An update on Ypsi public schools, and a reminder to vote on Tuesday

As there’s an Ypsi School Board election on Monday, I thought that this might be a good time to check in with our friend Maria Cotera. As you may recall, Maria authored a series of posts on this site, starting in January of last year, on the subject of Ypsilanti’s public schools, and the threats posed to them by administrators eager to slash expenses. Maria, I think it’s safe to say, was vociferously opposed to the plans of administrators to close more of Ypsilanti’s neighborhood schools. She claimed at the time, if I’m not mistaken, that any financial gains made by closing additional schools would be more than offset by the fact that even more families would pull their kids out of the public school system. I’m still waiting on the official numbers, but, as I understand it, she’s been proven right over the intervening years. If I’m not mistaken, somewhere around 50 kids left the school system the first year, after the middle school and Chapelle Elementary were closed, and another 150 or so left this year. If we assume that the school district is allotted about $7,000 from the state for each student (and I think it’s actually more than that), that means we’re receiving approximately $1.4 million less in revenue each year, which, if I’m not mistaken, is more than district officials projected that we would save by closing the two schools. At any rate, I’ve come to appreciate Maria’s thoughts on our schools over the past few years, and I’ve asked her for her to comment on Tuesday’s election. Here’s what she had to say.

This Tuesday’s School Board election has serious implications for the future of our schools.

First, I want say that our daughter, Penelope, is still in the system, and having a wonderful time at Estabrook Elementary. We decided to follow our old principal, Joe Guillen, to Estabrook because we trusted him and felt that he created a vibe at the late great Chapelle Elementary that we absolutely loved. And, though we are happy with our choice, we cannot help but recall our time at Chapelle Elementary wistfully—Estabrook is much larger, more impersonal, and the racial and class dynamics are definitely different. What we loved about Chapelle was its deep democracy and its sense of community, something that is all too rare in larger schools. And we can’t help but feel that a different kind of future for Ypsi schools was closed off, truncated, with the closing of Chapelle Elementary, a future that we (and others) felt a strong desire to build. That desire was definitely squelched in us, not just by the closing of that school, but also by the process, in particular the lack of imagination we encountered when we met with our elected officials on the School Board, all of whom, with the exception of two, Kira Berman and Andy Fanta, responded to our many ideas for saving the school, and the district, with a wall of intransigence and even antagonism. So the process left us feeling helpless and drained, and, at times, attacked by the very people representing us.

I promised myself at the close of that particular struggle, that I would do my level best to insure that the YPSD School Board was populated by something more than number crunchers and yes-wo(men). Remember, these are unpaid elected positions, the people occupying them are essentially citizen “watchdogs” who ensure that the administrators that run our schools make decisions that create healthy, thriving schools. Sadly, the great majority of our long-standing board members have far too frequently chosen to listen to bureaucrats and consultants over the parents and children who are the system’s primary customers. A great many have failed to do the homework necessary to be informed members of the Board, rubber-stamping all of the administration’s decisions without questioning the logic behind them. Over the years in which I have been a parent in the District, two Board Members have shucked this trend, and have consistently done their homework and responsibly represented the interests of parents and students: Kira Berman and Andy Fanta. During the struggle to save Chapelle Elementary, they listened to us with respect and real attention. They read the many articles and links we sent them about the nation-wide failure of the “school-closure” strategy. They dared to imagine the future we imagined, and to think of ways to make it possible, even though they knew such proposals would earn them few friends on the Board. They made cogent economic and ethical arguments against unpopular measures like the transportation consolidation plan that put seasoned drivers out of work, and made an angry snarl out of what had been a functional school bus system. Most of all, they have treated us with respect, which is all parents can really ask for from our elected School Board members. One of them, Andy Fanta, is up for re-election this Tuesday. This election will likely draw few voters to the polls, and a few hundred (hell, a few dozen) votes could decide whether or not Andy Fanta stays on the Board. As parents in the district, and most of all as citizens who don’t want to lose hope in the face of the stranglehold that the economic imperative has on the education of our children, we urge you to take the time to go to the polls on Tuesday. We can make a difference… Occupy the classroom!

In addition to Fanta, Eric Temple and Linda Horne are also in the running for the two open seats. You will find information on all three at And, should you want to reach out to any of the candidates, you’ll find their contact information here.

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  1. Posted November 6, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    I forgot to mention it in the post, but you can find the official list of polling places here.

  2. karen
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Eric Temple works for the Ypsilanti Housing Commission.

    A great article about the state of the YHC can be found here:

    Mr. Temple shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near our school system.

