LANSING — State Representative David E. Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti) today praised local community leaders working toward school district unification upon the announcement that the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) will award more than $6.5 million to the new district to support efforts to consolidate Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools. The announcement was made Monday morning.

“This grant will provide much-needed support to ongoing efforts to unify two school districts into a single, high-quality district,” Rutledge said. “Although considerable hard work and many difficult decisions still lie ahead, this support empowers the new district to move forward towards becoming a strong, student-centered and innovative district.”

Countless administrators and community members have collaborated on the consolidation process for some time. Washtenaw ISD Superintendent Scott Menzel, members of the Unified School Board, administrators and staff have worked to negotiate the consolidation, leading a community education effort that resulted in a more than 60 percent approval by community members considering the question of merging the two financially struggling districts.

Representative Bill Rogers has also been actively involved in assisting with consolidation efforts, working with Rutledge and others to ensure that state government is helpful throughout the process. “The new unified district is a perfect example of why these kinds of incentive programs exist,” Rogers said. “The board and leadership staff are doing everything right, and I couldn’t be happier that the state is supporting their work in this way.”

“To say we’re excited is an understatement,” Superintendent Menzel said of the grant announcement. “There are an exorbitant amount of expenses associated with merging two districts. Curriculum, technology and operating systems will have to be audited and aligned; inventories and analysis of best practices will be conducted; and the sheer manpower of closing down two separate districts and launching a new one is labor-intensive.”

Last week, Rutledge introduced legislation that would establish a three-year moratorium for new charter schools in communities where two public school districts consolidate, unless the charter is approved by the intermediate school district(s) overseeing the new district. House Bill 4165, co-sponsored by Representatives Bill Rogers (R-Brighton), Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), and Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), among others, would only apply when voters approve a consolidation. Rutledge introduced the same bill in 2012, but the legislation was not taken up before the 2011-2012 Legislature adjourned for the year.

“This bill will protect any newly unified district from companies attempting to profit from the tenuous transition of consolidation,” Rutledge said. “The intent of this legislation is not to shut out charter schools, but to ensure that community-governed districts needing to consolidate have the time to do so,” said Rutledge. “At its core, this bill is about expanding quality choice. My hope is that with this grant, along with the reasonable restriction on new companies included in HB 4165, our community district will surpass expectations and provide our kids with a stellar education for generations to come.”