Ypsilanti school district seeks more input on proposals to close schools
Roughly 60 Ypsilanti community members showed up for a second community workshop Thursday evening to hear more about the district's financial crisis and express concerns over possible school closings.
The district needs to trim $6.4 million from its budget before the fall 2010 school year, and its plans - two options that both "repurpose" two schools - come at a savings of $968,000 and $1.3 million each.
The audience viewed a movie and slideshow explaining the origin of the district’s financial problems, followed by a proposal by administrators. They highlighted several new programs and initiatives intended to attract new students to the district.
Among the more ambitious efforts are expanding the Montessori program, launching a gifted and talented program at the elementary school level, creating an International Baccalaureate program for the high school and opening a “New Tech” high school to provide an alternative, computer-based education.
The audience was then divided into small groups at tables, where they were asked to discuss the two proposals and pick the one they preferred - or develop a third of their own.
It's a scenario being played out at districts across Washtenaw County as they struggle to close budget deficits blamed on falling property values and fewer dollars from the state. The Ann Arbor school district wrapped up its fourth community budget discussion on Tuesday.
In Ypsilanti, most in attendance Thursday expressed some doubt about closing any schools.
“I don’t like either choice - they want to close schools, and that shouldn’t be an option,” said Taura Cheatham, a Chapelle Elementary School parent and co-president of the Chapelle Parent Advisory Board.
Joyce Meads, a parent of three in the district, said Ypsilanti Public Schools should focus on fixing what works now instead of new programs. She also voiced concerns about overworking teachers with large classes.
“I can see a situation where schools are overcrowded and the kids aren’t getting what they need,” she said. “I don’t see how it’s going to be attractive to parents.”
Chapelle parentÂ Aris Woodroofe said the potential school closings are ill-planned.
“Although I’m excited about the new proposals, I think it’s extremely hypocritical that the district is closing the small community schools,” she said.
Others echoed that sentiment.Â Chapelle parentÂ Maria Cotera said the district needs to examine its successes and build on that.
“Forget about the new ideas and look at what’s worked over time,” she said.
Though the audience included a mix of parents from several schools, the bulk were from Chapelle - which is believed to be the one most likely to face closure.
The district stressed no decisions have been made on which schools are under consideration. In a handout distributed to the community, four schools were listed without names, but had capacity numbers.
Parents were able to deduce the schools from the capacities. Earlier in the week, several district officials confirmed to AnnArbor.com that schools three and four were Adams and Chapelle, respectively.
In either of the two scenarios, "school four" is slated to close. But district officials said no schools are off the table.
Chapelle parent Jason Wright asked John Fulton, the district's executive director of human resources, “Would you seriously consider closing Estabrook or Erickson?”
Fulton replied, “Those two are probably not going to close.”
He conceded Chapelle and Adams were under consideration in option one, but said school four, which is the only elementary school slated for “repurposing” in option two, was “wide open.”
Several Chapelle parents pointed out their school closing would significantly impact kids at all the elementary schools. They said they didn’t understand how all the students could fit into two schools in option one.
Chapelle parent Jason Jones said he thinks the district needs to provide a clearer picture of the different options and how they would work.
“I’m trying to formulate all my ideas, but I’m not sure I’ve been given all the tools I need to make this decision,” he said.
Estabrook parent Liz Zuber said she sees good and bad in both plans.
“I think something has to happen when enrollment has gone down and the state is the way it is,” she said. “It’s sad, but that’s the way it is.”
Superintendent Dedrick Martin said that while no decision has been made on which schools could be closed, he has received a proposal of interest from a community member that calls for reconfiguring Estabrook.
Whatever the scenario, he said the community must work quickly to come to a decision to meet the requirements of its state-mandated budget deficit reduction plan.
“Unfortunately, we are working in months, not years,” he said.Â
There is currently no deadline for a recommendation.
A meeting sponsored by parents of district students will be held at Chapelle on Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.