Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Few More Thoughts

OK, so first of all--the (schools) world didn't stop on Election Day.
In Willow Run, the new acting superintendent is the principal of Kaiser Elementary. Her name is Laura Lisiscki. She was appointed because the current superintendent had a car accident--bad enough to be on bed rest for more than a couple of days--yet it has been hush hush.  I understand about HIPAA (health privacy rules), but still it seems that Dr.Hope-Jackson and the school board were less than forthcoming. I mean, we can argue about whether she's meeting performance objectives, but isn't showing up for work a very minimal baseline? And doesn't a superintendent owe it to the staff and the public to let them know why you are not there? It makes me think there is more to this than meets the eye. [Do you wonder if history repeats itself? Reading this article about one of Dr. Hope-Jackson's earlier positions, I think maybe it does.] The way the public found out was through information provided by a board member, Harold Wimberly, who resigned a couple of weeks ago. That was also hush hush. The Willow Run School Board appointed a new board member last night, and his name is Don Garrett. I guess the good news is that the acting superintendent and the new board member both have a lot of experience with the Willow Run school district.
In other news, Thursday is a big day--a massive vaccination clinic for H1N1 flu. It's at the EMU Convocation Center, starting at 10--but you should probably get there earlier if you want to get the vaccine. Public Health will be handing out wristbands with vaccination times, and they have 4,000 doses. High Priority groups only... Since Huron Valley Catholic has closed school due to flu,  I have to wonder whether the flu or the vaccine will get to people first.

OK, now back to school funding. I concur with Jen Eyer's analysis in today that the community needs to be a part of the decision-making on budget cuts. At least for the long-term. I heard loud and clear that people want "transparency," although I'm not sure there's agrement on what that means (I will try to take a crack at that sometime soon). And obviously promoting a millage in these economic times is harder. I wonder if the pro-millage groups really made a strong case. I kind of think not.
I also wonder about the extent to which not having a newspaper made a big difference. The blog Inside Out pointed me to this analysis of a recent conference held in Ann Arbor, and a lot of what is said here rings true to me. In this Poynter Online piece, Bill Mitchell writes that:
Much of the discussion involved the role a newspaper plays in facilitating in-person discussion -- in homes as well as broader communities -- in ways that online news might not. Other gaps mentioned by the group included newspaper-as-common-document for the community, the story-telling form of a newspaper article and a popular re-use of newspaper delivery bags.
Julie Weatherbee... [said]... "What I miss is not necessarily the Ann Arbor News or the news in it but the physical sitting with someone and sharing, having your breakfast and talking," she said. "The paper became a physical connection between people ... and I don't think (other forms of) journalism are making those connections." She also said she misses hearing the phrase, "Did you read in the paper last night that...?" She added: "Now there's no (single) water cooler. There are 80 water coolers, and (visiting them) is very time consuming." She pointed out that many people simply don't have time to do what it takes to fill the gaps left by the paper. As a result, she said they "have simply dropped out" out of the community's news network.

 Regarding the schools (still excerpting):  
Liz Margolis, director of communications for the local schools, noted that the same reporter who covered the schools for the Ann Arbor News is on the beat for But she said she finds his online stories "not as in-depth," and she said many of the comments attached to the articles are "truly destructive and ugly."
I find myself agreeing with all of those points.  I have an awful lot of friends who are not getting local news now, or are only getting it from WEMU and WUOM. I feel sick when I read some of the comments on, so it makes me read it less. And I really don't like the way the subfolder of News that is "Education" is not just news, but is largely...LARGELY...opinion.
SO--did not having a daily print newspaper make a difference? I guess we can't KNOW, but I think it did.
In any case, to turn my attention to the problem at hand: every single district in this county, and all of the charter schools, will need to make budget cuts in short order, unless some miracle happens in the halls of the state legislature. These cuts fall into two basic categories--short-term, and long-term. In the short-term, for this fiscal year (which for schools is just about half over), the options are rather limited. For those of you with grandiose ideas, you can take off the table ideas about consolidation, health insurance, reopening teacher contracts, and even--likely--school closings. Those might be things to discuss long-term, but they take too long to implement to generate the cost savings this year. Even ideas like cutting seventh hour may be hard to implement and still have kids get the credits they need for this year. In the short-term, I think it's going to be rocky and horrid.

Long-term, I hope the school districts will invite engagement from parents, students, and taxpayers. And I'm also slightly more optimistic that things will change for the better (school funding-wise) in Lansing. So on that mildly optimistic note, I'll close.


  1. Excellent points, Ruth. I agree with your observation about the impact of losing the paper. I don't mind finding my news online, but I think there's a serious gap in the shared experience of the newspaper.
    And I think, like you, our schools will survive--but it surely will be a rocky time until we sort things out.

  2. I agree with you impression of the coverage on Many of the people leaving comments are just nasty, and the news articles themselves do not have enough objective detail.

    Not looking forward to the budget cutting process of the next two years. Will we even recognize our schools?

  3. I think you are wrong that it'll be so awful this year. The school will take from the rainy day budget, and cuts will be made.
    There's a certain lack of awareness by people supporting the millage,asking other people to pay for status quo, when so many people are truly getting hammered financially. It's hard all over, and school is not a port from the storm.I received a very good education from a good and not very expensive school many years ago. It's what you do with what you have.

  4. Anon--
    I hope you are right that it won't be so bad this year. But I wasn't necessarily only speaking about Ann Arbor. Other districts in the county are already running deficit budgets. Ann Arbor and Saline should come out in better shape.

  5. I'm less sanguine than Anonymous. I worked on the millage campaign because I was familiar enough with school funding issues to know that this is the tip of the iceberg. These are not one-time cuts from the state; there will be several years of cuts, with no particular recovery in sight.

    Yes, these are hard times, and no one is exempt. But it seems to me that it's worth a sacrifice to make an investment in our schools, so that they remain strong and help us out of these tough times. I was and remain willing to make that sacrifice for my kids and everyone else's as well.

    Those who think that there are easy cuts to be made at the schools have not been paying attention to the cutting that has been going on for the last half-decade or more.