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Language in Draft of Schools of Choice Bill Will Not Slow Opposition

Grosse Pointe officials and grassroots leaders will still fight against the mandate and Rep. Tim Bledsoe warns that everyone needs to keep a close eye on the drafted bill as it could be amended "at any point in the legislative process."

Although the calling for mandated participation leaves local districts to determine capacity, Rep. Tim Bledsoe and leaders of a local grassroots organization have said they plan to continue their opposition. 

Amendments to the initial draft are one of the main concerns for Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe), he said, noting they can happen "at any point in the legislative process."

The bill calls for the mandate and gives specific calendar parameters by which a local district must determine capacity and then publish vacancies according to the capacity. 

"That at least is a positive sign that this bill in its current form is something we could possibly live with," Bledsoe said. "It could be amended at any point in the legislative process, and we need to be vigilant in watching it to ensure it remains as harmless as possible."

Bledsoe said he believes the draft introduced Wednesday falls short of Gov. Rick Snyder's expectations based on several interviews Snyder has participated in. While Bledsoe said he does not know whether there are specific plans by the Republicans to amend it from its introduced form, the governor's stance makes it seem a stronger possibility.

The mandate was introduced as a package of intended to target educational reform as slated by Snyder during his first year in office. 

While Bledsoe said he isn't sure how the other bills would impact Grosse Pointe specifically, he believes "in subtle ways these all represent a lessening of commitment and value of public schools."

The mandate on Schools of Choice is not a good idea despite the language allowing local districts to determine capacity, Bledsoe said, because it's still a form of Lansing telling local districts how to operate.

"It's a wrong-headed idea. There are still grounds to fight it," he said.

The other bills address privatizing teachers, lessening the limit on charter schools, cyber schools and more.

Grosse Pointe School Board member Judy Gafa was in Lansing Wednesday when the package of education bills was introduced. Most of the discussion during the public hearing that day focused on charter schools, she said. 

Following its introduction, Gafa met with Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), who sponsored the legislation. She got the impression the bills are a way to address dwindling enrollment in public districts throughout the state as it was the focus of his conversation with her.

She believes that essentially what will happen if it passes is that capacity will be determined on the first year of enrollment and then if it drops by 25 students the next year, the district will then be required to allow 25 out-of-district students in.

What the bill does not address, Gafa said, is the possibility of reaching capacity through the program and then having new students move into the district. Once a student has been enrolled, they are in the district until high school or graduation, she said, explaining it would seem there is potential for crowding issues. 

One area of concern if the bill is eventually passed is the time frame outlined for districts to determine capacity and to publish vacancies, Gafa said. The second week of August is still too early to accurately predict the capacity because many enrollments happen right before school starts and even into the first week of classes, she said. 

Her intention is to attend future hearings in Lansing and to continue vocalizing that the district does not want the mandate, she said, even if that means going to Lansing weekly.

Meanwhile, the grassroots organization Michigan Communities for Local Control will also , one of its founders and a Grosse Pointe Schools parent, Lynn Jacobs, said. 

The group, along with many of the elected and district officials, are not opposed to the Schools of Choice program itself. They are opposed to removing local control of a school district from the local school board—an important distinction Jacobs believes has been lost by many who reside in other communities.

From her perspective, the bills introduced Wednesday are the result of Snyder and others looking only at the bottom line. She said they are treating education as if it should operate like an efficient business, and this particular set of proposed bills are not supportive of education.

The group is largely made up of Grosse Pointers but also has many from other communities who also oppose losing local control. Jacobs said they have raised money and are currently searching for a lobbyist. The group may next join that has divided the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods from one entire district into two. 

A mandate of the Schools of Choice program is likely to hurt districts that already take part in it because it removes their ability to determine who may participate, Gafa said, naming Birmingham Schools as an example. In Birmingham, the district allows children of employees to enroll even if they are out-of-district.

Gafa is also concerned about the bill that aims to privatize teachers—another move to remove local control, she said. Grosse Pointers value their teachers and the sense of community established teachers bring to the table, further adding value to the educational experience of those in the district, Gafa said. 

"If we tried to hire a corporation to hire all of our teachers, we'd be run out of town," Gafa said, noting the contention only four years ago when the district attempted to privatize its custodial staff. 

Pam Fradeneck September 08, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Tried to privatize the Custodial Staff...
LMJ September 09, 2011 at 11:41 AM
Thank you Sara, The MCLC is, as you reported, still as committed to opposing the legislation, despite the current language of the bill. As Representative Bledsoe notes, and as others have said, nothing prevents the language of the bill changing at this point. When our grass roots coalition formed, we decided privately and announced publicly that our opposition was not limited to looking out for Grosse Pointe's interests, but for all Michigan districts who would stand to lose local control with this legislation. As this bill reads, the very thing we were concerned about would happen.... districts that use school of choice in a limited way currently will have much less ability to design the parameters of how they implement it. We will be meeting with Senator Pavlov and other key legislators who are working on education reform later this month, and we along with our citizen-funded lobbyist will continue to fight for local control issues. For more information we can be found at www.miclc.com
LMJ September 09, 2011 at 11:44 AM
A good summation by the Superintendent of Lake Orion Schools, Marion Ginopolis.. http://lakeorionschools.blogspot.com/

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