Monday, March 9, 2009

Willow Run: Deficit Reduction--What's It All About?

There is an interesting article in the Ann Arbor News about the deficit reduction plan filed in Willow Run. Or read about it in the Ypsilanti Citizen, here. Even more interesting, however, are the additional materials David Jesse put on the web site (scroll down to get to the charts and data).

First--the proposed deficit reduction plan is probably nowhere near enough, and I hope that the Michigan Department of Education agrees with me. If you think about it, Willow Run has lost 40% of its students, and closed only a preschool building. Ypsilanti schools have approximately twice as many students, yet the same number of open elementary schools. So realistically, Willow Run should probably close two or three schools, minimally.

David Houle, the finance director, notes:
"Substantive discussion of suspending operations at some facilities had been eschewed by the Committee (a cost-cutting team of administrators, a parent, two board members and several other staff members) as some members remained concerned that decommissioned buildings present a blight to the surrounding neighborhoods," the document says.

Willow Run schools are, in some ways, an accident of fate. Willow Run doesn't really have a geographic center, they don't have a downtown. The schools are the identity. BUT--A closed school building doesn't have to mean blight. In fact, it doesn't have to sit empty! And based on the economy alone, school district numbers will likely decline further.

I see three ways for WR to go:

1. Cut down to two elementary schools, one middle school, one high school.
2. Have an elementary school for K-2, use the middle school for 3-8, and the high school for 9-12.
3. Merge.

No, those options are not pretty. But schools are supposed to serve the kids--and nearly half of them don't graduate. I don't think Willow Run is doing a good job right now, and rather than thinking of shrinking as a negative, maybe it could provide some benefits.

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