Parents mobilize against possible school closures in Ypsilanti school district
A group of parents opposing any school closures in the Ypsilanti school district urged roughly 75 community membersÂ during a forum Wednesday eveningÂ to help find a way to keep all the district's elementary schools open.
Trustee Andy Fanta was among the board members at the meeting. He said he was concerned the district was making cuts “with a hacksaw,” and added he's perplexed by feeling obligated as a board member to come up with solutions.
“It’s my obligation to bring to your concerns to the table,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s the superintendent who says 'here’s where we are, here’s where we can go, here’s why we’re going that way.'”
Maria Cotera, a Chapelle parent who helped organize the meeting, said she was pleased to see school board members in attendance and hear their support.
“I do think it’s important for the school board members to know that if they make a vote that's unpopular with the administration, they will still have considerable parent support behind them,” she said.
"Save Ypsilanti Schools" members started the meeting with a presentation on their understanding of the deficit elimination plan and provided background on the origins of the district’s financial crisis.
Board members pointed out some of the information - such as the deficit elimination plan requiring privatization of transportation and an assertion that the Ypsilanti Education Association donated money to the board at the last meeting - was false.
Near the conclusion of the group's presentation, Cotera said they're exploring reaching out to other parent groups opposing school closings statewide. She said they'd like to form a loose coalition large enough to make its voice heard by the Michigan Legislature.
Trustee Kira BermanÂ said such a group exists called "Save Our Schools," and urged the Ypsilanti group to get involved.
Board Vice President Linda Horne said she also supported the local group taking its cause to the state level.
“I hear the pain, I hear the passion, and I think its great to have a committee, but it takes more than just one district, it takes all of Washtenaw County, it takes all of the state,” she said. “I’m going to Lansing with you."
"Save Ypsilanti Schools" laid out its arguments against closing Chapelle Elementary - which board President David Bates told the audience is one of the schools under consideration to close in one of the scenarios - or any other elementary school in the district.
Chief among their concerns were overcrowding and overextension of staff and administrators.
“This is certainly not the direction I want to go, and closing schools, I fear, will have the effect of locking in this problem,” said Jason Wright, one of the meeting’s organizers.
He added the fate of the schools of choice program also is in question.
“If we fill up all of our schools, I think we’re going to have trouble giving our parents a choice,” he said.
Aris Woodroofe, a Chapelle parent, said the concerns aren't confined to the Ypsilanti schools community, but also include the neighborhoods surrounding them. She said the schools are an asset and are critical to healthy neighborhoods.
“If we are looking to have other populations move into the area, they are going to have a very long conversation within their family as to whether they want to do that,” she said.
Cotera said she felt closing Chapelle and Adams would unfairly impact the minority community and called it a “social justice issue.” Statistics provided by the district show the two schools serve the highest minority populations and poorest students.
The group also provided alternative ideas to help generate revenue. Cotera listed four ideas, including:
- Expanding the Montessori program to first grade, which Cotera said would allow parents of kindergarteners in the Montessori program at Perry to see the advantages of staying in the district after their children graduate from the program. She suggested sending "parent emissaries" to Perry for the same reason.
- Implementing a “Race to 100” program, in which parents and the schools community make an intense effort to recruit 100 kids, which Cotera estimated could raise roughly $800,000 for the district.
“We’re not just complaining,” she said. “We have been thinking long and hard about this."
Berman said she was pleased to see good alternatives presented, and the district should closely examine all options.
“Nobody likes closing any school, and closing schools is a bad option to me, but the district is in a position where we need to realize savings from a lot of different directions,” Berman said. “But I’m glad that other creative options are being discussed.”
Bates said he doesn't favor any plan, but is looking for the “least onerous” option.
“Without question, we need to find a way to work toward a balanced budget, and everything I’ve seen so far indicates that our schools are underused enough to warrant closing one or more building,” he said.
He added through more input online, talking with community members or meetings like the one Wednesday, they could “craft a district that met all students’ needs."
Following the presentation, parents stated their opinions and ideas, which resulted in an outpouring of support for keeping Chapelle and the other elementaries open.
Deedra Bass, a parent of two kids at West Middle School, questioned the district’s “knee-jerk reaction” to the problem and how it got into the position in the first place.
“I am profoundly disturbed that we are being reactive instead of proactive,” she said.
The Ypsilanti school board meets next on Feb. 8.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at email@example.com or 734-623-2530.