You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ypsilanti-Willow Run merger proposal and 18 mills must pass or districts could pay for special election

By Danielle Arndt

Two Schools.jpg

Residents in the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts will weigh whether or not to consolidate the two deficit districts. The high schools, Willow Run at left and Ypsilanti at right, have been a target for questions. What will become of the districts' buildings will not be decided until after the vote.

Previous coverage:

Two proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot will decide the fate of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts and whether they will remain separate to deal with their budget deficits or combine to form one school district.

Both proposals must pass in order for the districts to merge.

School officials say unification is the only way for the struggling school systems to avoid a state takeover or emergency manager situation in the near future. Supporters argue maintaining local control is best for students.

No organized opposition on this issue has emerged. A phone survey conducted in the Ypsilanti area in August showed 66 percent of voters would be or were leaning toward supporting the consolidation.

Ypsilanti Public Schools currently is more than $10 million in debt, while Willow Run has a deficit of about $2.4 million. Ypsilanti also is financially at risk of not being able to pay its employees come January.

A failure to pay wages, salaries or other compensation owed to employees — or benefits owed to retirees — within seven days of the scheduled payment date is considered a potential trigger for a preliminary review, which is the first step toward an emergency manager per state law.

The proposals

The first proposal on the ballot asks voters to support or oppose uniting the geographical territories of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts to form a single consolidated district. The second proposal, if passed, would allow the new district to levy 18 mills in taxes from non-homestead properties in the combined territories for operational expenses.

Ypsilanti Township Clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe said about a dozen people recently have visited the township offices confused about the ballot proposals and, in particular, the second proposal asking for the 18 mills. A few requested new absentee ballots because they interpreted the proposal incorrectly and wanted to change their votes.


A map of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run geographical territories.

“I’ve had people thinking it’s a tax increase,” she said. “I just don’t think the message is clear the way it’s written.”

Scott Menzel, superintendent for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, said the 18 mills is what the state expects every district to levy for operational funds.

“(The proposal) will maintain the exact same level of taxes that currently are paid by everyone in the two school districts independently, so there is no increase involved. But the new district needs authorization in order to collect the mills,” he said.

A “yes” vote for consolidation essentially invalidates the two districts and their separate levies and creates one new district, which will need funds to operate, Menzel said.

The majority of voters in each district must pass the consolidation proposal in order for unification to take place. Then a majority of both districts’ populations combined must vote “yes” on the millage.

A failure to understand this aspect could result in the districts having to fund a special election, which Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin said could mean the end of Ypsilanti Public Schools.

“We’re talking about a situation where the district could truly be forced to dissolve,” he said. “We’re worried about paying employees. How we would pay for a special election, I have no idea.”

The Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts encompass parts of the city of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township. Clerks at their respective municipalities said an election costs anywhere from $10,000 in the city to $25,000 in Ypsilanti Township to run.


Scott Menzel

Courtesy of the WISD

Ypsilanti and Willow Run would split the cost of the special election — which would have to take place in either February or May — unless there were other proposals on the ballot.

“Obviously it’s better if (the 18 mills) gets approved from the onset, that way the districts can spend their time and energy focusing on putting things in place to be successful as new unified school system,” Menzel said. The new school district would go into effect July 1.

Lovejoy Roe said if anyone with an absentee ballot is concerned they voted incorrectly, they can call or stop by their clerk’s office and ask for a new ballot and for their old ballot to be voided or destroyed. Voters would have up until 4 p.m. Nov. 5 to do this. She said Ypsilanti Township has issued about 4,000 absentee ballots so far.

Millage renewal

If the consolidation fails in one or both school districts, Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools likely would have to go out for a special election anyway.

Menzel said both districts’ current 18 mills non-homestead tax is up for renewal this year. They expire June 30.

He said if the districts had not been working toward the unification, they would have had to place their separate millage renewal proposals on the ballot.

If the merger is not approved, Ypsilanti and Willow Run will have to fund special elections in their separate districts to pass their individual millage renewals.

