Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do school officials reside in charmed neighborhoods?

Check out this Sunday column by Brian Dickerson:

Detroit Free Press: Schools finally know where they stand: At ground zero (10/25/09)

I started reading it, thinking it was just another “schools need more money” rant.

But this well-written piece baited me… lured me in… and then WHAM:

Still, you have to wonder where some of the public educators expressing shock at last week's developments spent their summer. Have they really been living in the same state as the rest of us?

Do school officials reside in charmed neighborhoods where jobs have begun to reappear, foreclosures are on the wane, and home prices are picking up? Are their neighbors getting pay raises, replacing large kitchen appliances and eating out more?

Oh, how I wish the Michigan Association of School Boards – the MASB – would switch to using this sort of material as part of their training program.

It takes a twist to the left towards the end, but that's OK because it tempts readers to think about the reality of the situation, and ponder outcomes.

==> Mike.

I've posted the text of the article below, in case the link doesn't work.

October 25, 2009
Schools finally know where they stand: At ground zero


Superintendents of Michigan's richest school districts are apoplectic -- and who can blame them?

Just a week ago, their districts were the closest thing our battered state had to sacred cows; now they've been tossed into the meat grinder with everyone else.

What happened? Haven't voters identified K-12 education as a top priority in every public opinion poll since the beginning of time? Hasn't there been a bipartisan understanding that, in the event of a biblical flood that covered the Capitol dome, the school aid budget would be the one thing lawmakers snatched up before fleeing for higher ground?

School superintendents aren't stupid, you understand. They knew a real flood
was coming, and they say they were prepared for, or at least resigned to, the $165-per-pupil hit that everyone had decided was their fair share of Lansing's end times slash-a-thon.

But then $165 per pupil became $292. And for the wealthiest districts -- the ones that weren't already advertising for emergency financial managers and holding bake sales to pay for their music teachers -- that was just the beginning.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the governor who's been the darling of public educators for seven years was coming at them with a flamethrower, vetoing the money the richest school districts had long relied on to keep themselves at the head of the pack.

School leaders say they knew that Granholm was frustrated with Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, and with his Republican Senate's refusal to consider any revenue adjustment that might be construed as a tax increase. But why was she suddenly taking it out on them?

And why was the governor insisting the state couldn't afford the per-pupil expenditures legislators had approved, when the school aid budget on her desk reflected revenue estimates that the state's most trusted bean counters had made just last May?

A parallel state?

It's easy, as I said, to understand the top-tier superintendents' dismay. Here they are, nearly four months into the fiscal year, and just learning that millions of dollars they've already committed to spend won't be materializing. It's like planning Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people and learning, as you're preheating the oven, that there's no turkey or stuffing available.

Still, you have to wonder where some of the public educators expressing shock at last week's developments spent their summer. Have they really been living in the same state as the rest of us?

Do school officials reside in charmed neighborhoods where jobs have begun to reappear, foreclosures are on the wane, and home prices are picking up? Are their neighbors getting pay raises, replacing large kitchen appliances and eating out more?
And if none of these things is true, as I suspect, why is anyone the least bit surprised that the tax revenues Michigan relies on to support its schools have continued to plummet since May, or that they are likely to keep falling?

A sense of where they've been

For the record, I don't imagine for a minute that public school administrators are any more impervious to economic reality than the rest of us. Even the most affluent school districts have witnessed dwindling enrollments, increased demand for free or subsidized lunches, and burgeoning mental health problems. No one has to tell educators theirs is a state in crisis.

Still, many educators have remained certain that, especially in communities that have historically prided themselves on superior schools, tradition would somehow trump economic reality.

Suburban legislators might look the other way while poor people lost medical care or nursing homes were shuttered, and they might express sympathy for college students who lost tuition grants they'd been promised, even if most young people were too busy to vote.

But surely suburbanites would not sit still for massive cuts to their own children's' educational resources. Surely, if forced to choose between funding primary schools and keeping chewing tobacco or bottled water a few pennies cheaper, even the most tax-averse Republicans would choose pragmatism over ideological purity -- wouldn't they?

We'll know soon enough.

In the meantime, Michigan's richest school districts have belatedly achieved what airline pilots call "situational awareness."

Now teachers and school superintendants know what nursing home operators and police dispatchers do: In Michigan, we are all living at ground zero.

Contact BRIAN DICKERSON: 313-222-6584 or bdickerson@freepress.com


Bill said...

We in the rural districts have been getting screwed for years, simply because the rich districts had to be bribed in order to do Engler's bidding back in the day. While the whole lot of them in Lansing--including Granholm--need to be sent down the river, I at least like that Granholm had the spine to stand up to the binary-thinking bully that is Mike Bishop.

