Those of us not in straitjackets are fairly certain that lands of fabulous wealth free for the taking do not exist. There is no El Dorado with streets paved of gold, no Big Rock Candy Mountain with cigarette trees and whiskey lakes, and no Shangri-la to ply us with every physical pleasure imaginable. Also there is no Grand Rapids Public School District with money growing on trees to build grand palaces of secondary education to the tune of $165 million.
Alas, there is a very real Grand Rapids Public School District, one that is on verge of meltdown in terms of both finances and performance. The near-bankruptcy of the GRPS is well-known. Likewise, the poor student performance. The latter was confirmed once again just this past week. On the most recent standardized test for high schoolers, all four of the district's comprehensive high schools failed. (Well, they all got the fig leaf that they hadn't actually failed yet but were only at the cliff's edge.) The educrats complained that it was a new test so the kids weren't ready for it. Translation: School officials weren't given enough time to teach to the new test. Of course, there is nothing new about readin', writin', and 'rithmetic, so if the GRPS had been sticking to the basics, no test old or new should be an issue.
Now comes a select committee to provide GRPS officials with a bevy of suggestions to improve the district's high schools. Astonishingly they say it's not all that hard to do. Just spend scores of millions of taxpayer dollars on renovations and new construction! The committee wanted to consider a wide range of options, and so they did. Their suggestions ranged from nicking the taxpayers for anywhere between $120 million and $165 million. Unfortunately, the committee's plans for rebuilding the district's high schools didn't explain where the money would come from nor how new bricks-and-mortar would solve the endemic lack of discipline that is at the core of poor student performance.
Thus, we can only conclude that the committee knows something we don't know. The Grand Rapids Public School District is an El Dorado where nothing but riches and pleasures can be found to eliminate any problem. Indeed, according to the Grand Rapids Press, some GRPS officials actually said that the taxpayers would not have pick up the entire tab. Well, why not buy into that fantasy? Avoiding reality has been S.O.P. for the GRPS for quite awhile now, and those running the show haven't had any trouble getting their wallets fattened by the taxpayers in the process.
Unfortunately, the education of our children is a little too important to indulge in make-believe, no matter how much that has served city educrats so well over the past couple of decades. So let's deal with an ugly truth. Those running the Grand Rapids Public School District, starting with Superintendent Bernard Taylor, have given up on the kids currently in the system. They do not want to do any of the heavy-lifting needed to help these students, so many of whom come from broken families and rotten neighborhoods, to learn the basics they need as adults to be responsible, productive, and self-reliant. Instead they want to mask the poor performance of these students by drawing into the GRPS higher performing students from charter, parochial, and suburban schools who will by their numbers raise the district's average test scores and so make GRPS officials look better.
Hence the mantra of the select committee and GRPS officials to build a Shangri-la of educational facilities and programs that look and feel like the suburban school districts. By some weird logic city educrats think pouring fresh concrete and slapping together specialty schools for the performing arts (but not plumbing, machining, and auto repair) will make parents overlook the deficient substance of education in the Grand Rapids Public School District. Of course, GRPS officials have no excuse for not knowing that this doesn't work after the repeated failure of new buildings and speciality programs to pull in students currently attending non-district schools. But then why should they let reality intrude so long as the taxpayers keep sending them paychecks and funding their pension plans?