Saturday, February 7, 2009

Willow Run Troubles

There is one school district in the county that has had a lot of trouble since enrollment began declining 11 years ago, and right now there is a lot of finger-pointing going on. Yes, I'm talking about Willow Run. Parents are complaining about the superintendent and the school board, the superintendent is blaming the teachers and parents, teachers are complaining about the superintendent and the school board...a recall effort is underway...see, for example, this website.
Consider these facts:
Their current superintendent remained on the Harvey, ILLINOIS school board even after she took this job. (Showing her commitment to Willow Run?)
Their former superintendent pled guilty to bank and mail fraud. (Okay, that's related to his time in the Ecorse schools, but he was fired by Willow Run "after a district investigation showed he had a conflict of interest with two companies that did business with the district and that he may have benefited from the connection.")
The teachers worked without a contract for a long, long time. (Which does, actually, show their commitment to their students.)
I don't blame the Willow Run school board or administrative staff for everything--after all, the district's school age population has been shrinking for several years. And Willow Run has a very low per-pupil grant. But, but, but:
Last year Willow Run had to file their third deficit reduction plan. Their plan was predicated, not just on stable enrollment, but on an increase in enrollment of 150 students, and an increase in the per-pupil payments from the state. Who wrote this plan and what planet were they on? After school enrollment has dropped for 10 years in a row, what makes you think it will grow? Why did the school board agree to send in this deficit reduction plan?
And guess what? This year, Willow Run lost a lot more students. Why?
Well, several other school districts--including neighboring Lincoln and Ypsilanti schools--are schools of choice. And there are several charter schools in the area. Oh, and did we mention the graduation rates? What would you choose for your child--a high school with a graduation rate of 55%, or one in a neighboring school district that was higher?
For years, WRCS has been practicing avoidance. It is hard to face up to real problems if you are always blaming someone else or not acknowledging the problems. Consider this: A few years ago, both Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts were faced with possibly closing schools. Ypsilanti evaluated their choices, made the painful decision to close two schools, and moved on. Willow Run? Closed their one-stop preschool and redistributed the preschool classes. And couldn't agree on another school to close.

And now? I don't know why it took so long for DOE to write the letter (you can see it at the link below), but:
The Michigan Department of Education has given Willow Run Community Schools until Feb. 13 to come up with new plan to reduce its budget deficit and until March 1 to begin running the district under the plan. If they don't, they lose their per-pupil funding.

In some sense, the schools are the town center for the Willow Run area. Nevertheless, it is time for Willow Run to stop the finger pointing and consider some drastic options. Could all students in the district be placed on the middle school/high school campus? Should they begin consolidation talks with Lincoln, Van Buren, and/or Ypsilanti schools? One thing I do know--a plan predicated on enrollment growth is unrealistic, and likely to fail.

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