Ypsilanti parents organize meeting to oppose plans to close schools
Parents say they're inviting all community stakeholders to the meeting because they view the closures as not only a problem for the school community, but also to the neighborhoods and city as a whole.
“We want to present the proposals as we understand them and encourage people to make their views known,” said Jason Wright, a Chapelle parent. “There haven’t been positive alternatives. The only alternatives presented so far have been more cuts.”
Organizers of the meeting also expressed growing frustration at what they say is a lack of transparency in the process, and the district’s refusal to directly answer their questions. They charge the district’s communication policies are hindering efforts to develop alternatives to unpopular school closures.
The group is particularly upset at the district's refusal to confirm which schools are under consideration for closing.
“You can’t have transparency without transparency,” said Maria Cotera, a member of the Chapelle Parental Advisory Board. “If you don’t give us all the information we need to provide rational input, it’s not real, it’s a farce, it’s theater, and parents are frustrated.”
Despite no official word, parents district-wide are under the impression Chapelle Elementary, Adams Elementary and East Middle School are the three schools targeted for possible closures.
The district held two community forums in January to seek input on two school closing scenarios. None of the schools were named, but their capacities were provided. Parents deduced the schools' identities from there.
District officials earlier confirmed to AnnArbor.com in phone interviews that the two buildings under consideration for closure in the first scenario are Chapelle and Adams. They now say the elementary school proposed for closure in scenario two is undecided.
In an e-mail exchange between the group and district officials provided to AnnArbor.com, officials declined to name the schools because the forums' “intent is to have the community provide objective input without emotional bias.”
In a subsequent phone interview, Superintendent Dedrick Martin reiterated that reasoning and said the district won't yet name the buildings publicly.
“The reason we didn’t name them was that we were afraid it would stymie the conversation,” he said. “People would say ‘They are closing 'my' building’ and not talk about the reconfiguration of the district.”
School board President David Bates said the situation becomes significantly more sensitive once school names are added to the equation.
“What we really wanted people to focus on is looking at the scenarios objectively,” he said. “We wanted to depersonalize the situation and see what the situation is really like when looking at what we have in our buildings in terms of physical capacity.”
Cotera said the approach has failed.
“The very idea that we can’t make rational ideas with all the information is offensive,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what schools they are - these are not abstractions; these are our children. It’s not like ‘Let’s do this abstract equation and see how it comes out.’ You can’t pretend there aren’t going to be people who are impacted.”
Bates and Martin underscored no decision has been made on which schools will close. Martin added input from the community workshops will be taken into account, but 15 percent of the operational budget must be cut out. The district is workingÂ to slash $6.4 million from its budget before the 2010-11 school year.
“Our position as a district has not changed at all,” Martin said. “Based on some of the input or feedback from several staff meetings and two community workshops, we have had two additional scenarios we will be exploring over the next two weeks.”
Martin said he didn't know the specifics of one scenario, but one included closing a middle school and turning Estabrook into a grades 5-6 building.
“I want to assure parents we are really open-minded and looking at a variety of closures,” Martin said. “I want to be fair and say there are some that include closing Chapelle, but there are some that don’t.”
Group members said they have also repeatedly asked for more detailed plans for redistributing students under each of the scenarios, but the district declined to provide specifics.
In an e-mail to Cotera, the district said “there is a plan to place students in other buildings and building capacity numbers have been analyzed,” but Martin told AnnArbor.com no plans have been developed for redistributing students.
“We have a general idea of what’s possible, but before we spend tons of hours going down that road and find out ‘Whoa, this is not remotely close to anything that is acceptable’ - before we make a decision like that, we want to see what’s feasible in our community,” he said.
Martin said developing plans for how schools of choice would work under any of the scenarios is also on hold. He sees a number of possibilities, including geographical boundaries, grandfathering and keeping students with siblings.
“We will look for a way as much as possible to give parents some choices and flexibility, but ultimately we won’t make everyone happy because we know there’s no way to do that,” he said.
Tonight's meeting is organized by the Chapelle Elementary PAB, but its purpose is to discuss the citywide impact of closing any schools and developing ideas to keep them open, members say. The meeting is at Chapelle Elementary at 6:30 p.m.
“Seeing this as an isolated academic situation is a detriment to our community,” said Aris Woodroofe, a Chapelle parent. “The ripple effect will haunt our neighborhoods, reduce our businesses and deter prospective homeowners from selecting Ypsilanti as a place to call home.”
A website has been organized by parents opposed to the closures at www.saveypsischools.com.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.