School District Consolidation 6

The Ypsilanti area, including the city and surrounding township, has three different school districts, Ypsilanti Public Schools, Lincoln Consolidated Schools, and Willow Run Community Schools. Why are there three districts for such a relatively small geographic area? This makes absolutely no sense to me and seems a colossal waste of resources. All three districts are facing severe financial difficulties thanks to a weak state economy and a republican controlled legislature that seems intent on starving the public schools in favor of the charters (many of which are run by for profit companies). The Ann Arbor district has approximately 33 schools including the smaller special units. Between them the three Ypsi area districts have 25 schools. AA has one superintendent, while the Ypsi districts have 3 at similar salaries. The three Ypsi districts have 3 of everything, transportation departments, custodial staffs, human resources and all the associated managerial and administrative staffs. This strikes me as stupid. Just as we need to move toward some regional cooperation at the local and county government levels, we need to do the same for the schools.

Instead of selling off buses to a private for-profit company, why don’t we consolidate all the buses at one facility with one manager. Why do we need three superintendents? three payroll departments? three maintenance managers, etc. If we consolidate the districts we can offer more flexibility to students in terms of course availability (more languages for example). We can sell off redundant properties. We can eliminate redundant managerial positions. Why does no one seem to be discussing this seriously? Anyone?

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6 thoughts on “School District Consolidation

  • trusty getto

    Sorry, my first one got ate, so this will be briefer. Maybe I shouldn’t apologize, as that may be a good thing ! 😉

    There is a tension here that exists on many levels. This tension is the compete vs. cooperate problem. It’s solution is perspective dependent. If the primary concern is to cut costs, then cooperation wins. If the primary concern is to improve public education with a competitive model (as required by NCLB), then cooperation loses.

    For example, you could cut costs by having Meier’s and Target hire a single manager, a single bookkeeper, a single workforce, etc. but obviously they wouldn’t be able to compete with one another if they did that. Each entity would gain access to proprietary aspects of the other’s business that brings customers in, and competition would become nonexistent between the two entities.

    There are also political considerations. The City/Township is a good example of this problem. Obviously, costs would be cut if you consolidated the entities. In fact, the district covers both entities already. However, since any one side gets a veto, the more fiscally sound entity won’t likely ever adopt a deal. There’s no real incentive to.

    In the school context, Willow Run just borrowed over $6 Million to balance its budget. It’s a hard sell to our residents (who enjoy fiscal stability because we’ve done a better job with our finances) that they should accept the detriment associated with debt, and lower the quality of education because of it, just for a long-term gain.

    It’s easier to move in this direction piecemeal. We are working on buses right now, but any one district can veto any aspect of a potential deal. We can’t do it alone. This issue will have to gain traction among the constituents of the other districts for it to work. For now, we are showing leadership and doing what we can. I definitely think it is the direction of the future, but we will need more support to make it work.

  • Sam Post author

    I will admit that the Ypsi district has done as good a job with finances as possible given the current realities. The Ypsi district is stable and balanced for the moment. But what happens a couple of years from now as energy and health care costs continue to rise and state funding seems unlikely to keep up. I know about the Willow Run borrowing and Lincoln’s savings being almost depleted after this year. Competition between the three districts isn’t going to benefit any of the residents of the districts if they all end up bankrupt. The only beneficiaries are for-profit companies like National Heritage academies that are taking our tax dollars to benefit their shareholders. Ultimately I believe the districts need to move toward complete consolidation in order to generate enough savings to get onto a more stable long term financial footing. There is just too much redundancy among these relatively small districts than can reasonably be justified.

    The comparison to retailers doesn’t really work because they are trying to make more money. The goal for the schools is to educate the kids. If a company is losing money and goes bankrupt, they eventually go out of business or merge or get bought. Do we really want Willow Run, or Lincoln or Ypsi to wither and die or do we take the merger route? If we wait for say Willow Run to wither what happens to them? What happens to their debts? Do they get to go chapter 11 (or equivalent) and wipe out their debts? If not who assumes those debts?

    It may be easier to move piecemeal but is that going to be enough to save any of us from financial collapse in the not so distant future? It seems like now might be the time to make more aggressive moves before a crisis is imminent. Maybe it should just be Ypsi and Lincoln to start, to make it more palatable. I think someone needs to show some leadership and step forward and put some more radical ideas on the table while we still have the time to think about it.

  • trusty getto

    We can lead all we want (and we are), but if others don’t want to cooperate, we can’t make them. That’s the key problem. We can’t do it alone.

    I agree that retail isn’t a good example, but that is exactly what our politicians at the state and federal levels are creating as expectations for the public. When NCLB creates a framework of “competition,” it creates certain unrealistic expectations and then punishes us if we don’t attain them. I don’t think we ought to be competing in that way, but the public sure does. It’s very difficult to meet those kind of expectations.