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Reforms unwanted

Local school officials leery about state bills

December 12, 2012 - School officials are taking action as state legislators in Lansing consider several education bills.

Before the "lame duck" session ends this month, politicians are deliberating House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358, to expand the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), and House Bill 5923. If passed, this bill would create special designation charter, or virtual, schools with open enrollment.

For Dr. Rod Rock, Clarkston Community Schools superintendent, expanding the authority would affect students in the district.

"I've heard from people who work in EAA schools that they encounter gang fights, 40 kids in a class, and chaos," Rock said. "It is hard to believe this is the type of education that is best for kids and can spread across the state. To whom will the leaders of these schools be accountable?"

Dr. William Skilling, superintendent for Oxford Community Schools, said it would not affect his district or their goals. But does not think the EAA can help students.

"I still believe this will do very little if anything to really improve the education for the bottom 5 percent," he said. "In the end, it will be another waste of tax payers' money. They fail to understand the problem. Politicians continue to apply simple solutions to complex problems. A governor-appointed chancellor sounds great. But now it will just perpetuate the failure of these students from the state level. Without quality measures, accountability, and laws that govern public schools, what do we know if they are being successful? It's nonsensical, local communities should be supported to turn around their schools."

If Senate Bill 1358 and House Bill 6004 are passed, neither the state superintendent nor Michigan Board of Education would oversee it, said Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie Markavitch at an informational public meeting at Clarkston Junior High School, Dec. 4.

The bills will create a separate and statewide school district overseen by a governor-appointed chancellor.

Michael Van Beek, director of education policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, pointed out it is already in operation with an agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University.

"Its operational goal or mission is to take over the worst performing schools in the state and run those schools," he said. "Right now it is operating 15 schools that are amongst the lowest schools in the state – all in Detroit. The idea is it will eventually take control of more schools in the lower five percent of schools in the state."

He added the bill had additional provisions in it beyond the EAA. One would require school districts to maintain a list of their empty buildings and have to maintain the buildings to keep them school ready.

"I think that portion of it was thought of being threatening to local districts, that the EAA could come into their districts and take over the operation of one of the school buildings," Van Beek said. "From my understanding, that provision has been taken out of the bill as it exists now."

Van Beek hasn't seen a lot of movement on House Bill 5923 but does see the bill making a local impact.

"If students choose and parents choose to enroll them in the new form of school instead of their local district school, it could have an impact," he said.

But he expects no impact, explaining most parents are happy with the school districts their children are in and will stay where they are.

"House Bill 5923 could have the potential to create more options," he added.

Van Beek also explained, in order for a charter or virtual school to come to a school district, three things would have to happen.

The first step is local interest in running a charter or virtual school.

"Then, someone authorizing that type of school like a local university or school district," he added. "Third, there has to be parents who are interested, to enroll their kids in that school. All three needs to happen."

Markavitch pointed out during the informational meeting, the charter schools can specify who they want to serve and students could be selected by test scores, ethnicity, gender, as well as sponsored by municipalities, employers and cultural organizations.

"It is un-American," she stated, adding it was a separation of students, creating discrimination among students and taking money away from public schools. "It's not a choice for all. It's not equal access. How will this help close the achievement gaps?"

"As school funding is diluted to charters and corporations, public school districts will see decreases," said Rock. "As a result, I would expect fewer people to desire the teaching profession. Teachers and other school employees are the heartbeats of our schools. They are our coaches, band directors, mentors, and inspirations. We have to do all we can to continue to attract excellent people into the education profession."

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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