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Strong Words and Warning from Grosse Pointe Schools Superintendent

Thomas Harwood says pending state legislation is a serious threat to Grosse Pointe schools and the community.

Grosse Pointe Schools Superitendent, Thomas Harwood, is issuing a "wake-up call" to parents and taxpayers in the community, saying that legislation pending in Lansing could "dramatically change the landscape of our school system and our day to day livelihoods," like nothing he's seen in 26 years of working in education.

"I do strongly recommend you pay attention," Harwood said.

His comments came at Monday's school board meeting during his regular update, but this update, he said, has more urgency than any other, and the legislation, which could be passed in coming weeks by a lame duck legislature, more ramifications than any other. 

Essentially the proposed house and senate bills will broaden the definition of a what a public school is and how it is run and funded, in part by letting students and families decide where to spend their state's per pupil funding.

It will drastically increase the types of schools that students can attend by authorizing online schools, charter schools such as single gender, boarding and international. The legislation would also allow students to piece together an education by attending schools in different districts in the same school year in order to take the courses or have the teacher or school setting they desire. It also endorses year-round schools. What it does not do is force schools to open enrollment to any and all, whether residents of the district or not.

If passed, the legislation, which was proposed in September and is the product of a promise by Gov. Rick Snyder to address disparity in public education, a disparity that can have detrimental effects on the economy and society. The goal of the reform, which is basically an revision of the state education code, is to even the playing field in education so that good schools are available to all rather than to students from the most affluent communities.

Harwood said the legislation, as proposed, drains funding from schools and redirects it to corporations and business interests. It also takes away local control and would be an unwieldy, logistical nightmare for districts in terms of planning for enrollment, funding and more. 

Overall, he said, the legislation amounts to a voucher system, vouchers long being a dirty word in education reform for some. The proposed legislation is backed by a report and the Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013 written by the Oxford Foundation-Michigan.

"The bill is written by Richard McClellan on behalf of Gov. Snyder,"  Harwood said. "We'll hear his name a lot in the coming years…

They haven't used the term voucher yet in their description, but…but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck. it's a duck.

"It's a voucher," Harwood said.

For Grosse Pointe it means risking the loss of students, the loss of state funding and of competing against schools held to different set of standards, Harwood said. Already, opposition in Grosse Pointe has given rise to more than 300 people committing to the Grosse Pointe Legislative Action Network.  Similar groups have formed in cities with schools comparable to Grosse Pointe's.

A public forum on the pending legislation will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Brownell Middle School. There will be a presentation and a question and answer session led by Dr. Harwood, School Board president Judy Gafa and Marcie Lipsitt, a public education advocate in Lansing.

"In my 26 years of working in the field of education…this is unprecedented…in regards to legislation pushing through reform bills. These reform bills seem to be in the interest of politics. It will dramatically affect what we do here in Grosse Pointe schools.

"It is a wake up call…We need to be wide awake and be very vocal. My fear is that the voices of those in public education will not be heard."

Board trustee Tom Jakubiec said he disagrees with the rush to shoot down the legislation. He said he hopes everyone will read the legislation and the Oxford Report that is is based on to get a full understanding, a bigger picture of the purpose of the legislation.

"I take a slightly different view…When you look at the state level with so many schools failing…something has to be done..if you get the chance to read through the Oxford Report think about how does it change the paradigm of students being locked in a failing school to getting opportunities," he said. 

"Just take a good look understand what the intent was.

"I know sometimes it's hard to do when we're in a successful school district…There are so many schools that are less than successful and so many families that can't afford to go to private schools. I'm not afraid of the competition. I think we'll be able to remain successful."

He said he doesn't share the superintendent's strong opposition. "I think there is an opportunity in making some changes."

Board President Judy Gafa said she was very concerned about the Oxford Foundation Report and disconcerted at not knowing who's on the committee behind it.

She said research on other states with similar approaches found that graduation rates remained flat or declined. In Colorado, she said, after cyber schools were introduced drop out rates increased.

"I'm not saying there isn't help we need to give," she said. "I am a strong believer in community based schools and I believe this plan is out to destroy our community based schools."

