Monday, April 22, 2013

Michigan's Government Gives Skunks a Bad Name

I know, you're thinking, "How is it possible for Michigan's government to give skunks a bad name?" After all, everybody knows that skunks give off that awful smell when threatened. And everybody knows that saying "He's a real skunk" is an insult. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a skunk is a person who is regarded as obnoxious or despicable. 

But Chad Livengood* of the Detroit News reported on April 19, 2013 that 

A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.
The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a "skunk works" project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a "value school" that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.
The news article goes on to say that 

The group had one educator, Paul Galbenski, an Oakland Schools business teacher and Michigan's 2011 Educator of the Year, but he left the group.
"It really kind of looked like for me that they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system," Galbenski said. "That's when I started questioning my involvement."
Records show the group has strived to remain secretive, even adopting the "skunk works" alias, which dates to defense contractor Lockheed Martin's secret development of fighter planes during World War II.
In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use "alternative" email accounts. Records show Behen [Ed. Note: David Behen, Snyder's Chief Information Officer**], Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond. (Emphasis added.)
That's right, just because it's "easier," Michigan's Chief Information Officer is using private email addresses to correspond on circumventing our state constitution. [The Michigan Constitution says public monies can't be directed toward private schools.]  

Behen said he and the other four state employees are mostly working after-hours on the project with Friday evening and Saturday meetings.
Isn't weekend work standard for cabinet-level employees in government?
"Why are we using private email addresses? Because it's just easier," Behen said. "There's nothing secret or anything about this."
[Ed. note: secretary of the Mackinac Center's Board of Directors and author of the Oxford Plan] said the other participants are justified in using private emails.***
  "Well, they should," he said. "It's not a government project." "Isn't a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?" he asked rhetorically. 
I don't know much about the reference to the "skunk works" referred to in terms of Lockheed Martin and WWII fighter planes, but I do know something about some of the other definitions of skunk, the definitions of skunk as a verb. To wit, from the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (referenced at : 
  1. v. Slang To defeat overwhelmingly, especially by keeping from scoring.
  1. v. To cheat (someone).
  1. v. To fail to pay (an amount due).
In other words, members of this secret group--and by extension, the top levels of Michigan's government--are hoping to skunk us [and let's be clear--by us I mean supporters of public education, education of the people, by the people, and for the people]. 

They are hoping to skunk us, by defeating us overwhelmingly and keeping us from being proactive.

They are hoping to skunk us, by cheating us out of funds due to public education.

They are hoping to skunk us, by failing to pay public schools their due

Taken from the Missouri Dept. of Conservation web site.

And in a way, they have already halfway succeeded, cutting out $1.8 billion in school aid funds since Governor Snyder came to office, and making all school districts across the state feel extremely pinched, budget-wise.

So I do feel that this group is giving skunks a really bad name. After all, when does a skunk release that malodorous vapor? When they feel threatened. They do that to keep predators from attacking, not to harm others

The "skunk works" people? They are more akin to demons than skunks.

*Kudos to Chad Livengood for some excellent investigative reporting.

**David Behen used to be Washtenaw County Deputy Administrator.

***And I'm really hoping somebody will be putting in FOIA requests for all these private emails that members of Governor Snyder's staff are using for public activity.


  1. From Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools: Here is a copy of memo (source unknown, but presumably one of the documents used by the Det News in their recent stories) that outlines Richard McLellan's vision for a "value school," a charter unburdened by collective bargaining that "drives down the cost of education." Interestingly, he also acknowledges that most existing charters do not have an incentive to lower costs billed to the state because the managers "want to make more money."

    If you want to understand where these guys are headed, and what their thinking is, read this document.

  2. Is this stuff plastered all over the front pages of Michigan papers? I really hope so!

  3. Nicely written, Ruth.

    - YpsiAnon