Nearly 200 people who attended an informational meeting Thursday on proposed school reform bills were told their voices are critical in battling proposals that could dramatically change Michigan's education landscape.
Farmington resident Agnes Skrzycki walked into the meeting room at the Farmington Schools Ten Mile Building expecting to hear dry facts and statistics. But at the end of Oakland Schools Supt. Dr. Vickie Markavitch's presentation, she said was "very interested and concerned" about the legislation.
Skrzycki said she was impressed by a dynamic speaker who used "black and white terms" and "quantifiable data." "There's nothing political about it," she added.
"It's scary, as a mother, as a taxpayer and as staff, because this will affect every single person," said Christine Kish, a Farmington resident who also works for Farmington Schools.
Bills would create 'super district'
Senate Bill 1358 and House Bill 6004, along with House Bill 5923, would expand an Education Achievement Authority (EAA) currently in place to help improve failing Detroit schools, Markavitch explained. The new "super district" would operate without oversight by the state superintendent of schools or the state board of education and would be able to create charter or virtual schools that could specialize and admit only students in a particular interest area, she said.
The bills, Markavitch said, are layers of a plan that will eventually include massive changes to school funding, which Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to propose early next year.
"Policy makers in Lansing are pushing what is a very radical agenda," Farmington Schools Supt. Susan Zurvalec said. "While we know there is room for improvement, we are also sure this community cannot flourish without free and appropriate education for all of our children."
Zurvalec said the bills will strip taxpayers of control and remove their voices from the process as public education dollars are funneled into charter and cyberschools operated under the EAA.
One million voices by 2013
Northville Supt. Mary Kay Gallagher called public schools "an integral part of the fabric of our communities" and said the reforms are an effort to dismantle public education.
"It's easy to turn your head and think it won't have an impact on all of us," she said. "Our kids are worth a deeper look than that."
The combined audiences in Farmington for afternoon and evening meetings was around 340. By the end of next week, Markavitch expects to have made presentations to more than 2,000 people. She believes the way to counter the millions of dollars being spent by advocacy groups on drafting and passing reforms is by recruiting a million people to make their voices heard in Lansing.
Attendees were encouraged to sign up on the Tricounty Alliance website for legislative updates, and to refer friends and neighbors to the site, which also offers information and advocacy letter templates.
"I think by January, when we really need to start speaking out about the governor's rewrite of school funding ... we will have our million voices," Markavitch said, "and I hope yours are among them."