She said there are other states to look to, states that have seen drastic improvement with much less interferences. Specifically, she said, New York and Tennessee have "reversed drop out rates at drop out factory schools."

"I'm not opposed to helping failing school districts," she said. "But there are better plans."

To see the legislation and Oxford Plan, go to http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/House/pdf/2012-HIB-5923.pdf, http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2012-SIB-1358.pdf

Hasta November 30, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Here's how the EAA expansion would affect GPPS: While the EAA in this legislation is allowed to directly take over only the bottom five percent, they are also allowed to acquire public district facilities without consent and set up "globally selective" schools, online schools, boarding schools, and a whole variety of other schools that GPPS students will be able to "choose" to attend, either full or part time, with GPPS providing all the expensive support and the EAA's authorized private for-profit charters (yes, that's allowed) make a quick profit on whatever cheap, low quality stuff they come up with. So the EAA does a direct take over of only the bottom 5%, but with their power to control logistics - our public school property - they are wide open to "authorize" for-profit charters to move in. No accountability...the EAA schools are not required to take MEAP or MME tests and report only to the governor's appointees - not to any elected board at either the state or local level.
Christopher Profeta November 30, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Chris, My only point in mentioning my college students is that I see what background they are coming in with, and I know what they are missing. I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems with our system, but I remain unconvinced that the reforms coming from Lansing politicians will fix the problem. If we turn control of our children’s education over to politicians and CEOs, we have to understand that, while we may be successful at training our children to memorize information, we will not be solving the real problem. Our public schools do not do an effective enough job of teaching students to think critically about that information. In short, we don't teach kids why they need to know the information, or what they can do with it. Not to be too dramatic, but education is about improving quality of life. If we take a CEO mind set, we may improve test scores, which is nice, but it doesn’t solve the larger problem.
Mary K. November 30, 2012 at 03:46 PM
What am I missing? Where is the cause for alarm? We're not being forced to offer open enrollment as a district, but our students could choose to attend other institutions or programs to best suit their individual needs. Great! As a parent in this district, that sounds fantastic to me. I'd certainly feel that I had more control over my children's education and the resources and opportunities they are offered than I do under the current system of "local control". If GPPSS is concerned about losing students to other institutions, the answer is simple- be the best. Most parents in this district make a top notch education for their children a priority. I don't see GP students leaving en masse for sub-par programs. And for those that do, again- great! Less disruptions in the classroom for my own kids.
Todd November 30, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Clifford.... its about influence. When Banks shows up on the national news as a joke, how many legislators in Lansing are going to line up with him? He may be some ghetto superstar, but his name was mud before he got a single vote. Thus.... WE LOSE! While his ability to leverage the political influence of GP to promote investments across his entire district may sound good on the capital steps and in front of school children, we all know its a ruse. And Talabi... LOL... at least we agree on that waste of our tax revenue.
Todd November 30, 2012 at 04:14 PM
You are missing the fact that GPPS diplomas could be had with a bunch correspondence courses. Do Gym and art at North, then take bio, chem, and calc online from some joke class and get the same diploma as my AP kid. UofM then give no advantage to the high performer who's parents put in the sweat equity and a lot of big tax payments. The kid from Detroit gets another short-cut. Leaving a crap school in the Detroit neighborhood just continues the madness. This plan does not address the real issue. A SCHOOL IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD THAT DOESN'T SUCK. Ultimately, who are you protecting the Detroit kid from? His own neighbors and family? Its a total cop-out in Lansing. Nobody wins. That's why this whole thing is dumb.
Kathy Abke November 30, 2012 at 04:19 PM
What you're missing, Mary K. is that GPPSS will have less money to operate, and we're already hurting. We may not be able to maintain our small class sizes and teacher ratio, we may have to cut programs. The teachers just took a pay cut (watch the last board meeting.) Watch this video for more info: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10200158471388514
Mary K. November 30, 2012 at 04:28 PM
