More than 140 Ann Arbor school employees are losing their jobs following years of district misspending and bad decisions that have convinced many parents to take their children’s education elsewhere.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education on Monday voted 6-1 to approve a plan to cut $20.4 million from the district’s budget for the coming year, the latest move to address a $25 million budget shortfall that puts AAPS in danger of a state takeover.

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The budget crunch stems in large part from the district’s inept leadership, which has ignored advice from parents, community members, medical professionals, and the governor, to forge its path to financial ruin.

“No single factor created this crisis, but a drop in enrollment plays a big part,” Lilia Cortina, an AAPS parent and professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in a column for the Detroit Free Press.

“When AAPS closed up shop for a full year during the COVID-19 pandemic, students disenrolled in droves. From March 2020 to March 2021, the public schools offered no in-person instruction, no access to learning centers, no face-to-face speech services, therapies or literacy supports. Instead, there was Zoom. Lots and lots of Zoom,” she wrote.

The resistance to reopen came despite multiple letters to the AAPS board from Ann Arbor doctors warning of the consequences to students’ educational and emotional well-being that has since been documented in studies.

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Parents also shared their frustrations at school board meetings, pleading with board members to stop the learning loss and get kids back in school.

“AAPS leadership ignored calls from parents, pediatricians, and even Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to reopen sooner rather than later,” Cortina wrote. “Families got fed up and left. Some found their way to private schools that opened their doors (safely: these were not superspreader sites). Others turned to charter schools.

“And still others commuted to neighboring towns – or sold their homes and moved to those towns – to find the education their kids needed. They never came back.”

There was also the decision to eliminate childcare from schools, a $14 million clerical error that calculated pension payments as revenue, unsustainable raises approved for employees, and runaway spending on classroom technology.

The more than 1,000 students who fled AAPS between 2020 and 2022 equates to a revenue loss of $9.6 million per year. That loss follows a district hiring spree that has added 480 new employees, including 417 teachers, to the payroll over the last decade.

Last year, AAPS approved spending $13 million to boost teacher pay despite known budget issues.

All of the above conspired to drive down the district’s reserves to about 2% of its expenditures, well below the 5% required by the state, despite record state funding and millions in federal COVID relief.

A breakdown of federal COVID relief funding in Michigan shows AAPS received an extra $30.5 million from taxpayers in recent years, including more than $19.5 million in the last round of funding.

At the same time, the district’s state funding allowance increased from $9,530 per pupil in the 2021-22 school year to about $10,609 in fiscal year 2023-24. When that funding was at $10,102 per pupil in fiscal year 2022-23, AAPS received more than $177.5 million from state taxpayers, according to the district’s most recent audit.

The consequences of the district’s fiscal mismanagement was outlined Monday by Interim Superintendent Jazz Parks, who has blamed the issues on her predecessor.

The district will lay off 141 staffers, reduce its STEAM program for elementary students, eliminate world language programs in elementary schools, cut co-teachers for band and orchestra programs, reduce elementary International Baccalaureate programs, eliminate a virtual elementary school, and shut down the district’s middle school pools, Bridge Michigan reports.

In addition, district officials agreed to pay teachers with at least a decade of experience $25,000 to resign.

The cuts, parent volunteer Margaret Baker said, are “misguided, ill-advised, confounding and just wrong.

“They will be hugely detrimental to a large group of students for years to come, particularly student who most need music in school,” she said.

Hundreds of other parents, teachers, and concerned residents also spoke out against the approved cuts, many targeting reductions to band and music programs. Others chanted “more cuts from the top” and “arts over admin.”

“The band is the primary, if not the only, reason I chose to remain in Ann Arbor Public Schools,” Huron High School senior Selah Ostfeld-Hernandez told the board, according to MLive. “It has significantly contributed to my mental well-being and has driven me to continually better myself and reach new heights. Mr. Rodriguez is crucial to the success of the band program. With 63 students per class, four bands, along with a guitar and jazz band, it is simply impossible for one teacher to manage all of these responsibilities alone.”

“We want the central office to take a greater share of this burden,” parent Rebecca Hogan said, according to Bridge. “Listen to parents, we’re asking you to minimize impact to students: cut more from the top, restore our trust.”

Instead of heeding the calls from the community, the AAPS board continued its tradition of shutting out the people it serves, opting instead to follow Parks’ lead.

Parks “and your team followed a process that showed that you cared about the academic excellence of our students and the fiscal health of the district as you did this,” board member Susan Ward Schmidt said Monday. “I understand the emotions when we think things are going to impact our kids. But the inaction to address these fiscal realities is going to have negative impacts that we feel for years to come.”