Ypsilanti school board opposes resolution to explain rationale behind proposed budget cuts
The Ypsilanti school board opted not to take action Monday on a proposed three-point resolution directing administrators to explore more budget reduction plans and explain the rationale behind their current proposals.
Trustees Kira Berman and Andy Fanta co-authored the resolution, which was introduced during the board discussion portion of the meeting.
In the resolution, the trustees moved that before the board of education makes a decision on proposed budget reductions:
- Administration fully outline a wider range (choice) of plans that specifies both the dollar reductions and how those plans specifically relate to the district’s core value.
- Administration provide to the school board and the public the rationale (data-based) upon which their recommendation(s) is based.
- Administration explain to the school board and public how the budget restrictions are linked to strategic decisions and an articulated vision that will help the school district to grow.
The board of education may hear the administration's official recommendations for school closures as early as March 17. The recommendations would be detailed at a public special meeting.
A vote on the recommendations would follow at the board’s regular meeting on March 22.
The district is faced with the task of cutting roughly $6.8 million from its budget by the beginning of next school year.
Berman said the district must provide more thorough information on transportation costs, student enrollment projections at each school, changes in racial and socioeconomic make up at the schools, impact on schools of choice and other issues related to school closures.
“Until we have that information, I don’t think this board should vote on which schools to close,” she said.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Board President David Bates said an ad hoc committee comprised of himself, Berman and Trustee Floyd Brumfield was formed in late February with the intention of gathering that information.
He said the committee has only met once, and not all the information administrators provided was correct, so more time was needed.
“I find this resolution unnecessary,” he said. “These were sort of the reasons the board established the ad hoc committee.”
He later added: “I have not heard from administration that they are unwilling to address these issues.”
Several board members concurred with Bates.
Trustee Sarah Devaney rebuked Fanta and Berman for “bringing a surprise” to the table, which she said she was the first thing she learned she shouldn't do when she became a trustee.
“I don’t appreciate being caught off guard,” she said.
Brumfield agreed the information was needed, but also criticized how the resolution was introduced. He pointed out that similarly hasty resolutions in the past ended with negative results.
“That’s not how we operate, he said.
Berman apologized for the “surprise” but added, “I will say this - as a member of the ad hoc committee, if I thought we were moving in the direction of having all that data, I wouldn’t feel the necessity to make this motion.”
Superintendent Dedrick Martin defended the administration.
He said administrators have been responsive to all the board’s requests and listed the measures taken to ensure the community has been informed and had the opportunity for input. He pointed to online surveys, several public forums, an online question and answer page and a meeting with the ad hoc committee.
Martin added it has become evident there is an effort to strike down the administration’s plan before the formal presentation, and the district doesn't have time for further delay in providing recommendations.
“I’m not in support of us coming up with additional processes to make decisions we have to make soon,” he said. “I would caution the board before entering into any resolution to postpone a vote when we haven’t seen an official plan from the administration yet.”
Berman said the resolution’s purpose wasn’t to postpone a vote.
“It is a resolution to make sure we have the adequate data to make the decision,” she said.
Ultimately, the resolution did not move past discussion and wasn't voted on for lack of board support.
The discussion came after the board debated hiring an outside firm to help develop a strategic plan.
During public comment at the end of the nearly five-hour meeting, Jill Clouse, a parent of several kids in YPS, said she had been to all the meetings and forums and was “disgusted” by how certain board members reacted to the resolution. She said the resolution included everything parents have called for throughout the process.
Kelly Powers, Ypsilanti Education Association president, said she thought the resolution would have brought greater transparency to the process.
“I think sometimes you have to make decisions that come to you at the last minute, whether they are good, bad or indifferent, and as elected officials, that is your job,” she said.
Berman noted it appeared all board members agreed the resolution's content is necessary to make a decision. But she said those who didn't support it have placed a high level of trust in the administration to provide provide the information and explore all the options on its own.
“I hope you’re right,” she said.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.