Sunday, December 16, 2012

Back to Local News: Ypsilanti/Willow Run

It sometimes happens that I don't get to write about what I want. Limited time on my part, and the dramatic state legislative agenda have sapped my time and energy.

And yet--things keep happening locally. 

Tomorrow (Monday 12/17) at 6:30 p.m. there is another joint Willow Run/Ypsilanti school board meeting. This is the board for the consolidated district, although technically at this point there are two identical boards, one for Ypsilanti and one for Willow Run. (I know--confusing, right? This is scheduled to change July 1, when the consolidated district officially begins, and the board will represent the consolidated district.)

Contact information for the new board can be found here:

In any case--a couple of weeks ago, after the second meeting of the combined Board of Education, Karen Siegel (the former* head of the teachers' union) sent out an email to the teachers, a portion of which is excerpted below. The meeting began with a financial presentation about Ypsilanti's finances. The audit was clean (that's good), the Ypsilanti deficit's 2012 increase was due in part to reduced state aid and in part to declining enrollment.

Siegel then notes that the "surprise" discussion came during the Michigan Association of School Boards presentation. They were there to explain what services they would provide for a Superintendent search. That is because the board needs to choose a superintendent for the consolidated district.

Writes Siegel,
During the Q & A portion of the MASB presentation, Trustee Myers asks if the board can favor an internal candidate. 
 She continues,
Mark Wilde, former, long time WR board member has been recording the meetings.  He posts them on Youtube.  However, it is NOT easy to find them on youtube.   I have posted the links to the videos below.  You can also get the links on the FACEBOOK page, "Willow Run Community Schools."  The link for the FACEBOOK page is
I didn't know that anyone was taping the meetings, and I immediately went and "liked" the page that is linked above. I hope you will do that too. You can find all of the videos through the Willow Run facebook page, and I'm only linking the ones related to the superintendent search below.
Video 4 of 8
*MASB presentation continues.*
*Around 6:11 the board questions and comments for MASB rep. begins*
Video 5 of 8

*at 1:19, MASB cautions the board about making the superintendent
search too rushed and trading off speed for quality of search.*
*AT 2:25 the questions and comments about hiring INTERNAL CANDIDATES
begins.  Trustee Myers asks the question, stay tuned for Trustee
Raglin and Trustee Garrett's comments at 5:16 (Garrett) and 6:48
(Raglin).  Stay tuned all the way through to 7:42 for the full
commentary on this issue.
Video 6 of 8

*MASB suggests doing a staff & community survey to see if there is
support for an internal candidate.*

So, here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, the superintendent issue is the first *big* thing the board has to tackle. And Willow Run, in particular, has been burned by choosing the wrong superintendent before. In fact, they are still being haunted by their (most recently former) Superintendent.

Doris Hope-Jackson was terminated by the Willow Run School District and she sued. The case went to arbitration where, according to Danielle Arndt's December 10, 2012 article in

[Hope-Jackson's] claims [against the district and former board president Sheri Washington] included allegations of breach of employee contract, verbal assault, retaliation, misconduct, the misappropriation of funds, a spurned lesbian advance, harassment, defamation of character and more.
The arbitrator did not agree with the majority of the school board’s reasons for firing Hope-Jackson, court documents show, but ruled in favor of the district in the end. He found the board’s decision to terminate Hope-Jackson was not retaliatory in nature and was not arbitrary and capricious.
 But wait, there's more! In arbitration, 

Documents filed in Circuit Court on Nov. 27 show that Washington paid Hope-Jackson $12,500 in sanctions, which arbitrator Fred M. Mester ordered after holding Washington in contempt of court during the arbitration proceedings on April 20.
That day, Washington was found to be lying under oath about her status as the administrator of the website This website frequently posted articles bashing Hope-Jackson under the anonymous pen names of “Administrator” and “Staff Writer.”
For lying under oath, Washington was forced to pay Hope-Jackson’s reasonable attorney fees and arbitration fees.
There are more details about the arbitration outcomes here.
As if that is not enough, there's even more! 

Additionally, Willow Run’s attorney filed a “motion to compel” in Circuit Court on Nov. 19. The motion asks the court to require that Hope-Jackson immediately return certain files, records and communications pertaining to students and parents in the Willow Run district, which Hope-Jackson retained after being fired.
Hope-Jackson testified to having these documents on Feb. 24, according to court filings.
So you can see why the issue of hiring a current superintendent is a sensitive topic. After all, so far it seems like Laura Lisiscki (Willow Run superintendent) and Dedrick Martin (Ypsilanti superintendent) are sane, and not thieves (remember former Willow Run superintendent Douglas Benit?). What more could you ask for?

Sure, I'm being facetious. You could ask for a lot more to make this consolidation a success--skills that the current superintendents may or may not have. And the issue is also sensitive because the Superintendent of the WISD, Scott Menzel, has said that all teachers will need to reapply for their jobs, and that there will most likely be cuts.

Remember, at the end of June the two districts will close, and thus their contracts with teachers, principals, etc. will all also end. I don't believe either of the teachers' unions took a position on the merger, and this is probably why: on the one hand, if they didn't merge, the districts would likely collapse of their own weight; on the other hand, if they did merge, teachers were not (and are not) guaranteed their jobs.

So there are a lot of employees watching the Superintendent discussion--and all of the other discussions of the new school board--very closely. And I'm sure there are a lot of teachers, and other employees, on the job market. In fact, that's just what happened with Karen Siegel, the (now former) teachers' union president, and an English and Theater teacher at Ypsilanti High School. She has just taken a new job in the Plymouth-Canton school district.

It also seems likely that many of the most motivated and talented employees (not just teachers, but social workers, administrative staff, etc.) will be the first to leave--which spells trouble, unless the school board can quickly move to set up the "application/interview/re-hire" process in a way that is reassuring.

In any case, I'd encourage you to go to the consolidated school board meeting, Monday 12/17, 6:30 p.m. at Ypsilanti High School. They will be hearing from another group that does superintendent searches. And if you can't make it, I hope it will be taped and available via the Willow Run facebook page.

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