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Through teachers’ eyes: How the $25 million budget cut is affecting AAPS staff

Alison Eberts loves teaching. She loves her students, her coworkers and the community of the school, but as of April 5 she is a former employee of Ann Arbor Public Schools. She left AAPS to take a job at Schoolcraft College designing courses.

A $25 million deficit and what she calls a lack of support to put students first pushed her out of public education.

“It’s the hardest decision I’ve had to make in 10 years,” Eberts said. “I have been unhappy with the way that Ann Arbor Public Schools has been handling some things for quite a while.”

Eberts had already gotten her job offer from Schoolcraft College when the district announced the budget cut on March 13. The next day, Eberts accepted the offer.

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“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said. “If I can’t trust them to be making good choices for students, I know now that I can’t trust them to be making good choices for me.”

The community aspect of the building was really important to Eberts.

“I will miss the people I work with who have become my family for 10 years,” she said with tears forming in her eyes, her voice breaking. “I could not have asked for a better building or group of people to work with.”

Eberts isn’t the only person affected by the budget cut. Teachers throughout the district are starting to feel unsure about the stability of their positions with the deficit.

“I’ve already had three coworkers asking me for advice on what jobs to look for,” Eberts said. “Teachers are scared. There’s a lot of insecurity, and people don’t feel valued or respected.  Those trickle-down effects are going to be pretty detrimental to what would otherwise be quality education that we’ve come to expect in Ann Arbor.”

The AAPS Board of Education authorized layoffs at their board meeting on April 11. This doesn’t guarantee layoffs, but it gives them the option.

“Worst case scenario, if we’re unable to find $25 million in other cuts or in donations or from some miracle from the sky, then we will do it by staff reductions,” Board president Torchio Feaster said.

Feaster said that the Board has been fully transparent with their process.

“There’s not a whole lot that’s happening that the public doesn’t know about,” he said. “It’s good and bad, because the public gets to see us at our worst sometimes.”

The Ann Arbor community has been banding together to support teachers as well. Public Commentary during Board Meetings is filled with disheartened teachers, community members, parents and even students pleading with the Board to do everything they can before laying teachers off.

“Our schools are outstanding because they are held by outstanding faculty and staff,” AAPS teacher and parent Nathan Smead said during the April 11 board meeting. “I am urging the board and central admin to lead us through this moment with transparency and integrity.”

This isn’t the first time the community and teachers have said something to prevent budget issues. The Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA), also known as the Teacher’s Union, works to advocate for teachers. AAPS is simply put: overstaffed. In the last 10 years, AAPS staff has increased by 480 people. Student enrollment has decreased by 1,123 in the last four years. Every year there are about 100 to 150 teachers who resign, and the AAEA has previously suggested that the district not refill their positions over a few years.

“We urged the district for years to right-size,” AAEA President Fred Klein said. “They didn’t listen to us, and now we find ourselves in this position where teachers are going to be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, potentially.”

Now that the budget cut has been announced however, the AAEA is urging the Board to make as many non-personnel cuts as possible.

“Let’s find all the expensive things that the district has that we can probably do without,” Klein said. “And let’s save as much money as we can before we look to people as a cost savings. Let’s make sure that the district isn’t spending on things that aren’t education-related in order to preserve jobs and keep our classes the way they are.”

Each school has their own chapter of the AAEA. Two of the Union Representatives from Huron are English teacher Sarah Anton and science teacher Geoffrey Lowes.

“Teachers feel like teacher layoffs are being forced to solve a problem, like the budget crisis that we did not create,” Anton said. “That was poor mismanagement, lack of accountability on the district’s part.”

The AAEA feels that layoffs are not a good long-term solution.

“This is not going to even fix the problem in the long term unless they are willing to engage in some of the things that we’ve been asking for anyway,” Lowes said. “If layoffs are just a quick and easy fix for one year, [this issue] is going to come back. [Budget issues] are just going to happen again if they can’t figure out where to cut expenditures that aren’t actually impacting students and teaching and learning.”

Teachers are feeling burnt out from having to stress about this issue on top of everything else that is already on their plates.

“It’s soul-sucking,” Anton said. “I don’t want to worry about if I’m going to be here next year. I don’t want my kids’ favorite teachers to leave. I don’t want to lose our new teachers who are one or two years into our profession. Our people are so good.”

Teachers also foresee how the stressors they are experiencing can trickle down and affect their students.

“It’s incredibly heavy on the teachers,” Social Studies teacher Luke Milne said. “We are emotional people. We are not robots. Even if we try our absolute best to be 100% professional in our classrooms, it will affect our moods, our energy levels and our focus. We’re going to come in because our students are relying on us. But at the same time, it’s very tiring to have such a heavy focus on students and now this added extra focus that we do lose sleep over.”

One of the current solutions is that AAPS is on a hiring freeze. This means Eberts’ class will have a long-term sub for the rest of the school year.

“I’m tired,” Eberts said. “I’m burnt out. Working with students has been one of the most rewarding career paths I could have chosen, but it does take a lot. I feel very sad that I am burnt out. It makes me think if I’m doing a disservice by leaving, but at the same time, I have to do what’s best for me.”

Teachers only answered questions asked of them. 

This story was originally published on The Emery on May 8, 2024.