(Karen Twomey, Nov. 8, 2013)
I am writing you as a board member, teacher, parent, neighbor and friend of education. Recently, Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center published a school finance analysis for our state which describes a crisis of long-term disinvestment, demographic shifts, and structural flaws in school financing. These factors have already sent 55 school districts into deficit, and forced many more to cut teachers, gut programs, and close schools. This storm is hitting Ferndale.
In my five short years on the Ferndale Board of Education, I have watched our budget reduced from $43 to $36 million dollars as healthcare, retirement, inflation and unfunded mandates increase. The public is told that this funding drought is a result of Michigan’s current difficult economic situation. This simply is not true. The disinvestment in our state public schools is a choice. In 2011, state legislators chose to cut schools by a billion dollars; in the same budget they also chose to give $1.8 billion dollars to corporate special interests. They financed these business credits through an unprecedented transfer of money out of the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for higher education. Unlike K-12 schools, colleges and universities are able to raise money through tuition, tax levies, and multimillion dollar fundraising campaigns. The operating costs of a public K-12 district are funded primarily by the state-established per pupil foundation allowance. Current law does not provide us the same options to raise revenue. Now as Ferndale Public Schools faces a $1.5 million shortfall, our only options are to increase enrollment and to demand our money back from Lansing. This is the key: If the $470 per pupil funding cut in 2011 was to be restored that would return approximately $2 million to the Ferndale Schools. While this would not even come close to restoring us to our pre-recession levels, it would at least cover the current tight budget.
The legislature has succeeded by using three tactics: silence, divide and distract. Teachers and educators have been scapegoated for the current economic woes because they are union members and because they are particularly vulnerable because of inflexible schedules. Our legislators know that educators are dedicated to their children and do not tend to take personal days to drive to Lansing and fight back. They also know that in today’s competitive schools of choice environment, districts are not likely to advertise to the families they serve that jobs and programs are being cut. This makes schools the perfect silent targets. Then legislators try to distract school employees from the real culprits by pitting unions against school boards. When the state cuts the funding, district school boards are forced to make tough choices and sacrifice educational resources, class sizes, programs and quality instruction. Since the school boards are the facilitators of the cuts at the local level, infighting occurs as educators are divided against one another. This playbook of distraction has worked all across America, but it must not be allowed to work here!
Education professionals, community members and parents should be mad. Now you will see Board members, administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, and hopefully YOU, fighting together. Your district has never needed support more, and here are five ways you can help.
1. Contact our state legislators: Here in the Ferndale Schools, we are fortunate to have state representatives who are fighting with us, yet is always helpful to their argument when they can share letters from voters, or when we put pressure on those less supportive in Lansing
Tri-County Alliance is an excellent resource for staying up to date on legislative issues, join their Capwiz to learn how to have your voice heard
2. Support your PTA: Your membership dues and fundraising efforts help to cover many school and classroom instructional costs. In additional to the volunteer hours and funds, our PTAs help provide a strong unified voice.
3. Support Ferndale Education Foundation (FEF): This important fundraising organization provides mini-grants for innovative programs in our district.
4. Volunteer in the schools: Ferndale Schools has several opportunities for community members to volunteer. Please contact our volunteer coordinator Gretchen Abrams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Help spread the word about why you are proud to recommend the Ferndale Schools. If you have a story you would like to share write a letter to a local paper, post it on social media, or email your pride story to the Board at email@example.com.
Most importantly, take the time to let our family of professional employees know how much you appreciate and respect them. Our whole district will be uniting in some really hard work to find creative solutions to minimize impact on budget-related sacrifices on our children. I am proud to serve this district team; each one is a hero in my eyes.
Ferndale Board of Education