What Detroit kid? This bill doesn't force districts to become open enrollment. And again, I don't see many GP parents being too enthusiastic about sending their kid to GPPSS for art and gym and elsewhere for 'gimme' classes. I do see parents choosing to send their children with special, advanced or different needs to outside programs for additional enrichment or support they may currently be unable to obtain at their local school. And your AP kid isn't considered in the same pool as non-AP kids from the same district now. If they were, universities wouldn't bother looking at transcripts or other documentation. We're not being faced with an influx of kids from outside our district coming IN. What educators and administrators are most afraid of are families making the decision to take some of their tax dollars OUT. There will be a learning curve, no doubt, but at the end of the day, if you're the best thing going, then you've got nothing to worry about. Sure, some institutions will be in it to attract kids and families interested in just getting by, but I don't see our community suddenly going whole hog, cashing in our shared values and heading for the closest online charter with minimal requirements we can find.
Hasta November 30, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Mary K, there are thousands of parents in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Troy, Lake Orion, Clarkston, Rochester, and more who are worried about losing their public schools due to funding cuts that will occur with this legislation. It is patently unfair to siphon off kids who looking for easy classes at a flat 1/6 rate and leave behind all the expensive support at the public school - counseling, special ed, fine arts, SPORTS, etc. The public school will even have to do all the ACCOUNTING involved in paying fractions of foundation money to various unaccountable entities that can spring up. In the end what the parents in Oakland County understand is that they won't HAVE a public school system to choose or fall back on. It will have collapsed under this Ponzi scheme. Unless you truly believe that the Grosse Pointe bubble will protect you from everything bad in the world...prepare to become Indian Village North.
Hasta November 30, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Feel free to call/write/email Snyder's office directly. Call/write/email Lisa Posthumus Lyons and Phil Pavlov, the Ed Committee chairs in the house and senate. Call every member of those committees. The Oxford Plan was set to come out with a mandatory school of choice requirement. At the last minute it was mysteriously dropped. I'm placing my bets that it was dropped because concerned parents in districts like GPPS called/wrote/emailed en masse.
Todd November 30, 2012 at 05:01 PM
What Detroit Kid?????? Seriously? If you take DPS kids looking for a better shot out of this conversation.... is there a conversation anymore? The state is just re-shuffling a deck with 52 cards.
Mary K. November 30, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I lived in Detroit for 10 years before locating to The Bubble. I have no illusions about what it is and isn't. Public education in successful, well-funded districts is in such a tenuous financial situation because of things like unfunded pension liabilities. Same story with many municipalities and businesses. Sports in GPPSS are already pay-to-play, are they not? Again, I don't see the great siphoning off taking place that everyone is afraid of. College-educated and successful parents in GP, B'ham, W. Bloomfield, etc are suddenly going to start signing their kids up for dodgy online programming? I doubt it. Follow the money. Think about who is complaining the loudest and what is at stake for them personally. I see educators whipping parents into a froth with a lot of scare tactics right now. First we're afraid that kids from the city will be coming in (again, not a part of this bill), now we're afraid of our kids going out?
Hasta November 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Has your hedge fund manager invested you in a charter cyber school, Mary K? Is that why you're so nonchalant about losing your property value when GPPS collapses?
Mary K. November 30, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Right. Because property values have nothing to do with the quality of the housing stock and city services. Schools are just one piece of the pie. If forced open enrollment of the district were still on the table, it would be an entirely different conversation. My hedge fund manager? Funny. My modest income hardly merits one.
Diane Smith November 30, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Mary Kay > Mary K
Bradley Coopersmith November 30, 2012 at 07:12 PM
This is old news. People have been talking about this since Snyder proposed. My question is what does GPPSS plan on doing about it if it becomes a reality. I would really like to see a formal plan of action drawn up. Or i might just move somewhere real cheap and send my kids to really good private schools.
Bill November 30, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Don't become open enrollment and raise taxes to cover it and improve what we have? Get rid of harper woods while we are at it
Mike A. November 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM
This is such a scam. Only online diploma mills will be able to provide classes for the per pupil amount. I also like the part of the bill that says the state can confiscate empty school buildings. Is this a fancy way of saying the state will be "squatting?" And I thought Republicans were supportive of local control.
Kathy Abke December 02, 2012 at 02:42 PM
