‘I just hope it raises more awareness’

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published July 19, 2017

METRO DETROIT — Budget cuts across the board have been a constant in recent years for Michigan’s public schools.

Educators and lawmakers have been at odds over the way schools are funded, and some Michiganders are worried that public funding will be used for private or for-profit institutions.

In an effort to bring the funding issue to the forefront, local residents Erica Foondle and Sara Scott have organized the March for Public Education from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22 at Clark Park in southwest Detroit.

The grass-roots march is designed to support students, teachers, administrators, parents, communities and public school advocates, and calls on legislators to address the funding crisis and bring awareness to the repeated budget cuts at the state level.

Foondle, of Grosse Pointe Farms, and Scott, of Grosse Pointe Woods, are organizing the march. Scott is an educator, and Foondle is a community member concerned about public education.

“My mom was a single mother. We lived in the city of Detroit,” Foondle said. “My mom worked three jobs so she could send us to private schools. She did not feel comfortable sending us to Detroit Public Schools. They were starting to decline. My mom should have been able to work a regular job. She should have been able to send us to our neighborhood schools. That’s what has driven me to do this.”

Detroit’s March for Public Education will coincide with a national march being held on the same day in Washington, D.C. Foondle — a 1996 Grosse Pointe North High School graduate — said marches throughout the country in other cities are scheduled as well.

“With all the cuts, this is something we have to focus on in society,” Foondle said. “We are expecting 3,000 to 5,000 people. It could be more. We have extended an invitation to lawmakers.”

Because of the state’s economic downturn in recent years, less per-pupil funding — also known as state aid — has been made available, although there have been increases in district expenses, including utilities, supplies and employee retirement costs.

During the 2011-12 school year, $470 in per-pupil funding was cut from the state budget. Some funding was replaced in subsequent years, as districts received an additional $30 for the 2013-14 school year and an additional $50 in 2014-15.

The following year, public school districts received $70 more in per-pupil funding. An additional $60 during the previous year of 2016-17 was also approved by state lawmakers. But educators say the increases, which total $210, don’t make up for the $470 decrease in 2011-12. At this point, lawmakers have budgeted an increase of $60 in per-pupil funding for the 2017-18 school year.

Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education member Judy Gafa will serve as one of the guest speakers at the July 22 march. Other guest speakers will include state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; Antoinette Pearson, Ed.D., founder and lead consultant of Common Sense Learning; and Alycia Merriweather, recently appointed as deputy superintendent for Detroit Public Schools.

“I’m going to be talking about funding, mostly,” said Gafa, who is the school board treasurer and was first elected to the board in 2008. “I just hope it raises more awareness. I think people have been sleeping through this funding issue. This is just a way to put more pressure on Lansing.”

The GPPSS Board of Education, for instance, recently voted on a proposed budget for the 2017-18 school year that includes $1.9 million in budget reductions and $401,000 in additional revenue to cut a $2.3 million shortfall in order to balance the budget.

One frustrating issue, educators say, has been the increase in curriculum mandates from state lawmakers, who at the same time have not been providing the funding needed to meet those requirements.

“We contact the state legislators all the time,” Gafa said. “They don’t listen to everyone in education.”

“I agree with the school system. It’s frustrating to fight for all their students and not get what their tax dollars are going for,” state Rep. Patrick Green, D-Warren, said. “I appreciate what they’re saying. We need to be doing more.”

Detroit’s March for Public Education also will focus on educational opportunities for students and their families, including a look at skilled trades and apprenticeships. Foondle and Scott hope the march will lead to other avenues, including helping parents become more involved in their child’s education.

“Sara and I are turning this into a nonprofit to help however we can,” Foondle said. “Parent involvement isn’t always lacking because they don’t care. Many parents work more than one job and maybe can’t attend (parent/teacher) conferences. Maybe they’re undereducated and they don’t have the confidence to go. We want to provide resources to parents to help them get more confident and more involved.”

Clark Park is located at 1130 Clark St. in Detroit. For more information or to volunteer, email detroitmarchesforeducation@gmail.com, find “March for Public Education-Detroit Official Event” on Facebook or @DetroitMarches4Ed on Twitter, or visit www.marchforpubliced.org. Donations to support the march may be made at gofundme.com/march-for-public-educationdetroit.