“Hello, I’m the parent of a special ed student,” began a recent robocall, asking voters to say yes in today’s vote on a special education millage renewal. Special ed parents have the most obvious stake–but if the renewal is rejected, all students in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District will be affected.
Local schools are required to provide special education services, so defeat would force districts to cut other spending to replace the lost revenue for special ed, currently $14 million a year countywide. Already faced with an anticipated $15 million deficit, Ann Arbor schools will have another $6 million hole if the seven-year renewal fails.
Parent activist Donna Lasinski notes that’s enough to pay sixty experienced teachers. “We’ve cut the fat, and now we’re at the bone,” says Lasinski, who also worked on the “enhancement” millage that voters rejected in November 2009. Lasinski says that she is seeing “much less resistance” this time around, probably because it’s a renewal, not a new tax. She and other parents worked hard to get out the vote in the weeks leading up to the election.
Interim WISD superintendent Rick Leyshock notes that the “vast majority” of special ed students now spend most of their day in regular classrooms. If the millage goes down and districts have to increase class sizes, he says, it won’t be good for anyone–but it will be especially hard on kids who struggle with anything from mild learning disabilities to severe autism. Unlike the enhancement millage, which was killed by a well-funded anti-tax group, by mid-April no organized opposition to the special ed renewal had surfaced. Says Leyshock, “We’re very hopeful this will be looked at differently.
This article has been edited since its publication in the May 2011 Ann Arbor Observer. Information on the pro-millage campaign has been updated.