River City residents have given up on the Grand Rapids Public Schools, if the dismal turnout for the May 2nd school board election is any evidence. With less than 15,000 votes between them, pro-union candidates Monica Randles and Raynard Ross won the two open seats on the Grand Rapids Board of Education. When they join the board in July, board members endorsed by the teachers union will constitute a majority. In addition to Randles and Ross, the pro-union bloc will include current board members Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, Jon O’Connor, and Maureen Quinn Slade.
Mind you, the old crew was hardly anti-union and certainly not pro-taxpayer. At a public meeting last month, the outgoing board reported that they had gotten together with Paul Helder, president of the teachers union, to plot out how to organize a union-cum-social justice coalition and then draft GRPS employees, students, and parents into a campaign to hammer politicians for more tax dollars. More tax dollars for what? To maintain salaries and benefits for Helder’s union members.
The Grand Rapids Board of Education election is next Tuesday, May 3rd. Eight candidates are running for two 4-year-term seats. Your choices run from one incumbent to a semi-polished pair picked by the teachers union to a minister, a disgruntled mother, a working stiff, a kid, and finally a missing-in-action candidate (perhaps due to an alien abduction). In other words, the usual mix offering nothing much than the hackneyed tripe about too little money, too much racism, and, of course, it’s all about the children.
What none of the candidates seem to get is that the Grand Rapids public school system is a corpse.
Last month we reported the story of John Gregory, a Forest Hills school district principal who refused to resign his office after pleading guilty to drunk driving. Why should he? No one in authority is demanding it of him. Besides, ‘fessing up to his criminal irresponsibility made it a “teachable moment” for his students. Exactly what that moment taught I’m not sure, but when too many kids drunk behind the wheel kill and get killed, keeping his office certainly doesn’t send the message that drunken driving should be taken too seriously.
Gregory, it seems, has an acolyte of his school of “Never Say Quit!” James Idziak, a Comstock Park school district teacher, was charged with a pair of felonies after leading the cops on a drunken car chase northwest of town last month. The prosecutor further charged him with misdemeanor child endangerment from partying with his high school students prior to the chase. The teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, is standing by their man and providing him with a lawyer to defend his tenure because he refuses to quit teaching.
Again, why should he? Even though the Comstock Park school board, in stark contrast to the Forest Hills board, fired Idziak for his reckless conduct, that is no guarantee he will lose his job because of it. The union will fight for him. In fact, even a conviction on one of the felonies or the child endangerment charge is no assurance that he will lose his teaching certificate. The union will fight for him again. The only certain means of Idziak losing his job is to quit. But he learned from Gregory’s teachable moment that a public servant is the last person who needs to hold himself accountable for his wrongdoing.
Whatever happened to the "morals clause" in service and employment contracts? How is it that a high school principal can get sloshed, climb behind the wheel of car, get arrested for drunken driving, then convicted for the same, and still keep his job? Indeed, how is it that the man is perversely lauded for providing his students with a "teachable moment"?
What Jon Gregory, principal of Forest Hills Northern High School, taught his students this week is that a bad act may have consequences, but one of those consequences doesn't have to be taking personal responsibility for it. The police may arrest you, the media may report what you did, and the judge may fine you or lock you up, but you certainly don't have to resign from your public office. Others may have the power to make you account for what you did, but you don't have to make yourself pay for your malfeasance.
This is the substance of Gregory's "teachable moment" after he was arrested last November for drunken driving and pled guilty to it on Tuesday in Rockford District Court. He has been hailed for his honesty in revealing his arrest to the Forest Hills school board last year and his impending trial to Northern's staff and students last Friday. Well, I'm not sure how much virtue there is in being honest about a matter that is public knowledge. I do know, however, that the integrity of making yourself personally accountable for your misdeeds is virtuous. I do know that such integrity probably demands that you resign your office for violating an important public trust -- i.e., setting an example of character for our children -- because it is simply not enough to roll the dice on whether anyone else will hold you accountable.
The bottom line is that the students of Forest Hills Northern have learned this from Gregory: Have no shame for your bad acts. It is enough to be honest and declare mistakes were made, but let's not drag integrity into this mess. If outside forces make you pay, sobeit. But you don't have to make yourself pay. Why should you? If what you did wasn't too heinous, possibly no one will make you pay much for what you did. So why make certain you will pay through your own actions?
We do not ask too much of a high school principal to have the shame to resign for drunken driving, especially when that dangerous behavior is one far too many high school students indulge in. If Gregory hasn't either the decency or the commonsense to know that by holding onto to his office, he is clearly communicating to his charges that drunken driving really isn't that serious of a thing, then the Forest Hills school board should supply that decency and commonsense. Unfortunately, while none of this is too much to ask, it is too much to expect these days of public servants.
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?
Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor has finally released the enrollment figure for the new school year. Almost all of the other public school districts in the state released their figures last month. Taylor embargoed the figure for the GRPS without much explanation, although there really wasn't much doubt why. After Taylor's media blitz to support spending on new consultants, new programs, and new schools to bring back students to the declining school district, not only were this year's losses in enrollment not stemmed, they were greater than last year's.
Nothing but whistling past the graveyard, making a show of what's new and glitzy while ignoring the fundamental problems destroying the school district. Now the official enrollment figure proves it. The number of students attending Grand Rapids public schools this year is just above 20,000. That's a loss of 880 students and about $1.27 million in state taxpayer subsidies for the district. This compares to a loss of 745 students in 2006 and 902 in 2005, which are merely part of a decade-long 25% decline in enrollment. Keep in mind that the losses in those years were not mitigated by Taylor's newly implemented Iron Curtain forcing students exiting charter schools to attend city high schools. Otherwise this year's enrollment loss would have probably exceeded one thousand students.
The school district's official line is that the bad economy is driving families out of Michigan and so students from the Grand Rapids public schools. But I don't think there has been a four percent decline in the city's population over the past summer to match the decline in enrollment. Plus, most of the enrollment losses show up in the elementary schools, not spread out across all grades as would be expected from a general loss of population in the region. Nor are the enrollment figures for other school districts and charter schools consistent with this explanation.
It's true that many breadwinners have left the local area to earn a living elsewhere. Their families have not necessarily followed. And school districts even in the worst hit regions of the state have increased enrollment. So the "bad economy" excuse does not wash. If it did, then the Grand Rapids public schools should have stemmed the enrollment decline by picking up students from families whose stretched budgets can no longer cover parochial or private school tuition. That didn't happen. What did happen is that parents continued to be disgusted with city school officials who won't maintain discipline (here and here), won't enforce basic standards of decency (here and here), think the school district exists for the benefit of those drawing a paycheck from it (here, here, and here), and have nothing but contempt for those who don't want to put their in kids in a rotting system (here).
