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Posted on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ypsilanti, Willow Run school boards OK placing question of consolidation on November ballot

By Danielle Arndt


The Ypsilanti and Willow Run boards of education met Wednesday at Welch Hall on Eastern Michigan University's campus to discuss a ballot proposal for November's general election.

Danielle Arndt |

Whether the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts will merge and tackle their daunting financial problems together is now up to the voters.

The two boards of education met in joint session at Eastern Michigan University Wednesday night and voted 11-2 to place the question of consolidating their struggling school districts on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Willow Run trustees Brenda Meadows and Bobby Stevens voted “no.” Ypsilanti Vice President Kira Berman was absent.

The districts have until Aug. 28 to submit their ballot proposal language to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office.

The two trustees from Willow Run also opposed the idea of a merger back in April, when the boards first met to vote on exploring the possibility of and potential design for a unified district.

Meadows previously declined to comment on her stance against consolidation but prepared a written statement Wednesday voicing her concerns. She said combining two unstable school districts is the type of action that will prevent the community of Ypsilanti from advancing into the future.

“Two business owners would not go into partnership with one another if there was not a benefit of growth or production,” Meadows said. “Is there a benefit of growth or production here? No. Will we be better off? No. We can no longer look for the easy way out. We have to look for new, innovative ways to change the climate and the environment.”


Linda Snedacar-Horne

But other board members and school officials said consolidation is far from the “easy way” and is precisely the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to create a new culture and climate.

“I believe the community would like to see a world-class school district. And if we couldn’t do it alone, then maybe we can do it as one district,” said Ypsilanti Trustee Linda Snedacar-Horne.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel described the consolidation effort as courageous, stating Wednesday’s vote was the beginning of the journey, not the end. He said there is a tremendous amount of work yet to be done.

Willow Run School Board President Don Garrett, a native of Ypsilanti and a 1990 Willow Run graduate, compared the school district to the once-crumbling LaForge Road. He said officials tried repeatedly to patch LaForge, to fix the cracks and the potholes. But it wasn’t until the road was gutted and reconstructed from the dirt up that the potholes ceased to exist, Garrett said, adding the community has a unique opportunity to repair the real issues plaguing its education system.

Meadows said she recognizes both school districts are struggling with budget deficits and poor academic performance rates, but she said teachers and leaders must take responsibility.

“Tossing around the threat of an emergency financial manager to come in and take control — is that what we need? Or can we show ourselves — and our constituents that elected us — that we can be financially responsible?”

Meadows said in the past, Willow Run has been able to improve test scores and pass a balanced budget, when officials were determined to do so. The district must get serious about new methods for generating additional revenue for its schools, she said.


Willow Run Trustee Brenda Meadows voices her concerns about the potential merger with Ypsilanti at Wednesday's joint school board meeting.

Danielle Arndt |

Meadows also mentioned the declining birth rate in the community as a whole. She said people are not having children at the same rate they once were.

“We should not unify districts, but unify the schools within the districts. … Let’s house all of the students in one or two buildings. That would cut costs drastically,” she said.

Willow Run School Board Secretary Mark Wilde was not shy about sharing the blame with the state of Michigan for the districts’ financial crises, citing “deliberate underfunding” and the burden of paying for insurance and retiree benefits being shifted to local schools.

Combined, Ypsilanti and Willow Run have a deficit of about $12.4 million, with nearly $10 million of that belonging to Ypsilanti.

Of the approximately 35 people in the audience at Wednesday’s joint school board meeting, just one woman spoke during public comment. Kathy Fisk, a 15-year teacher with Ypsilanti Public Schools, is excited about the direction the potential new district could take.

“It’s really recharged me,” she said, adding she had been discouraged and considering early retirement.

Her piece of advice to school leaders was to make a concerted effort to improve children’s access to nutritional information and healthy meals and food choices.

“If our kids are not supported nutritionally, it’s not going to matter how we teach them or in what environment. They are going to struggle to learn without the proper nutrients,” Fisk said, adding with so many economically disadvantaged families in the community, it is especially important.

Jeanice Townsend and her daughter Kiarra, 10, also were in the audience. Kiarra starts at Ypsilanti’s Estabrook Elementary School in the fall. She will transfer from charter school Fortis Academy.

Townsend, who described herself as a very active parent, said although she went the charter school route first for her daughter, she is a product of Ypsilanti schools, and that fact helped bring her back. She said talks about the potential merger with Willow Run did not impact her decision one way or the other.

“Since both districts really are on life support, it makes sense. It seems like the right thing to do,” she said.

Townsend said residents in the districts are united by the fact that when they send out letters and bills, it always says "Ypsilanti” in the return address line. Members of both districts attend the same churches, shop at the same stores and are part of the Ypsilanti community’s rich history, she said.

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


Rib Queen

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

I am voting NO on the merger because for once, in the interest of the kids, emergency management needs to step in! Ypsilanti continues to employ staff that should be layed off. These folks are at the top of the pay scale. There is still a good ole' boy network in play that is self serving and horrendous in light of the situation. Ypsilanti loves to get a hold of the money but doesn't manage it. Doesn't anyone care where the jillions went? TIME TO SAY 'NO'!!!!!!!!!!


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

Where is Sandy Castle to provide her tremendous insight in YPS????

Speedy Squirrel

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:22 a.m.

