Superintendent contracts priority of Ypsilanti-Willow Run merger talks
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
Past, present and future employment contracts for the Ypsilanti-Willow Run consolidated school district have taken center stage this week.
And questions have begun to fester as school officials trudge deeper into the uncharted territory of the merger.
The joint Ypsilanti-Willow Run Board of Education voted Monday to contract with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District for superintendent services for the new district.
No one's quite sure yet how the arrangement would work, and it's predicated on the WISD board agreeing to allow county Superintendent Scott Menzel to run both the WISD and the newly formed Ypsilanti Community Schools.
Community members also learned Monday the new district would be legally obligated to fulfill current superintendents Dedrick Martin and Laura Lisiscki's contracts, despite principals, teachers and other staff being laid off and their contracts severed on June 30 when Ypsilanti and Willow Run dissolve.
"This is something we didn't know during the campaign," Menzel said.
Lisiscki currently makes a salary of $120,000 and her contract is set to expire June 30, 2014.
Martin, who was hired in December 2010, makes a salary of $140,000 and his contract also states it will expire in June of 2014. However, a provision in his contract allows for an automatic one-year extension, if he receives a favorable evaluation and the school board fails to take action to prevent the extension. Because of this provision, Martin's contract now expires in June 2016.
Joint school board President David Bates, who also was president of the former Ypsilanti Public Schools' Board of Education, said the contract extensions could be considered intentional by the board.
"Mr. Martin's contract has been extended by one year each year that Mr. Martin has been employed, owing to his consistently earning satisfactory evaluations from the Board of Education," Bates said in an email Wednesday evening.
Menzel explained Martin and Lisiscki's contracts must be upheld because they are individual contracts with the districts and there are no clauses that state the contracts may be terminated or non-renewed due to economic conditions. Because a clause of this nature does not exist, even though the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts will be dissolved June 30, case law establishes that the contract provisions then must become the liability of the successor organization, Menzel said.
Courtesy of the WISD
Teachers, principals and other employees of both districts already have been notified that their contracts will be terminated as of June 30. All employees will be required to re-apply for their positions.
At Thursday's joint Ypsilanti-Willow Run Board of Education meeting, school officials will outline the teacher and principal selection process and present a hiring timeline. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Willow Run High School, 235 Spencer Lane.
The contract between the WISD and the new district for Menzel's services, if approved, would last through the transition period of the merger.
Members of the joint Board of Education, who were appointed by the WISD, cited the importance of keeping the consolidation leadership team in place to maintain progress as the reason for their decision Monday night.
Menzel, who has helped facilitate the consolidation from the beginning through an agreement between the WISD and local school leaders, said Monday after the meeting "it would be easier to say no" to serving as the temporary superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools.
Menzel has a full-time job, and already has committed a significant amount of time throughout the summer and on nights and weekends to developing plans for the consolidation and to helping it pass, he said.
"I'm willing to do whatever I'm called on to do, but it certainly would be easier to say no," Menzel said. " But I'm passionate about (the consolidation) in this sense, that the driving force behind our work is making sure students in eastern Washtenaw County have the educational system that they truly deserve and so desperately need."
It's not clear between whom the contract for Menzel's services would be drawn up or what he would be paid for his time spent as Ypsilanti Community Schools' superintendent.
There is $100,000 set aside for superintendent services in the $6.5 million consolidation grant the WISD received from the state on behalf of the merging districts.
Bates said Monday: "The grant was requested and awarded to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. We actually don't have any control over that grant money, so any questions about how that money will be used will have to go through the WISD."
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
"Although with the way the state grant works, there may be the ability to extend the use of those funds for a longer period of time," he said. "We haven't pushed the envelope yet (with the state) in terms of how long we'll be able to stretch out the use of that money, since we're still on the front end of (launching the new district)."
The new district also hired a consultant, Paul Burke from Chaucer, to serve as a project manager for the merger. A total of $150,000 was allotted in the grant budget for this service.
Menzel said the complexity and sheer number of tasks that need to get done in the transition period warrants these distinct roles — someone to provide superintendent services and someone to provide project management. Menzel said he just didn't realize he might be the one to do the latter.
Burke, as project manager, will ensure the new district meets all of the key milestones and deadlines in order to be able to successfully operate by the time school opens this fall, Menzel said. Burke's tasks will be related to combining assets and the legal documentation of the merger, while Menzel's, if approved, would be related to educational policy, instruction and designing a school system that adheres to the five pillars of education that the community established during the summer.
"The project management company doesn't have expertise in the educational arena. Its expertise is in mergers within the private sector. So it understands the kinds of questions that need to be answered to legally merge two large entities, but it can't provide technical guidance on establishing board policies or provide recommendations on instruction to the board," Menzel said.
"The board will look to the superintendent to manage educational affairs and to create an educational system that meets the hopes and aspirations of the community when they voted 'yes' on consolidation Nov. 6."
The $100,000 in the grant for superintendent services could not be used to pay current superintendents Martin and Lisiscki, whom the board voted Monday to retain as associate superintendents in the new district under Menzel's leadership.
"The intent of the grant was to identify additional costs associated with the consolidation effort and to provide funding for those costs. (The grant money) cannot be spent on costs that would have been born out anyway," Menzel said.