The aftermath

Menzel and school officials from Ypsilanti and Willow Run have received confirmation from state education officials that they could be given an extension of up to 20 years to pay back their combined approximately $12.4 million debt. This is substantially longer than the current timeframe of two years the districts have individually.

State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, recently proposed legislation to help out the districts. In September, he introduced a bipartisan bill that, if passed, would establish a three-year moratorium for new charter schools in communities where two public school districts consolidate.

Ypsilanti and Willow Run school leaders have blamed, in part, the number of students leaving their districts on the number of charter schools popping up in the Ypsilanti area. This year alone, Willow Run's enrollment decreased from 1,509 students in 2011-12 to 1,328. Ypsilanti schools lost 231 students this fall's head count showed, for a total enrollment of 3,357 for 2012-13.

To read the official ballot language of both proposals, visit the Washtenaw County Elections Division website.

For more information on the consolidation, visit

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

The Merger has to happen a EM is bad for everyone. I agree they have not done a good job getting the message out. But to what happens, this is a 2 fold idea. The current group is working on getting the merger approved. If it passes, then they are get fired and the Washtenaw ISD selects a new group for the board. They are the ones that get to work out the details. Why spend time talking about buildings now, when focus should be on getting approved. Charters schools are not the answer either. A2news did an article this past summer that compared the public schools to the charter schools. The charter schools are not any better in the area. If anything Charter schools are part of the problem. As more kids go there, more money is taken away from the public schools. Go to the meetings and learn what is happening. Be someone that can help by taking a side based on educating yourself. My opinion, give them a chance to make it right. Pass both.

Dan r OBryan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

no one said Em was a definite. saying a merger doesn't happen its likely a EM would be placed by the state . If a merger is not passed ,look into other viable options .a basic plan to cut a dept would stop the state from placing a EM into place. two school districts is the way its been ,fix the problem/ if a merger happens ,my children will be driven to school with a future since its not in my community . Don't be scared into voting a unknown out come of this merger


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 9:08 a.m.

please read what they are saying and ask what would be better for the students? they are talking out of both sides of their mouths - better financial results but EFM still likely; new programming but lots of ctus, larger class sizes and longer travel times. I am not hearing anything that gives me hope that a merged school disctric would be better for the students than the threatened alternatives.

greg, too

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

It is all about the money. In the brochures and on the webpage, they talk about "innovative and proven methods that inspire and engage students resulting in achievement gains." So why aren't they doing them now in both of these school districts. As frustrating as it is, they have so backed us in a corner, we are gonna have to vote for it and hope for the best. With the best meaning removing every single member who has served on either board and replacing them with people who can bring about these "innovative and proven methods that inspire and engage students resulting in achievement gains" that they talk about.

Life in Ypsi

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 4 a.m.

I'm voting yes. I'm nervous about it, but there does not seem to be a better alternative. I can't speak for Ypsilanti schools, but Willow Run has great teachers and programs. However, that is not enough to keep students in the district. Until Willow Run and our community get honest about what the real problems are, no amount of money, programs or merger will fix it. Willow Run is now filled with violence, lacks parental involvement and is overrun with a culture of not valuing education, personal responsibility and a lack of work ethic. that just goes from generation to generation. It pains me to say all this. I kept my kids in the district for a long time and was very involved. My kids started to suffer once they entered junior high. I did everything I could to try and resolve the issues. I wanted to boast that everyone was wrong about Willow Run and I had successful children who graduated to prove it. Deciding to remove my kids from the district was a very tough choice, but it has proved to be the best thing for them. Merger or no merger, my kids are never going back there.

