Ypsilanti-Willow Run task force wants school district merger on November ballot
It will be a busy summer for Willow Run and Ypsilanti public school officials, administrators, teachers, parents and whoever else is interested in becoming involved in the effort to consolidate the two struggling districts.
The schedule has been set and the race is on to draft ballot language that would place the question of merging Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
For the question of consolidation to appear on the ballot, a petition would need to be filed in the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office prior to Aug. 14. Ballot proposal wording would have to be approved by Aug. 28.
But first, the joint Ypsilanti-Willow Run Collaboration and Communication Task Force will take the lead in engaging and working with community stakeholders to develop a plan and a vision for what the unified school district could look like.
The task force recently was expanded to include four additional members from each district and their surrounding communities. Monday was the first meeting of the enlarged group, at which leaders from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District revealed an ambitious schedule of 13 meetings and community forums from now until August.
Joint task force meetings
- July 10 — 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Ypsilanti (located to be announced)
- July 30 — 5:30-7:30 p.m. location to be announced
Interactive brainstorming activities to target what members of the public identify as their hopes, aspirations and learning-experience expectations for the potential new district. These sessions will collect input from the community to set the focus of the consolidated district.
- June 23 — 10 a.m.-noon at the Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
- June 25 — 6-8 p.m. at the Willow Run Child Development Center
- June 28 — 6-8 p.m. at Superior Township Hall
- June 30 — 10 a.m.-noon at Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
- July 9 — 6-8 p.m. Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti
An opportunity to examine the educational trend data — such as head count and student achievement data — for Ypsilanti and Willow Run as well as to review and provide feedback on the community vision statements developed at the earlier brainstorming sessions.
- July 11 — 1-3 p.m. at the Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Branch
- July 14 — 10 a.m.-noon at Superior Township Hall
- July 16 — 6-8 p.m. at Ypsilanti Township Hall
Strategic design retreat
A two-day retreat for delving into various options for school and district designs that would achieve the vision outlined by the community. It also will focus on the local partnerships needed to create a successful, united school system, officials said.
- July 18-19 — 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Eastern Michigan University’s Eagle Crest Resort
Design review sessions
Community feedback can be given on the design plan developed at the retreat. School officials also said the plan will be posted on the districts’ websites and an online survey will be available for feedback, as well.
- Aug. 6 — 6-8 p.m. at the EMU Student Center
- Aug. 7 — 6-8 p.m. at the EMU Student Center
Following this series of forums, the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school boards would have six days to vote in favor of placing a proposal to consolidate on the November ballot. Then, the boards would have another 13 days to approve and file the specific ballot language.
Sarena Shivers of the WISD said Ypsilanti, Willow Run and the WISD need everyone’s help in spreading the word about the forums and encouraging people to get involved and have their voices heard. She said the people in eastern Washtenaw County have a unique opportunity to shape the direction of their local school system, as leaders attempt to wipe the slate clean and re-energize the community around developing a nationally recognized, debt-free educational experience for future generations.
Shivers said if there was any one of the forums listed above that would be most important for the community to attend, it would be the two-day retreat.
“We really hope you join us and we hope you bring somebody with you,” she said Monday, adding two facilitators from the Lead and Learn Institute have been hired to guide community members through these two days.
Ypsilanti parent Maria Cotera expressed her concerns at Monday’s task force meeting about the fast approaching deadline for the November election.
“I think this is way too soon. I think this will not pass in Ypsilanti until we can give them something we can market something they really want in a school and can get behind,” Cotera said. “Otherwise, I’ve talked to people from all spectrums who say they will leave the district, if consolidation happens.”
WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel said the district design that will be developed throughout the next month and a half will be broad and conceptual, rather than detailed and specific.
He compared the process to an architect working on a construction project. Menzel said an architect would not present his client with a detailed blueprint until the construction plan had been approved and the architect had secured the job.
Menzel said Ypsilanti and Willow Run already have received the support of State Board of Education leaders. Michigan Superintendent Mike Flanagan told Menzel he possibly could extend the districts’ debt repayment for up to 20 years, if consolidation took place.
As of the end of the 2011-12 school year, Ypsilanti has a deficit of $9.9 million, or about 10 percent of its operating budget, and Willow Run is $1.7 million or 8 percent in the hole.
Menzel added Washtenaw Community College is ready to work and partner with Ypsilanti and Willow Run to help make the merger successful, as is EMU. EMU offered to write a check to help with the consolidation process, Menzel said. He said the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation also has offered financial assistance and United Way donated $7,000 to help facilitate the merger.
Gov. Rick Snyder earmarked $10 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget for schools districts to offset costs associated with consolidating and sharing services. Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki recently said she was told the districts’ merger could qualify for 20 percent or $2 million of that money.