I did not attend because I am already familiar with the contents of the presentation. To summarize, which did not bother to do for some reason: 1. State funding has dipped significantly, starting in 2007. 2. Performance on MEAP scores is horrific in both districts. 3. Enrollment is plummeting in Ypsilanti School District, and falling in Willow Run School District. 4. Most of the enrollement decrease in the Ypsilanti District is due to parents seeking alternative schooling. With this as background, it is easy to see what will happen to the merged district. 1. The current state government is not willing to spend more money, and the local government in Ypsilanti cannot raise property taxes any higher. 2. The merged district will become dominated by low performing pupils, since the higher performing ones will leave for charter schools. If Rutledges amendment passes (it won't), they will just drive a little farther. There is a family in my neighborhood that is already driving their kids to Brighton. 3. The merged district will become "super-under" performing, resulting in more pupil losses. Saddled with the assets of two districts, it will eventually collapse. 4. The merged district will simply quarantine failing pupils in a failing district, which I do not think is fair. In my view the state emergency manager will not have many options either. Teachers will not teach for nothing. Pay can only be cut pay to McDonalds level. After that, they will just go elsewhere, or do something else. For Ypsilanti, the best bet is to disband the district, close all schools after the primary level, merge the primary level into Lincoln and Ann Arbor, and bus the secondary students to Lincoln and Ann Arbor.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:05 a.m.

I have to agree with Ms. Meadows. When Studebaker and Packard merged in the mid-fifties one automotive executive characterized it as "Two drunks trying to help each other across the road" Studebaker/Ypsilanti being the bigger drunk.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

What if the voters say no? Both go under? The state then rules?


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

There should only be 83 school districts to correspond with county lines, not 550 as there currently are. This kind of consolidation would save Michigan billions in school administration costs. Florida, which is about twice the size of Michigan (in population) has 67 school districts.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

"The local school board is available to the people in a way that very few governmental institutions are. " Really? Didn't the a2 school board say that we should submit a FOIA for information? Is that what you call "available?" Could a county wide school board be any less accountable and/or open?


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 11 p.m.

Excellent idea and logic. I am confident that others will disagree stating they are different, or this can't be done, etc. Bunk! Size is size. Educate the populace,

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 8:08 p.m.

Honez...I personally would not want to pattern Michigan schools on Florida schools. No way. Nope. And the truth is that, in most cases, the local school district in Mighigan is very careful with the money it spends. The local school board is available to the people in a way that very few governmental institutions are. Try getting your county officials to respond the way school board members usually do. So you really think Saline and Chelsea and Dexter and Ypsilanti and Willow Run and Whitmore Lake schools would do well in a Washtenaw County School System? Would Ann Arbor be interested? Think.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

Sadly, I agree with Ms Meadows. 1 failing district with debt + 1 failing district with larger debt doesn't = successful school district with no debt. Serious cuts need to be made....whether or not they consolidate. Neither district wants to take on the tough cuts. Ms Meadows is facing reality.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

It depends on how you define cuts. Most of the AA positions over the past several years favor union workers (meaning, only the true talent got cut – not a boss). Thus, most of the comments or financial restructuring have been made accordingly. I favor structuring a consolidated school system that reduces most of the redundant overhead and administrative positions, which leaves teaches, etc. intact. I have personal experience in this field and will be quite surprised if others reach a different conclusion. Let me be clear....... The quantity of teachers and student support staff will be set by the student population. The overhead structure should be relatively flat, meaning, key positions filled, and support to best manage each and every school leader. This should yield a significant savings.

tom swift jr.

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

I wish both of these communities the best as they undertake this effort to bring quality education to the children for whom they are responsible , there are many barriers, it will be a difficult task. I hope those making the decisions understand that the changes in these districts won't be facilitated by consultants, technology, curriculums, buildings, or impressive jargon. Improvement and change creating a quality educational program will be the result of the efforts of the parents and the educational staff that work directly with the students. It is critical that parents be engaged in this process, 35 people attending a meeting of this import is shy of the benchmark. Parents need to be willing to true leaders within the new district, partners in planning, partners in implementation, and partners in creating and maintaining high expectations for every student. Administration needs to acknowledge that the only way to draw excellence from those educators that work with students is to treat them with respect, honor their efforts, and compensate them in a fair manner. Contracts need to be based on reality and solid book-keeping when they are established, and, once in place, those contracts need to be honored. It really doesn't matter who is sitting in the Superintendents office, who the CFO is, who is in charge of HR. If there are dedicated and skilled teachers in every classroom, students will learn. In return, instructional staff need to understand that the expectation for quality is high and commit to maintaining that standard or leaving. And, finally, the expectations around student engagement in the educational process, both academic and behaviorally, need to be fair, clear, and consistently applied. Students who are invested in moving upward need to be supported in every manner possible. Students who have no interest in meeting those standards must not be allowed to impact on the education of those that do.

Geo Hickey

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:12 a.m.

Thirty-five people may have showed up at this meeting but hundreds of us have been at one or more of the dozen or so other meetings where we discussed ideas for the new district. I did not attend this particular meeting, but I can promise you that my school board knew the wishes of this parent (probably more than they wanted to!). Intensive meetings around the community have been happening on this topic all summer long, your assumption of community interest based on one meeting is unfair.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

Tom and Greg are right on target here. A turnout of 35 makes me want to go there and go door to door, shaking each parent and yelling at them to wake up and look after the education of their children. What is the matter with these people? And Tom: You are right about respect for and decent treatment of teachers. In my view, teacher morale is the single most important issue in educating kids. A fired up teacher with parental and administrative and community support and respect will inspire kids and keep working hard to do a better job. One who is beaten down by these same people will not. You don't need to take Psych101 to know that. It's common sense. That's why worker morale is a major part of running the military and of running any really successful business.

greg, too

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Maybe the fact that only 35 attended shows the true root cause of the two failing schools districts. As Tom stated, positive change will only occur when parents are involved in the education process. "Skilled and talented teachers" are at a severe disadvantage if the parents are not involved in the process.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

Willypsi schools? Ypsilow schools? Just early morning pondering...


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:54 a.m.

Ypsilanti Community Schools


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:38 a.m.

The Brave Phoenix Flyers?