What's not old news is that the legislation is being pushed through quickly during this lame duck section. People need to get vocal. I agree we need a plan and I have faith the board will come up with one. They can only move within their legislated constraints, however. The financial situation is already dire.
peter December 02, 2012 at 04:03 PM
It is what it is! Public education does work. Our kids are way more advanced than we ever were. Ask any Kindergarten parent, it is the new 1st grade. Ask any 5th grade parent, it is the new 7th grade and so on.....The testing clearly shows this; it is loosley refered to as the Flynn effect. The international research reporting as it relates to US academics and other nations standings in school success is not validated (hog-wash.)Considering the definitions and measures they use to come to their conclusions are not related in the least, thus an invalid mean to an end. Further helping the underserved? Really, we still believe that? The achievement gap has always existed and always will, deal with it! Maybe provide manufacturing, construction jobs, etc. for those not capable of college, etc. Bells Curve is real. This is all a money grab, from dim-witted republicans that are invalidly correlating public education dynamics with simple business models. Stupid! We will pay for it and suffer the consequences and in 10 years there will be no difference but a lot of privateers will have taken your taxes. This has happen for over 250 years, it is all a cycle, read up on the history of public education, this is not the first time private interest have attempted to seize education. Oh well, I will end with---It is what it is.
jen December 02, 2012 at 11:26 PM
You're definitely right Peter and it may be too late when of people fail to realize the situation we got myself into! I have 2 children in public schools and can not afford for the school to be destroyed and my childrens educations to go down with them!
MRSPirateLarz December 03, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Even Detroit Public Schools are complaining about these reforms. That is what you missed, along with the point that this proposed reform will destroy ALL public schools.
George R. McMullen Jr. December 03, 2012 at 11:40 AM
There have been a lot of comments above so if I repeat my apologies Couple of things we actually have three representatives in Lansing lets not forget about Senator Burt Johnson and he has a standing public coffee hour at Caribou coffee on Mack Avenue in Grosse Pointe Woods the third Monday of the month from 8:30AM to 9:30AM Also the district has available Grosse Pointe Schools’ Legislative Action Network and are trying to build membership. For additional explanation and to sign up click on the link below http://gpschools.schoolwires.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=5241&ViewID=047E6BE3-6D87-4130-8424-D8E4E9ED6C2A&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=16037&PageID=1
Paul Trombley December 05, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Mr. Clifford Cline, you obviously aren't paying attention. Either that or you don't have enough sense to know when you've been had, in which case you should not be teaching. Banks has a slick tongue and says exactly what people want to hear. He lied to the media saying he cleaned up his act, all while still committing fresh crimes. Give him a chance? Again? And again and again? How many chances should this felon get? What you should be telling your students is "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 12, 13, 14 ,15 times, shame on me." With logic like yours it's no wonder our schools are not turning out world-class performers. Based on your thinking, Kwame Kilpatrick should be reinstated as Mayor of Detroit. After all, he has fewer felony convictions than Banks. It’s depressing to think that we are paying your salary with our tax dollars.
dave dorrigan December 05, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Very odd, the opposition to this. It doesn't require that GP open its schools to anyone, as was previously feared would be the case. Instead, the opposition says (1) the GP schools are fantastic, (2) people move here and stay here for the schools, (3) this will allow GP students to take classes anywhere they want, and (4) this will destroy the GP schools as we know it. If 1 and 2 are correct, why would students/parents given the option of 3, go anywhere else? Absent that, 4 must be false. Simple logic defeats the argument and tells me that the opposition is about something else. Could it be that the GP schools and teachers don't want free market competition?
Hasta December 05, 2012 at 02:38 AM
dave, apparently you only drink Snyder kool aid and haven't bothered to read the discussion, or you'd understand why 4) is a problem. Market forces and parental choice aren't always best for society at large. This was on Craigslist yesterday: (**Online Math and Assignment help**) (Detroit metro ) Date: 2012-12-03, 3:58PM EST Reply to: see below Do you need some help catching up on your school work? I can take your online class for you and help you keep up your GPA. We can handle all subjects for all courses including: Accounting, Finance, Economics, Statistics. Call:######### (917)** 310**4695######
