#AnnArbor Voters: It’s Probably Best to Vote YES on Annexing Whitmore Lake Public Schools

If you aren’t a registered voter in Ann Arbor (or, I guess, Whitmore Lake), MI, then you probably won’t care about this at all (unless you just *adore* inside baseball on small-town politics). And if you *are* a registered voter in Ann Arbor, you probably still don’t even understand the annexation thing–nonetheless, we’ve gotta vote on the damn thing come November 4. Fortunately, there’s a really very informative FAQ. Give it a read.
SHORT OVERVIEW: Whitmore Lake schools are broke. They asked AAPS to absorb them. We’re gonna vote on whether or not we should do that.
TL;DR: Vote YES.
BUT WHY DAVE-O?: Well, a few reasons:

  1. We have great schools and this won’t harm that. By the latest calculations, our per-pupil funding will go down, like, $7 per year post annexation. By annexing Whitmore Lake we help them keep their local schools, so we won’t pump up class sizes in our existing schools. Win-win (well, incredibly-minor-loss-win, but you get what I’m getting at). On balance, this is a small price to pay for a larger good.
  2. It’s a big boost to the kids in Whitmore Lake. Whitmore Lake is a small community–just 1,000 students, compared to our 16,000 students. After annexation they’ll see something like a $2,000-per-student boost in spending. Their teachers will also be paid better–at AAPS scale–and their programs will be expanded, getting back art and music and AP classes they had to cut as their finances collapsed. These are all good things.
  3. It’s cheap. Check out point #13 in the FAQ linked above; if Zillow says your house is worth $200,000, then annexing Whitmore Lake Schools will cost you just $25/year–or ~$2 per month–in added taxes. For $25 per year, you’ll be improving the lives of 1,000 kids in a neighboring community, you’ll up the pay for their ~60 teachers, and you’ll ease the burdens suffered by their parents. That’s good.
  4. Taking no action is risky. Right now this is a good deal because there are incentives in place to encourage AAPS to move forward with the annexation. If we decline to do this and Whitmore Lake Schools collapse, then we’ll likely absorb the students into our local schools, with no incentives. They’ll lose their local schools, their teachers will be fired, our class sizes will go up, and per-pupil spending will drop. That’s bad.
    Also, just in case you’ve never suffered through it yourself, and haven’t been watching what’s up in Detroit, let’s be clear: bankruptcy (and other forms of dissolution, like dissolving a school district) is *designed* to be an absolutely miserable process. It is chaotic, and it is hurtful, and it is absolutely punishing. Having helped family members whose noses were being pressed to that particular grinding wheel, I can tell you: I wouldn’t wish it on war criminals or Internet trolls, let alone the basically blameless families of Whitmore Lake. Leaving Whitmore Lake out to dry consigns them to suffering and opens us up to the risk of being forced to shoulder the burden of more students with less money. That’s a whole lot of downside risk for the dubious pleasure of maintaining our moral superiority and saving two bucks per month.

COMPLICATING FACTORS:

  1. Assorted Gish Galloping. Lots of distracting questions get thrown up whenever someone tries to talk about annexation: If annexation is so great, why didn’t you do this for Ypsi? What about local control? Why didn’t Whitmore Lake handle their finances better? What about our children?!? What about our taxes?!? My general policy is to restrict any given discussion to the present moment, not the past and future and relentless, endless hypotheticals, but just to hit these: 1) Ypsi never asked to be annexed to AAPS, and therefore it never came up. That’s how it works. They have to ask. We aren’t a horde of invading Huns and Mongols snatching up territory here. 2) “Local control” doesn’t really impress me, “local contact” does. I have no idea who the folks are running for school board (sorry!), but I talk to my son’s teacher, Mr. Taylor at Pattengill, literally every single day. He’s given me his cellphone number, and he goes out of his way to work closely with me for what’s best for my son and his classmates. I want as many students as possible to have that level of local contact, and so maintaining Whitmore Lake’s neighborhood schools is a high priority for me, as a human being. 3) How did Whitmore Lake get into such dire arrears? I have no clue, and I don’t really care, because it certainly is not the fault of the 1,000 children whose education some folks seem to be very eager to flush down the toilet. Those kids are blameless, and it’s those kids who will be hurt most if their schools cease to exist. Besides, whatever Whitmore Lake Schools did wrong, they clearly won’t repeat after annexation, because the administration will be entirely replaced by AAPS. 4) As for taxes: It’s $25ish per year. If you think kicking in $25 so that a child can enjoy $2000 of education is a crappy investment, then that’s your call. For my money, it’s a terrific return. 5) And “What about our children?!?” Frankly, I think annexation is a good lesson for our children: We have an obligation to help care for our neighbors, and if you think you have something good, then you should share it, not hoard it. I think we have good schools. I’d like to share that. But, again, that’s just for me. Perhaps you have a different lesson you want to teach your children. That’s your piece, and godspeed with it.
  2. The ballot language is just plain awful. My old editor at the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Dave Askins, pointed this one out. Here’s the ballot language for the annexation, and it’s just awful. It’s entitled “PROPOSAL TO ASSUME THE BONDED INDEBTEDNESS OF WHITMORE LAKE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT” and begins:
    Shall the Public Schools of the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, Michigan, assume the bonded indebtedness of the Whitmore Lake Public School District . . .

    I mean, for reals, who in their right mind would vote for that, just based on the ballot language? Ugh!

So, now that we’re way down at the bottom of the page, if you’ve read this far and you hear what I’m saying, you might want to spread the word: Vote YES on “assuming the bonded indebtedness of blah blah blah”; vote YES on annexation
In case you have questions, there’s one last community forum on the annexation. It’s at 6:30 tonight (Wed Oct 29), at the Skyline High School Media Center.