Dan r OBryan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 1:15 a.m.

the two district ran these schools into the GROUND. parents that were able leave ,or went to charter schools. WHY? The way class rooms were over crowed ,more then 35 students per class room. in a merger ,they must cut pay and eliminated staff . the merger wont say how much staff will be eliminated , or say how much salary's will be cut. Only new contracts to be negotiated. If your a union teacher with in these two districts Be very concerned .If you child attends these two district be MORE CONCERNED . I have looked in to mergers of two school districts .The high education was just words .cost saving ideas were gone with in the first two years . Still had to much administrative staff , Class room sizes remained larger and larger after the merger . Dont be scared to VOTE NO . these two schools could live up to their responsibilities. Scare tactics are not the way to introduce a new idea . research ,find the problems and correct them . If these districts cant waste tax payers money ,bring in finical manager . its called economics


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

Mr O'Bryan - What we do know is there will be 1 school board and 1 superintendent. That is a savings right there that will not hit the classrooms. Other administrative cuts can probably be expected as the administrative staff for each district is consolidated. 1 HR person? 1 accounting team? 1 set of district secretaries, 1 grants and federal programs team? In all there is a lot to be said for removing overhead by combining the administration, even if nothing else is combined. The question is will the new board, take the right steps to cut the overhead costs quickly?


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 4 a.m.

As I said above, the reason for all the "uncertainties" is that a NEW school board will be in charge of the combined district. That board doesn't even exist--and can't exist until the merger is approved--so the current administrations are unable to make any promises.

greg, too

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 2:51 a.m.

Dan, spell check if you want us to take you seriously in a discussion on education.

Dan r OBryan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 2:31 a.m.

no .you must not have a child attending these schools ,there is no absolute certainty a finical adviser would be set in place . they get longer to pay back the state ,and some special grant that helps eliminate the dept that was never addressed , its all about money .not education .tough times call for though measures ,these two district want a easy way out . in ten years if things dont get better or they dont learn to make better financial discussion,what merge with Lincoln . this merger leaves to many uncertainties, what schools close ,what staff is hired ,how will they make one school district in two months . leave it alone and find ways to save their districts


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

You are absolutely correct, things are going to get worse before they get better in both districts. This will be true whether or not the districts consolidate. However, with what we know of EFM control, the situation will be much worse if we give up local control.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

@dog guy- you are incorrect in your posting that charter schools receive "no millage", all 18 mills levied on businesses goes to the state. All money collected is then redistributed to each school district based on the number of students in the district. This is part of the problem with funding public schools. Charter schools are far less accountable than traditional public schools, yet they receive the same FTE from the State School Aid Fund as a traditional public school.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

@TomTodd: Actually, the public schools have to provide the special services (speech/ language pathology, for example) for the charter schools.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Ronin - The 18 mills goes to fund the basic allowance for schools - every child in a public or charter school is covered. For most charter schools that basic allowance is $7110 - about $2000 less than other schools in the county. What the charters do not get is a cut of any sinking fund, bond fund, enrichment, or hold harmless money which makes up an average of $4,000 per student in the county. Only the traditional public schools can tap this money.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

Many charter schoools are for profit businesses, that is how that can "go out of business". They are also subject to the proivisions of No Child Left Behind, jsut as traditional public schools. The difference is that charter schools are allowed to be selective in which students they enroll. If a student has shown poor academic progress the charter can simply refuse enrollment. There are many examples of traditoinal public schools who have had their entire teaching and adminstrative teams fired and replaced due to low student performance. Charter schools have far greater control over which students are allowed to enroll, which is one way that they are less accountable. I do not know Victory Academy or the circumstances behind their demise. It is possible that it was tied to low student performance, it is more likely that they were unable to turn a profit.

Angry Moderate

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 11:44 p.m.

Charter schools are LESS accountable, when they are the only schools that can "go out of business" when they perform poorly, like Victory Academy?

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

and no busing or special services

Dog Guy

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

Pass the 18 mills on November 6 or they will just do it over and over again until you get it right. Charter schools get no millage and give no threats.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

@angrymod--Dual enrollment requires that the school district pay the tuition to the universtiy for the course the high school student is dual enrolled in. The only job for the EFM is to cust costs. Unless the state requires that the dual enrollment continues then it seems like a pretty easy savings to a district.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 2 a.m.

