I would like to describe a current situation which beyond doubt is as important, if not moreso, than the vagaries of our national politics. My life has been filled with a steady stream of wonderful people, each in their own way demonstrating through their individual passions the beauty of life on this planet. I won’t go through a litany of who, what, when, where and why as to all of those who helped shape my life because my current experience comes close to topping them all and I want to share my thoughts with as many citizens of Michigan as possible about two special men; LaMar Lemmons and John Telford, leaders in the ongoing fight to preserve and restore the rights of Detroit schoolchildren to obtain an education that will carry them successfully into adulthood. Lemmons is the President of the Detroit Public Schools Board and Telford is the recently appointed Superintendent of the DPS. Both men have fought vigorously and courageously in the face of ridicule and ignorance. Virtually anyone in America who pays attention to the news knows that the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) are in trouble. The school system has been mocked and vilified in the press and by politicians who, in fact, have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. It is important to understand the role of prevailing Republican philosophy in creating the current financial mess that threatens and compromises the opportunity for the children of the largest school district in the State of Michigan to obtain a decent education. Let me begin by saying that the Michigan Constitution requires that schoolchldren be provided a free public education. Since 1999, beginning with then-governor John Engler, the politicians in Lansing have systematically dismantled the operations of the DPS by placing a variety of ‘executives’ in charge of managing the school district’s finances. From that date, 1999, the DPS has gone from having a healthy surplus of funds to a crushing overwhelming debt which has crippled the ability of the DPS to carry out its Constitutional mandate. What has gone on in the last thirteen years is exactly analogous to the drum beating of the Tea Party today of the constant theme that cutting costs by shrinking government will ‘save’ the country. The Republican governors and legislators in Michigan have become more and more strident about these issues, and its standard rhetoric is to blame it's own mess on the School Board of the DPS. The gist of the blame can be readily understood if one substitutes the phrase “DPS School Board” for “Obama.” A series of enactments by the Michigan legislature has systematically taken more and more power away from various municipalities and school districts throughout the state, including the DPS, in tactics reminiscent of third world banana republics which, of course, only happen somewhere else in the world. The latest efforts by the Michigan legislature to strangle the DPS occurred from December 2010 to the present time. Under an existing law, (PA 72) the governor had appointed an emergency financial manager (EFM) to manage the financial affairs of the DPS. The old maxim which states, in effect, that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” became obvious and the DPS went to court to try to undo the damage the appointed EFM was causing to the district. In an eloquent ruling by Judge Wendy Baxter she found in favor of the district and the schoolchildren by determining that the assumption of academic control over the DPS by “a person who had to be chosen solely based on his finance credentials and who has no teaching certificate, training or experience, no education or counseling background” created an intolerable situation which resulted in ‘irreparable harm” foisted on children and teachers. She issued her opinion on December 15, 2011 and ordered a permanent injunction against the EFM in mid-February, 2011. In flagrant disregard of the essence of Judge Baxter’s findings, in early March, 2011 the Michigan State Legislature hurriedly passed 2011 P.A. 4 (signed a couple of days later by the governor) which gave legislative approval for the very same kind of untrained, non-academic person to assume complete control over the DPS. The new law, 2011 P.A. 4 authorizes a person with no teaching certificate, training or experience, no education or counseling background to assume educational control over the school system, i.e., exactly the arrangement that Judge Baxter found caused irreparable harm to the children of the DPS. Governor Rick Snyder then appointed a financial person without any educational training or background for $250,000 a year to assume total control for the education of Detroit schoolchildren. Judge Baxter warned in her December Order, the “EFM’s vision is uninformed by the lack of education expertise leaving it subject to criticism as a short sighted business patch, short on teaching and learning wisdom, a short term fix where some stand to profit shielded to some extent from the eye of public oversight of competitive bids. This is the vision that emanates from a person who had to be chosen solely based on his finance credentials and who has no teaching certificate, training or experience, no education or counseling background; all his study in education has emanated from unvetted sources, who may stand to benefit financially should his academic plans come to fruition and who have supplemented his pay. . . On balance, the board and Detroiters who have had no enforceable say in school governance since March 2009 will be particularly harmed if the marketplace school experiment is foisted on children and teachers.” On February 29, 2012 a referendum petition to invoke a referendum to repeal 2011 P.A. 4 signed by more than 200,000 citizens of Michigan was filed requesting certification from the Board of State Canvassers. With the creation of the new PA 4 and the current running of the school system by an untrained educator, the economic experiment continues, and the situation is becoming even more intolerable. The current EM has set about to cut costs by allowing classroom sizes to increase to 61 kids and moving some special needs students, such as autistic kids, into general classrooms. Find me a teacher who can properly educate 61 kids in a classroom sprinkled with an occasional autistic child and I will recommend that person for sainthood. The repeal of this draconian law has now been set for approval or rejection by voters in the November election. I urge all my friends to take the time to understand what is really going on with the DPS and reject the efforts of the Michigan legislature to systematically undermine and undo the DPS. I have had the privilege and distinct honor to work with Mr. Lemmons and Dr. Telford on these issues to date and I will continue to press this issue in this blog as well as to continue working with them. The future of the 70,000 or so schoolchildren of the DPS is in our hands.
Just saying . . .