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Some in Ann Arbor have "cultural" concerns about annexing Whitmore Lake

The 2016 M-STEP results come out Tuesday morning
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Administrators said keeping bus transportation, art and music, and avoiding making athletics pay-to-play programs were some of their top priorities to save from cuts.

"This is why I hate Ann Arbor's bigotry," one Whitmore Lake parent whispered to her neighbor at an information meeting today to discuss whether Ann Arbor schools should annex the Whitmore Lake school district. 

So yeah, things got a little heated towards the end. 

But the first chunk of the meeting was spent tackling parents' questions about how the logistics and numbers would play out.

Ann Arbor Board of Education President Deb Mexicotte kicked off the event with her argument for annexation: right now, the Whitmore Lake district is barely operating in the black.

They're stuck in a depressing cycle in which they lose kids, so they have to cut the academic budget, which in turn drives away more kids. 

If it gets worse, the state could dissolve the district entirely, possibly sending some kids to Ann Arbor and dispersing others across various nearby districts.

But, if the Ann Arbor school district annexed Whitmore Lake schools now, rather than waiting for a possible dissolution, then all of those kids would become AAPS students.

That would boost Ann Arbor's enrollment, which Mexicotte says would put the district on a long-term path towards growth, rather than having to make cuts down the line as the number of school-aged kids in Ann Arbor is projected to decline. 

Supporters like Mexicotte see annexation as a win-win: Ann Arbor helps rebuild Whitmore Lake schools, while Whitmore Lake grows Ann Arbor's state funding. Plus, a bigger Ann Arbor district could draw in students from Brighton or Pinckney, which border Whitmore Lake.  

"Any questions?" Mexicotte then asked a small crowd of about 30.

A dozen hands immediately shot up. 

Here's the gist of what they covered: 

If Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake residents vote yes on the annexation question November 4, would Whitmore Lake kids get bused in to attend Ann Arbor schools?

Basically, no. Ann Arbor school board president Deb Mexicotte told parents that for all intents and purposes, Whitmore Lake kids would stay in the buildings where they attend currently. 

Whitmore Lake would officially become part of the Ann Arbor school district, so Whitmore Lake's current central administration and school board would be dissolved. 

They'd operate by all the same rules and standards currently in place in Ann Arbor. 

How big is Whitmore Lake's debt, exactly?

About $60 million, according to members of the Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake school boards. 

And how many students has Whitmore Lake lost recently? 

The district has between 900 to 1,000 kids right now. That's down roughly 25% in recent years, according to Whitmore Lake school board treasurer Bob Henry. 

Would Ann Arbor still have as much money to spend per student if the district does annex Whitmore Lake? 

Basically, yes. Ann Arbor's per-pupil spending would drop by about $5 if annexation is passed, according to Ann Arbor school board president Deb Mexicotte.

However, there is a bill in Lansing that could give the district more money per pupil -- but that bill isn't going anywhere until after the annexation vote. And while the signs from the legislature look good at the moment, there's no guarantee it'll actually happen. 

What about taxes in Ann Arbor? 

Next year, Ann Arbor residents would pay an additional .44 mills on their property taxes if annexation passes, compared with what they would pay if nothing changes. 

That's just for next year, however. The district projects that the taxes will start trending downward the following years. 

Cultural issues at play: Is Whitmore Lake "progressive" enough?

About ninety minutes in, a few parents started raising questions about possible cultural differences between Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake. 

Julie Roth says she's an Ann Arbor parent, and she's worried that Whitmore Lake residents shot down a recent millage to help their schools.

That's especially since Ann Arbor residents have usually been very willing to take on additional taxes for education. 

Plus, Roth said Ann Arbor has devoted a lot of time and effort towards tackling progressive issues like comprehensive sex education, and embracing LGBT students. 

"I don't think that [Whitmore Lake] is progressive in that way," said Roth.

"And so I'm curious about culturally -- and maybe I'm wrong, and that's why I'm bringing it up while you guys are here. Culturally, how does that fly?" she asked Whitmore Lake representatives. 

Whitmore Lake school board treasurer Bob Henry said the district is very welcoming of all students, and that as far as sex ed goes, he wasn't sure of the specifics but he knew it was taught.

Renee Mulcrone raised her hand. She says she's a Whitmore Lake parent, and she expressed frustration at how some parents in Ann Arbor appeared to look down on her community. 

"I think Whitmore Lake gets perceived as being oh those, you know, country folk or something that people in Ann Arbor think about. No. We are very dedicated to education. There are families out there that are very devoted to education," said Mulcrone. 

There will be two more information meetings about the issue later this month. More information about the potential annexation here

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