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Protecting ACES and its future

In 1996, according to the Alpena Public Schools Preliminary Plan documents for the district’s Alternative Education Program, now known as Alternative Choices for Educational Success, the program was designed to “meet the unique academic and social needs of students 16 to 20 at risk of dropping out of school.”

In the nearly 25 years since its inception, ACES has built a long and respectable history of serving students who choose a different setting for their education. In my short time in Alpena, I have learned that the ACES program is near and dear to the hearts of the people the program has touched.

Much of my career in education has been devoted to serving students and families that need additional support and/or alternative pathways/education to be successful academically, socially, and emotionally. Having witnessed the positive and often life-changing relationships that can be developed between student and teacher in an alternative program such as ACES, I believe that offering such programming to students who choose it is an absolute must.

I also recognize the importance of our ACES students belonging to something unique and their own.

Therefore, preserving the program and the identity of ACES students is a top priority as we move forward.

That being said, bear with me as I digress for a moment.

As superintendent, I have a responsibility to ensure that the district is being a good financial steward of the resources provided to us by the community. The ongoing bond work, maintaining our existing physical resources, and carefully managing our finances are responsibilities that I take very seriously.

I once read that superintendents are hired for their ideas on curriculum and fired for their ideas in finances. Since I intend to be around for many years, long enough to hand each of my children their diploma as they cross the stage — and, just so you know my youngest is a first-grader — the long-term financial health and viability of the district is of great importance.

Any discussion of financial health and viability must include a discussion of school financing.

Public Schools receive the majority of their funding based on how many students are enrolled and attending classes on two days during the school year. Count Day, as is it known, is the first Wednesday in October, and the first Wednesday in February. Our State Aid Calculation, also known as how much money the district will receive, is based on a blend of the two student count days.

We received funding based on 90% of the fall count and 10% from the previous school year’s February count. This school year, an estimated 61,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools across the state of Michigan. As a result, the Legislature implemented some changes to the way pupil-based funding was calculated. It is anticipated that we will return to the traditional 90/10 formula this coming school year.

Considering the way school districts are funded, a look at the history of student enrollment in APS is enlightening.

Student enrollment in 2008, according to the state of Michigan, was 4,456 students. In the spring 2020 count, there were 3,722 students enrolled. In other words, our student population has decreased 17% in the past 13 years.

While a 17% decline in student enrollment over 13 years doesn’t have a direct result of a 17% decline in funding, the general understanding is that we have fewer students in the district, therefore we receive less funding, and we need to be looking for ways to adjust the way the district operates.

In other words, we need to ensure that we are operating as efficiently as possible so that we can continue to provide an outstanding educational product to our students far into the future.

Which brings me back to our ACES students.

As a part of our review of the district, its programs, and how we can operate in more cost-effective ways, we recognized that ACES could be offered to our students much more cost-effectively. In collaboration with the ACES students, staff and leadership, we developed a plan to move ACES to Alpena High School beginning in the fall of the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

That plan is not only financially prudent, but will allow us to provide our students with better access to teachers and counseling services, more educational opportunities, all while preserving the identity and individuality of the program and its students.

The plan will allow the students to enter the building through their own entrance, eat their meals in their own space, and maintain the same family-like atmosphere that so many have come to thrive in.

Operating more cost-effectively will allow the ACES students and staff to continue the proud tradition that began in 1996.

David Rabbideau is superintendent of Alpena Public Schools.

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