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 AnnArbor.com. And, should you want to reach out to any of the candidates, you’ll find their contact information here.