Abigail Simon News Editor
This upcoming election day, November 4, the school districts of Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake will ask voters to decide if the two school districts should merge. If voters pass this plan, the two school districts will join together on July 1, 2015 and Whitmore Lake will be under the jurisdiction of Ann Arbor starting with the 2015-2016 school year.
Ann Arbor Public Schools has proposed annexing Whitmore Lake Public Schools as a remedy for Whitmore Lake’s current financial troubles. According to Lynn Slagle, President of the Board of Education for Whitmore Lake, “school funding (for Whitmore Lake) is getting tighter for the smaller schools” and that this “is how the whole annexation idea started.”
“Whitmore Lake is a small school district -less than 1000 students,” says Deb Mexicotte, President of the Ann Arbor Board Of Education. It’s 1000 students spread across thirty-three school buildings. That would be about thirty kids per building and one to two students per classroom. “So you can see that would have virtually no effect over [Ann Arbor’s] buildings or [Ann Arbor’s] students,” says Mexicott.
The proposed annexation poses some benefits to Ann Arbor Public Schools. The addition would increase district enrollment, raising AAPS to the fourth largest school district in the Michigan. As a larger district, Ann Arbor/Whitmore Lake would have “more of a voice at the state level,” adds Slagle. Slagle believes this annexation would provide long-term aide for Ann Arbor as “they would not only get the current kids, but also the future kids [of WLPS].”
Currently, WLPS has about 1,000 children (K-12) enrolled in it’s schools, but this number “could grow to 2000” in the near future. “[Ann Arbor] would also have three more buildings, including a small high school in which to put new programs or expand smaller high school opportunities for AAPS students who might want that experience,” says Mexicotte.
For Whitmore Lake, the annexation has some potential benefits as well. Whitmore Lake has applied to the state of Michigan for a grant of $4.3 million, which would help to pay for annexation costs. The merge would also help to bring more recent technology and curriculum into their school buildings. Funding per student would go from $7,100 to $9,100.
However, this annexation also creates possible negatives for the residents of Ann Arbor. Although not verified yet, there are questions as to whether taxes will increase for city residents. “We will probably see a short-term rise in out taxes in Ann Arbor of about .5 mils of $50 for every $100,000 of taxable value on homes per year,” says Mexicotte.”We thought this was a small and reasonable tax increase for the benefits we would receive, but it is a downside.” State legislators are readying legislation to reduce or nullify any increase in tax rates for Ann Arbor taxpayers, although the process has yet to be finished.
The annexation also creates the threat for Whitmore Lake. It could include the loss of their local control of their schools, loss of their Superintendent, and it’s Board of Education. Ann Arbor has agreed to allow two people from the former board to participate in Ann Arbor School Board Meetings, but they will have no opportunity to vote- at least for now.
The official title of Whitmore Lake schools would become Ann Arbor Public Schools Whitmore Lake. “We would just be another community of attendance area, like the ones in Ann Arbor; we would be able to maintain our sense of community [here],” says Slagle.
Classes in the current Ann Arbor district would not be altered, but Whitmore Lake would most likely see a decrease in class sizes. Ann Arbor has announced that Whitmore Lake schools would see a change to classrooms more similar to Ann Arbor; class sizes would be targeted to 30-35 students per classroom, more AP and accelerated classes would possibly be offered, and technology would be updated.
Many issues remain up in the air and will most likely not be clarified until post election. Ann Arbor has applied for a $4.3 million grant from the state to help cover business costs associated with consolidation. Ann Arbor schools would receive $100 more per student per year if the annexation were to take place, there is now a request to increase that $150. Michigan’s Department of Treasury is also leading a debt investigation of both cities to see how the districts would be able to pool their debts together; how this pools into taxes for residents is still unknown.
A community forum is set to take place next on October 14 at noon at the downtown location of Ann Arbor Public Libraries for any member of the public interested in the annexation, as well as October 23 at 6:30 pm in the Pioneer annex.
Ann Arbor Public Schools has historically been known for strong academics, athletics, fine arts, and extracurricular education programs, of which Whitmore Lake hopes their students would become a part of.
The slogan that will appear on yard signs soon to be printed is “Stronger Together.” “That is the goal, the hope, and believe the reality of this annexation effort for both districts,” adds Mexicott.