That last point is important. We can all agree that school board members who call dissenting parents racists or tell them to get the hell of the city if they don't want their kids in the Grand Rapids public schools are a part of the fundamental problem with the district. But consider Superintendent Bernard Taylor's performance in the recent textbook controversy. There was strong objection from the community to a high school textbook laced with obscenities. Taylor thought the book was fine and should be used unaltered. Then he pressed the school board to make a quick decision on it and sweep the matter under the rug. Just who does Taylor think is fleeing his school district? Students with parents who are against obscenity in the classroom or those with parents who don't?
Of course, it is mostly the former. Taylor is either contemptuous of the families he wants to bring back into the school district or he is completely clueless as to what is ticking them off. Either way he is not the man for the job, and keeping the lid of bad news like the big decline in enrollment only delays the day of reckoning.
... Or maybe you will. After all, this is about the Grand Rapids public schools.
Allegedly without reviewing it, the city school district ordered 140 copies of The Literary Experience as an literature appreciation textbook for advanced placement classes at City High. After shelling out sixty bucks a pop for the book and receiving shipment, administrators finally got the idea of checking out its contents. Only then did they discover the mistake they had made.
The Literary Experience is a collection of short stories, the prize pig of which is a 70-page tale of two brothers who cannot utter a sentence without a "s---" or a "f---" in it as they talk about their vile lives of sex, drugs, and crime in the urban jungle. Now I would have thought that if an honors English cirriculum needed a good story about brothers with a penchant for finding trouble, Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov would have fit the bill. Certainly a bill less than $60 a book.
Well, at least school administrators, after having failed to vet The Literary Experience before taking delivery of the volume, didn't fail to recognize its unsuitability as a textbook. Plan "A" is to return the books. If they can't do that (seeing that they have already stamped them the property of the Grand Rapids Public Schools), Plan "B" is to cut out the pages of the offensive short story from each book before distributing it to students.
Of course, that back-up plan already has the usual suspects hysterically denouncing school administrators as censors. Need we discuss the idiocy of defining censorship as the adult exercise of judgment as to what textbooks should be used for the instruction of minors? No, anyone who can't get that, won't ever get it. Instead, let's turn our attention toward the captain of this ship of fools. That would be none other than the Board of Education vice president, Lisa Hinkel.
She is horrified at the prospect that school administrators might deny their young charges the joys of reading filth. Shaken by their tyrannical designs upon our youngsters, Hinkel shuddered, "I can't advocate for cutting pages from a book. That just goes against everything I believe." This from the woman who a couple of weeks ago told parents unhappy with the quality of education at the city's public high schools to pack their bags and get the hell out of town. Maybe it's time parents told Hinkel to pack her bags.
Let's give credit where credit is due. According to the Grand Rapids Press, G.R. Mayor George Heartwell (a.k.a. Big Sister) eschewed the usual leftist pieties to stick up for parents unhappy with the Grand Rapids public schools. He criticized the school board members who had publicly excoriated parents opposing Taylor's "Iron Curtain".
Well, maybe not quite a criticism, but at least Big Sister said this: "I know the day will come that the Grand Rapids public schools will be the schools of choice for parents in the suburban districts. But until then, I'm disturbed by some of the attitudes from these board members." Those board members were Arnie Smithalexander who called parents racists because they wanted to transfer their kids out of the city schools to suburban ones, and Lisa Hinkel who said those parents can either move out of the city into the 'burbs or pay tuition for a private school.
So not very stern stuff from Heartwell in light of the poisonous statements by Smithalexander and Hinkel, but remember, folks, he is taking a stand on unfamiliar territory -- i.e., neither leftist nor establishment insider. The man may be a chameleon when it comes to political opportunity, but I sense Big Sister actually sees the real wrong in what they said. That earns him a pat on the back.
Also, one school board member, Jim Rinck, finally expressed some concern with Smithalexander and Hinkel. On Tuesday he said, "You don't ever tell people you disagree with to leave the city." Then he softened that tepid admonishment by explaining that the two probably got a little too enthusiastic in their support of Taylor's anti-transfer policy. And just to make it clear which side of Taylor's "Iron Curtain" he is on, Rinck suggested that parents who don't want their kids to attend Grand Rapids public schools don't have a real beef because the schools aren't actually "crawling with gangs and violence". No, the violence is merely common not epidemic. Shame on those parents for wanting discipline in the classroom to be common instead.
Well, it's probably too much to expect both Big Sister and the school board to stand by parents. But at least one has, and that's a change for the better.
Members of the Grand Rapids Board of Education showed the public on Monday what thugs they are.
Earlier this year, to stop the flight of students from the rotting Grand Rapids public school district, Superintendent Bernard Taylor implemented a new policy of refusing student requests for transfers to other districts. Unless exceptional circumstances can be proven, a student who is a resident of the city of Grand Rapids will be forced to attend a Grand Rapids public school -- unless, of course, his or her parents can afford the price tag for a private or parochial education.
At Monday's regular meeting, members of the Grand Rapids public school board vociferously defended Taylor's new policy. In fact, they even denounced the parents who opposed Taylor's crackdown on transfers. Indeed, the repulsive Arnie Smithalexander accused dissenting parents of "blatant racism", a disgusting slander that once again demonstrates this woman's lack of fitness for public office. Of course, educrat apparatchik and board v.p. Lisa Hinkel was in lock-step with Smithalexander, while none of our other public servants demanded an apology for the outrageous statements of their colleague. But you see, dear readers, this is the way of thugs. They get what they want from you through coercion, and if you have the temerity to complain, they will vilify you.
So down comes the Iron Curtain around the Grand Rapids public school district.
A reader, Tommy Times, disagreed with our "If You Got It, Spend It!" article in which we opined that the Grand Rapids Public School District should return to the taxpayers the excess funds from an infrastructure bond rather than spend it on a new elementary school building. The inestimable Mr. Times commented:
Oh, come on. GRPS has many more infrastructure needs than their last bond issue could cover. They spent less money on the first round of projects, so they are going to the next priority on the list. Doesn't that make more sense than giving the money back, then going back to the voters to fund the additional needs, with the cost of an election, selling new bonds, and paying a higher interest rate?
It may be true that Hall St. school is only 50 years old, and I certainly appreciate mid century modern schools, having attended them (boy, I loved walking outside in michigan winters to change classes on our six building campus), but there are some things they are likely to be missing, having been designed for a culture with different expectations from schools. Smaller schools in walkable neighborhoods are wonderful, but the baby boom is over, and neighborhoods do not have the density of kids to support pure neighborhood schools that are efficient to operate.