  3. Edward
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I’ll vote for Andy, but what about the other seat? As Maria notes, one of the major problems seems to be that the Board moves in lock step with the administration, and, because of that, I’m not inclined to put Linda Horne back on the Board. (I don’t think she was hard enough on the administration when she served previously.) I don’t know anything about Temple, though.

  4. gary
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    andy fanta is an idiot.

    he was against the new tech high school before he was before it.

    he waits until crucial votes before asking about alternatives.

    he botched both hiring processes for recent principals.

    he’s an embarrassment. he’s been on the board forever and doesn’t get anything done. he only gets his name in the papers because of his antics.

    i’m writing in kayen goven.

  5. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I am voting for Karyn Goven, write in candidate for School Board, please spell her name correctly.
    I know them all and Andy seems to be an obstructive naysayer after many good years on the board…he has had an bad attitude ever since not being re-elected board president. Eric…all ego, it is all about him and his bad decisions when previously on council. IMHO

  6. maria c.
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Please remember, there are two open seats for the board. I stand by my decision to support Andy, mainly because he is one of the few board members that doesn’t simply “rubber-stamp” the administration’s decisions. However I, like others, was concerned about the second seat on the Board. I just found out about Karyn Goven’s write-in campaign, and after learning a little more about her positions (and experience) I am inclined to write her name in. I have asked for permission to include her personal statement in this posting, and will forward it to this blog, just as soon as I get the go ahead. In the meantime, you can look at her campaign’s facebook page:

  7. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Interesting…Andy brought us this current admin…he rejected a much more experienced and invested administrator

  8. missypsi
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Actually, as I recall, there was some division on the Board over the decision to hire the current superintendent. And though I didn’t have access to the back channel communications (and even if I did, I wouldn’t talk about it in a public forum), I do sense that the board was divided, and that one contingent (which included Andy) wanted to go with someone who had more experience, but they were outvoted. At least that’s my recollection. I hesitate to speak for board members on this issue though, since it is obviously quite sensitive.

  9. lorie
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Mark – I had a longer comment but I’ll have to come back it later. Thank you so much for doing this post.

    I would love to see some fresh faces and new ideas on our schools board but if that fresh face is someone coming out o the Ypsi Housing Commission…oi…no thanks.

  10. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    And though I didn’t have access to the back channel communications (and even if I did, I wouldn’t talk about it in a public forum)… I wonder why not…this is public information about public officals that are paid by public (my) taxes? I was referring to Fanta’s stonewalling at the very end of a long process of choosing final candidates. I remember, I was present for the vote. It is what brought us to this present admin.

  11. anonymous
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone have the real numbers on students who left the district? Is it true that we’ve lost more revenue as a result of kids leaving than we’ve made from shutting down the schools? Didn’t we poll parents before doing this? How can we have allowed this to happen? Has Ann Arbor dotcom or the Courier ever reported on this?

  12. maria c.
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Working on getting the exact numbers. When I do, I’ll post them to the comments section along with some thoughts on why parents might be leaving the district (based, partially, on what parents who have left this year have told me)

  13. ypsilistener
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Karyn Goven would be an excellent addition to the school board. Please encourage others to write her in. Karyn is not only a knowledgeable educator in our public school system, she is the involved parent of four children who have been/are in the Ypsilanti Public Schools.

  14. Meta
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    From on Karyn Goven:

    She is listed as the supervisor of Early Childhood, HeadStart, Child Care, Adult and Community Education at Willow Run Community Schools’ Thurston Early Childhood Development Center. A Facebook page promotes her campaign.

    Here’s the Facebook link:

  15. ypsilistener
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink


    I think the Willow Run information is old. She is with adult ed in Detroit Learning Labs now.

  16. Meta
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, ypsilistener.

  17. anonymous
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    One of the candidates “did not return calls from”. Why should I vote for you if you won’t communicate with the voters when given the opportunity? I have the same trouble with candidates who don’t participate in the voter guide that the League of Women Voters produces for bigger elections.

    said the anonymous internet poster….

  18. different anonymous
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    If you’re referring to the very short blurb on Goven that they ran on the site, I suspect they just left her a message this evening. I don’t believe they’ve been trying to gt a comment from her for days.

  19. Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    This quant wants to caution against hasty conclusions on student counts:

    She claimed at the time, if I’m not mistaken, that any financial gains made by closing additional schools would be more than offset by the fact that even more families would pull their kids out of the public school system. … If I’m not mistaken, somewhere around 50 kids left the school system the first year, after the middle school and Chapelle Elementary were closed, and another 150 or so left this year.

