Education Advocates Connect Across District Borders (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 30, 2014)
“It was about one month ago that I went to my mailbox and I opened it to find a letter from the EAA [Educational Achievement Authority]… This was a letter that was inviting my child to attend an EAA school, or shall I say, this was a letter inviting my child to be a laboratory rat in the for-profit experiment of Buzz software… That letter was my wake up call,” said Ferndale School Board Secretary and public school teacher Karen Twomey to the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Sept. 29.
Twomey and two other members of the Ferndale School Board spoke at the meeting to show solidarity with the DPS and make a public offer to work together on education issues. The meeting itself marked an historical moment, when eight present DPS members voted to assert their right to Democracy and take the State of Michigan to court to regain control of their District. For 18 months they were under control of an Emergency Financial Manager. The law says after 18 months they can vote to remove the EMF, which they did. Although the matter now must go to court since the State is not handing back over local control.
Until the courts decide, the board remains powerless. Decisions about the public schools – including educational options, assets, and contracted services – are being made without the consent of the voters or the people elected to represent them.
Twomey joined fellow Ferndale School Board Trustees Jen LaTosh and Nan Kerr-Mueller to speak before the board. Twomey shared her experience in receiving the deceitfully-worded EAA recruitment letter, then Kerr-Mueller read a letter from Ferndale School Board President Jim O’Donnell echoing support for DPS autonomy.
“If the state government wants to help students in Detroit and the inner ring suburbs, it should help finance modern, efficient infrastructure, more teachers and resources for at-risk students, new technology and take real action to reduce poverty and the effects of racism,” stated O’Donnell’s letter.
Sherry Gay-Dagnogo won the Democratic Primary for the 8th District House of Representatives Seat, and hopes to win the election in November. “Education is my key issue,” Gay-Dagnogo said. The first generation college graduate and former DPS science teacher understands the need for education funding as both a parent and a teacher. Her son, now 21, graduated from DPS. “He had a learning difference so I was his advocate. This has become personal to me to fight for all of our children to have a fair shake at getting a great quality education and be successful in life,” she said. “We’ve closed more schools under Governor Snyder than any other Governor in Michigan. It has forced children to no be able to go to their neighborhood schools. The privatization model? For other people to profit off the expense of our children is wrong.”
Gay-Dagnogo also praised the film “Oakman,” which was shown at the meeting. The 30 minute documentary by Katy Levin that shows how Detroit parents fought to keep the school for special needs students open. In spite of public support and a history of success, the school was closed by the EMF.
“It is time for all advocates for public school to work together,” Twomey said. Whether it is showing support for disenfranchised parents, students, and administrators or working to unite public school advocates in Oakland County, the needs are the same: communication and teamwork.
While LaTosh and Kerr-Mueller stayed to watch DPS vote, Twomey headed to Oakland Schools for the Education Taskforce meeting where nearly 100 people from all throughout the county met to talk about the needs of students.
Through the Taskforce, parents, teachers and advocates are organizing across school district lines to let state officials know that education is a priority. Divisiveness has been a problem, as schools of choice forces districts to compete for students. Fighting each other for students, and resources, can make it hard to look at the big picture and work together. The Taskforce is trying to change that.
“The only way this will work is for you guys to talk to each other,” said David Randels Assistant Director of Government Relation, Education and Policy Research. “The Facebook [page] is a great start, but we need people in Novi talking to people in Oak Park… everyone working together.”
Jeff Lauth is a parent and volunteer in Rochester Schools. He said that parents in Rochester Schools have a small group that meets once a month to talk about legislation, and that he’s been going for about two years. Monday’s meeting was the first he’d considered being part of a bigger effort. “The hardest part is disseminating the information and getting it out there,” he said. “But we need to share links, and we need to get more people to come out. Very often we have a small group of people coming to meetings and we need to get more involved.”
The solution for that, Randels said, is getting folks in the movement to commit to bringing ten new people to the next meeting. The group will have meetings in December to help organize around whatever issues the legislature makes a priority, be it supporting school-enriching legislation, or organizing against cuts or other laws the Taskforce sees as contrary to good education policy.
Some groups are facilitating collaboration. The Tri-County Alliance (www.tricountyalliance.org) and Michigan Parents for Schools (http://www.mipfs.org) are two established resources. The Taskforce, which has been slowly building over the past two years, unveiled its Facebook Page at the meeting, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/OCGRTF. (Oakland County Grass Roots Task Force).
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Education Advocates Connect Across District Borders (video)