As of right now, I don’t feel as though I have enough information to make an informed decision concerning the proposed merging of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school systems. When I heard, earlier this evening, that Washtenaw Intermediate School District administrators had launched a new website with the intention of improving communications about the proposed consolidation, I was hopeful that I’d find a legitimate online resource for information, where not only administrators, but parents from both Ypsi and Willow Run, could share ideas, express concerns, and try to come to some kind of consensus around a shared vision. Instead, though, I found an anemic, uninspiring, on-line brochure intended simply to drum up support for the ballot initiative on consolidation…
Before I go on any further, I should note that I understand that the district is cash-strapped, and doesn’t have the resources to develop inviting, interactive websites. Furthermore, I get that there’s a lot riding on this vote, and that they desperately want this to pass, as it’s almost certainly the last chance we’ve got as a community to avoid a State-appointed Emergency Manager. But, when I see something like this (see below), taken from their “What People are Saying” page, I get the distinct impression not only that I’m being sold something, but that the people doing the selling don’t really care about having an open, honest, adult conversation with me… Am I overreacting? If you think so, leave me a comment and let me know. Having been in a number of conversations with friends and neighbors about this issue, though, I can tell you that this isn’t “what people are saying.” People aren’t saying, “I really believe this is a good process, and if we implement everything that we mentioned today it will be a success.” And to suggest that they are is, at best, insulting.
What people are talking about, for those of you who are interested, is why we’re paying an out-of-state consulting firm, owned by a textbook publisher, with an extremely limited understanding of our community, $40,000 to help us develop a new curriculum. What people are talking about is the very real possibility that the per-pupil reimbursement rate from the State of Michigan could drop as a result of this merger. What people are talking about is the fact that, despite the public visioning sessions, which are coming to an end tonight, it doesn’t look as though administrators have any real interest in incorporating the ideas that have been proposed from the community.
At the very least, it would have been nice to have seen an FAQ on this new WISD website that acknowledged these issues. It also would have been nice, if, in addition to linking to a few positive articles in the local press, they also linked to a few substantive conversations on the issue, like those that we we’ve had here. My biggest problem with the site, however, is that it lacks a cohesive narrative, and a compelling vision. It doesn’t give those of us in the community any reason to be excited. It doesn’t say to the visitor, “Consolidation will give us an opportunity to make something truly great.” What it says, at least to me, is, “We’re being forced to put together two failing school systems, and we’re going to try to make it work.” And, I’m afraid, as a result, it won’t be successful.
What they needed was a bold video in which someone laid out a clear, concise vision for a better future. The community needed something that it could rally behind. We needed someone to make the case as to why we should keep our kids in a newly reimagined district. Instead, we got something very different – we got a list of reasons why we needed to vote for consolidation. And, as a result, even if the ballot measure passes, I think it’s almost a sure thing that more people will leave the district. The folks in charge needed to look at the big picture, and not just the immediate threat. But that’s been the problem from the outset.
With all of that said, I’d like to add that I realize that WISD is in a tough spot. They have to make consolidation look good, and they need for the ballot initiative to pass. If it doesn’t, the school district will almost certainly fall under a State-appointed Emergency Manager given the authority to sell off the few remaining assets of our school district, break union contracts, fire teachers at will, and possibly even go so far as to scrap public education altogether, in favor of an “all charter” system. And, if you don’t think it can happen, just ask the folks of Muskegon Heights.
Here, while we’re on the subject of what a “no” vote would mean in November, is another screen capture from the new WISD website.
Again, I’m not encouraging people to vote against consolidation. And I’m not saying that the WISD administrators are evil. I just don’t think they’re necessarily up to the task of dealing with what, thanks to the Republicans in Lansing, we’re all being forced to deal with. They’re up against very powerful forces that would like to see public education in Michigan systematically dismantled, and they’re trying, as best that they can, with limited resources, to fight them off. Unfortunately, given that reality, they haven’t been in a position to think big, take an offensive stance, and try things that haven’t been tried before. Instead, they’ve fallen back on textbook companies, and pricey consultants to help them through the process. I don’t envy them. When they went into the field of education, I’m sure this isn’t what they thought that they would be doing. Unfortunately, however, it’s the hand that we’ve been dealt, and we need for them to stop trying to put a pretty bow on it, acknowledge what’s going on, invite the community to the table in a substantive way, and really start to push back against the State… Here, with all of that said, is the most recent email from our friend Maria Cotera, of the Ypsi Public School Alliance, with some thoughts on our options.
…The first phase of these WISD sponsored events was the visioning process (basically a series of focus groups), which is now over. It looks like we now will have a series of “data portraits” which will take a closer look at “educational data, community assets and community trends” for both districts. There are three sessions scheduled: Wednesday, July 11 1-3 (District Library on Whittaker Rd), Saturday, July 14, 10-12 (Superior Township Hall), and Monday, July 16, 6-8 (Ypsi Township Board Room)…
I feel like this train has left the station in terms of this summer’s “visioning process”. It’s clear that WISD does not plan to give us substantive models (for restorative justice discipline, community engaged project based learning, wrap-around services, social justice curriculum, or anything else) upon which to envision a new district in an INFORMED way.
I think, however, if we strategize, we can make an important intervention at the two-day “strategic design session” (July 18-19) and show them, and the high priced consultants they brought in from outside ($40,000), that we want substantive district transformation, not the same old vision and mission statements. The two day session may be our last opportunity to do this.
Also, with Willow Run High school scheduled to close, and the imminent possibility of YPSD gaining some 300 students (to the tune of $2,250,000), I wonder what the financial benefits are (to us) of consolidation? In other words, if Willow Run were to simply close its doors (and I sincerely hope that this does not happen), we would gain most of their students (some 2,000) at our current per pupil funding rate of $7,500. On the other hand, the State Board is asking us to willingly consolidate and accept that our current per pupil funding rate will decrease because it will be averaged with that of Willow Run which is $700 less ($6,800). I can’t accept the premise that the State Board proposes, that consolidation is about IMPROVING student education when they are unwilling to keep a consolidated district’s per pupil funding at the higher of the two districts per pupil funding ($7,500). And while they are supposedly offering financial incentives and grants to “sweeten the pot” those things are temporary, they go away, whereas per pupil funding is a relatively consistent form of funding…