Updated: Willow Run, Ypsilanti schools to pursue consolidating districts
Danielle Arndt I AnnArbor.com
Officials with Willow Run and Ypsilanti schools have announced an effort to consolidate into one public school district.
Residents of both districts could be asked to vote on the question of consolidation in an upcoming election.
A joint meeting between Willow Run and Ypsilanti’s boards of education is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. April 16. The location of the meeting will be established once both boards have had the opportunity to separately vote in support of the joint session. Ypsilanti is expected to do so at its March 26 regular meeting and Willow Run at its March 29 meeting.
The consolidation announcement was made late Tuesday afternoon during a meeting between Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki, Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin and Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, with select members of the local media present.
The decision to pursue consolidation was solidified Monday during a meeting of the Willow Run and Ypsilanti Collaboration and Communication Task Force.
The task force voted to place the consolidation proposal on an upcoming ballot, predicated on the development of a “solid, detailed unification plan with specific legislative and financial initiatives in place to support it,” Menzel said.
“The goal, looking at the economic realities and the achievement challenges both districts are facing, is to move beyond tinkering in the margins and to come together and unite under one new school system,” Menzel said.
The Willow Run-Ypsilanti task force was created in August to explore and recommend opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of services between the two districts.
Most recently the task force recommended combining the schools’ transportation departments, bus fleets and maintenance at one location, the current Willow Run facility.
Menzel said the most important component of the district’s consolidation plans would be securing some type of incentive from the state.
Willow Run Community Schools currently is operating with about a $1.7 million deficit, while recent projections show Ypsilanti Public Schools is about $9.4 million in the red.
Menzel said consolidating two districts doesn’t necessarily make that combined deficit any smaller. School leaders have been in communication with Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, about legislation that would extend the debt repayment period for deficit districts that choose to consolidate. He said districts currently operating with a deficit have about two years to pay back debt.
In September 2011, Menzel, Rutledge and others meet with “key players” in Lansing to float the idea of extended repayment periods and were met with support at that time, Menzel said.
“The intent is not to forgive or eliminate (the debt generated by deficit spending),” he said.
However, the districts believe this is an appropriate, locally-generated response to having two struggling districts side-by-side, Lisiscki said.
Read the letter both districts posted on their respective websites about consolidating here.