The school district cannot operate with the philosophy that 'this is what we can afford, if the suburbs can afford more, good for them.' They have to compete for students with the suburbs, because they lose dollars with every student. Education quality should be the number one point of competition, but the reality of keeping and attracting people to the district is that you have to have buildings that are competitive with the burbs. EGR and Forest Hills have plenty of 50 year old buildings, but they have also had much higher building millages to maintain and enhance their buildings.
Although I have already responded to Mr. Times in the comments section of that article, I'd like to post a more complete response here ...
Your argument is based upon a contradiction.
You say: "Smaller schools in walkable neighborhoods are wonderful, but the baby boom is over, and neighborhoods do not have the density of kids to support pure neighborhood schools that are efficient to operate."
If that were true, then fewer students means less infrastructure needed. For example, on the northeast side of town where I lived as a kid 30-40 years ago, there were six elementary schools (Huff, Aberdeen, Riverside, Crestview, Wellerwood, and North Park). Now there will be only one servicing the same area. That should translate into a considerable reduction in infrastructure expense, both capital and operational. Indeed, the sale of those unneeded facilities would provide more than enough capital to renovate and maintain the remaining school. So fewer students is hardly a rationale for dunning the taxpayers to cover more infrastructure spending.
However, what you say isn't true. They're about as many kids living within the Grand Rapids Public School District as there were when I was kid. The reason the GRPS student body has shrunk is because it now faces competition from suburban and charter schools. A large fraction of families living within the GRPS district have jumped at the chance to send their kids somewhere other than the neighborhood schools. Why? Do you seriously think it is because the school buildings aren't brand spanking new? Are parents these days that superficial? No. The problem is the lousy education provided and even worse, the undisciplined environment, even in elementary schools, that has been tolerated in the city schools. I know this from personal experience. It is a wretched situation that is INEXCUSABLE, period.
The discipline that produces the civility and decency needed for a good learning environment doesn't require another dime from the taxpayers. What is does require is the WILL of the GRPS superintendent and the board of education to lay down clear policies on discipline, back up the principals and teachers who enforce discipline in the classroom, take no crap from rabble-rousing parents who claim their little darlings do no wrong, and ultimately expel those students who will not get with the program. What is does not require is multicultural sensitivity training of administrators, teachers, and students that operates on the premise that a kid's skin color makes him or her any more or less capable of decent behavior. Black, brown, yellow, or white, kids are kids, and it is a nasty brand of crypto-racism that the educrats are pushing to avoid dealing with their lack of will to make every student behave properly while at school.
Absent that will to make city schools decent places for kids to learn, throwing taxpayer dollars at new infrastructure is like putting lipstick on the pig. Pretty new buildings won't fool the parents who have made the decision to send their children to a charter or suburban school. Indeed, that lesson should've already been learn last fall when the brand new schools the GRPS opened did not add any new students to the district's roster. In fact, I think Superintendent Taylor has learned that lesson, but in the wrong way, which is why it is now his policy to hold hostage as many kids as possible who live in within the district by restricting their release to suburban districts.
The bottom line for me, Tommy, is that the GRPS has to address its fundamental failures to retain students before hitting up the taxpayers for new capital expenditures.
About forty years ago I first attended school at Hall Elementary on the southwest side of town. There's even a yellowed newspaper article with a photo of me attending the area's first Head Start class to prove it. (So, you see, my liberal friends, I actually owe everything that I am today to LBJ and the Great Society. ;) At the time the school was almost new, built nine years earlier to accommodate the post-war baby boom. So now, with only a half-century's wear-and-tear on the building, the Grand Rapids Board of Education voted on Monday to tear it down and construct a brand spanking new school.
Why? Because the school district has money to burn. Sure, the operational budget is out of control, and no doubt that problem will eventually sink the district into bankruptcy. However, some years back the voters approved a $165 million bond issue for new bricks and mortar to repair or replace dilapidated school buildings. It seems that the district got that job done under budget, even with funding new construction that was not truly needed. So there's $11.5 million left from the bond. Let's give the local educrats a pat on the back for that.
Now let's give them a kick in the shins for board's decision this week regarding Hall Elementary. Apparently it's inconceivable that the Grand Rapids public school district should return the $11.5 million to the taxpayers (plus saving the interest expense on top of that). Because the educrats got the money, they've got to spend it. (And don't even get me started on the soccer field included in the site plan! Where's the baseball diamond?) Hall Elementary did not need to be knocked down and replaced before these funds were known to be available (which is why it was NOT on the district's original list of infrastructure priorities). It's only after the money showed up as a surplus did the district now need to do something about Hall Elementary.
There's a lesson in this for the voters. They should only approve bond issues to fund specific projects.
In business the customer is king. If you don't take care of the customer, you don't stay in business. That's why a businessman will work to provide more of what his customers want to buy instead of less. And if his customers will only pay so much, he'll figure out how to be more productive or he'll cut costs. What the businessman probably won't do in a crunch (for the simple reason that he wants to stay in business) is increase his costs by paying himself and his employees more and then telling his customers to stuff it.
Of course, government doesn't work that way, because government can fail miserably and not go out of business. So the bureaucrats do not need to respond to the public they are supposed to serve. Indeed, they most surely will not do so if responsive service means putting fewer of the taxpayers' dollars in their own wallets every week. An excellent example of this is the petulant reaction of Grand Rapids Community College to Tuesday's election result when the voters rejected for a second time in three months a millage hike for the school. GRCC President Juan Olivarez made this clear on Wednesday when he explained how the community college's students and not the faculty would be made to suffer for cuts that Tuesday's vote allegedly necessitated.
Of course, the big noise that Olivarez made was that he would not ask the GRCC Board of Trustees to raise tuition on students in the wake of Tuesday's election. But then Olivarez already got the board to jack up tuition by a record 8.9% after the voters denied the first millage request back in May. So the students were spared nothing. GRCC already stuck it to them. Even though students are going to pay more for their classes, Olivarez announced that GRCC is planning to cut back on those very classes in highest demand -- i.e., basic English, math, and science instruction. Now you would think that the classes to cut, assuming these cuts are in fact necessary, would be those least demanded by students. But no, doing that would fail to punish the students in particular and the taxpayers in general for GRCC's failure to get its millage hike. Thus, students must pay more for less, period.
