Ypsilanti school board rejects proposed closure of middle school, waits for deficit elimination plan
For years, Ypsilanti school board members have discussed when they might draw a line in the sand and refuse to cut services from the district’s budget.
They may have reached that point during Monday night’s school board meeting.
Presented with a proposed deficit elimination plan that included a number of drastic measures — such as cutting custodians' salaries by 12.5 percent, closing Ypsilanti Middle School and incorporating the seventh and eighth grades into Ypsilanti High School — board members said the plan simply isn't feasible.
“I can’t do it. I’m sorry,” board President David Bates said of the potential salary cuts for district employees. “I think it’s absolutely outrageous that the only way to balance the budget is to take away one-fifth of what everyone earns. It’s just obscene.”
Chief Financial Officer David Houle presented the board with a proposed plan to eliminate an anticipated $26 million budget deficit that could develop in the next four years.
AnnArbor.com file photo
The proposal that rankled members of the community and the board the most was the idea of moving the seventh and eighth grades to Ypsilanti High School and closing the middle school. Houle said the move would save the district about $2 million in the next four years if the building closed before the 2012-13 school year.
The district closed East Middle School and Chapelle Elementary School at the end of the 2009-10 school year to save money.
Closing the only remaining middle school was a measure the board outright rejected.
“The closing of the middle school, that’s off the table,” Vice President Floyd Brumfield said. “We haven’t voted, but I’m just noticing the nodding heads and how people are speaking.”
Six parents spoke to board members during the public comment portion of the meeting, expressing misgivings over closing the middle school.
Daisy Mull, who has three children attending Ypsilanti schools, said her daughter, who is in fifth grade at Erickson Elementary School, looked at her “nearly with fear in her eyes” when Mull told her she might be at the high school when she enters seventh grade.
“If you do this, parents will leave the district,” she said. “I will pull her from the district. I have tried real hard to be a cheerleader for the district, and it’s really hard for me to say that.”
Maria Cotera said parents would begin pulling their children out of Ypsilanti schools at the beginning of sixth grade to attend Ann Arbor schools if the measure was approved.
She said the district simply couldn't continue cutting services due to the number of students who would leave and the amount of funding those losses could cost the district.
“We said it last year and we will do it again: The district is acting like the only strategy they can take is cutting essential services,” she said.
Among the other potential cuts in the deficit elimination plan, along with Houle's estimated savings:
- Eliminating athletics, which would save about $2 million over four years.
- Eliminating transportation completely, which would save about $8 million.
- Eliminating just one tier of transportation — either the secondary busing runs or the elementary busing runs — which would save about $4 million.
- A number of cuts to benefits for administrators and principals.
Trustees asked Houle to present another version of the plan at a board district operations committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the East Middle School building. The meeting is open to the public.
The district has to turn a plan over to the state by Jan. 25.
Trustee Andy Fanta said he would like to see a version of the plan that defunded athletics and did not close the middle school. He said the district may be able to go to community leaders and businesses to find sponsors to keep athletic programs in the schools.
He said it was no longer possible for the district to cut its way to solvency.
“We’re not asking the right kinds of questions when addressing this budget,” he said. “We’re focusing on cutting, cutting, cutting. We’re not focusing on what we’re doing and what kind of district we want, and we’re not answering the parents who are asking those type of questions.”
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.