Union, Board approve middle school restructuring and buy-out plans

In what must be one of the shortest public meetings on record, the AAPS Board of Education received the news that the Ann Arbor teacher’s union had approved changes in their contract necessary to restructure the middle schools, and then went ahead and gave their approval to the agreement tonight as well.

The middle school restructuring program, developed by a committee of administrators, teachers and parents under the leadership of Tappan MS principal Gary Cort, depends in large part on staffing changes which required alterations to the contract with the Ann Arbor Education Association, the teacher’s union. The restructuring package is designed to save about $2 million per year in operating expenses. (The AAPS is currently trying to close an expected $5 million budget deficit for next year.) At the same time, the district was offering an early retirement buyout plan to teachers with many years of service, hoping to avoid forced staff cuts.

The AAEA “overwhelmingly” approved the changes, despite the reservations of many middle school teachers such as those aired on this site. The changes do weaken portions of the middle school curriculum which are explicitly aimed at helping students successfully navigate the transition from elementary school to a departmentally-organized high school. Most of those features were retained for 6th graders, however. The number of elective course offerings was also cut, as was the number of classes taught in the school day (each class will be longer). A number of electives will be offered as after-school activities instead.

Teachers and administrators seemed to feel that the restructuring proposal made by the committee was the best possible in light of the budget cuts it had to achieve. Other teachers worried that the alternative would simply be staff cuts across the district. The members of the school board were visibly relieved that the revised labor contract had been accepted, and quickly ratified the changes.

Meetings will be scheduled at each middle school to brief parents on how the curriculum will change at their school; changes may vary from building to building. Teachers eligible for the buyout have a fixed amount of time to accept it; about 170 are eligible, and the district hopes at least 40 will take the early retirement package.