Friday, April 27, 2007

Illusion of Good Education Won't Do!

The following was published in the Birmingham Eccentric in an Opinion/Editorial piece by Jenny Greenwell

I enjoy a good Magic Act as much as anybody, but, as a taxpayer and parent, I don’t enjoy “shell games” and “smoke and mirrors” when it comes to running the top-funded school district in the state of Michigan.

Bloomfield Hills school district taxpayers approved a 10-year, $50-million “sinking fund” in 2004 thinking that the money would be carefully spent to extend the useful life of our school buildings. The promotional materials for the Sinking Fund stated that roofs would be a priority, and that students would be kept “safe, warm and dry.”

So what happened? We got two new artificial turf football fields and a conference center at the Nature Center. We got a lot of new pavement, concession stands, stadia, and low-durability, high-maintenance vinyl tile flooring. The roofs are still leaking, according to literature distributed at taxpayer expense by the district. No significant upgrades have been made to our high schools.

POOF! That’s how easy it is to make $15-million disappear!

Now, the board of education has pulled two great big rabbits out of its hat: A proposal to build two large new high schools on the current sites of Lahser and Andover. This proposal, which requires passage of a $121-million tax increase for 25 years, will appear on the school election ballot of May 8, 2007. The new high schools will be 33% larger than our current buildings, and each will cost an astronomical $72.5-million to build. Of the $145-million price tag, only 18.78% is dedicated to instructional areas and technology.

Who will attend these large schools? With BHSD population on the decline, enrollment stable at best, we’d better get a hold of David Copperfield. The BHSD might very well be forced to recruit more out-of-district students to begin to cover the massive operating costs of two colossal buildings. Non-resident, tuition-paying students do not bring in revenue equal to the per-pupil funding provided by our local taxpayers for resident students, so the reality is: We lose money on every non-resident student enrolled in our schools.

My husband Don and I moved to Bloomfield Hills with toddlers in tow in 1987. We bought here because we heard the schools were “the best.” We could not have cared less if the buildings were “shiny and new.” We could not have cared less how many sports teams, or fancy dressing rooms, grand entrances or three-story atria they had. We wanted great teachers, great programs, and lots of innovation and motivation for our girls. To our disappointment, we realized that the formerly “elite” academic status of the BHSD has done a “disappearing act,” and our district suffers from a significant achievement gap between high schools, which extends to our lower schools.

The “illusion” of good education is stated in the districts slogan: “comprehensive education at its finest.” Comprehensive does not mean high-quality, it indicates a lack of priorities. As taxpayers, we need to demand quality education and top-ranked student outcomes. Top-ranked public schools don’t need slick advertising, PR and slogans.
The BHSD is #1 in funding, but not in performance.

We need to fix our schools. We need to focus on education. We need to stop wasting money on “wants” when we have not addressed our “needs.”

Obsessed with facilities and new construction, our board of education seems more focused on educating taxpayers than on educating students. To market the campaign for the May 8 bond, over $500,000 has been spent on advertising. We could have given each and every 2007 graduate of both Lahser and Andover a $1000 scholarship with the education tax dollars that have been wasted, but…..

POOF! The money is gone.

As if by magic, our school board seems to have missed the frequent reminders that our state’s economy is in shambles. This is not a good time to ask taxpayers to shoulder excessive long-term debt. No “magic wand” can fix our troubles, only a smart, well-educated, hard-working population can do that.

Parents and taxpayers need to demand that our school board provide adequate stewardship of our massive investment in education tax dollars. We want our students to achieve their fullest potential, and we’re willing to pay for it. We will not stand by quietly while education dollars, and the futures of our students, are squandered on non-essentials and “wish lists.”

The district has worked hard to create the “illusion” that these two elaborate new schools are “needed.” In fact, they have endeavored, through a massive PR, advertising and sales campaign, to “create” a need.

Education is not a “wish,” it is essential. We need to gather as a community and make sure our board of education understands that. Quality education and big new buildings are not the same thing. Building Schools does not build leaders: Good leaders beget good leaders. The BHSD is short on good leaders. Good leaders would not allow a devisive “wedge” to be lobbed into our community.

The Bloomfield Hills School District needs a better board. Please come to the polls on May 8. Let’s stop the cycle of wasted education tax dollars, and let’s start working together to ensure bright futures for all of our students.

Jenny Greenwell
Candidate, BHSD Board of Education
577 Tally Ho Court
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304