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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Op/Ed - Three Superintendents for two financial failed school districts does not spell Change the public should believe in

IU News & Talk Op/Ed
By Monica RW

Photo Credit -
As noted in Independent Underground News & Talk Op/Ed on this subject February 25th, Ypsilanti School District prior to the merger with Willow Run Community Schools, was estimated to be $10 Million dollars in debt. Meanwhile Willow Run was reported to be $4 Million dollars in debt.

The community was told by District Leaders and elected officials' that if the districts did not combine soon, both would face a state takeover by an "emergency manager", hereby leaving the future of the public schools in City and Township of Ypsilanti out of the hands of school officials, residents, tax payers, community members and other stakeholders.

Prior examples of "emergency management" of a school district by State Officials have been mixed with questionable results. Muskegon Heights Public Schools, taken over by a private charter corporation called Mosaica had one of four teachers in the district, quit less than three months into the school year. Financially, this experience for Muskegon Heights residents has not been successful either, as the Mosaica had to loan $6 Million dollars from the State to continue operations until the end of this school year.

Noting the above, it was not a hard sell for Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel, along with YPSD head Dedrick Martin and WRCS Laura Lisiscki to convince parents and taxpayers in these districts something had to change. The open question was what would such change look like. 
If Monday, February 25th "Appointed School Board" meeting was any example "change" for the immediate future it will equal "not much at all". 

Which presents another problem with this "merger". Why was the combined school board not elected among willing potential public servants in these communities?

There was at least two candidates who sought elected seats on the YPSD School Board, D’Real Graham and Daniel Raglin, along with Mark Wilde who sought re-election to the WRCS Board. Only Raglin made it on the appointed board. Wilde and Graham election results were dismissed. Two former officials from the YPSD and WRCS board were appointed along with three "new" faces ---one of whom did not send her children to the school district she was "appointed" to oversee.

Worse, why after was $12,000 wasted on a "Superintendent Search" for newly named "Ypsilanti Community Schools" the final result appears to be two former leaders of Co-Superintendents YPSD - Martin and WRCS -Lisiscki, under the "overseer" leadership of Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel will run the "new" school district at least into the upcoming 2013-14 academic year?

Yes, you read this correct, Ypsilanti Community Schools will have THREE Superintendents for two former school districts estimated to have been at least $14 Million dollars, in debt.

Here are some other interesting highlights of Monday's Meeting:

*Former Elected YPSD School Board Member and Attorney Andy Fanta was the first to detail the districts spent $12K for a Superintendent search.

*It was later revealed by an "adviser" for the school board the search revealed two previous Superintendents from YPSD - Martin  and WRCS - Lisiscki, were the most "highly-qualified" for the job. A third candidate, YSPD Human Resource Director Sharon Irvine was also picked as another potential "highly-qualified" candidate.

*Three other outside the district candidates were considered. According to the "adviser" at least two of these candidates did not have the proper experience the appointed Ypsilanti Community School Board sought. Details were not shared what was the final determination of third outside candidate.

*The "adviser" referred to Section 4 of the Michigan School Code, defining the State's intent to have ONE Superintendent lead each individual school district. The "adviser" noted that no other school district across Michigan has more than ONE Superintendent in charge to his knowledge.

*Next, the "adviser" noted a sub-clause inside of the School Code- Section 4. His interpretation of the sub-clause was in the event a school district can't find a Superintendent after a search the Intermediate School District Superintendent can be asked by the local school board of a district to "temporary" be in charge of the educational district.

*The "adviser" stated YPSD former Superintendent Dedrick Martin had three years left on his contract and WSCD Laura Lisiscki had one year,remaining. He also stated neither one of the "contracts" would be renewed under the same terms in the future for the new "Ypsilanti Community Schools". Yet, the combined districts would --- in his "adviser based opinion" -- have to pay out both contracts to both Martin and Lisiscki (Willow Run and Ypsilanti) despite the former school district nullification after the consolidation vote.

* The "adviser" is not a lawyer or has judicial experience in Michigan School Code Statues, as was revealed during a question by a Board Member during discussion.

*The WISD Superintendent Menzel noted that before he could accept said position of leadership for Ypsilanti Community Schools, he would have to take the offer back to the full WISD School Board for a up or down vote.