Dan- you are right again. I do work in public education and have a good understanding of what happens when an emergency manager is installed. They are put in place to streamline the budget, and nothing else. The notion that a district will be able to correct it's own problems is wrong. The district will have zero control over how the budget is spent. W.R. and Ypsi have been mismanaged for years, but things are changing. An emergency manager will not be concerned with educational gains and will very likely cut the innovative programs that are driving these current educational gains. Emergency managers cut spending with no regard to educational progress. They are there to balance the budget, not educate students. I am also under water in my home and could afford to move elsewhere but I like living here.

Dan r OBryan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 12:57 a.m.

Ronin works for the public schools ,these answers are the same as the meetings.alot to ask tax payers to clean up these two schools messes . i stayed in my home under water ,i stayed with willow run ,even though my income would dictate living some where else like Saline . Im not trusting a merger as the best choice ,THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING. the district created it ,the district must fix their own problems

Angry Moderate

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

Ok, so it's just your random guess at what an EFM might do.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Consider this merger on the overall impact to the communities of eastern Washetenaw County. If the merger does not take place, both school districts will be subject to cold, financial decisions of an emergency financial manager. The state has history with school districts controlled by EFM, witness Muskegon Heights. Two things happen when an EFM is installed: 1) student education suffers 2) property values drop immediately. Ypsilanti and WIllow Run school districts have both been hit very hard in the last 10 years with declining enrollment, fiscal mismanagement, and outright fraud. Both districts have put reform minded superintendents in place and both districts are showing improvement. Both districts are deeply involved in innovative educational practice; New Tech Model, Early College Alliance with Eastern Michigan University, increased dual enrollment with Washtenaw Community College, and the Academy Model in Ypsi High. These successful, nationally recognized, programs stop with EFM. They stop. All of the successful reform efforts of the last half decade will cease to exist. And remember the value of your home. The modest increase that we have experienced in the last year will be wiped out.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

" It is also true that both of the districts are responsible for much of their debt, but they are experiencing rapid and positive change. " Really, Ronin? Please tell us about the rapid and positive change you mention.

Dan r OBryan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 12:39 a.m.

another scare tactic


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

@Dan r- It is true that property values are still down, but they are creeping up at a modest rate. It is also true that both of the districts are responsible for much of their debt, but they are experiencing rapid and positive change. A provision of the merger plan allows for the new combined district to have up to 20 years to pay off this deficit. If the merger fails an emergency financial manager will be installed. If the vote to levy the 18 mills against the businesses in the area fails, the citizens of the school district become directly responsible for the school debt. The state is allowed to demand this repayment immediately in the form of special property assessment. This is what happened in the Muskegon Heights School District. Can the good people of eastern Washtenaw County afford this big hit in the form of increased taxes on properties which will be rapidly dropping in value?

Dan r OBryan

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

property values are already down ,the education system is at its bare minimum. these two district only have their-self's to blame , most of this campaign is a scare tactics .who paid for this campaign any ways .the schools are broke . IM POSTING SIGNS AGAINST THE MERGER

Angry Moderate

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 8:08 p.m.

Huh? Why would an emergency manager stop dual enrollment with EMU and WCC?


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

If you notice that the school buses have now become more WISD and less separated from WR and Ypsi. Both buses are ready for the consolidation without even a vote coming across. Both schools are a fiscal nightmare WISD is hoping to keep the buses and the schools? Is this going to be called WISD? Or Ypsilanti Consolidated? I am voting yes because right now there are not enough students in WR to support keeping the schools open. But there are in Ypsilanti.

Dan r OBryan

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 10:04 p.m.

there are smaller distract then willow run ,Sand creek ,they have one building elementary through high school


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

The problem schools face is having so many mandates handed down from state and federal govs. that teaching as we knew it is not possible. They do teach to the tests, they have no choice since the state gives them money based on how they do in the testing. School days are shorter and they try to cram in as much as they can, but you have kids going in and out of classes to see other specialty teachers . I sure wouldn't want to be a teacher now.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Charter Schools would be my choice , MEA is not the way it was and is the problem. They created the problem , Charter Schools will solve it! Free markets create free choices !


