Ypsilanti Community Schools to launch on Monday
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
One for America and one for the Ypsilanti Community Schools district, which will launch Monday after nearly two years of planning and preparation.
On Monday, the Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools districts — both with storied pasts — will cease to exist, making way for a new educational system that has promised Eastern Washtenaw County residents a clean slate and better outcomes for their children.
The new district will begin by swearing the joint Ypsilanti-Willow Run school board members in as Board of Education members for the Ypsilanti Community Schools district.
The first ever YCS school board meeting will take place at 8 a.m. at the former Ypsilanti Public Schools Administration Building, 1885 Packard Road. The board also will have the opportunity to select new officers, if it chooses.
But before the board takes on a long list of housekeeping action items to officially launch the unified district, there will be a brief recognition of the work that has been done to bring the two districts and the Ypsilanti community to this point.
State Reps. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, and Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, are expected to attend and say a few words about the emerging new school system. Michigan Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, also will be there to present a scholarship to an Ypsilanti student. Additionally, a member of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District Board of Education will address the YCS board, said WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel, who also will take the reins as YCS superintendent.
There still are skeptics and naysayers in the community who disapprove of the merger, as Menzel and other school leaders knew there would be. However, Menzel said he has faith that in time the new district will be able to earn the community's confidence.
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo
When the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school boards voted in July 2012 to place a proposal to consolidate on the ballot, they feared a state-appointed emergency financial manager could be on the horizon for their districts.
In the last two weeks, a bill that would allow deficit school districts with smaller student populations to be dissolved by the state — no emergency manager needed — was passed in the Senate.
"When I look at that there is no question that of all the alternatives, in my mind (the locally directed merger) was the greatest alternative and will result in ultimate success going forward," Menzel said.
At Monday's meeting, the board will vote to hire back all of the teachers, counselors, principals, assistant principals, office professionals and support staff who were offered a position with the new district after undergoing a rigorous interview and selection process.
The board also will vote on a number of contract agreements, including for food service and for the New Tech Network, the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the Air Force JROTC.
Following the official hiring of staff, staff members will be legally allowed to unionize. There is an item on the agenda to recognize the Michigan Education Association as the bargaining agent for YCS teachers.
Most importantly, the YCS Board of Education will vote to adopt a $49.31 million operating budget for the 2013-14 academic year, with projected revenues of $50.31 million. The $1 million surplus of revenue dollars over expenditures will be used to help pay off the combined $11.2 million deficit that YCS will assume from Ypsilanti and Willow Run.
The 2013-14 budget that is expected to pass Monday will leave the district with a negative fund balance, or primary savings account, of about $10.2 million, which the district will pay back at a rate of $1 million per year, plus interest.
The length of time and the interest rate the new district will have to adhere to is still being negotiated with state officials, Menzel said. YCS leaders proposed a 15-year period and officials with the State Treasury Department appear to be leaning toward 10 years, Menzel said. Either way, Menzel felt confident the new district could "reverse the trend of the last decade," he said.
Menzel sees the birth of the new district as the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people "who were willing and open to addressing the economic challenges and achievement challenges of these schools head on."
Menzel thanked and praised both districts' former boards and everyone from the community who participated in any of the committees, public forums and visioning sessions to help design the school system that "we all want for our kids."
But while there will be some pomp and circumstance and a celebratory cake at Monday's 8 a.m. meeting, Menzel and other school leaders recognize the birth of the new district is not the end of difficult times. "It's really a transition point," Menzel said.
"It's really exciting and it's a significant milestone along the road to where we want to be," he said, adding it will continue to take the full commitment of the families, the community partners, local nonprofits — "everyone coming together to improve the learning environment and to improve student achievement."
There are 64 days remaining until the new district welcomes students for the first day of school and there is still much to do, Menzel said. Most of the staff has been identified, but a few key positions remain, including a high school principal and a chief financial officer.
The district also will post in July food service positions. The district decided to contract with Chartwells for management, but the district will continue to employ the workers, Menzel said.
The instructional staff will start school the second week of August for about three weeks of intensive professional development before class begins. There will be culture and climate professional development, as well as restorative justice professional development and training for teachers and principals within their small learning communities at the middle and high schools.
Most of the professional development was accounted for and will be paid for using a $6.5 million grant Ypsilanti and Willow Run received from the state of Michigan for consolidating services.
The first day of school for students is Sept. 3.