If people want meaningful reform, they should back Obama's health reform. But a better solution for the "reformers" is to take the tact that there's nothing wrong with our current free-market health care system. The simple solution to skyrocketing health care costs? Simply get workers to reduce coverages and fork over more money out of pocket. The current system allows them to exploit attacks against unions--so they're all for it. Yes, that is "the" conservative plan. The only one. Brilliant. Forward thinking. Long term.

Good grief.

I back the idea of lowering the sales tax and at the same time including previously exempt businesses and entertainment in the tax thing. Why should a mom have to pay taxes to buy her kid a pair of shoes and someone who wants a suite at a Red Wings game doesn't?

No, but again: "the" solution is simply to cut cut cut cut cut. We can't "reform" the tax code to bring in more revenue! Of course not.

I also plan on studying the administrative positions and costs in our district over the years to see what that has been like. If it's like the rest of Michigan, I suspect there has been an absolute explosion of administrative positions and costs. We'll see.

At our school we have the same number of full-time teachers now that we did 30 years ago--even though enrollment has climbed 400 percent in that time.

On another note, one week from today is the election. I plan to hit the ground running.


A Conservative Teacher said...

This isn't a communist nation- it is not 'to each according to his needs'. Parents who work hard and save their money and who try to get ahead morally and ethically deserve the chance to send their own children to the best schools that their hard work can afford. There is no 'right to equal education'- in a state of nature, that right does not exist- but in a state of nature, you do have the right to keep and earn property and buy services that you wish to have. You do not have the 'right' to equal education, you do not have the 'right' to healthcare, and you do not have the 'right' to have a house. You can work for those things, and you have the right to pursue them, but only in a tyrannical nation can you be given those things when you did not earn them.

Bill said...

That's your view. I have a different view of the "provide for the general welfare..." written by our Founding Fathers.

Like it not, the government supplies many many things to its citizens. Education being one of them. If they're going to fund schools they shouldn't fund them unequally. The current system has nothing to do with any fiscal conservative policy that you cherish--but rather it's due to the sausage-making rules that were imperfectly imparted on us due to the $$ and power and influence of (primarily) the richest districts.

In your view of the Constitution, people don't have a right to anything. Zip. Nada. That's rather Darwinistic, don't you think? I find it ironic that conservatives so often times embrace God, the Bible, and inject our Founding Fathers with fundamentalist attributes--but believe passionately and irrevocably in Darwinism in the economic, political, and social arenas.

You don't find that odd? A sincere question.

Bill said...

I'm also not opposed to exploring the idea of putting new state employees, including teachers, on a 401k plan instead of MPSERS. In higher ed, we have the choice. Many of us voluntarily chose doing a personal 401 over MPSERS. The key is how something like that would be implemented and how it would cost. You can't simply cut people off at the knees that have been promised something and promised it in writing.

But I'm leery of "reforms" that are nothing but venomous attacks on public servants under the disguise of being "good for us all." Take PA 106, for example. Two years ago citizens were promised hundreds of millions of dollars if this was enacted. Well? Where are the savings? Where? That law did nothing but cost districts time and money. BUT it was perceived in conservative circles as an attack on the MEA, which made it all good--whether or not any money was saved. See my point?

What about pooling all teachers an state employees into one plan? Even Bishop is balking at the up-front costs of doing something like that. Yet people like Nolan Finley--because the plan would bash a union--are painting false, rosy pictures about it. I find such political posturing sickening and repulsive.

Let's reform health care in the big picture and stop this nickel and dime bs that doesn't have a lick of reform as its goal and is nothing but public servant bashing.

Teachers are happy, I've found, to be part of a constructive dialog on improving all aspects of our school system--if they feel they're not being made out to be "the" fall guys. I swear drug dealing is held in higher esteem by some of you conservatives.

You can't get anywhere by trashing the piss out of teachers and their legal representation--and then after that try to get them to have an honest and frank conversation with you. They won't listen. They won't trust you. And rightly so.

And don't even get me started on certain people who use their teacher/union bashing as a stepping stone to line their own pockets and build their own political careers.

Bill said...

...I should also add that I'm in favor of schools of choice. Our own district's enrollment is boosted by that each year. But that's an issue unrelated to the funding issue.

Vouchers for private schools? The main thing is this: most parents send their kids to private schools for religious reasons (well, many do anyway). And for excellence, yes, but also because they don't want the government telling them what to do. Okay, so your tax dollars follow your child to the private school. It's no longer a private school, see?

Look what happened to the companies that took bailout money. They're being told by the government how to do things.

I've never seen this argument addressed by voucher advocates.

And I also support home schooling. My oldest daughter was home-schooled for two years.