Save our schools
To the Editor:
As a member of this community I hear many neighbors, parents and friends question the present crisis in our wonderful Grosse Pointe Public Schools.
In this week’s Tower, a student, Brian Biglin, wrote what I felt was one of the best explanations of the present crisis and the bleak future of the Grosse Pointe Public schools, if we do not support our local millages and all work together to “save” our schools, our property value, and our present wonderful community that none of us wants to see changed.
As a parent of now grown children, a grandparent of two grandsons, and an educator for 37 years, I often have found I learned more from my students and children than any politician or newspaper editor could possibly explain.
Here is the real story from a young man I have never met at Grosse Pointe South High school. But there is one thing for certain, I totally agree with him.
Thank you for this wonderful column in the Tower, Brian.
Ellen J. Bowen
Director of Choral
Grosse Pointe South High School
‘Public schools in trouble;unfair limitations, state control continue to hurt district’
By Brian Biglin
Grosse Pointe South High School Senior
Behind the madness associated with recent budget cuts is a deeper and scarier problem that will affect all public schools. Turning off lights, lowering the thermostat and holding a special election just to secure the upkeep of our historic school marks just the beginning of this and other school districts’ real problems.
These happenings worry some people, but the real problem is that we would not be in such dire straits if our local tax money, which is secured by a strong and relatively wealthy base, was not being carted off to Lansing and redistributed around the state.
Proposal A was an early ’90s Republican idea to be resented; the premise was to create equality among school districts by pooling tax money and redistributing it among all schools, thus minimizing the relation between local tax base and the success of a district. In the ’90s, the economy was on a high plateau and the state budget was stable, but now that neither holds true, many of the original Proposal A supporters should be wondering just what were they thinking, with Grosse Pointe schools being a fine case study.
Because lawmakers could not handle the fact that some school districts were better off than others because they had more locally concentrated money, they decided to spread the money around, and now the wealthier districts are hurting, and all public schools are going down together. There is not even an avenue for localities to raise local funds outside of sinking fund and bond elections, and for this reason, schools with the potential to do just fine by supplementing the state plan with local money are being unfairly limited.
It is an egalitarian way of slashing everyone’s funding and making mediocrity widespread. And now it is a way to increase class sizes everywhere, a way for localities to request even higher taxes just to subsist (exemplified through the upcoming sinking fund), and a way to see major programs all cut in the same equal manner so that they are all equally bad.
So to make up for this heavy-handed government interference, our public schools are taking the first step toward becoming privatized. Choir and athletic boosters raise the funds to take said groups on trips, provide equipment and enter competitions. For the first time, families of Tower staff members were asked to donate money because the paper has lost over half of its financial support from the school in five years.
And now, the Grosse Pointe Public School System, renowned for excellence once upheld by its ability to manage an abundance of funds, is creating a “Fund for Excellence.” This fund is asking citizens, firms and other groups to donate sums of money so that the district can try to circumvent the losses being handed down by the state.
All of this sounds like a move toward privatizing if you ask me. It is the epic struggle between the central government and local control. The only problem is that the state government has the upper hand after seizing the majority of the local funds gathered by the taxes levied on our parents.
I do not suspect that any meaningful amount of funds will be gathered through donations. Neither do I expect that the majority of funds lost over the past five years will be restored by the state government in spite of a rapidly improving economy.
Therefore, I believe that there will eventually be a movement toward private schools in this and other communities where families care strongly about the quality of education. In addition, I think that within a decade or so all sorts of private schools will expand; parochial schools whose doors were shut long ago will see a rebirth similar to the one religiously-affiliated schools have already seen at the college level, and schooling in general may become a commercial venture, with groups of private schools being owned by a central company.
It is an extremely declinistic view, but if public school funding continues to tank, people who care about their child’s education will not mess around with mediocrity. When even our well-established district faces massive cuts for multiple years, albeit resultant from slashes from the central state government, one knows that something bad is happening.
Local control of taxes is the only fair way to ensure that communities get the schools they deserve. Clearly, our schools have been great because of the strong tax base. Detroit once had a renowned school system because it had a strong tax base; once that base left for the most part, so did its label as a good school system. Basic economic concepts dictate this, and legislation such as Proposal A has proven to have no positive effect.
To ensure a successful future, formerly great school districts such as ours must find a way around big government. It is time for our state representatives and senators to combat the governor’s unimaginative way of dealing with cuts, and adjust Proposal A to allow districts to hold millages and keep that local money to at least supplement the state plan for “equal” funding.
If we cannot, then great teachers will go to waste because each class contains 40 students; our architecturally stunning school won’t account for anything of substance, and students will be deprived of the unique opportunities provided by strong extracurricular activities. the only thing left to say will be “South used to be sweet.”
Ellen J. Bowen
March 10, 2004