School choice is the law of the land in Michigan. No longer are parents compelled to send their children to a particular public school based upon where they live. If a school in another district has room, their kids can go there. Now that parents have this liberty, school choice has been a bane to the Grand Rapids public school district, hemorrhaging hundreds of students each year (nearly a thousand just this fall) to suburban districts – and the seven grand in annual state funding which follows each student to his or her new school.
The huge loss of those tax dollars has put the GRPS on the verge of bankruptcy. So school superintendent Bert Bleke has demanded that at least a portion of that $7,000 should stay behind to fill the coffers of declining districts like his. He complains that the “sudden” departure of students each year makes planning tough and so the GRPS must retain some of the state funds for the departing students to pay for the “transition”. Hmm. I’m not sure what is sudden or unpredictable about any of this. The exodus each fall of city kids to suburban schools is well-established, so one wonders why Bleke and company simply don’t budget for the smaller student population.
Indeed, decline can be profitable. Consider the example of K-Mart. It lost out to tough competition from retailers like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Meijer’s. It had to shut down stores by the score, but in doing so, the failing retailer had a lot of valuable infrastructure to sell off. So much so, that K-Mart ended up with enough cash to buy that most venerable of all U.S. retailers, Sears & Roebuck. The opportunity for the GRPS is not as dramatic, but it is similar. But instead of exploiting apparent misfortune to slay sacred cows and innovate, all Bleke can do is moan that the taxpayers aren’t rewarding him sufficiently for the failure of his school district.
What should we expect? This is the same man who thought it was a better deal to sell Huff elementary school to a developer who will demolish the building instead of a 40% higher offer from a company that would have kept the school open to local residents. This is the same man who privatized the bus drivers but would never open the teaching contract to competitive bidding. This is the same man who is going to stick with the GRPS for only five years, but will hang on long enough to double dip by drawing both a pension and a consulting fee from it.
Further proof that educators are the worst-suited people to run our public schools.