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Posted on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 8:36 a.m.

Ypsilanti-Willow Run school consolidation plan would create new 'destination district,' ward off emergency managers

By Danielle Arndt

Plans to consolidate Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts could prevent an emergency manager situation and improve student achievement, said district superintendents Tuesday.

Both Willow Run and Ypsilanti have been on Michigan’s list of school districts operating with a deficit consistently since 2009. Willow Run currently is $1.7 million in the hole, while Ypsilanti has a total projected deficit of $9.4 million.

Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin said his district has spent more than it has taken in since 2004-05.


Laura Lisiscki

School officials are looking to take a local, proactive approach to solving their schools’ growing financial and student achievement problems — rather than have the state government force them to act, said Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki.

In January, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to run the Highland Park School District outside of Detroit. Detroit Public Schools, Benton Harbor and now, as of late Tuesday afternoon, Muskegon Heights also have emergency managers.

“We know education is going to look different in the next five years,” Lisiscki said of the east-side Washtenaw County districts. “And we believe we know best what is best for our kids.”

Both Ypsilanti and Willow Run have seen a “substantial amount” of students leaving their districts to attend neighboring public schools or public school academies, said Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

In 2010, Willow Run saw a net loss of 1,164 children, equal to 42 percent of its student population, to school-of-choice programs. That number is up from 814 in 2008.

In many cases, students that opt out of one district — Willow Run or Ypsilanti — end up at the other district.

“We’ve had to play nice in the sandbox,” Martin said, speaking of Lisiscki and the two communities’ fluidity. “It’s not uncommon for a kid in my district today, to be in hers tomorrow” and vice versa.

Menzel said the new consolidated district would be a destination and would bring back kids.

For the past two years, Willow Run and Ypsilanti have been the two worst performing schools in the county on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exam with the lowest average percentage of students scoring proficient in all subjects.

Menzel said consolidation presents a unique opportunity for Ypsilanti and Willow Run to help improve student success, from birth to post-secondary, by pooling resources to provide a greater breadth of educational experiences.


Scott Menzel

He said often during budget crises, programs are slashed. Creating one new district, as the Willow Run and Ypsilanti Collaboration and Communication Task Force recommended Monday, would “put the past aside” and “wipe the slate clean” for innovation and working together.

The districts already have begun sharing. Martin said Willow Run and Ypsilanti recently blended their Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), after Willow Run decided to cease its program.

The second recommendation the Willow Run-Ypsilanti task force made Monday was to hire a joint special education director, employed by the WISD, to oversee services for students with disabilities in both districts. The position will be posted soon.

The decision was spurred by a vacancy at Ypsilanti Public Schools. Willow Run currently has a special education director, Clarence Thomas.

Thomas has been informed his position will be eliminated in favor of moving to a joint director, Lisiscki said. He was encouraged to apply for the new position, she added.

A number of duplicated services could be eliminated if consolidation took place, resulting in some cost savings, Martin said. Administration and business office personnel would be shared, reducing the overall number of staff.

“Clearly that’s not millions of dollars, but it’s what makes sense,” Martin said.

He added the total number of buildings in use also could decrease.

If the new district were to have just one high school, Martin said either Willow Run or Ypsilanti’s existing high school could accommodate all of the ninth- through 12th-graders in both districts right now.

If consolidation occurred, Menzel said the districts would be required to negotiate new contracts with unions. Martin added it's too premature to predict how the number of teachers would be impacted.

Lisiscki said Willow Run’s teaching staff already has been streamlined and she hopes to not have to make any additional cuts.


Dedrick Martin

There also would be some start-up costs to consolidating. For example, Willow Run and Ypsilanti currently operate on two different financial systems and two different technology platforms, Martin said.

In his fiscal year 2013 budget, Snyder set aside $10 million for school districts that demonstrate they are consolidating services. Willow Run and Ypsilanti would be eligible for a portion of that money to potentially offset start-up costs, Menzel said.

A consolidation proposal, provided certain stipulations are met, ideally would appear on an upcoming ballot within the next year — so either in August, November, February or May, Menzel said.

If voters passed the proposal, the districts would have until July 2013 to implement the consolidation plan. The 2012-13 academic year would not be impacted.

While the consolidation plan would call for a new district with a new identity, administrators would strive to honor the history and background of each individual district, Menzel said.

“This is not to erase the proud tradition of both communities,” Martin added. “But we recognize we have had to make some very tough decisions in recent years.”

“We are asking the public to celebrate the past, acknowledge the present and move forward into the future together with us,” Menzel said.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Monica R-W

Sun, Mar 25, 2012 : 8:10 a.m.

