Monday, May 21, 2012

The Accidental Essay: Thoughts About Ypsilanti's Budget

A few weeks ago, I asked a person who sometimes comments on this blog as YpsiAnon to write about the potential consolidation of the Ypsilanti and Willow Run schools. She said she would when she had time, in about a month. In the meantime, there has been a lot of discussion in Ypsilanti about some very draconian budget cuts, and when she came back to me, it was with what she called an "accidental essay." I think it's fantastic and thought-provoking, and I hope you will too. It's my first guest post! (You, by the way, are welcome to contact me directly if you are interested in writing a guest post.)

Thanks YpsiAnon!

You know how you can hear about a terrible disaster that kills thousands of people and it doesn’t affect you nearly as much as knowing one person who has died from the same thing?  The former is just too big to comprehend, while the latter is much more meaningful.  It’s kind of like this with the school district’s financial crisis.  We’ve heard for years about the deficit elimination plan, and sort of understood that millions of dollars were involved.  We’ve heard for months about the budget crisis being worse than we understood, and that now $14 million would need to be cut.  $14 million is just impossible to fathom.  But when the cuts are announced, and it’s your school or your band program that’s affected, then it is real. 

How dire are things in Ypsilanti?  Here is an example that hits close to home for me, since I have a band student at Ypsilanti High School.  (Please note that the figures below were shared with me by a couple of YHS sources.  I trust, but cannot presently verify, their accuracy.)

In Ypsi, the budgets have become building-based, where a lump sum is given to the building principal, who must determine how it is spent.  Next year, for Ypsi High School, I am told that this amount is in the $65,000 neighborhood.  This money is intended to cover all expenses, which have typically included copier costs (paper and ink), textbooks, phone service, mailings (including report cards), band instrument repair, band transportation, choir camp, science class supplies, and even light bulbs.  It also includes substitute teacher costs, which are estimated at about $60,000 for next year.  Go ahead and do the math.  Yes, that would mean that $5,000 remains for all those other expenses (plus some I didn’t mention) once you deduct the sub costs, and I imagine sub costs are less negotiable, perhaps due to contract issues.

I’m told that copy-related costs are around $80,000.  Should we go without copies?  Currently, a monthly limit of 250 copies/teacher has been allotted, regardless of whether teachers provide their own paper—toner is expensive, too!  (There goes my plan to give the teachers a ream of paper each fall instead of Kleenex.)  Teachers are trying to be creative, doing what they can online, for example, but most classrooms have about 4 student computers, so that’s not usually a viable option for an entire class. 

I’m also told that phone service for the building costs about $5,000.  Should we go without phones?

Should we not replace and/or replenish textbooks?  How about light bulbs?

As the abstraction of $14 million becomes concrete, the public will be in shock, which will quickly turn to anger and blame.  “Cut the administration!  They are overpaid and incompetent!”  “Cut sports!  They don’t help our test scores!”  “Cut transportation!  My kid doesn’t ride the bus!”  “Cut everything—except the things I value!”  And then it is just a reflection of the divisiveness of the greater world.  Hard as it may be, this is not the time to divide; instead, we need to find ways to work together and try to solve this problem.

The band budget used to include $5,000 for repairs, $5,000 for equipment, and $14,000 for band transportation (most of it to/from band camp).  It’s difficult to imagine that any of that will exist, given the circumstances.  What do we, as band families, do next?  Some might try to influence the district’s decision-makers by pleading our case.  (Frankly, I think band costs should be part of the public relations budget, for as much as marching band and jazz band represent the school district to the greater community.)  Some might try to find new sources of money, such as grants.  Some might launch new fundraisers.  Some might plan to kick in more money when the band camp bill comes due.  Some might even think about running for school board… Whatever it is, we need to do
something, not nothing.Whether you are from Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor or Chelsea, this story either describes what your district is going through now, or what it will be going through.  Maybe it will reassure you that your activism is justified, or maybe it will motivate you to become more involved.  I hope something good will come of it.


  1. Ruth,

    Thanks for the kind remarks.

    I was reminded by our band association president that contacting our state legislators is also critical. While our senator and representative are both supportive to public education, it gives them credibility when they can share our experiences with those who are not. Both House and Senate have Education Committees, too.

    - YpsiAnon

  2. Great post, YpsiAnon. I think you should cut and paste it to all the legislators on the Education committee, and Snyder.

  3. Sad. No Willow Run band at the parade today. They don't make it every single year, but it's always fun when they do!

    - YpsiAnon