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Posted on Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Parents mobilize against possible school closures in Ypsilanti school district

By Tom Perkins

A group of parents opposing any school closures in the Ypsilanti school district urged roughly 75 community members during a forum Wednesday evening to help find a way to keep all the district's elementary schools open.

The group, which has mobilized over the last three weeks and calls itself “Save Ypsilanti Schools,” received support from several school board members on some of its ideas and proposals.

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.


Adams Elementary School is one of the district's schools that could face closure.

File photo

"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 Berman 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 Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Sun, Feb 14, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

Too late. The closing in the 90's of Fletcher Elementary, a very successful, neighborhood school with a diverse student and teacher population was the first nail in Ypsilanti Public Schools' coffin.


Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

Rather than pitching school closing, and proposing to keep one open and the expense of others, it should be examined if closing a school or schools is any solution to a budget crisis. The facts are the there are many years of mismanagement at the administrative level in YPS. Closing both Ardis and George was a "fix" to a budget issue a few short years ago. Now here we are again. So how did this plan work? It is a quick fix to a much deeper, more serious issue. It is also a move with the impact on the earliest elementary children. It seems that Ms. Cotera and her supporters have valid concerns, and offer some options. Furthermore, how can a school district in one breath mention closing elementary schools and middle schools and in the same breath discuss opening new programs at the high school level! As a Ypsi taxpayer, this is outrageous to me! Also, look at the teacher salaries in the county! Ypsi is among the lowest, while their administrators are mid to top! I am thankful that some concerned citizens are taking their time and efforts to try to hold the decision makers accountable!


Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 8:22 p.m.

Midtowner, According to the school district, Adams has a capacity of 425. Adams is operating at 57% of its capacity. From the school district literature, Ypsilanti's building capacities are as follows: School (Enrollment/Capacity) Perry 400/625 Adams 243/425 Chapelle 310/375 Erickson 431/525 Estabrook 444/550 East 370/680 West 442/620 YHS 1152/1255 In terms of elementary students, YPS is about 450 students short of its overall 1-5 capacity and about 490 short of its middle school capacity. Chapelle and Adams are the two smallest school buildings in terms of their overall capacity and are therefore less able to play a role in terms of school consolidation. Regardless of how you feel about Adams, it isn't as big as you think it is.


Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 10 a.m.

YpsiLivin, you are plain wrong. my sons go to adams (by choice). the school has about 250 students and could hold a maxium of 550. adams has capacity. i hope it stays open.


Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

@Ardis George, Actually, one proposal is to close both Adams and Chapelle and put all students in either Erickson or Estabrook. Neither Adams nor Chapelle has the additional building capacity needed to accept significantly more students, and if consolidation is the route they plan to take, then only the largest buildings (Estabrook and Erickson)will survive.

Delete Please

Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 8:54 p.m.

YpsiLivin: What you say may very well be true. But please have no illusions: Chapelle will be closed, and its schoolkids shoehorned into Adams, because both schools are filled primarily with low income kids and kids of color. Estabrook and Erickson likely won't be touched. I don't need to tell you why this is, because history textbooks already have told you, a hundred times over.


Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 5:26 p.m.

Missypsi, The fact that Chapelle is 83% occupied means that it is the least able facility to accept additional students. In the current situation, the schools that have the highest number of empty seats are the ones that will survive. The smaller buildings (including Chapelle) will be closed in favor of buildings that have enough space for a significant number of additional students.

Ypsi by Choice

Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

Thanks RussellR, we have and feel free to tell people about it!

Ypsi by Choice

Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

Thanks Russellr, we have and feel free to tell people about it.


Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 12:45 p.m.

All parents are going to have to realize times are changing Michigan is broke along with alot of other states. All the school board can do is try to fix it. Some of you parents that are against it should come up with a think tank to try to help the problem. You could pray about it but oh you kicked God out of the schools and now you are on your own.


Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.

A point of clarification: it may be true that Ypsilanti has been "losing population", indeed it has already closed three elementary schools in response to these population declines. Four remain, and most of those (Chapelle, Estabrook, Erickson) have excellent capacity ratios (in the 80% range). Chapelle, one of the schools on the "Chopping block" is the MOST capactized school in the district at %83.


Thu, Feb 4, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

C'mon, Ypsilanti people. Michigan is losing population; Washtenaw County is losing population; Ypsilanti is losing population. The State is broke; the local governments are broke; the school districts are broke. Everyone must cut excessive services and expenses. If you don't want school closures, then pony up more taxes to keep them open. If you don't want to pay more school taxes, then school(s) must be closed. You can't have it both ways!