Relationship between leaders of Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools grows as talks continue
The relationship between the Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts is growing after district leaders met earlier this week to continue discussing ways to work together.
Ypsilanti school board President David Bates said he met with Willow Run school board President Don Garrett Jr., Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin and Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki earlier this week. Washtenaw Intermediate School District interim Superintendent Richard Leyshock and incoming WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel were also present at the meeting.
Garrett said the meetings among district leaders have helped mend any differences between the two districts and serve as a starting point for a future relationship between the two school boards.
“I see the relationship as where we’re both having each other’s interests at heart,” Garrett said. “We lie on the same page and we want the same for our kids, plus it’s just better for the whole part of eastern Washtenaw County if we’re able to work together and get along.”
The two school districts already consolidate their transportation services through the WISD busing consortium, along with Ann Arbor Public Schools, and have shared food service managers in the past. Bates and Garrett have been in talks for a few weeks working to set up a joint meeting of the two school boards.
Bates said the next organizational meeting between administrators from both districts and the two board presidents is schedule for July 12.
“I was very encouraged by (the meeting) and the response from President Garrett and the superintendent,” Bates said. “The tone at the table was very encouraging.”
Bates had originally been in talks with Garrett for a meeting between the two boards in mid-May, but it never came to pass. Bates said he’s planning to move along slowly with scheduling now and thinks a meeting could happen sometime in August.
The two school boards have had joint meetings in the past, according to Bates. Talks of consolidating services will happen between the two superintendents instead of among board members, he said.
Both Ypsilanti and Willow Run are on the list of 23 school districts in the state with deficits in their fund balance of more than $1 million, meaning they could potentially be taken over by an emergency financial manager if they aren't able to improve their finances. That fact, combined with their close geographic location, lends to greater cooperation between the two districts.
Garrett said he’s been keeping his school board trustees in the know about the meetings and the ultimate goal is for the trustees from both districts to get to know each other and remove any assumptions they might have about the other district.
“We’re just trying to soften the hearts to have a smooth transition,” he said.
The meeting between the two school board presidents and superintendents wasn’t the only important meeting for Willow Run this week.
Garrett said he was a part of a school district delegation that traveled to Lansing Thursday and met with state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan. He said the district’s redesign plans, which resulted in the closure of two elementary schools last week and will take effect in the fall, appealed to Flanagan.
“It was very positive and they’re very excited about the route we’re going and trying to put student achievement first and working on our deficit,” he said.