City, schools band together in opposition to school choice legislation

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published October 11, 2011

HARPER WOODS — Harper Woods schools and city officials want to see the local school district in charge of whether they open up the doors to out-of-district students.

Right now, Harper Woods School District has limited Schools of Choice opportunities for specific programs based on admission criteria.

If legislation proposed at the state level were to become law, the district would have no control on whether they opt in or out of Schools of Choice. It’s that lack of control and the possible outcomes of the legislation on the local community that have the city and schools on the same page in opposition of the legislation.

“Basically, it should not be mandated,” Mayor Ken Poynter said. “It should be up to the school district to decide.”

The school board passed a resolution at a recent meeting and sent the resolution to the City Council for additional support. Council unanimously approved a resolution in opposition to mandated Schools of Choice at its Oct. 3 meeting.

The issue wasn’t officially on the agenda for the night, but since it was scheduled to be discussed by the state Senate’s Education Committee during a meeting Oct. 5, the board added it to the agenda.

“It would be a perfect opportunity for the city to get behind our Board of Education,” City Council member Vivian Sawicki said.

“I certainly think that it would add an additional amount of weight,” she said of the city also passing a resolution on the issue.

They’re not alone. All of the Grosse Pointe communities have come out against the proposed legislation, as well.

If the legislation were to pass, districts would have to open their doors to admission with “no county, no geographic limitation whatsoever,” Harper Woods School Board Vice President David Kien said.

He said that the board passed a resolution to send a message to Lansing.

“It’s really just an issue of local control,” Harper Woods School Board President Brian Selburn said.

Some local officials, including those in the Grosse Pointes, are concerned about property values being affected. The property values in good districts go up because people choose to live there, so their children can go to school in those communities, local officials have argued.

“I have been studying this issue very carefully since it’s come up,” Harper Woods City Council member Cheryl Costantino said. “I’m also concerned … about our property taxes. I just don’t see how this could work. People are already upside down on their mortgages now.

“I support the school board on this 100 percent because it doesn’t make sense,” she added.