Our letter to the Governor and Legislature

Below is the letter we sent to Governor Granholm and to our local representatives, Senator Liz Brater and Representative Rebekah Warren, on 16 March. If you would like to get involved and participate in our efforts, please send us a message at aaparentsforschools@gmail.com or use the “Join our email list” link to receive group news and web site updates. Or, feel free to borrow the letter and use it as a framework for your own letter to your elected representatives. Thanks!

Dear Governor Granholm, Senator Brater, and Representative Warren:

We are parents of children attending the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

As parents, and as citizens, we are calling on our elected officials to make safeguarding funds for education a legislative priority, now and in the future.

Our state cannot afford to set back our public schools any further. If we cut more teachers and programs yet again this year, leaving our class sizes larger than ever next year, our instructional quality will be greatly diminished and we will be doing our state a great disservice. Class sizes at every level matter very much in terms of what can be taught. Many subjects and grade levels require the teachers to be able to address each child’s individual needs on a daily basis, in order to maximize instructional outcomes. To attract and keep students in our Michigan public schools, we must maintain funding at levels that will ensure acceptable class sizes and high quality programs.

We all agree that Michigan needs an educated work force to move ahead in this global economy. Even in the short term, it will be hard to attract jobs and new businesses to our State if our public schools repeatedly have their funding jeopardized.

As a result of the constraints put on us by Proposal A, we as parents and citizens feel that our hands are tied in terms of raising revenue to support the instructional aspects of our children’s education. A school funding system which works only when the economy is strong does a disservice to all of us. We strongly urge our lawmakers to reappraise how schools are funded and consider changing that system to address its shortfalls.

We are encouraged by the Governor’s budget proposals on education because they put a priority on bolstering our public schools. All of us are sensitive to the risk of placing a larger tax burden on our state’s economy in difficult times. There is also no question that we must ask our school districts to be careful stewards of our tax dollars. But avoiding the problem, and allowing our schools to flounder, would be a serious mistake. As citizens, we are prepared to invest the resources needed to keep our public schools strong. We hope our elected representatives are prepared to take leadership on this issue.

We urge you to make education a top priority and to keep it funded.

Thank you very much for your consideration,

Jeannette Jackson, Janice Lieberman, Steven Norton, Jennifer Tanau


Where do we go from here?

This is my first post, although I’ve been gratefully following this site for two weeks now. I have to begin by THANKING (!!!) Steve Norton and the other contributors. May this site grow by leaps and bounds!

I’m a teacher at Forsythe (tenureme = Brit Satchwell), and have been the district’s Cassandra on the topic of funding for about two years now… a Cassandra hoping to be joined one day by a Greek chorus, which this site has now provided. I led the petition drive for K16 and its subsequent stage as Prop 5 here in A2. Maybe you saw our info/campaign booths at Farmers Market and our yard signs. It is so nice (read: vital, crucial) to see parents now becoming vocal and playing such a key role in this educational effort. We fail to be lifelong learners at our peril when it comes to funding.

Our district WILL continue to make cuts… we have no choice under the current “our hands are tied” paradigm. And we’ll continue to pursue the futile route of dealing with the symptoms of underfunding until our parents join in to address the root cure. We are currently involuntary yet compliant accomplices in our own educational execution. I, for one, am not inclined to obediently whistle my way to the gallows.

A peek behind the AAPS “staff” curtain…

Teachers and administrators have for some time now been moaning among ourselves about funding and cuts. We feel them every day and are now witnessing their direct affects on students (programs and class sizes). The recent prospect of cutting mid-year (my quick math tells me that the latest mid-year cuts amount to between $500K and $600K for AAPS… better than the $3.7 million a $224/pupil cut would have meant), coupled with the $20.5 million that is projected to be cut here over the next three years is like watching an asteroid slowly approach. Cuts of this magnitude will devastate the educational standards we have come to take for granted and make a sham of the future we have led our children to believe they would enjoy.