This gambit by Olivarez is no different than the petty retaliations of public school districts against voters by canceling bus transportation or varsity athletics after losing millage elections. By the lights of government bureaucrats like Olivarez, the taxpayers exist to feed the system and the first priority of that system is to turn taxpayers dollars into compensation for its employees. So when the taxpayers say no to coughing up more of their dough, then they must be taught a lesson. The system must cut those services which the taxpayers find most inconvenient (at least, noticeably so in the short term) to lose. In the case of GRCC, this would be the basic courses students need for their vocational training.
Do you doubt that the faculty, and not the students, comes first at GRCC? The faculty's contract with GRCC expires on August 31st. School officials made it clear to the Grand Rapids Press on Wednesday that the failure of the millage request would have no affect on the negotiation of salary and benefits. The faculty association's president, Fred van Hartesveldt got the message when he told the Press that the millage request was not about the taxpayers' compensation to the faculty but about providing students with the services and capital improvements they need, and so the voters have decided that it is the students and not the faculty who must suffer. Thus, van Hartesveldt has crystallized the entitlement mentality of the bureaucrats, which Olivarez is loathe to disturb.
And this is the upside-down world of the government bureaucrat. If the public won't pay more, deny them the services they want while increasing the size of your paycheck. After all, the one thing the bureaucrat knows for sure is that no matter how poorly he serves the public, the government is not going out of business.
"I suppose we could lament the absence of any champion for the voters' will to oppose this tax increase on the principle that the voters had already said no to it only a couple of months ago. However, the issue is in the voters' hands. They should be incensed that GRCC will not take no for an answer, and so they can vote in August accordingly. Yes, it's unfair that Michigan law allows outfits like GRCC to keep hauling people back to the voting booth every three months, and the state legislature should restrict millage ballots to the November general election. But, unfair or not, it's up to the voters, with or without a champion, to take control of this matter."
As it happens, Eric Larson of Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility has taken up, as a grassroots effort, the inequity of GRCC going back to the well so soon after being told "no" by the voters. He had this to say:
"... it's very hard to mount a response to these millages when they come up so quickly (and repetitively). It is my hope that our organization, Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility, will [be] just such a home base for those interested in good governance and fighting unfair tax policies/proposals. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or visit the website at www.kcffr.org."
Although we are not making any particular endorsement of Eric's organization, we admire and support the efforts of ordinary people to make their voices heard on government policies. This is especially so in a case like this in which the political, media, and business establishment has so firmly lined up against the voters and the taxpayers. We welcome information about any other grassroot campaigns in our community to make a difference in the upcoming election, either for or against the GRCC millage hike. Drop us a line and we'll put up a notice about your organization for our readers.
As most of you know, Grand Rapids Community College bigwigs are demanding more money from the taxpayers again. Several weeks ago GRCC lost a millage election that would have hit homeowners with a hike of $24 for each $100K of their property's taxable value. The voters spoke and said no. Apparently democracy is not to the liking of the GRCC board of trustees, because they have put the millage hike back on the ballot in August -- this time expecting the voters to give them the right answer.
Of course, the GRCC board has made dire predictions of doom and gloom if the voters don't do what they are told and approve the tax increase. Migosh, students might have to pay higher tuition to cover higher compensation to the all of the employees feeding at the GRCC trough. Yes, that's harsh, but then much of the argument for why the schooling GRCC offers is critical lies with the failure of the public school districts to teach the general education, college prep, and vocational classes that have become the core of the GRCC cirriculum. As GRCC is part and parcel of the Michigan public school system, it does not escape blame for allowing this shift of responsibility for decent education from K-12 to it -- especially when it gets to stick the cost of that shift to homeowners.
The ballot box is the only brake on this ballooning of K-12 education out to K-14 left to the taxpayers. They get to say no to pouring more money into a system of sinecures for overpaid administrators and instructors. When they say "no", that should mean "no". A close election doesn't change that. A one-vote margin in favor of "no" is the same as a 10,000-vote margin. But the GRCC board of trustees has no respect for the voters. They don't care what they have decided, so they'll keep demanding higher taxes from us until the voters get it right.
Seeing that a reprobate like lawyer Gary Schenk is one of the leaders of the GRCC board, perhaps this contempt for the voters is not surprising. More surprising is the endorsement of this millage hike by some other community leaders. For example, at Tuesday's Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, mayoral candidates George Heartwell and Rick Tormala backed GRCC's demand for higher taxes.* In light of Heartwell's sanctimonious fit (here and here) when Michigan voters banned racial preference policies by state and local governments, maybe ignoring the will of voters isn't so surprising for him. Tormala, however, showed good sense in response to Heartwell's desire to go to war against the voters on that issue. He should apply the same principle to this second bite at the apple that GRCC wants.
Likewise with the G.R. Press, which out of respect for the voters editorially opposed Heartwell's nonsense to go on a jihad for racial preferences. It also has set aside that principle to support the GRCC millage hike. I suppose we could lament the absence of any champion for the voters' will to oppose this tax increase on the principle that the voters had already said no to it only a couple of months ago. However, the issue is in the voters' hands. They should be incensed that GRCC will not take no for an answer, and so they can vote in August accordingly. Yes, it's unfair that Michigan law allows outfits like GRCC to keep hauling people back to the voting booth every three months, and the state legislature should restrict millage ballots to the November general election. But, unfair or not, it's up to the voters, with or without a champion, to take control of this matter.
It's up to them to make clear what they think of those who say, "To hell with the voters." If they won't, they have only themselves to blame for the contempt that the GRCC board of trustees has shown for them by putting the millage hike back on the ballot.
(* At least Heartwell and Tormala went on the record. As far as we can tell, the other two candidates for Grand Rapids mayor, Jim Rinck and Jackie Miller, are AWOL on the GRCC issue. However, Rinck has publicly stated that he opposes further property tax increases, so that would appear to put him at odds with a millage hike. But then he has made a lot of noise about education being the salvation of our community, so his position is not clear.)
We have been hearing on local newscasts and reading in newspapers in recent weeks about the
increased tuition levels approved by local community colleges, private universities and state universities around Michigan. The numbers border on staggering. Just today, Wayne State University announced an increase of 13%. Welcome to the world of higher education (think Ward Churchill - eeeckk)!
WWW.rightmichigan.com has posted a number of articles in recent weeks about the current increases that young college first timers, returning undergraduate students and older returning graduate students can expect in the fall of 07’. Articles such as “Statewide, Universities Jack Up Tuition Rates. U-Mich Repeats Lie First Exposed by ZR years ago” by Chetly posted on 7/21/07 and “Tuition Increases Amidst GVSU Building Palooza” by Amanda posted on 7/17/07. Each article provided details on a breakdown of room & board along with the actual amount of the increase a full time student could expect in final dollars and cents. One of the articles expressed frustration over the continued escalation of costs. One of the articles discussed supposed costs reductions at one school while the same school complained state aid was simply not enough to make up the difference in reforms and current fees. While there was ample irritation and disappointment, few ideas were put forth as what to do to counter this constant pattern of tuition going up each and every year.
