The following is submitted by my friends Maria Cotera and Jason Wright, whose daughter Penelope attends Chapelle Elementary:
Update on School closings in Ypsi.
It has been a few weeks since our last post, and I’m afraid we haven’t got any good news. We’ve been to board meetings, public forums, and met individually with various school board members, administrators, and community members. It appears that the administration still thinks closing elementary schools is the answer, and that the School Board, with the notable exception of Kira Berman and Andy Fanta, is ready and even eager to sign off on their plan. We think its worth noting, as we have before, that the School Board is an elected body, as such they are supposed to represent the interests of the people, NOT the administration. Unfortunately most of them seem to have forgotten this and have remained steadfast in their refusal to hold the administration accountable in even the most minimal way, as was obvious in the last School Board meeting, where Trustees Berman and Fanta submitted a resolution asking the administration to provide firm numbers as well as a rationale for their school closure proposals. Basically, their resolution asked for three things: 1) they wanted the administration to offer a wider range of plans for “re-structuring” the district, and they wanted these plans to have solid numbers backing them up; 2) they asked for a data-driven rationale for the administration’s current options, which call for the closure of Chapelle, East Middle School, and possibly Adams Elementary; 3) they wanted the administration to explain the broader strategic vision behind their restructuring plan. Unfortunately, Fanta and Berman’s resolution was voted down on “procedural” grounds by the other members of the School Board. Some School Board members even said they felt “ambushed” by the resolution, despite the fact that it basically expressed what we have been asking for in multiple public fora (including this site) for the last few months. Go to Ann Arbor.com for the full story, if you’re interested. We feel now, more than ever, that this Board, again with the exception of a few members, has expressed a remarkable disregard for the public that it serves, as well as an amazing unwillingness to do their jobs (ie: asking for basic information about proposals that will have a tremendous impact on our core educational mission for years to come).
The administration will present its finalized plan for district “re-structuring” at an open School Board meeting on Thursday, March 18, at 7:00pm. The meeting will be held in the Ypsilanti High School Auditorium. It is extremely important that community members come to this meeting and make their voices heard. The administration’s plan to close elementary schools is bad for our district and bad for our community. Moreover, it sucks the energy out of a group of parents and community members who were beginning to get really excited about the possibilities for public schools in Ypsi, and it sends exactly the wrong message to those of us who care about making Ypsi the best place to live in Southeastern Michigan.
The School Board will have just four days to ponder whatever plan the administration proposes on Thursday. They have said they will vote on the plan on Monday, March 22, again, in a public meeting (Ypsi High, 7:00pm). Not much time for the Board to weigh their options, but then again, they never asked for, or demanded, either time or options. Rather, the Board has so far appeared to simply be continuing a pattern of rubber-stamping whatever the administration throws their way, which is what got us into this crisis in the first place. The Board, like the administration, has consistently pointed the finger at Lansing as the source of our woes. But we need to play with the cards that we’re dealt, and lately, we haven’t been playing a very good game. Maria and I take our share of the blame for not getting involved sooner, and expect to see more of the same until our Board and our administration start to take responsibility for their failures. Ultimately, it looks like our community will have to demand that they do so, or we’ll likely see a continuation of the pattern that has brought us to where we are now.
Here’s what folks can do RIGHT NOW.
First, call or email your elected School Board members. Remind them that they serve at our pleasure, and should uphold the highest standards for decision-making, especially when it comes to our children’s future. Ask them to vote “No” on any plan that calls for closing elementary schools. We have written an open letter to them (see below) that asks for a “reprieve” on school closures until we can come together as a community to develop a strategic plan for restructuring our educational system. We are not against any school closures, we just think that such a strategy must come after a process of deliberation that includes all stakeholders in our public education system.
Second, please attend both the March 18th meeting and the March 22nd meeting. We need to show these people that Ypsi cares about its schools.
Also, please feel free to reprint our latest letter to the Board asking them to hold off on immediate adoption of school closure plans:
First we’d like to thank you for your service to the Ypsilanti community and to our children. As parents with a child in this district, our goal is to support our administration and our schools in these difficult times. We have stood behind Ypsilanti Public Schools from the moment our child first enrolled at Perry three years ago, encouraging our friends and neighbors to try Ypsilanti schools before turning to charters, private schools, or other schools out of district. We are deeply committed to the success of our schools and we strongly believe that the administration and the Board of Education are as well. However, we are concerned that the administration’s current plans to close schools will undermine the overall educational quality of our system, and make it vastly more difficult for the district to attract new students and expand its profile in the region.
As our elected representative to the School Board, you are a key link between the community and the Ypsilanti Public School administration, so we understand that your position is very difficult, and that you may well feel “caught” between what appear to be two conflicting agendas. We want to assure you that this is not the case. We know that cuts need to be made to balance our budget. We are not suggesting that you hold the line against any and all cuts; nor that you reject the Deficit Elimination Plan developed by the administration. We simply believe that one element of that plan, the administration’s proposal to close and repurpose schools, and consolidate more children into fewer buildings, merits further consideration, as we fear that it will only increase the district’s long term financial instability.
We are asking that you request that the administration submit a revised cost-cutting plan that postpones school closures until and unless a more sustainable and rational plan for school restructuring can be developed with the input of all of the stakeholders in our school system. How this input is attained is still up for debate, some have suggested a community-wide “visioning session” is in order, others believe that organizing smaller focus groups among multiple constituencies is the way to go. In either case, it is our understanding that the Deficit Elimination Plan process allows for some wiggle room, and that we have up to three years to shrink our deficit. We believe that putting off school closings until the second, or even third year of our deficit elimination strategy is more sensible than a plan that too hastily closes functioning schools that are currently highly enrolled (like Chapelle Elementary).
Several alternative proposals emerged during and following the “Community Input workshops” sponsored by the district, some of which call for different configurations of our educational delivery system. Moreover, the actual costs of closing schools (due to lost enrollments) have not been factored in to the short-term (or long-term) financial outlook for our system. Finally, we are concerned that there seems to be no plan for the redistribution of students in a pared down system, and that, according to the district’s own projections, we would have to LOSE students to make either Options 1 and Option 2 feasible. For these reasons, along with many others, we believe that more time should be devoted to the development of a rational reconfiguration of our educational system, one that can function under a more restricted economic outlook while at the same time retaining current students and attracting new students to our district.
What we do in the face of this current crisis will undoubtedly define us as a district for years to come, and we cannot allow a temporary sense of panic over the budget to determine our future as an educational system. We have seen what has happened to other districts that have turned to school closures as a quick fix to financial woes: declining enrollments, followed by more school closures, followed by the sense that the district is in free-fall. We do not want this future for a district that has so much potential. We believe that there must be a way out of this situation that does not decrease our desirability as a district in the long-term, this might include strategic school closures, but such a plan needs much more thought than the current one. We believe we can find our way through this with a little more time, and a lot more community input.
Ultimately, if we want to retain a sense of faith in our district, and create a truly democratic reconfiguration of our system, we will need to insure that all stakeholders—parents, teachers, administrators, community members—have a voice in the process. We are asking that you, as representatives of the community, call for a halt to school closures, unless and until we can collectively imagine a more positive strategy for transforming our schools; one that will leave us stronger rather than weaker as we face an uncertain future.