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

Tom Todd - In AAPS - let's say two teachers get married and get to the top of the scale, along the way they each get 10 years of military credit via active and national guard service. They as a couple make over $200,000 a year. Then they retire at 55 and move to another state. They take jobs in schools in another state and have their retirement from Michigan to support that. Let's say they go to work in Knoxville, TN. In 10 years (age 65) they get full retirement from TN as well because they have 10 years in the schools and 10 years military time. That gives them a total household income of $250,000 a year retirement income, plus social security, plus medical, plus... No, they are not in the 1 percent...not at all. But they are not doing badly. Under current law and careful planning they could actually do this and retire at 52 or even 50 from Michigan.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

Greg- Agreed. My fear is that without the merger we will have an EFM and a greater exodus of students. I also fear the increased taxes of the special assessment if the 18 mills to support the consolidated district does not get approved. It's a damned mess. The proposed merger and extended deficit reduction plan seems akin to a structured bankruptcy, all said, i would rather have the 20 years to pay the debt.

greg, too

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 11:53 p.m.

20 years ago, parents took the blame for their children's failings. Now, they just blame the teachers. This merger is a stop gap on debt and will lead to a mass exodus of students. If they cannot leave for charters, their parents will simply move...if they can. Then again, they have so backed us into a corner, we have no other choice but to vote for it and hope the new school district is wiped clean of the people who brought both of these school districts to this point.

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 6:56 p.m.

for someone to think teachers are part of the 1% wow they have issues

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

I,m not a professional teacher just not for the Mitt Romney's to get richer,not all the teachers at charters are the godsend,also charters do better at excluding those who don,t want to learn, and have no way of getting there. Also I,m sure I work harder then you.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

If you are in fact a professional teacher why would you need a union ? Incompetent maybe ?

Basic Bob

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 5:44 p.m.

@TT, When you retire from your public union job, you will be the 1% leaving scraps for those of us who work hard all year for 40+ years. Please be kind then.

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

Rich getting richer and everyone else fighting for scrapes sounds like america to me.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

Bring your questions and concerns re: the consolidation to the public forum to be held this Wednesday, Oct. 24, 6:30 p.m. at Ypsilanti District Library, 5577 Whittaker Rd.

Dan r OBryan

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

went to one meeting .those questions was not answered their asking Alot not to be able to answer questions. a money manager is diffidently what both districts need .Ypsi needs it more . If i was 2 million in dept ,i wouldn't want some one else s 10 million dept . come on and tell the whole truth

Dan r OBryan

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Ypsilanti-Willow Run merger is terrible . The merger does not inform us which schools would be closed . how much staff would be laid off or replace .They seem to think between July and September they can put a new district together . The districts created this mess and came up with a half baked idea to merge as a viable solution.If you would have to drive your child to another school across town ,send them to Lincoln. Schools were suppose to be in your community . Say no no to both proposals. They are selling the idea of higher education . My child attends Willow Run 7th grade,Honor roll .My child was never taught , the fifty states or capitols , M.E.A,P.S are the focus for their education .More education and don't leave out the basics , Its simple, two broke cars put together don't mean a new car . Fix the problems the districts made . Leave the two district responsible to fix their own messes


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 1:07 a.m.

As has been stated numerous times, school closing and staffing adjustments will be decisions for the new board. The current administrations can't make any promises about how the combined district will operate.


Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

WR hi school will be closed at the end of this year. In one year it will reopen with the merger. New teachers hired or rehired. I really hope new teachers are brought into WR.

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

first hand knowledge some of these charters are just teaching for tests as well and leaving out some of those items you stated.

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

voting wisely should be easy, who's to blame for making it difficult.