I couldn’t help but relate to these articles as I am a graduate of The University of Detroit-Mercy and also Eastern Michigan University. I moaned and groaned in the years of 1985-1991 when I was in both schools obtaining my degrees. I thought costs were growing wildly back then, but the numbers these days border on astronomical. By the time I hit my third year in college, all aid less student loans dried up. I remember vividly being told that since I made 10K a year working two part time jobs and my parents made 25-30K a year combined, we were considered “well off” so, I wasn’t eligible for aid any longer. Citibank was kind enough to offer me a small student loan of $2,500 at 10% interest and then they welcomed me doing a cash advance on my credit card for an additional $5,000 at 18% interest for the rest of my bill that year. I appreciated their flexibility and generosity in robbing me blind when no one else would. It took me over a decade to pay back over $35,000 in debt. I did it, every last rotten, stinking dime (along with employing a personal therapist to help me get over my bitterness of the whole experience :-). 35K seemed like a large amount of money back then, but appears to be nothing compared to the numbers I have been hearing for this generation of students in school now.
I feel that we have all fallen prey to the false belief that becoming a college graduate is a must.
No bachelors degree, you are nothing! No masters degree, you are nothing! No PhD, no zoup for you! The real deal is you simply go in debt and have no security or guaranty for the journey you feel pressured to take. What other choices do we make in life at such an early age where we are told;
1) soon as you graduate from high school make a major life career decision,
2) fork out $50,000 or more to pay for school (via student aid, scholarships, cash advances on credit cards, family assistance if you can get it, student loans and in between jobs),
3) spend 4 to 6 years in an isolated classroom being taught only specific information that certain professors with set agendas want you to learn (so much for well rounded learning),
4) graduate on time if you are dedicated, smart and organized,
5) and then walk out into a world that has not prepared you for an empty piece of paper, enormous debt and no guaranteed job or career. It appears congratulations are in order college grad!
As one of the articles on www.rightmichigan.com noted, most institutions of higher learning are dealing with increased student entry and graduation numbers not reduced enrollment. So, what gives? How angry are all these students – both undergraduate and graduate - if all they do is get upset, yet they still fork over the dough? Or worse, has everyone bought the concept that success in the modern world is available to only those with a college education? Sure, there are some fields that continuing education is a must. You simply cannot walk into the work world and become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc, without some form of higher education. The reality is most other fields, on the job training could prove wonders. But, that isn’t done much any longer. Employers no longer want to train someone who might leave in a short amount of time or not work out altogether and thus, they have wasted money, time and benefits for nothing. Workers don’t want traditional blue collar style jobs anymore as they’re simply not “the ones to brag about”.
Frankly, the whole "business" of college and university education is a bit distasteful
these days. They deny they run themselves like a business. They say they are not there to increase professor profiles. They are not there to build monster alumni programs for the status of the college. They are not there to create national athletic buildings, teams and fan followings. They are not there to make money. They are simply there to educate the kids of today to be the brilliant workers of tomorrow. Hmmm…right.
My take is that until parents, students and everyone else starts making their voice truly heard, this incredible escalation of costs is going to keep going on and on and on. Regardless of how much money the state and local parties pay out to the schools, it will never be enough. The schools will always say they are in a deficit mode. Parents are actually starting to take out home equity loans to foot their kids college bills. Parents are dipping into their 401K, pension and savings accounts to pay for their kids college bills which could harm their future retirement plans. Parents are getting second and third jobs to help their kids pay their college bills. Some kids are working to help put themselves through school (like I did), but still not enough. If kids had to work to foot their entire bill themselves, things would change overnight. Guaranteed!
Don’t forget, communities like Grand Rapids keep going to the ballet box during voting season to get that all important millage increase to keep the schools piggy bank full. If they don’t get the vote they want the first time, well try, try again.
Is the sky now the limit?
When will people say no more?
Until we all start demanding more in return for our hard earned money, we aren't going to see a change. Even if someone is lucky enough to get grants and scholarships instead of forking out direct cash, credit cards or taking out direct loans…we all pay the bill in the long run one way or another. What you got as a grant or scholarship, people like I paid in direct expenses out of my own pocket. Or citizens in the community paid via increased millage rates. Nothing is free. Nothing.
I would like to suggest controversial ideas such as the following to fix the current college and university tuition increase problem:
Start boycotting schools that increase tuition beyond the cost of inflation.
Start boycotting schools that do not do needed reforms and shave off waste to their own internal administrative, building and operating programs.
Start boycotting schools that do not contain costs and watch their spending - in terms of educator & administrative salaries, material costs, building booms, etc.
Start boycotting schools who do not provide guaranteed job assistance and job placement at the end of a 4 or 6 year program.
Start boycotting schools that do not show a top level placement record of recent graduates.
If these colleges and universities want to act like a big business, even if they deny they are, then let’s start holding them to successful business principals. That means watching the bottom line dollar (keeping costs in line with inflation and no more), making sure they meet the customers demands (quality surveys on teachers, administrators, books, class content, etc.), showing success in their product line(that students are getting jobs in their fields) and so on. Continuing to pay colleges and universities for minimal to poor production is a bad business practice and it shows. You wouldn’t reward a failing business in the real world. Why reward a failing college or university when the product they produce isn't working - you (that is assuming that a student is putting 100% of their time and effort toward their major/minor properly, graduating on time and still can't make do with the degree they have earned).
We have all bought the notion hook, line and sinker that if you don’t get a college degree these days – you are big, fat zero. You can’t possibly amount to anything. It's sad that high school counselors,
teachers aids and adults themselves advise students that they must attend a college or university else they will end up unmarketable and unwanted in the work world. It’s too easy to forget or deny that some of the biggest inventors and small business people began with minor beginnings. Beginnings that DID NOT include a college degree. Who knows what you might be able to accomplish if you take hard work, determination and dedication to a discipline other than a college or university. Everyone should not have to pay these institutions the sun, moon and the stars to "help" make a dream happen. We should all consider taking our current money, time and effort and consider becoming the next great inventor, a small business owner, joining a military branch of service for the benefit of God, country and family, attending a technical or vocational school for a trade skill, putting years in a job and gaining experience on site and working our way up in a company the old fashioned way and so on. The key would be suggesting and supporting these alternatives instead of just frowning upon them.