What a way to dismantle a school district. As predicted two years before, Ypsilanti and Willow Run School Districts will become Ypsi-Willi District or whatever? Alumni of YPS (including I) are shaking heads in amazement in what a mess YPSD has became. It's truly sad looking at less than a couple of decades ago, YPSD was one of the best districts in the state. As for Charter Schools, yes...they are a PART of the state we see YPSD in today BUT.... go back to the early 2000's era. The fights and everything else that was occurring at Ypsilanti High School. This ended any hope of myself, as Alumni, sending my two children there in latter 2000's....even if YHS was schools of choice. Real, many young people of today spend more time on Facebook than ever completing a homework assignment. Parents are stressed out, worrying if they are going to be employed tomorrow, if they're employed at all, summer jobs for teens are almost a thing of the past as 30,40. 50 and even 60 year old's are working at Mickey D's/Burger King, college costs continue to be outrageous and Coop/Trade programs to have a kid with a High School Diploma ready for a hands on job with decent pay are being cut statewide for the "new Cyberschool" concept. And we wonder why so many school districts in Michigan are failing or "thisclose" to falling overboard. Also, "Consolidation"...the new word for the next five years until another "quick fix" that won't work takes popularity, won't repair the damage that been done for the last 20 or so years. Until we ALL recognize the real problems....we'll never find solutions...and will continue to keep falling behind to other nations that truly VALUE education for their youth.

John Barr Jr.

Fri, Mar 23, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

It's really funny how things work out sometimes. Not to toot my own horn, but I predicated more than two and a half years ago that Ypsilanti Public Schools would fail, or start to fail, in my book "Confessions of a Substitute Teacher: Don't Work for PESG or Teach in Ypsilanti, Michigan." ( I fully realize that this might be a less than popular book, but the truth still hurts, doesn't it? Amazing sometimes how you can turn out right, even if everyone else doubts you. Yes, I also do know plenty of parents who have abandoned YHS in droves and enrolled their kids in private schools or other districts. Nevertheless, I do hope that YHS and Willow Run do manage to return to successfulness, financial solvency, and become a "desination district." And the prince and princess married and they both lived happily ever after. The End :) Awwwww! :)


Sat, Mar 24, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

OK. The truth is out there, just not above this.

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 11:38 a.m.

I agree that lowest-performing status needs to be addressed. However, please explain how merging "the two worst-performing schools in the county" automatically means it will be a "destination district." Although somewhat unrelated, I think of Kmart and's that been working out?


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 9:30 p.m.

One can only try to be second best to Detroits number one failing school system in the state. It will be interesting to see who gets the prize. Unless Ypsi/WR pull ahead and somehow manage to make it in the big leagues. Not. They need to fire everyone on the board and start over. This is the only way this whole merger will work.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 2:18 a.m.

The new name of the combined School District is going to be: West Ann Arbor School District


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 9:28 a.m.

"West Ann Arbor"? I see what you did there. Well played.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

you mean east ann arbor school district?


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

This whole conversation is a joke. A Destination District? Maybe for those not yet born. Look at some of the grading for class for seniors has FOUR grades posted since January. One of their 12th grade English classes is teaching 7 th grade standards. Grades/credit for taking the NWEA.....and the list goes on.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 12:23 a.m.

Big mistake YPSD. Look what happened when we hired Willow Run's accountant. He helped create the quagmire we are in now, all the while claiming that closing schools was the answer. We saw how that went... We need to fight the State, not allow its unreasonable demands to determine our long term choices. Mark my words, our enrollment problems will only get worse with this move. Terrible, terrible idea.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

Does the WIHI experience shed any light on this issue? (WIHI is the WISD school with IB curriculum that was supposed to offer equal opportunity for everyone in the county and be a model for county-wide consolidation). I've heard that the more ill-prepared kids are transferring elsewhere in large numbers. Anybody have any experience there?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

Destination district? Bring kids back? I think the opposite will be true. Even as Ypsilanti has shown some slight improvement in the past year or so, parents are still pulling their kids faster than the school can shrink. Now, if we were really talking about economies of scale and really moving things around and doing the best for the entire county - we'd have a county-wide school system and combine them all together under the WISD umbrella. One administration, one school board, one system. So, why aren't we talking about that? True economies of scale, ahead of the rest of the state.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

A "destination district" as in a District people will seek out and come to??? Ok, someone owes me a new keyboard and monitor because I just did a spit take with my diet coke. LOL.Talk about a race to the bottom.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 7 p.m.

Wow this could be great new for children in Ypsilanti. Perry CDC has a long history of fantastic special education programs for young learners. How great to have all students get the best possible programs available.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

Wow,this is great news for children in Ypsilanti. Perry CDC has a long history of fantastic special education programs for young learners. Would special ed staff be employed by the ISD? Would all young learners be at Perry? Good luck and keep us posted!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Dedrick is doing a great job? The debt has doubled during his tenure. Just sayin . . .


