Ypsilanti school board approves deficit elimination plan closing 1 building, not 3
Ypsilanti Public Schools approved its deficit elimination plan on Monday, the eve before its state-mandated deadline, despite public criticism about a lack of community input in the plan.
The Board of Education voted 5-2 to pass the plan, which calls for reducing the number of staff members by at least 97, cutting transportation, closing Estabrook Elementary School's pool and closing at least one additional building.
Trustee Andy Fanta and Vice President Kira Berman voted against the plan. Both cited the administration’s failure to allow enough time for public involvement in the plan as reasons why. Berman also vehemently opposes any more school closings.
“Please consider the past when you vote for the future,” Berman said to her fellow trustees, prior to discussing the plan at Monday’s special board meeting.
Closing buildings was a sticking point for many board members at last week’s meeting. The original deficit elimination plan called for the possible closure of Adams Academy, Erickson Elementary and New Tech High School.
Trustees Ellen Champagne and Sarah Devaney refused to consider approving the plan with three schools on the chopping block.
Ypsilanti closed Chapelle Elementary and East Middle School as recently as 2010, and George and Ardis elementaries were closed several years before that.
The board brainstormed and came up with a combination of tactics to obtain the $1.7 million in savings that closing Adams, Erickson and New Tech would have brought.
The district still will need to close one elementary building in the 2013-14 school year, for a savings of $600,000, although it is not clear at this time which one. Additionally, it will sell two pieces of property, one on River and one on LeForge streets, that Ypsilanti no longer uses.
If the properties sell in the current market, school officials said they anticipate they could receive a total of $700,000 for them, based on recent appraisals.
The only downside to selling property in place of closing a school is that property sales are one-time revenues, said district business manager Kelli Glenn, whereas closing a school generates a savings year after year through the elimination of staff and operational expenses.
Also to make up for not closing as many schools in 2013-14, the plan calls for sharing more services and staff with Willow Run Community Schools, such as business office personnel, for a savings of $50,000, and the consolidation of the districts' operational and maintenance service departments, for an estimated $75,000.
Ypsilanti and Willow Run already have combined their Air Force Junior ROTC programs and are looking to hire a joint special education director.
Not closing buildings also would require Ypsilanti to cut spending on transportation by another $200,000 — from $400,000 to $600,000 — for 2012-13.
An additional five to six teachers may need to be cut in 2013-14 as well, for a savings of about $1 million over two years.
Of the 97 staff reductions already proposed for the 2012-13 school year, 32 are special education teachers. Sharon Irvine, executive director of human resources, said Ypsilanti currently has about 60 special education teachers. Some staff could be hired back after the district explores different grant opportunities that exist for special needs, she said.
Superintendent Dedrick Martin said with the district's declining enrollment, administrators worked to identify some areas of overstaffing, and these are the areas that will be corrected.
He said YPS involved a "broader array of internal stakeholders" in the deficit elimination decision process this year by meeting with teachers, para-professionals and building principals early on.
"This is a painful and grueling process and no one wants to lay off staff, close buildings or reduce instructional funding," Martin said. "However, the district must overcome a significant debt legacy and live within our financial means while striving to keep the interest of students first."
But a few in Monday's audience of about 50 people wanted to know where the parents' voices were.
Ypsilanti resident Nancy Harvey said while the public can make comments and ask questions at board meetings, it does not appear the board is listening.
"This communication thing, again, is one way," she said. "How do we get responses? How do we get answers to our questions and know that our issues are going to be addressed?"
She said she's "concerned and dismayed" that the deficit elimination plan was passed again at an emergency meeting right before it was due.
"This comes up every year, so it isn’t a big surprise. But here we are last-minute scrambling. This is not what we would teach out children to do in their classrooms," Harvey said.
The board will discuss the plan again in the context of hearing a presentation on the proposed 2012-13 budget during its regular meeting on May 14. The budget and the board's approval of the budget ultimately will help determine which cuts from the DEP for 2012-13 will take effect, when and how.
- Download a PDF of the deficit elimination plan here.
- Previous story: Deficit elimination: 93 layoffs, 3 school closings amid drastic cuts considered in Ypsilanti