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December 5, 2012

BPS asks Lansing to ‘Kill the Bills’

The Board of Education officially voices its opposition to proposed changes in state education policy

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM — The Birmingham Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Nov. 27 expressing opposition to three bills currently in the Michigan Legislature, claiming the bills could dramatically overhaul Michigan public education as we know it.

The resolution concerning House Bills 5923 and 6004 as well as Senate Bill 1358, “implores legislators and the Governor to avoid proposals that create more layers of government to solve pressing educational problems,” and asks that adequate funding for the state’s public school districts be secured before any alternatives are considered.”

School Board Trustee Geri Rinschler said the main issues the board has with the bills are that they’re designed to take power away from elected school officials and put it in the hands of a larger state-level authority, while at the same time shifting how schools receive funding to what some are describing as a “voucher-like system,” where dollars follow students, as opposed to the districts.

“We’re asking (legislators) not to support these bills because they create a new bureaucracy and could tell districts, especially high-performing districts, how to operate,” she said. “We are concerned that these bills will subvert local control and will have an impact on property values. The reason folks come to districts like Birmingham is for the schools.”

Rinschler claims that HB 6004 would direct power to a “statewide school district” that is appointed by the governor and could potentially change school programs or after-school and community uses for school buildings.

“The district would operate without oversight and it would be able to open schools anywhere in the state,” she said, adding that more charter schools could be added at the state’s discretion, diluting school aid dollars available to BPS. “What they’re saying is they want all students to have more choices.”

BPS Superintendent Daniel Nerad echoed the board’s resolution in an open letter to parents in the district.

“These proposed plans look remarkably like a public voucher program, add unnecessary cost and complexity, and allow Lansing appointees to shift control away from the local school board trustees that you elect,” he said in the letter.

According to School Board President Michael Fenberg, another alarming aspect of the bills is that the changes are being pushed through the Legislature surprisingly fast.

“I think the biggest thing that I’d like the community to be aware of is that these are very serious issues that could have a dramatic effect on the property values and the way schools are funded,” he said. “And I don’t see any reason that the Legislature has to rush this through a lame duck session. If this is such a total change, let’s give it the time and the transparency it needs so everyone has a little time to examine all the issues. I just think there’s maybe some special interests that are trying to rush it through a lame duck session, and it doesn’t sit right with me.”

Since the bills have yet to be passed, changes could likely come to the proposed ideas in the coming weeks. Because of that, Nerad encourages residents in his letter to learn more about the bills and contact their legislators in the House and Senate to show their support or opposition.

“We hope that together with our residents, we can suggest a statewide solution that helps all children, without turning public education into a public voucher program,” said Nerad at the close of the letter.

To read the proposed bills, visit www.legislature.mi.gov.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.