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

Dedrick is an impressive administrator, I hope he sticks around. He has amazing out-of-the box ideas that are working!


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

Hoping he will be the superintendent for the consolidated school. He is much sharper and more experienced. WR superintendent inexperienced and can't make sound decisions. Doesn't treat her people well either.

Martin Church

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Good job and good recommendation. let's start getting this together by next year. It's not going to solve all the problems but it's a start. Let's hope also both district will begin to work on delivering education electronically. This could save more building costs by elimination and improve the performance. I envision the day when a child will wake up have breakfast in their home and then walk to the computer and login for the education part of the day. Only to report to a building once or twice a month for testing


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

An intriguing vision, Martin... I am wondering, in a community with so many single parent families, and families where both parents work, who will be present to supervise the children in your vision? Rosie from the Jetsons? That would eliminate almost all elementary students from your vision, and probably half of middle school students. How about classes that require lab materials, group participation, etc.? We certainly cannot bolster our flagging science skills without chemistry, physics, etc. I am a fan of distance learning. My oldest child takes several online courses for her college studies. However, many of her classes for her medical studies require her to be in a classroom multiple days a week. There are simply too many logistical reasons that prevent the migration of all educational content to online courses. And then there are extra-curricular activities...

Basic Bob

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

Unfortunately, many of the shared services have been managed through WISD, creating another source of inefficiency. Consolidation *should* streamline services to those that need them - students. That's not to say that WISD doesn't lend expertise or strength in numbers in countywide programs, such as special education.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

I'm encouraged by the fact that they are being proactive and taking matters into their own hands instead of dithering until the state steps in and starts calling the shots. Strong leadership by people who are invested in the district's success should lead to the best outcome. For all the people who complain that the merging of two struggling districts will simply create one struggling district, I ask: What is your suggestion to improve the Ypsilanti public schools? What is needed to best educate Ypsilanti area children that's currently lacking?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

I would love to see countywide consolidation, because it would be more efficient administratively speaking, and because it would more easily allow for a public school system where all of the poorest kids aren't concentrated in the east schools and all of the richest kids in the west schools. Mixing it up would ensure that everyone has a chance to get a high-quality education regardless of what neighborhood they live in and how much money their parents make.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:53 p.m.

ILJ I will go one further, why not consolidate all 3 districts into one, and balance the schools based on income level across the new larger district.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

I am thinking along the same lines. We always see people on here posting the equivalent of "Ypsi schools suck." But what does that really mean? As a whole, the students don't do well on state tests. But as a whole, those districts have high concentrations of underprivileged children. The schools simply don't have a robust population of children to work with in the first place. And they shouldn't be penalized for that handicap with sanctions because the students don't perform up to the standards. The fact that Ann Arbor schools do better on state tests has less to do with how "great" the schools are and more to do with the fact that the population of students is largely middle class and higher. Their parents are more likely to be married to each other and be college educated; they have more money for travel and extracurricular lessons; there's usually plenty of food in the house and their parents probably don't have addiction problems. These children have advantages in life that turn them into students who are likely to perform well in any school they attend. Let's try this experiment: Take all the Ann Arbor kids and let them be taught by Willow Run teachers at Willow Run schools for a year, and take all the Willow Run kids and let them be taught by Ann Arbor teachers at Ann Arbor schools for a year. My hypothesis is at the end of the year, the Willow Run schools would be judged to be the "good" schools.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

How much of the underperformance of these kids is due to culture, lack of parental education, watching too much TV, never reading a book, exposure to violence, and poverty. Who knows? Maybe it's 50%? 80%? 90%? Those districts are trying to right the course of something that has a lot of inertia going in the wrong direction. And they don't have a lot of tools at their disposal. So what is needed? Leadership. Social change. Stability. Jobs. Adult education. Wealth. Those things can effect change on the 50%/ 80%/ 90% part. If you are limited to just addressing the leftover, then you are starting behind the 8-ball and it's no wonder this hasn't been solved.

michael Limmer

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

This like merging the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroad systems back in the 1970's. How can two weak schools help each other out, except to sink even faster?


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

It is almost like saying that ship is unsinkable. Next thing we know an iceberg dead ahead. Hopefully these two districts can avert disaster? Maybe?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

Well, a little fiddling makes the time pass more pleasantly as Rome burns in the background. There are systemic problems in those cities that are too difficult to expect any school system to be able to overcome. It's unfair to ask them to, but they are brave to try. I wish them all the best without holding out any hope that consolidating two failing districts will improve student performance in any way.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

This needs to be done, Willow Run has reached a level of student population where admin and special program costs are too much per student. A single larger district would be more cost efficient and allow special programs to flourish.