MAKING THE GRADE: Does it make a difference whether parents and citizens get involved?

By Daily News • Last Updated 2:01 pm on Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

You say the efforts that I make will do no good; they will never prevail to tip the hovering scale where justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would, but I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.


 Bonaro W. Overstreet

As usual, I am promoting the importance of parents and other concerned citizens paying attention to the actions of those who represent us in Lansing, considering those actions carefully and weighing in with our representatives after serious thought. I am often reminded of the wisdom of Bonaro W. Overstreet who is quoted above.

Although we are all in a summer mode, as this column pointed out on June 26, contrary to popular opinion, education issues do not take a break. It is still important that we stay on top of action in Lansing. Those looking for direction from this column will be disappointed. It is my intention to alert readers to important issues, but to let them make their own decisions, although my bias may often be obvious.

Before the Legislature recessed, the Senate passed House Bills 4813 and 4815, which allows the State Superintendent and the State Treasurer to dissolve a limited number of school districts if it determines them to no longer be financially viable and unable to educate their students. This has come about because there are districts facing the possibility of running out of money and because at least one district ended classes two weeks early rather than confront the financial issues. They were only able to re-open with emergency intervention from the state.

The Senate made minor changes in the bills originally passed by the House. The House agreed to the changes and the bill will now go to the governor for his consideration and signature.

In a separate but related action, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has stated that Michigan should consider a shift to countywide school districts. Others are showing increased interest in promoting consolidation of districts.

I raise these issues in the middle of summer because I believe they should be of interest and concern to parents and other citizens. No one should question the importance of addressing financial issues. No board or community should ignore the seriousness of districts running out of money. However, when I am considering this kind of question, I am reminded of an article that I read a few years ago. It was written by Paul Abramson, president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facility consulting firm. He described what happened in several cases where money, not education drove decisions.

In one situation, a community faced a difficult choice. But rather than taking the easiest path, township officials, school officials and community leaders came together to discuss alternatives. This is how he tells the story:

“These were politicians, school administrators and community leaders who didn’t stop to ask first, ‘what will it cost?’ Instead they asked, ‘How can we solve the problem and then they found the money to do the job. They put children first. What an extraordinary idea.”

What an extraordinary idea indeed. The issues that confront the legislature and our governor are challenging and often complicated. The impact of the responses to them has potential to be far reaching. The choices for solutions to education problems should be made by first asking what is best for our children.

As parents and citizens we should ask no less from those in whose hands important decisions rest. The decisions may still be difficult, but we would at least have tried to do our best for the students. Next week I will provide more information about what is included in these bills and discuss further the impact they could have on our local schools.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.


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