School district consolidation finally on the table, many years too late!

It’s long overdue, but under the threat of being taken over by an emergency financial manager, the Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts are finally seriously considering consolidating into a single entity. While this absolutely needs to happen, it doesn’t go far enough.  Nearly six years ago, I wrote a post on this blog advocating the idea of combining Ypsi, Willow Run and the Lincoln school districts and the situation has deteriorated dramatically since that time.

A combined Willow Run-Ypsilanti district will have about 5,300 students, less than half the number in neighboring Ann Arbor. At the very least, Lincoln (which covers much of southern Ypsilanti Township) should be part of this blended district and I seriously believe that they should be talking about merging with Ann Arbor as well.

The system in Michigan that allows so many tiny districts as well as separate cities and townships hurts everyone this state. I’m a liberal and a believer that there is a place for government in providing essential services like education, infrastructure and so on. But I’m also a pragmatist that understands that we need efficiency in how we deliver those services.

Administrators tend to have high salaries and if we want great teachers we need to pay them a decent salary.  Having many small districts means we are paying for too many administrators leaving less for the rank and file teachers that have to educate the students. It also makes it much more difficult to offer students a variety of elective educational options.

It’s important for residents to participate at the neighborhood school level, but the reality is they need to be willing to give up a bit of the hyper-local control and take advantage of some “economies of scale” in managing schools.

As long as we’re finally talking consolidation, lets take it a few steps further and at least combine more services at the county level such as busing, food services and others. Hopefully, these first steps will finally get our schools back on a more sound financial footing.

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