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AAPS Budget Deficit Triggers Layoffs

This month, the Ann Arbor Public School district announced that it is facing a $25M shortfall in next year’s budget. The district blames the projected budget deficit on a post-pandemic decline in the number of enrolled students, the loss of federal COVID-19 relief funds, an increase in the number of district staff members, inflation, and recent raises given to 1,000 staff members.

The state provides a per-pupil foundation allowance of $10,609 per student, so a drop of 1,000 students would reduce AAPS’s revenues by $10.6M. You would think that a loss of 1,000 students would also reduce AAPS’s costs by at least some amount.

Some observers have stated that staffing levels have increased at AAPS and attributed it to post-pandemic hiring in an effort to recapture learning losses among students. The only employment group whose size has changed significantly is the non-instructional group.

Prior to the pandemic, the non-instructional staff count was 2,186. For the current year, the non-instructional staff count is 2,004. That’s a decline of 8.3%. However, the size of the non-instructional staff has grown by 16.1% since the 2021-22 school year. The size of the teaching staff has increased by 6.3% since the 2019-20 school year.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this but having worked in the public sector for more than two decades, the practice – when hiring people with grant funding or other one-time funds (“soft money”)– was always to put an end date on the position that coincided with the loss of funding.

People were certainly hired full-time, but they understood the implications of working on soft money. They also knew when the money would run out. There were no hard feelings and no angst about the end of a soft money position. If you worked on soft money, you knew going in that you weren’t staying.

Budget deficit seems to be a surprise

That is not the explanation coming from AAPS or other school districts that appear to be genuinely surprised by the end of a pandemic-era assistance program. Wayne-Westland’s explanation for its unexpected $28M budget deficit involved some seriously faulty accounting. It’s really not hard to understand the meaning of “one-time” funds. And it’s not mismanagement to hire people on one-time funds, as long as the people being hired know that their jobs have an expiration date. (And the pandemic funds came with a known end date.)

I don’t know what AAPS’s 2,004 non-instructional staff members do, so I don’t know if 2,004 is a big number, a small number, or the right number of non-instructional staff members for a school district of Ann Arbor’s size. But for whatever has caused this budget deficit, AAPS’s non-instructional staff are now in the crosshairs. According to AAPS, the teaching staff will be notified of layoffs among their numbers by the end of April.

I don’t accept the explanation(s) of why public school districts are having so much trouble navigating the end of a relief program. Certainly, there are a lot of things happening at the same time that impact school funding, but all of these organizations have high-dollar executives who get paid allegedly to understand trends and manage their impacts to avoid a budget deficit.

Perhaps these organizations just have high-dollar executives. If that’s the case, then cuts from the top down would seem to produce optimal results.

Photo Credit: Travis Isaacs, via Flickr