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Posted on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti-Willow Run task force wants school district merger on November ballot

By Danielle Arndt

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.


Andy Fanta

“We need to make sure our boilers are fully steamed up,” said Ypsilanti Board of Education Trustee Andy Fanta. “…We need to have our values come forth and think about what kind of a kid do we want to graduate from this (united) district.”

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.

They include:

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

Visioning sessions
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

Data sessions
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.


Scott Menzel

The cost to hire the Lead and Learn consultants is approximately $40,000, Shivers said. She said the cost would be incurred by the WISD.

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.

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



Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

As a former employee of Willow Run I hate to see this happen and think it is very sad. BUT .... I also understand the needs of both districts. Still, I would hate to see Willow Run lose its unique history and heritage. 20 years from now will anyone know the story of Willow Run and how it came to be in existence?


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

They will erect a plaque with a huge historical marker on it explaining the whole thing in detail. Maybe even putting it near the township dept near Whittaker Road or maybe near the rec center. Any way they put it, we will always remember WR. I am glad to see this merger. Maybe the children will finally learn something. The original school is the rec dept off Clark.

Martin Church

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Guys stop the studies and get the work done. It should not cost 40K to put a simple language on the ballot. in fact let me help. Shall the School districts of Ypsilanti and Willow run be merged to form a new school district (name insert here). it's that simple. Stop making it so complex. remember KISS. Keep it simple Stupid. Spending 40k or more to continue studying the only course we have is stupid. GET IT DONE NOW.


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

"We need to make sure our oilers are fully steamed up," said Ypsilanti Board of Education Trustee Andy Fanta. I think he most likely said "our boilers are fully steamed up." It is a curious metaphor to use in 2012. How many people have actually seen a steam boiler? How many will understand the metaphor? Is this further evidence of how out of touch these folks are?

Danielle Arndt

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Thank you for pointing out the typo. It has been corrected.


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

What is there to vote on? What is the option if the voters say no? Financial insolvency? Isn't the echool board tasked with running the schools in a fiscally conservative fashion? The time and money would be better spent implementing the plan after public input.


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

This goes hand in hand with that guy who wants us to vote on whether or not we need a second bridge or not. I vote for the bridge. As for this merger? It is long over due.

tom swift jr.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

Any effort to consolidate these two districts needed to start at the community level, not at the WISD/District Administration level. Both districts (and WISD) have had years to redesign and revision these districts, they have chosen not to do so to the point that there has been an exodus from their schools. Leaving this process in their hands will perpetuate the failure we've seen in the past. And, there's another elephant in the living room that is being ignored and talked around. The communities of Willow Run and Ypsilanti need to envision and facilitate significant change in city, neighborhood, and family beliefs. There needs to be an acknowledgement that it isn't just the School Districts that have failed these children, we've ALL failed them. By "all" I mean parents, churches, community members, the juvenile justice system, the mental health system, and everyone who shares the responsibility to make the community safe, nurturing, and interesting to the young people that live here. "All" of those that are responsible to provide services, support, love, and discipline. As tired as the saying has become, it takes that whole village to make this work. Ypsilanti and Willow Run have long since given up on these children, if they hadn't there would have been a cry at the door long ago insisting that not just the school change, but that the whole "village" change how business is being done as regards raising our kids. This top down effort will fail, the energy from the "top" only pushes the problem further into the ground. Real change will take energy from the bottom, raising this situation above the debris we're currently left with, elevating this effort into some sunlight. This failed leadership needs to hand the reins of this problem over to the people who are truly invested in the results, the parents and the kids. That $40,000 consultant ($40,000 for TWO days??? really??!!!) is not the answer.


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 11:54 a.m.

The combined district will have two school years to figure out how to hit the AYP target proficiency rates. Their test scores as the districts exist now are pathetic.

Chase Ingersoll

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 11:12 a.m.

Do it. The district will probably end up being Chartered like Highland Park. But here is a longer term perspective. The construction of the Detroit River International Crossing will increase the amount of air cargo in and out of the Detroit Wayne County and Willow Run Airports. These close proximity of two airports that can accommodate large cargo planes is unique in the world of international air cargo transportation. That the two airports are right in the middle of the US on major highway, rail and port systems out of the great lakes, and they are not hampered by urban traffic like OHare and Midway. Since assembly of products now requires the importation of parts from around the world. Western Wayne County / Easter Washtenaw County is from a logistics supply chain going to be one of the preferred locations in the world to locate the assembly of critical components. Call your commercial Realtors. The price of commercial property in this area "bumped" with the bridge announcement. Give it 5-10 years, but the value of property in Willow Run will be up significantly. Chase Ingersoll