From Rod Rock, Ed. D., superintendent, Clarkston Community Schools:
Recently you heard on the radio and read in the newspaper about the Ithaca superintendent, Nathan Bootz, who asked Gov. Rick Snyder to turn his school district into a prison. His reasoning: in order to meet the Constitutional rights of those who commit crimes, prisons receive $30,000 per year per prisoner; prisoners have free access to computers, the Internet, exercise equipment, a warm bed, health care, and three meals per day. Our schools, on the other hand, receive around $7,000 per year per student, will next year receive an unnecessary defund, and must play for pay (e.g., meet certain financial “best practices” in order to receive another dose of one-time funding).
I’m writing this letter to follow up on Superintendent Bootz’s recommendation and to provide some strategic suggestions for collective action. In the coming weeks and months, districts around the state will move to meet the state’s mandated best financial practices. Those with the ability to do so will receive a defund of $100 per pupil. Those unable to meet these requirements will not qualify for this one-time money. As an advocate for all children, (first, middle and last names) in our great state, I’m very concerned that this “play for pay” policy is trending us toward state-government controlled education, which is not in the best interest of our children. Next up for the governor and Legislature: education reform.
According to research, we humans don’t tend to react to risks unless they cause us to personally suffer. Seeing others suffer isn’t enough to jolt us into action, and neither are near misses (Adrian Haskell, Harvard Business Review, June 2011, p. 20).
Philosophically, this strategy by our state suggests that it is okay for some students in some districts or classrooms to suffer. I am vehemently opposed to this line of reasoning. No child can suffer. No school can fail to achieve. We must have excellent teachers in every classroom in every school across our state. The state cannot base its educational policies on our lowest achieving districts, those that abuse the system, or bad teachers. This is unacceptable and wrong.
My gut instinct is to deny the $100 from the state until every district in the state can qualify for this money. Further, my gut tells me that not one single district in the state should accept this money until every district qualifies for this money. I know that the district I serve will not support my suggestion. In fact, even suggesting this goes against conventional wisdom. I know that most districts across the state will not even consider this. Yet, I am compelled to ask these questions: What if every district in Michigan refuses to accept the $100 defund from that state until every district in the state qualifies for the defund? What does it say about our values if we blindly fall in line with this unfunded mandate? What values will the state’s educational reform cause us to violate? Where will this trend take us?
As educational leaders, we’ve talked for some time about the “funding cliff” and that we would not feel compelled to collective action until we fell over it. I think we’ve fallen over the cliff. If we don’t act together now, when will we? “The best moves lie closest to the worst” (Norman Mailer as quoted in Menand, 2002, The Metaphysical Club, p. 149). Is accepting this money the best move or the worst move?
I’m talking to you: Community leaders; PTO and PTA leaders; superintendents; principals; parents; teachers; support staff members; MASB (Michigan Association of School Boards); (Michigan Department of Education) Superintendent (Michael P.) Flanagan; State Board of Education; MASA (Michigan Association of School Administrators); MAISA (Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators); MEA (Michigan Education Association); AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Michigan; MSBO (Michigan School Business Officials); MASSP (Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals); MEMSPA (Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association); MAC (Michigan Association of Counties); MASCD (Michigan Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development); Michigan Learning Forward; and everyone else who shares my passion for locally controlled schools, excellent teachers for every child, engaged, globally connected students, and collaborative communities and parents; and those who sense that the educational agenda of our governor and Legislature is not in the best interest of our shared values. My manifesto to you is that we:
• Read the Superintendent’s Manifesto;
• Unite as the WE Party, for all kids, with one platform and voice;
• Call into question all unfunded mandates (will we play for pay?);
• Change the Constitution to reflect the value of a world-class education for every Michigan student;
• Institute a Children’s Bill of Rights; and
• Act together in accordance with what WE know, now!
I look forward to hearing from you.