05:29PM    #
  78. Chuck,
    As the millage proposal lost by a healthy margin, but one not greater than about 15%, we’ll see if you (and Dave Cahill — see AAC comments) are right in predicting that the WISD will bring a similar proposal to the ballot next November. If so, it’ll be interesting to find out how the WISD will respond to prevailing notions among the “No” voters. In 2010 the fall ballot will include statewide offices, which substantially boosts voter turnout and shifts the overall focus.

    You may be on to something. It could be that the school board will look into this in the near future. However, they’d best not go after Community High, placing it on a sacrificial alter in order to atone for their past misjudgments and for the WISD referendum failure. Especially since, prior to the decision to build Skyline, there existed growing public support for a second, small-to-medium-sized alternative high school to relieve the high demand for enrollment at Community. Should they seek to “merge” Community curricula into another location, I’d hope for a severe backlash to such a proposal.

       —yet another    Nov. 6 '09 - 04:38AM    #
  79. homeowner,

    Is Community that expensive to operate? They don’t have a pool, sports or a large school so I would think it would not cost a lot to run this school. The AAPS would loose a lot but not gain much in savings.
       —ChuckL    Nov. 6 '09 - 06:26PM    #
  80. It’s kind of odd the harping on Community, when that’s no where the real problem.
    Imagine if they want to keep the teachers the same and reduce, but not eliminate buses. They would have to redistrict, and say bus will be for only those so far away, and bus stops will be more infrequent etc. A headache perhaps, but could save a lot especially with rising fuel costs.
    And then there’s the extra staff, PE, Art, Music,Spanish etc. etc. They could be scaled down to once a day, not twice, pay some poor soul who used to have a full time job, and has to take part time one.
    Time to renegotiate the contracts..If the teachers get continue to get state-mandated payments for pension and bennies, then that is going to have to be part of the pay package and salaries will have actually go down. Unless of course, teachers would rather throw a percentage of their coworkers under a bus, rather than take the paycut. But classes would get bigger, somewhat ameliorated by hiring a good out-of-work teacher as the class aide, and try actually running two classes at one time. Of course, they could just abandon the regular teachers and hire instead the good out-of-work teacher at the pay rate of a paraprofessional. That would save a lot of money. Personally, I think all these scenarios are all too possible. Happens all the time in the private sector.

       —emilia    Nov. 6 '09 - 08:47PM    #
  81. By the way, here is a scheme for pumping more money into the AAPS if voters are up for it. Have the City of Ann Arbor buy Skyline High School by passing a millage in the City of Ann Arbor; Skyline could then be leased back to AAPS. Of course, Pittsfield and Scio would again be free-loaders but it would pump more money into the AAPS. But I still want a better plan for how the AAPS will use the extra resources!

       —ChuckL    Nov. 6 '09 - 10:38PM    #
  82. ChuckL, interesting that we have no idea how much it costs to operate Community. Consider that: the district runs buses to and from all three larger high schools every hours to take CHS students to classes there. CHS student play sports at those high schools so the cost of operating the sports facilities should be broken down by the number of CHS students who use them, regardless of where they are. Then there’s the cost to operate the building, which I suspect is quite high on a per-pupil basis given the age of the building. For a comparison, look at the cost to operate Angell School, the oldest elementary school in the district.

    CHS is a sacred cow. If the costs were every made transparent and comparable, we would all know how expensive it really is. So much for so few.

       —just a homeowner    Nov. 9 '09 - 06:32AM    #

       —Alan Goldsmith    Nov. 18 '09 - 04:37PM    #