91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The new model for struggling schools? With state backing, Ypsilanti and Willow Run merge

Carstens Elementary-Middle School in Detroit is on Michigan's list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools."
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Carstens Elementary-Middle School in Detroit is on Michigan's list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools."

Cash-strapped school districts, heads up: the state's hoping you'll take a page out of Ypsilanti's and Willow Run's book.

On Tuesday, voters approved what school reps (and even some students) say is a critical, if dramatic, step: consolidating districts.

It means big cuts and layoffs, but administrators desperately hope it'll also hit the reset button for two struggling communities. 

Both Ypsilanti and Willow Run high schools have made the state's "5 Worst" list. Combined, they have a twelve million dollar  deficit. Enrollment's down, so the option of getting more student-based money doesn't look good. 

So the state waved a carrot: bite the bullet and merge, and we'll give you 30 years to pay down that debt to us, instead of just two.

That's a tough deal for anyone to pass up. And the alternative, administrators said, was the state putting in an emergency manager. When that happened in Muskegon Heights, they wound up with a charter-run district.  

Overall, consolidating is just less painful, says Ypsilanti Superintedent Dedric Martin. He says keeping the districts separate would have resulted in even bigger cutbacks.  

"There's going to have to be a reduction in the number of staff. But we believe we can do it in a way that the community can be proud of, instead of just doing a slash and burn."

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says consolidating may be the way of the future  for struggling districts. And Martin says he's hearing from other districts, too. 

"We're heading for a different educational landscape, whether we like it or dislike it, whether we agree or disagree. So I think a lot of superintendents that I've spoken to across the state, they're watching to see how this works."

Tuesday's vote means the districts will now disband their independent, elected boards of education. They'll be replaced by a single board, chosen by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. 

The districts will merge at the end of this school year. All faculty and staff will be laid off, and can then apply to the new, consolidated district. Martin and other school officials aren't yet specifying how many jobs will be cut. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
Related Content