The problem with staff is that our hands ARE somewhat tied. As a profession, we have been trained down to our bone marrow to avoid two topics like the plague: religion and politics. At least this isn’t about religion. But we (and most of our PTSOs) also shy away from this topic because of its “political” aspect. Also, there are legal restraints on what, when and how staff can speak out on this topic. The result is that the leaders of the educational community (staff and actively involved parents) tend to fall somewhat mute when we should be the most public and vocal in the defense of our children. This site is the long-awaited exception. All of us, including staff, could and must do more.

Funding is about public policy, not partisan politics (even if the battle lines have sadly been drawn along party lines in Lansing… very unfortunate but THEIR choice, not ours). Educators are a legitimate interest group free to speak our mind (within certain bounds), yet we often default to the mild and silent route because it’s “political”. Sigh.

So back to our AAPS parents and where we might go from here…

I have been treading the legal tightrope of what schools can and cannot do in these matters for two years. I am not an attorney, but am very familiar with the legal guidelines published by the MASB (Michigan Association of School Boards) that were used as the AAPS “rule book” during the K16 and Prop 5 campaigns. When it comes to the issue of funding in general (as opposed to advocating a specific candidate or ballot proposal) we COULD do the following:

1) PTSOs and schools could publish this website’s URL as an independent non-AAPS affiliated source of information in backpack mail, PTSO newsletters, and on the district’s website.

2) PTSOs could encourage central administration to facilitate email and letter writing campaigns IF they stick to the facts and encourage people to express their opinion to legislators regardless of what that opinion might be. Even if “politics” is a no-no, information sources pertaining to the survival of our schools should be a yes-yes. It’s legal if it’s done right. Again, funding is a TOPIC, not a candidate or a ballot issue. PTSOs WILL address this topic; the only question is whether sooner or later.

3) Central administration could write a feature op-ed to the A2 News, just as Mr. Norton did the other week and as I have done on several occasions, WHILE maintaining their neutral-yet-informative “Swiss” stance. The balanced dissemination of information can only help. The district’s budget forums have been attended by merely a handful of non-staff citizens, testimony to the fact that they are not speaking with sufficient volume. As grateful as I am and will be for all the work administration has done on the topic of funding, their voice has been a whimper compared to what it could and should be. (Special kudos here in particular to Trustees Nelson, Cross and Patalan and Dr. Roberts. However, a special Hall of Shame award has to go out to Trustee Baskett for openly opposing Prop 5 and thus failing in her sworn/elected duty to put the needs of AAPS students before all others while sitting in her BoE seat… she alone among her BoE colleagues chose not to recommend the only – if imperfect – lifeboat on the horizon).

4) This website could add a feature that would directly link its readers to a page that channels emails directly to legislators. (I have just volunteered Mr. Norton for hours of tech work without his consent… so let me also say that there are other edu-websites that ALREADY provide this feature, and this site could just link to them). My experience running email campaigns has been that merely saying “write your legislator” is in reality as effective as saying “somebody ought to DO something!” If you don’t make it easy for the reader (three mouse clicks, max), it won’t happen.

Parents are the key. My soapbox reaches 1175 teachers; we have about 36,000 parents in this district and I have found them extremely hard to reach. So again, kudos to those who have posted here, and thank heavens this website has popped up. Let’s all throw Steve Norton up in the air with a blanket and yell “hooray” when we see him. Steve, we’ll do it on grass, not in a parking lot.

PS… I have produced a 20-minute DVD movie about funding to be shown at all 30 AAPS schools at staff meetings next Wednesday, 3/28. It’s a dark comedy (even I need a break from the funding doom and gloom), and I hope to use it to raise $20,000 from teachers for MEA-PAC. Its sole topic and PAC’s sole purpose (despite Michigan Chamber of Commerce rhetoric to the contrary about “greedy teachers”) is to build a war chest for the 2008 elections. We WILL elect edu-friendly legislators, and we WILL turn the other rascals out. I’ll get a copy to Mr. Norton to see if it’s appropriate for this website. I’s love to send copies to any PTSO that wants to show it. Just lemme know, and THANKS to all AAPS edu-defenders!

Brit Satchwell (math teacher, Forsythe)