Seriousness of school reform issue calls for serious people and a discussion about term limits

Michigan School Reform needs to be discussed and debated by serious, experienced elected officials, not just The Mackinac Center and others with limited perspectives.

In a late December (28th) Oakland Press editorial Glenn Gilbert called for more “intelligent discussion” of school reform plans in 2013. He suggested that some of the discussion had been “hysterical” and not based on “facts.”

I agree – (although the term “hysterical” has come to be applied by too many to female politicians they don’t like and “fact-based,” of course, is code for positions pushed by conservative think tank The Mackinac Center).

Nonetheless, as Gilbert says, we need more sustained, civil, and, by all means, intelligent political discussion on a host of issues ranging from school reform to gun control.

But Gilbert’s editorial inadvertently pointed to obstacles – rather than solutions -- in improving our level of political discourse. Gilbert cited paid policy strategists from The Mackinac Center and The American Enterprise Institute, the latter a national conservative think tank.

My concern is not just that Gilbert cited think tanks from the political right rather than the political left. The work of the editorial is, in part, to stake out a position for debate and, on school reform, The Oakland Press has worked rather admirably – say in contrast to The Detroit News -- to present a variety of perspectives.

My concern is that in that calling for more intelligent political discussion on a critical issue for Oakland County schools and property values he couldn’t see fit to call on the people we have actually elected to represent us in these political discussions.

One can’t blame Gilbert for this either.

In seeking “experts” on school reform from the reformist side of the debate Gilbert had to turn to un-elected policy strategists because that is where much of the expertise (such as it is) currently exists.

Because of Michigan term limit law enacted in 1992 we don’t have enough elected officials with expertise or experience in such issues to comment intelligently, let alone debate. Because Michigan state reps can only serve 3 consecutive 2 year terms and state senators only two 4 year terms most elected officials don’t have what it takes to engage in a sensitive, historically informed balanced discussion between teachers, districts, parents, analysts, and so on.

Hence we are left with the lobbyists to frame the discussions that matter most to us. That is, we turn to people primarily if not exclusively interested in grand political ideologies and abstractions rather than in making our real lives work better – the ostensible job of the democratically elected official.

In these politically divisive times we really need the few experienced politicians who have worked to gain the trust of their constituents and their colleagues in Lansing.

Many Bloomfield, Birmingham and Troy public education parents don’t fully realize this but the woman who has the most potential influence on their kids’ future education is not their child’s teacher, school principal, or Hilary Clinton but Lisa Posthumous Lyons, 32 year old second term state rep from Alto (Grand Rapids). Lyons heads the important House Education Committee (a post given to a relative newcomer because, well, there are only newcomers, but also because Lyons is the daughter of Michigan Republican stalwart and Governor Snyder campaigner Dick Posthumous).

We do have elected politicians, such as Senator John Pappageorge, who have served all of us well and know school reform debates intimately enough to have real perspective, dating from the days of Prop A to our seeming preference for all things Mackinac Center. (It is worth viewing on Youtube Pappageorge’s defense of 20j funds, critical to Districts like Birmingham, Bloomfield and Troy, cut during the Granholm administration). It seems just plain odd to call for intelligent debate when we embrace a system that blindly takes some of our most experienced and reasonable conversationalists out of the discussion and turn instead to “think tanks” to talk about what matters most to regular people.  

It is time to look, yet again, at Michigan term limits as a means to generate actual discussion by experienced people who know their constituents, the state, their history, and the seriousness of the issues at hand.

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J Arch January 11, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Hi Victor, the laments I made about funding are due to actions by the State of Michigan over the past 15 years. Proposal A shifted the bulk of school funding from local property taxes to an increased State Sales Tax (4% to 6%). This reduced property taxes in some places (not so much in "wealthy" districts). The State then redistributed the revenues, with a larger share going to "poorer" districts to try to close the inequity gap between well funded districts and those not so well funded. The final straw of Proposal A was the prohibition of any district to voluntarily tax itself if it wanted to increase its education budget, effectively capping all the district's budgets at mid 1990's levels. That was the end for BHSD in terms of its voters being able to voluntarily increase the District's finances thru self-taxation. Next came the reality that sales taxes were not as stable as property taxes for funding schools and as Michigan's population/economy shrunk, the revenue collected by the State for schools shrunk as well. That created budget pressures that caused the State to cut "20j" funds, which were originally intended to offset what a portion of what "wealthy" districts lost as a result of Proposal A. Now we are staring at the possibility of sharing the ever-shrinking State School Fund pie with a new group of privately run schools. The District and Board are painfully aware of these developments, but have almost no power to fight the State on them. J. Wagner
Dale Murrish January 11, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Sounds like the MEA is pretty worried about new ideas from people with free market thinking. Exactly what Michigan needs, in high performing (expensive) and failing school districts. Maybe the MEA could focus on satisfying its customers (parents and students) instead of letting 26,000 of them sit home while many of its members called in sick to protest in Lansing recently. What’s wrong with a committee chair with a background in Ag Communications, leadership in a crisis pregnancy center, and being an outdoors-loving church member? Her constituents elected her. Your other post about her sounds a lot like “you can’t have any fun in Grand Rapids. There are too many Christians there.” Disdain for people with different values than yours. Read my blog post for more on this: http://troy.patch.com/blog_posts/the-fiscal-cliff-an-option-c-solution Senator Pappageorge has served us well. Perhaps term-limited Rep Chuck Moss will run for his seat or maybe Lisa Brown’s. Term limits have worked well in state government as the cream rises to the top. Mediocrity tends to hide in county government or Congress where you can be a career politician.
Lianne Mathie January 11, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Dale thinks that a four year degree in agriculture make one a expert.smh, so much for fresh ideas,
Dale Murrish January 12, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Farmers are less than 3% of the U.S. population and grow 100% of what we all eat. We need everyone's input to make the best stew, not just academics, like President Obama has in his administration. Farmers are very customer focused and go out of business if they don't turn a profit. We need a farmer or two on education committees. If we had all farmers, no manufacturing, business people or teachers & principals it would be a bad thing. Having all professional educators sitting on education committees guarantees the latest educational theories will be tried. How did Chicago math and look-say work out? An education committee should have a homeschooler and private school parent as well as teachers and principals from public schools. Or at least people who are open to those options. Otherwise you will get only one perspective - government schools.
Lianne Mathie January 12, 2013 at 04:37 PM
She got the job because of reasons that have nothing to do with her being the best suited to crafting education policy.Like I said before, keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed.


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