As these simple ideas and suggestions show, it's possible to avoid breaking the bank when it comes to continuing education. We simply have forgotten how.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor, The Local Area Watch
Dwight Anderson, superintendent of the Comstock Park public school district, has forbidden a high school choir from singing a hymn at next week's graduation ceremony in honor of a fellow choir member, Nick Szymanski, who died in an accident last October. The banned hymn is the Lord's Prayer, which was a favorite of Szymanski's. The choir has previously performed the hymn at a school event in commemoration of Szymanski, and the graduation ceremony is in fact being held at a church. But Anderson has now decided that the hymn could possibly offend someone attending the graduation ceremony who might deem it as an attempt by the school to proselytize the Christian religion. So he ordered it tossed into the dumper.
A person who genuinely believed that the government was oppressing him by a group of teenagers singing the Lord's Prayer in his presence would be clinically insane. That obvious fact never seemed to enter into Anderson's decision. More likely Anderson was running scared from the possibility of pathetic troublemakers who like to invent offenses to themselves whenever they can, even though the chance of such people attending next week's graduation ceremony is a slim one. Why what can or cannot be uttered at a public event must be determined by the lowest common denominator of tolerance for diverse beliefs in inexplicable. What lesson in civics is being taught to our students by a school superintendent who censors the expression of a wholesome and decent petition for protection from evil and stength to do good because it might possibly disgruntle a crank in the audience? So much for robust public discourse.
Anderson rationalized his cowardice by telling the Grand Rapids Press that he banned the hymn because, after consulting with the school district's lawyers, "[W]e are going to abide by the law." Fine, except for one small thing. There is no law to abide by. Instead there is patchwork of arbitrary court decisions conflicting with each other. So, the Comstock Park public school superintendent should come clean with us. If he silenced the choir because he doesn't want the hassle of getting into a lawsuit filed by some whack job, then say so. If he thinks it really is an affront to religious liberty to allow the Lord's Prayer to be sung at a graduation ceremony, then say so. But laying it off on the district's lawyers is just weaselly.
Meanwhile, we all need to take a deep breath and consider how we have let the courts and our public officials turn the First Amendment on its head. Freedom of religion is NOT, as the libertarians are wont to say, freedom from religion. Just as freedom of the press keeps the government out of the media's business and not the media out of the government's business, what the First Amendment guarantees is that the exercise of religion will be free of the government, not that the government will be free of religion. Moreover, it certainly does not shield one citizen upon entering the public square from exposure to the religious expressions of another. And that works both ways, whether the offended citizen is an atheist who cannot countenance statements of faith in his presence or a devout believer who cannot tolerate that which he thinks is inimical to his religion -- as we had to say about the absurd banning of Halloween at a Rockford public school last year.
In short, we need to stop accommodating the hypersensitivity of those who wish the outside world would never put before them any idea, word, or deed contrary to their beliefs. If anything is inimical to genuine independence of thought and toleration of opposing views, allowing ourselves to be silenced lest we might possibly offend someone somehow will wreck these virtues vital to a democratic society.
On Thursday's front page the Grand Rapids Press broke the story that gasoline prices are cheaper in Indiana and Kentucky than here in River City! Not only that, intrepid Press reporter, Ben Beversluis, told us where the cheapest gas was in Atlanta the day before. OK. Good stuff. Another reason to renew that subscription.
Despite the banality of the front page, the Press did get it right on the editorial page. No, I'm not pulling your leg. In the lead editorial, the paper opposed the "anti-bullying" bill that the Michigan House of Representatives passed last week. The proposed law defines bullying and mandates that schools adopt particular policies and procedures against it. The Press called upon the Michigan State Senate to vote it down -- and that is exactly what the Senate should do.
The law would be a bad one for a number of reasons. First is that schools already have policies against bullying. If a school principal isn't enforcing that policy, that is a problem for the local school district not the state legislature to addess. Second is that bullying is one of those things that you know it when you see it. It's not tidily reduced to a litany of crimes against political correctness, as the Democratic authors of the bill have officially defined bullying. It would elevate childish insults -- e.g., "You're so gay!" -- to high crimes while allowing the pettifoggers (i.e., parents and their lawyers who refuse to hold their little darlings responsible for any wrongdoing) to excuse cruelties that slip through the P.C. dragnet. Third is that, by its very nature, this law would circumscribe the discretion of local officials to deal with a local problem.
As we have commented recently, discipline is a primary duty of school officials. Without it, there can be no effective education of students. While bullies are a reality most kids must learn to deal with, they cannot be permitted to be a serious disruption to a child's education and well-being. When a bully's parents will not keep him or her in check, then school officials must have the flexibility to do so as the situation dictates up to expulsion if necessary. An "anti-bullying" law mandated from on high in Lansing would eliminate that flexibility by ossifying what is a social process of discipline into a legal one, with all the obfuscating clutter of procedures, rights, and appeals that would ensure less rather than more is done to control schoolyard punks.
Once again the Grand Rapids Area Transit Authority has shut down the Rapid terminal in downtown Grand Rapids where students from the city's high schools gather to changes buses going to and from home. The reason is that too many of these students are thugs who insist upon brawling instead of waiting peaceably for transfer buses. These slugfests are serious enough to result in arrests by the Grand Rapids police, as happened Tuesday and prompted Wednesday's closing of the terminal.
In response, officials of the Grand Rapids Public School District are wringing their hands. According to the Grand Rapids Press, the district's director of security, Larry Johnson, says he's disappointed but closing down the terminal is not the answer. Yet he and the ten security officers he has assigned to the terminal have no answers. "I'm at a loss about what to do", he bemoaned. Superintendent Bernard Taylor was similarly clueless. On the one hand he has complained that arresting brawlers creates an unfair impression of city students, while on the other he has begged students in a letter to behave better. (Think about this for a moment, dear readers. Doesn't such a letter do exactly what Taylor complains of, because he lays the problem on all students instead of just the miscreants?)
Of course, that's the heart of the problem: To avoid holding those responsible for the increasing violence among city students, public school officials blame everyone else. If not always directly, they do so by putting the burden of solving the problem on everyone but themselves. Why this is so, is a bit baffling. It's not difficult to solve. Expel those students who will not comply with the discipline that keeps the order necessary for effective education. Yes, I know that the pantywaist bleeting against explusion is that our public schools will no longer have any influence over these thugs to somehow put them on the path of good citizenship. True, but then that's not their job.
A student's unwillingness to behave is not the responsibility of our public schools to correct. It is the job of the student's parents or guardians, not our public schools, to build the character in him or her that doesn't succumb to impulse and malice. It is the job of our public schools to maintain discipline so that all other students have the opportunity to learn in a tranquil environment. By not expelling the thugs and miscreants, public school officials have tacitly put the interests of these bad actors over the great majority of students who are at school to get an education.
