Source: Sherman Publications

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Joe From The Block
Open enrollment bad idea by state

August 31, 2011

I spent many years in Detroit as a kid, living in Rosedale Park and attending Edison Elementary through the fourth grade.

The amenities at Edison were pedestrian compared to elementary schools today, but I still have plenty of fond memories. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Bloomquist, will always be one of my favorites. The science fairs were always a big deal. The once-a-year hot dog lunches were a special event.

Today, driving down the Southfield Freeway, I occasionally spy a glimpse of the school and my old neighborhood. Whenever there is news that another set of Detroit schools will be closed, I always check to see if Edison is on the list. So far, so good.

I do wonder what the school looks like up close. Does the gym/lunch room smell the same? How about the art room and its bins of crayons on each table? Is the auditorium still as big as it seemed to me back then? Do they now serve hot food every day? Is it still safe to walk to school?

I hope the kids who go there today receive the same solid elementary education I received many years ago. I hope their experiences there are as good as mine were. Sadly, I am not sure if this is the case today in Detroit and other urban districts.

That is why I have paid close attention to the open-enrollment debate in Michigan this year, which appears to be coming to a head. There is a very real possibility that Lansing will mandate all districts, including ours, to open their doors to anybody. I doubt students from Detroit would come to Lake Orion, but there are a few nearby communities that may find this option appealing.

Now, I believe every child in America deserves a quality education. At the same time, however, I do not think letting students roam from their home districts wherever they live really provides a long-term solution to our failing schools in the state. It may work for current students but, if we are making so many sweeping changes to our schools this year, let's make them to benefit our kids, their kids and beyond. Our governor needs to work with educators to make the tough decisions to make real changes to these struggling districts that truly benefit the families that live there.

This includes putting money where his mouth is by funding the changes. If this comes at the expense of other districts, within reason, so be it. The fact is a viable school system is critical to any community and Detroit and many of our other struggling cities are critical to the future of our state and its reputation. I will leave the specifics of what should be done to the lawmakers and educators, for now.

For that matter, I agree with many in Lake Orion that such open-enrollment decisions should be made exclusively at the local level. These administrators know what is going on in their schools and, more importantly, the general wishes of the citizens who live in their communities, including here.

Most of our schools are at capacity and district enrollment has held steady for several years now. Other districts may welcome the open-enrollment mandate to draw students and funding, but I do not think this is a smart way to increase revenues here. Let's come up with other sources. Furthermore, according to Lake Orion Superintendent Marion Ginopolis, the state has not yet provided details on how it will calculate if a district or school has capacity for outside students. That is disconcerting.

A copy of this column is going to Lansing this week, so our lawmakers clearly understand my opinion. What's yours?