    In order to argue that closing the schools caused a greater budget issue via loss of students than it saved on operating costs, you’ve got to define a baseline — what would have been the change in student count without the school closures? — so that we know how many students, and how much per-student funding, resulted from the school closings themselves. (And, in order to call this a mistake by the district, we’ve got to know the number of students lost and attributable to the school closings is problematically greater than what was anticipated as being lost due to the school closings.)

    I’m not saying you’re wrong — I’m just saying you need more information to make your point.

  20. Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that exit interviews were done with the families of all those students who have left the district over the past two years, but I agree that a definitive analysis would be impossible without that data.

  21. ypsilistener
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    @Anonymous: Try to set aside your annoyance about how well the candidate campaigned (I can’t say that any of the other 3 really set the world on fire). I attribute it to political naivete. Still, vote for the candidate you think would do the best job, based upon what you do know.

    @Murph: Thank you. I always appreciate your ability to bring perspective to the discussion.

  22. Edward
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I know of a few families who left the system after their children were accepted into Ann Arbor schools through the lottery.

  23. maria c
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Murph, to a point. I would never argue for a simple equivalency between revenues saved through school consolidation and revenues lost from students leaving the district. Moreover, I am sure that not all of the students the district lost were a result of the school closures of 2010, the issues are far more complex than that. That said, when we were trying to keep Chapelle elementary open we looked at enrollment numbers over the last 10-15 years, and noticed that after each school closure (there have been several over the last two decades) there was a corresponding spike in students leaving the district, and that spike was not insignificant. The current numbers (somewhere between 175-225) are much higher than the average loss that any district might expect (25-50) over a year span, and these numbers correspond to the pattern we saw over the last decade or so. This is why we argued that closing schools was, in the long run, a bad idea. As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
    One might argue that the current spike in students leaving the district represents disaffected parents from the schools that were closed, and it is therefore a temporary problem, but the reality is that (as studies have shown) school consolidation almost always leads to a rise in dissatisfaction among parents and students across the ENTIRE district. Schools close, the remaining schools get more crowded, kids get bused to schools farther away, parents in the receiving school begin to perceive a decline (usually attributed to the influx of “refugees” from the closed school). You get the picture. In Ypsilanti this tried and true pattern was exacerbated by the truly dumbfounding and wrong-headed “reorganization” of the district in order to make the school closures work, numbers-wise.
    Finally, even the administration admits that the budget hole the District currently finds itself in is caused by two primary factors: the rising costs of teachers salaries/pensions AND declining enrollment, an equation that spells economic disaster for us. Unfortunately, the district has addressed this problem through a one-sided strategy, pursuing cost-cutting measures (closing schools, consolidating buses, laying off teachers), while ignoring the other side of the equation: attracting new students and building enrollments. We have a lot going for us, but the district’s mismanagement of what resources (both potential and realized) we do have, has created a situation in which more and more parents are abandoning the system. The parents I’ve talked to who have left all said the same thing, the schools got too crowded, transportation was a mess, classrooms seemed unruly, teachers spent too much time dealing with “discipline” problems, and the kids who behave and do their work don’t get enough attention. I will close by saying that this has not been an issue for our daughter who loves school and is soaking up book learnin’ like crazy (props to the wondrous Mrs. Kryzno). But I do think that school closures have put pressures on principals and teachers that make their work much more challenging, and, as a result they have certainly not helped YPSD’s financial situation.

  24. Anonymous Mike
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Unless someone can give me a good reason not to, I’m about to go and vote for Karyn Goven, without knowing the first thing about her. I can’t bring myself to vote for either Linda or Eric.

  25. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    and those Ypsi parents that choose A2 schools (through lottery) can vote on YPS BoE but not on A2’s elections.

  26. Andrew Ross
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    maria c,

    Could you post those enrollment figures from the last 10-15 years, and which years corresponded to school closings? I might want to use them in a statistics class I teach.

  27. Meta
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The results.

    Andy Fanta 1097 35.17%
    Linda Snedacar-Horne 1038 33.28%
    Eric P. Temple, Sr. 782 25.07%
    Write-In 202 6.48%

  28. Edward
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Maybe now that the enlightened masses of Ann Arbor are talking about closing schools, like Community High, we can have a real discussion about the value of public education. OK, I’m bitter. I’m mad that very few seemed to care when Chapelle Elementary was closed here in Ypsi, but now that some of Ann Arbor’s public schools are in jeopardy people are going to be up in arms, and we’re going to be debating the value of community schools in the press. Of course, it’s too late for Ypsi.

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