One of our readers, in response to our article "New School for No Students", commented that his firsthand experience of the lack of discipline in Grand Rapids Public Schools forced him to place his son in a parochial school despite the high cost of doing so. After witnessing the violence and mayhem at his neighborhood public school, he said, "It's all but impossible to achieve academic parity -- never mind excellence -- when one's mental energy is spent figuring out how to avoid being the target of some delinquent thug's nefarious intentions each day." How true.
I know this for myself. Ten years ago I purchased a house for my sister and her children in the Twin Lakes neighborhood of the city. So two of her children enrolled at Beckwith Elementary and the oldest at Northeast Middle School. I saw for myself how corrosive the constant bullying, intimidation, and threat of violence from fellow students was upon the emotional well-being of these kids. It was heart-breaking. And then it was infuriorating, because neither the teachers nor the administrators would do anything about it for fear of offending the parents of the aggressors. Soon afterwards, I gave up on the city schools and moved my sister and the kids out into the suburbs, where they excelled in the Rockford public schools.
Our reader regrets his decision to abandon the Grand Rapids Public Schools, because he places great value on the public school experience. I understand that. I share the senitment. I'd be surprised if most of the parents who over the past decade have pulled 500 students out of city elementary schools on the Northeast side and another 800 on the Southeast side don't also share the sentiment. They aren't so crass as to value shiny new buildings over the physical and emotional security of their children. Besides what possible good can new buildings be that students who know no discipline within their walls will soon trash?
There's no question that the GRPS needs to build and maintain its infrastructure. But the infrastructure that is in dire need of renovation isn't physical, it's social. Rebuilding the communities that used to support neighborhood schools won't be done by throwing money at it. It requires the will to maintain student discipline on the grounds of the schools, the will to offend the parents of bullies who think their darlings should have free rein, the will to defy the hucksters of the grievance industry who seek pay-offs for invented outrages, and the will to truly put the needs of students first and foremost -- even when that means being tough with them.
But there is no evidence of that will. Take a look at Union High School, which made the news this week.  The principal was decked and put into the hospital by student when she attempted to separate the kid from a brawl -- a planned brawl that had drawn sixty eager fellow students as spectators. In response, the mother of the brawler demands that the principal should be fired.  Vandals then shut down Union for a day by putting glue into the locks of most of the classroom doors.  Meanwhile, fighting is endemic at the high school with as many as six outbreaks a day while teachers have their cars stolen from the school's parking lot.
When was enough enough? Now? Now that one of the management of the GRPS, the Union High School principal, was physically harmed by the chaos in our city schools the administration will clamp down? Perhaps, and that would be desirable, but that would also go to show that the GRPS is rotten at its core. The persistent violence and intimidation faced by students wasn't a sufficient call to action, because the students only matter as a raw body count to boost taxpayer funding for the GRPS. Only when the violence strikes out at management does the problem get the system's attention, because their welfare, not the students', is its priority.
If you doubt that, watch how this event unfolds. The student who decked the principal may well be expelled from the GRPS. Rightly so. But consider why that student or the many others who have been brutalized fellow students have NOT been expelled for that violence. What other answer is there than a principal matters to the GRPS and student victims of assault don't? Little wonder then that parents who have gotten this message loud and clear over the past ten years have pulled their kids out of the chaos of the city schools.
This is a follow-up from Monday's article "New School for No Students". GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor has recommended to the Board of Education a plan for consolidating elementary schools on both the Northeast and Southside sides of town. Eastern Elementary is to be closed and its students distributed to Kent Hills, East Leonard, and Coit schools. Including North Park and Aberdeen schools, that will leave five elementary schools on the Northeast side.
As mentioned previously, the school district has $8 million available to spend on new construction on the Northeast side. Instead of building a new school outright, Taylor is recommending that Kent Hills have $5.5 million in "renovations" (in effect, a new building) while East Leonard gets $750,000, North Park $1,000,000, and Aberdeen $750,000. You might be wondering how those figures were determined. Is that the actually cost of what is needed to be done? Is it only a coincidence that the amount of renovation required equals the amount available, $8 million? Or is this another example of spend it if you got it?
We reported last year on the insanity of the Grand Rapids Public School District's desire to spend millions on a new elementary school on the Northeast side of town where existing schools are closing because students are fleeing to suburban, parochial, and charter schools -- 500 in just the past decade. North of Knapp Street alone there were once six elementary schools: Huff, Aberdeen, Riverside, Crestview, Wellerwood, and North Park. Now there are only two, Aberdeen and North Park, which are under-used. However, the school district has $8 million burning a hole in its pocket for new construction on the Northeast side, and so the money's gotta be spent. (Apparently the idea of returning unneeded construction funds to the taxpayers isn't within the comprehension of school bureaucrats.)
So now the new school superintendent Bernard Taylor needs to come up with a plan to shuffle around the kids on the Northeast side of town (and also the Southeast side which has lost even more kids, 800, during the past decade). It seems that one of the favored options is to close down Eastern Elementary. However, Eastern is the one school on the Northeast side at full capacity that has a good community base. But the school district says that the building needs renovation and renovated buildings don't draw new students, only new buildings do. As evidence of this, the district points to Coit School which was renovated a few years ago and is only half-full, whereas the three new buildings the district opened this fall (elsewhere in the district) were packed.
What a load of rubbish. First of all, those new buildings did not draw new students INTO the Grand Rapids district. They pulled in existing students from other parts of the districts. The task on the Northeast side isn't to re-shuffle existing students, but to attract students currently attending non-district schools. There is no evidence that new construction does this. Second, the renovation of Coit School failed to draw new students, because they aren't enough students in the area with East Leonard and Eastern so close to it. The renovation was a stupid idea based on emotion and misguided notions of historic preservation. Third, renovated or not Eastern is succeeding. That is testament to the disconnect between bricks-and-mortar and community. One does not necessarily follow the other.
Fourth, and most important, the Grand Rapids public schools are failing because their communities are dysfunctional or non-existent. Granted a sense of community more readily develops around a school that serves an immediate neighborhood. Geography does play an important role that is difficult to exploit when city schools must be consolidated to cope with the massive outflow of students to other schools. But then that begs the question of why Grand Rapids public schools are losing students in the first place. No doubt the teachers' union is a primary culprit as the government school bureaucracy was perverted from educating students to serving educators. Of course, that didn't happen without the acquiescence of supine school superintendents. In turn, past school boards deserve their share of blame for hiring careerist hacks for the top job rather than innovative outsiders. But then we the voters elected those school boards, didn't we?