*Similarly, WISD Superintendent Menzel agreed with appointed Ypsilanti Community School Boards "adviser" opinion that if the decision (noted above) was approved by the WISD Board, he would prefer Martin and Lisiscki be "Co-Superintendents" with him for Ypsilanti Community Schools until both of the contracts would run out.

*As pointed out by the "adviser" not one of the unionized contracts previously ratified and agreed to by both Ypsilanti and Willow Run School District are valid under the new Ypsilanti Community School District. Yet, both of the former Superintendent's contracts were in his opinion, are. No legal basis was given to the audience in attendance, why that would be so at yesterday's meeting.

*A group of parents of the former Ypsilanti Public School District, openly questioned if Martin's contract was valid now that YPSD is no more. One parent stated her research led her to an opinion it was not. Her point was not fully answered by any appointed board members in the meeting besides the appointed school board members agreeing with the opinion of said "adviser" by a 7-0 final vote.

*Former Elected School Board Member and Attorney Andy Fanta during his speech to the appointed Board, raised a series questionable decisions made by Martin during this tenure, which in his opinion, led to a drain of funds and/or student population out of Ypsilanti Public Schools. Fanta sat on the school board, as a elected member, from 1998-2012. 

*From information that IU News & Talk have obtained, WISD Superintendent Menzel's estimated salary to be in the area of $150-174K per year. Former YPSD Superintendent Martin's salary is estimated to be between $130-140K per year and although not confirmed former WRCS Superintendent Lisiscki's salary could be between $80K - $110K per year. 

*Noting the above, Ypsilanti Community Schools could pay out an estimated $360K - $424K for the one main and two Co-Superintendents salaries, unless Menzel's salary is allocated by WISD funding sources. This point was not addressed at last night's meeting. It is unknown if Ypsilanti Community Schools will solely, partially or not pay at all out of their general fund balance the WISD Superintendent Menzel's salary at this time. 

*Both school districts faced a deficit estimated to be between $11.7 - $14 Million dollars before consolidation. A $6.5 Million grant was allotted by the State of Michigan to Ypsilanti Community Schools after the successful vote for Consolidation. It remains unanswered how former Ypsilanti and Willow Run Public Schools previous debt (including monies loaned to both School Districts individually by the State) will be addressed by the now Combined School District.

Larger questions or comments exist in this complex case of merging two former rival crosstown school districts to make note of in this article.

Current State Representative David Rutledge (D) was in attendance at the meeting throughout the appointed Board members debate on hiring three Superintendents for a district that is estimated to now have 1500 students combined. 

Independent Underground News & Talk was unable to obtain the Representative's thoughts on what was heard last night but, Ypsilanti Community Supporters Facebook page encouraged concerned parents and taxpayers to write letters and make phone calls to Rep. Rutledge, Congressman John Dingell (D), other State and Federal Officials this afternoon.

*What's the exact legal language verbatim verifying Martin's and Lisiscki's contracts MUST be paid out completely for two school districts that are no more? Who negotiated these contracts? Why didn't either contract have a "out cause" just in case an issue similar to this was to come, in the future?

*What does all of this "drama" say for a now "combined" Ypsilanti Community School District. Specifically, shouldn't the consolidation process have led to a fresh start? New name, new logo's, new mascot, new organizational leadership and a new direction.

Otherwise, what was the difference between both school districts getting a "emergency manager" from the State --who suppose to eliminate all the debt by taking structured cuts across the board, and keeping two Superintendent on the job ---so to speak-- that failed to pull these districts out of the red? 

*Whether YPSD Human Resource Director Ms. Irvine was the right candidate, is to be determined. Ms. Irvine was willing to do the job, be paid ONE SALARY as oppose to three salaries, had a history in at least former Ypsilanti Public Schools District and was not the sole person in charge that continued the deficits of both districts. It would seem that if a qualified from outside the district was not given consideration, then Ms. Irvine should have been given a chance.

*One opinion to hire Ms. Irvine could have been a year contract at between $75-$85K per year with yearly extensions and salary increases if necessary, decided by the Board. The contract continuance set on meeting key metrics set for noted improvements required for Ypsilanti Community Schools during the contractual period, along with an "out cause" if Ms. Irvine failed to met those goals anytime within the year. This was not done or frankly really considered at last nights meeting.

Independent Underground News & Talk will continue to follow and update this story, as necessary.

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