Consolidation efforts: Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools still expect to set joint board meeting
As Willow Run Community Schools and Ypsilanti Public Schools face the prospect of an emergency manager takeover, questions about consolidation keep coming up — and one school board trustee thinks it's time for leaders of both districts to meet.
Ypsilanti school board president David Bates said he’s met with Willow Run school board president Don Garrett Jr. to schedule a combined meeting of the two school boards.
However, the timing remains unclear. Bates said he originally wanted the boards to meet jointly on May 18, but that didn't happen.
Now Bates said he and Garrett are now discussing new dates for a meeting to take place soon.
“Both boards have to be on the same page and willing to support their superintendents (in finding consolidation opportunities),” Bates said. “My goal in that respect is to build relationships between the two boards and get an understanding and mutual interest and help all students in eastern Washtenaw County and achieve at the highest levels.”
Bates said he’s convened meetings of the two school boards previously in his tenure as school board president and thinks it would be helpful for the districts’ superintendents to have some direction from their school boards.
Garrett did not respond to an email and messages left for him by AnnArbor.com.
The geographic location of the districts, as well as YPS and Willow Run’s similar financial positions on the list of 23 Michigan school districts with deficits in their fund balance of more than $1 million, makes consolidation an option for many services in each of the districts.
Ypsilanti and Willow Run shared food service managers for a number of years until last summer and are both members of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District’s bus consortium, along with Ann Arbor Public Schools.
YPS participates in several Washtenaw Intermediate School District initiatives to share services with other districts in the county. For a full list of WISD services, click here. Ypsilanti participates in the highlighted programs.
Willow Run superintendent Laura Lisiscki said on the district level, she and Ypsilanti superintendent Dedrick Martin have been meeting with each other talk about their districts’ situations.
“We’re not opposed to talking at the table and getting our boards together to combat our deficits, and we have been chipping away at our deficits as long as I’ve been here,” she said.
Lisiscki said she remains in the talking stage on many levels with Martin and other Ypsilanti schools officials about sharing services in a way that “makes sense.” Among them are the combining business services, she said.
Lisiscki said the districts should do more things like the WISD transportation consortium, which she described as becoming more successful as the school year went on, despite issues in some parts of the three districts at the beginning.
“We are working together to do everything possible to not just give our kids the best education possible to chip away at our deficits.”
Bates said getting the school boards together in order to think of more potential areas to consolidate services or enhance the two districts' relationship could be beneficial.
However, he said it will ultimately be up to the superintendents in order to find specific areas that are both realistic, will save money and will allow each district to keep their own identity.
“Ideally, we’d get the boards together and build relationships and brainstorm areas for superintendents to look into,” he said, “and could direct superintendents to meet together, possibly with their whole cabinets, and uncover some areas to increase efficiency.”
Discussions on working together and consolidating services are also happening with the districts’ state legislators.
Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, gave the Ypsilanti school board a warning at last week’s meeting that if the district’s deficit is not under control soon then a emergency manager will be coming to the district.
Rutledge said he’s held meeting with both Martin and Lisiscki to explore the ways they can work together as district leaders. Rutledge said both district leaders are fully committed to eliminating their deficits and avoiding a takeover by an emergency manager, which is a possibility for both districts.
“Everything is on the table in terms of finding ways to eliminate this deficit and those ways involve looking at what they can do individually and looking at what they can do together more than what is occurring now,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge said he’s aware of the work Ypsilanti and Willow Run are doing to reduce their deficits. He said both superintendents are working on proposals to bring to their respective school boards, who will make any decision past that.
“They’ve been deal a hand and they’ve gotta figure out how to play it in a way that doesn’t harm the kids that we’re trying to educate,” Rutledge said.