We also voted another way. We voted with our feet and sent our kids to suburban, parochial, and charter schools instead of city schools. And this brings us back to the same question: Why are the city schools losing students? Why has the trickle become a torrent? The increasing lack of discipline in those schools, even the elementary schools. The community necessary for a successful school will not develop where mayhem, intimidation, and violence reign. The pathetic response of Superintendent Taylor to this is that the principals and teachers of the Grand Rapids public schools are not sensitive to the culture of their students. Translation: White educators don't understand black and brown students.
Again, what a load of rubbish. If Taylor wanted to argue that careerist educators are too busy ticking off the days to collecting that pension check and so are too lazy to mete out the discipline kids from unruly and broken households need to get a good education, that would be one thing. But it is another thing to argue that a kid's skin color makes him incapable of understanding the normal and ordinary demands of discipline needed in a classroom. All kids thrive on those demands. To deny it to them is cruel. If they don't get it from home, then they must get in school. If they aren't getting discipline in school, because the teachers and principals won't provide it, then Taylor needs to get his cattle prod out. However, if it is because the teachers and principals can't provide it, because they are hamstrung by the district's bureaucracy, then Taylor needs to bust through the bureaucracy and clearly establish discipline as part of the school district's mission.
The problem with the lack of discipline is that it is both "won't" and "can't", which leaves everyone collecting a paycheck from the Grand Rapids Public school district in the happy position of pointing fingers at each other as an excuse to do nothing. Meanwhile, the students in our city schools remain ill-served, the remaining communities supporting those schools continue to break up, and the blueprints get drawn up for a new school for no students.
As usual River City missed the worst of it. The ice stayed to the south and the heavy snow stayed to north. Nevertheless, Grand Rapids public schools shut down for the day. That makes for a nice three-day weekend for the teachers while raising havoc with the work schedule of parents who unexpectedly have kids to watch.
Now I hesitate to put it this way, but ... when I was a kid, the Grand Rapids public schools NEVER shut down for snow. Yes, there was that blizzard in the late '70s -- and it was a real blizzard, not this "winter storm warning" nonsense that the National Weather Service puts out every time the skies threaten to drop a few inches of the white stuff upon us -- and the schools, like everything else, closed for a few days. (And that turned out to be an opportunity to fatten my wallet when I teamed up with a buddy of mine to shovel snow off the roofs of houses in the neighborhood.) Then there was an ice storm now and then, but during the fourteen years I attended Grand Rapids public schools, from Headstart to graduation, I don't remember getting to stay home and play in the snow more than four or five times.
Well, if today's weather is the new standard for closing the schools, we better dig in for a long winter with the little darlings at home.
I learned from WOOD TV8 news yesterday that Bob Denooyer, owner of Denooyer Chevrolet, has an idea for replicating the "Kalamazoo Promise" college scholarship program in the Lakeshore region around Holland and Zeeland. Now if you're thinking that means he wants to donate his wealth to fund college tuitions like the anonymous donor in Kalamazoo did, maybe "replicating" isn't quite the right word. What Denooyer wants is to have you, the taxpayer, open your wallets to the tune of $40 million a year.
His idea is to levy a 1.5% tax on the income of every household in the Holland-Zeeland area to give the approximately 1,750 high school graduates in the region a full-ride tuition to college. Apparently it has eluded Denooyer that forcing everyone under the penalty of law to cough up cash for a program like this is not a gift to make good on a promise, but a shakedown to cover a demand. It is one thing for a generous soul to promise to pay the college tuition for any kid who wants a higher education. It's another to demand that a community be taxed to pay for EVERY kid to go to college.
What is this delusion people like Denooyer and so many others suffer that it is an absolute must for kids to immediately go to four years of college after high school -- if at all? What's wrong with getting a job, enlisting in the armed forces, or going to a community college? Is giving an eighteen-year-old a free ride on the back of taxpayers, to whom he has no accountability (unlike other types of scholarships), really a good idea when as an adult he should start learning how to fend for himself? And if this one-size-fits-all solution to starting out adult life is four years of college, why is it the burden of the taxpayers to pick up the tab?
Isn't it enough that the taxpayers must pay for a bloated, underperforming elementary and secondary public school system? If kids aren't getting the skills they need to start out life from that elaborately expensive process, why shouldn't Denooyer and his cohorts demand improvements there instead of demanding that taxpayers put up the money for another four years of schooling? Isn't this where the real scandal lies: After thirteen years of public education, our kids apparently need another four years of schooling to be employable?
But what's easier? Breaking the resistance of the teacher unions and adminstrator associations to real reform of public education, reforms that might cost them some of their perks and benefits and even sinecures? Or persuading a group of politicians to not fight that fight and sock it to the taxpayers again?
Finally, whatever answers you may have to all of these questions, has Denooyer even identified a real problem in the Holland-Zeeland area? Are there truly any kids not going to college because they, or their families, can't afford it? According to TV8, Holland High School counselor Sue Sirotti says that 85% of the high school graduates go onto college. So who isn't getting a college degree because the taxpayers aren't footing the bill? And even if a kid can't put together the funds to pay for college immediately out of high school, what exactly is wrong with him working for awhile or serving in the army until he has the means to do so?
In fact, I think most of us know from our own experience or the experience of others how much more seriously a college education is taken when we do so at an older age -- especially if we have had to work hard to get it. As a matter of public policy, there's something to be said for the school of hard knocks. If nothing else, it doesn't cost the taxpayers anything.
The Pig in the Python The dirty little secret behind the success and failure of every school reform that the education establishment, the public school bureaucrats, and the teachers unions will never reveal.
The Fool's Gold of a College Education Most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan.
The Fixer A four-part series about the local attorney behind the demise of Autodie, Butterworth Hospital, Amway, and Old Kent. Warning: Strong accusations of corruption, greed, and skullduggery. Not for the feint of heart.
Poison The nasty nature of the 26,000 tons of poison that The Boardwalk's developers dug up and then dumped upon the rest of us.
No Honor Among Thieves: The Demise of Quixtar The re-branding of Amway as Quixtar put lipstick on the pig, but none of the crappy way of doing business changed. Now comes public scrutiny around the world to control its kingpins and clean up the dirty "tools" business.
Lost Cause A story of how River City lost its way to a secure economic future.
Living Wage Kills Jobs City pols support a Marxist policy that, like all Marxist policies, hurt the very people they say it will help.
Defenders Who Do Not Defend Excessive plea-bargaining, lack of preparation, shoddy to non-existent representation, conflicts of interests are rife among lawyers taking public defender cases on the taxpayer dime.