To remain in the black despite declining student enrollment, Whitmore Lake Schools officials closed the middle school, eliminated programs, and still have spent essentially all of the district's reserves. Fearing that the inevitable outcome of this constant reduction in services and enrollment would be state takeover, they turned to Ann Arbor Public Schools for an annexation.
There are no talks of dissolving the district at this time but many believe that would be the ultimate outcome. Some critics of the annexation plan think Ann Arbor would be better served to let the death spiral play out. A local state representative doesn't want anyone thinking a forced elimination is a viable option.
That's based on Adam Zemke's experience in 2013 when the legislature passed the bills that forced the closure of the Inkster and Buena Vista School Districts. The Ann Arbor Democrat says the closure has cost neighboring districts money. Districts receiving students from Inkster and Buena Vista also acquired buildings that were in need of repairs after years of neglect caused by maintenance budgets being slashed.
Zemke says there's a big personal cost when the state closes a district as well. "The biggest thing we heard was, I'm out of a job, and you're tearing apart a major part of my community in the process, and what am I going to do then?" Zemke says.
Zemke cautions it's unknown how the current, or a future, state legislature will handle a forced dissolution. He doesn't believe the Inkster and Buena Vista closings should be used as a given for what would happen if Whitmore Lake Schools are ever eliminated. He says state leaders want districts to be more creative around financial solvency issues now, so the damage done in 2013 isn't repeated in other communities.
Voters in Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake decide November fourth if annexation plans move forward. If the vote fails, Whitmore Lake Schools will need to continue the process of cutting programs that are critical to keeping and attracting students.