Chris K December 05, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Education Week will be sponsoring a WEBINAR next week about on-line learning in a school district in Oregon. You might want to see what they will discuss. Wonder what the unemployment rate is in Oregon? Meeting Students Where and When They Need It—A District-Wide Approach to Online Learning Students are not solely in the classroom anymore. Many are juggling careers, extracurricular activities, or even family life. Addressing the needs of individual students in a lightning-fast world—where multi-tasking is the norm—is critical to their success. Bend-La Pine school district in Oregon is doing just that. Having served 1,400 students annually for the past two years, and hundreds annually before that, and boasting an average pass-rate for original credit courses of 91% each year, Bend-La Pine has fine-tuned their online learning programs to meet the many and varied needs of students across the district, including: How to use online learning to help balance student schedules How to monitoring student progress carefully to stay on track How to involve parents to keep them aware of their child’s achievement or problem areas Lessons learned from launching a Virtual School Program
Hasta December 05, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Private equity investing in for-profit education is soaring and for-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets, currently topping $1.3 trillion in value. So 2013, and beyond, will see numerous for-profit companies making inroads into public and non-profit education by taking over large swaths of the market. What’s more, they’ll prosper in the corporate training and continuing education marketplace as well. Consider -- The entire education sector now represents nearly 9 percent of the U.S. GDP. Merger and acquisition activity in for-profit education last year surpassed activity at the peak of the Internet boom. More and more non-profit colleges are hitting the wall and seeking investors to help them transform into for-profit institutions. You’ll learn how to achieve investment success in this education revolution when you attend The Capital Roundtable’s ENCORE conference — “Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies,” being held in New York City on Tuesday, January 15. Serving as chair of this ENCORE conference on Tuesday, January 15, in New York, is Harold Levy, former Chancellor of the New York City School System and now managing director at Palm Ventures in Greenwich, Conn.
Wendy December 05, 2012 at 02:30 PM
The unemployment rate in Oregon is 8.7%, which is almost a full percentage point above the national average. In rural areas, it's much worse. By the way, who is watching these children when they take online classes? Do parents need to stay home, and not enter the workforce, so their children can attend school online? Also, you say that online schools are necessary for the "multi-tasking" norm of today's world. Are you suggesting that children should be working during the day while juggling online school in their free time? Are they limiting online school to older children, who can enter the workforce? No, they aren't. Are elementary students supposed to be juggling online courses and home tasks, instead of learning how to listen to teachers, stay on task, and learn appropriate conversation skills with peers and adults? Bad idea if we want an effective workforce in the future. This is a bad idea.
Chris K December 05, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Wendy: to be fair the unemployment rate in Michigan is 9.3%. The comments are not original, they were copied exactly from the Education Week announcement of the webinar they are sponsoring. Education Week is known as the American Education News Site of Record. I suspect a lot of educators consult this medium. I can't explain why Education Week is offering a webinar about how a k-12 school district handles on-line education nor why they chose the wording they have to describe the benefits to those who participate in the seminar. I merely point out that in some parts of the country, apparently, on line learning is happening and I would also point out that one of the topics covered is: "How to involve parents to keep them aware of their child's achievement or problem areas". I guess if educators across the nation were so opposed to on-line learning and teaching there would be no need to provide webinars on the topic.
Wendy December 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Chris K, the Bend-La Pine online offerings are radically different than what is included in the legislative proposal. Bend-La Pine is in a mountainous tourist area. It offers online courses as a supplement to its regular school system for high school and remedial help. The Bend-La Pine program is run through its school district to meet the unique needs of its students. This is entirely different than what the Snyder package proposes, which is to allow students to take online courses across the state. Other school districts offering online classes can take our tax dollars away from our district. Not only can this cause a financial hit and a budgetary nightmare, but it also can dilute the quality of a diploma from a grosse pointe school. A student can graduate from our schools, but take online classes from whatever district he or she chooses. We will lose control over the arc of that child's education. Bend La-Pine still has that control over both education and funding, and it only allows the child online learning opportunities based on the district's approval and monitoring.

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