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Most Ferndale residents probably know that we have first-class musical organizations in our public school system. The Ferndale Golden Eagle Marching Band in particular has an amazing run of state championship appearances: they’ve come in first place seven of the last nine years, and when they don’t flat-out win, they’re still top contenders. This year’s show, End2End, put them in third place — a mere tenth of a point behind second-place Lakeshore Stevensville. The State Finals took place at Ford Field on November 2nd.

Ferndale’s shows have stood out artistically against their competitors — and that competition is fierce. In competition, bands are grouped into four flights of 12 based upon school size. In years past, there was a noticeable difference between flights but now there are no bad marchers. From the first to last, all bands look practiced and accurate. There is, however, a difference in sound and in movement across the field.

The Golden Eagles had the first championship sound we heard in flight III, and their coverage of the whole field was striking. Imagine how challenging trying to coordinate many dozens of young musicians must be, especially when you consider they aren’t simply congregated in the center of the field. From the onset of their performance, these musicians are moving all over the field — and moving quickly. Visually the show was stunning, and the effort to see everything, to take in all that was going on, combined with the gorgeous balanced sound to create the experience marching-band enthusiasts crave: a fantastic sensory overload.

It becomes obvious when thumbing through the program that this day of student excellence is a product of the public school system. Although the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA) allows — as far as their website reveals — any band to compete from any public or private school, every band listed is a Michigan public school. The roster left me proud of our schools; the day seemed actually a tribute to them and especially the artistic endeavors they are adept at producing.

Director Elon Jamison put it this way: “I guess I would say that competitive marching band
done right is just that: artistic. But, because of all the demands on them physically, musically, emotionally, and in terms of time, it educates the whole child in a way that nothing else does.

These kids walk away with so many stronger skill sets in so many disparate areas, they’re much better prepared for whatever comes after. The challenge is that (marching bands) are very expensive and because we are so demanding, many kids and families don’t or can’t commit, and many districts can’t, so, many kids are really missing out on what may be the single most powerful tool we have in our collective educational tool chest.”

Stacey Jamison described the big picture of what helps make this program so successful: “For me, it’s way more than the band or about being in the band. These people are my family. The people of our community are so accepting and welcoming, and marching band really exemplifies that. You come as you are, and you’re part of a team of people where each individual is just as important as the others. Everybody loves and cares about each other, from the directors and staff down to the kids that help bring equipment on the field. My son was a part of that family before he was even born.”

Those of us with marching band in our past often remember it as one of the best times of our lives. Taking the field with your peers after months of honing your own skills and meshing them with 117 others is a peak experience.

For the past three years, Ferndale Schools have been recognized as a Best Community for Music Education. We have something special going on here and we community members get to see it embodied before our eyes.

“For some kids, it’s their most loving, supportive, encouraging, excelling part of their lives,” Stacey Jamison told me. “I always say: marching band saves kids.”

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Stepping up to a microphone for the first time can be daunting. Especially when the material you plan on performing happens to be 100 per cent original.

“I sang in high school, but I really didn’t share it with anyone,” Amy Saari says. “I was never brave enough to perform my own songs in high school and college.” It took the Ferndale resident a long time to realize what she is: a performer. And now she’s got her very own album to show for it.

Saari, who owns SoundSorceress Studio in Ferndale and offers both singing and beginning piano lessons, has been playing piano since she was about five years old. “I did not have the patience to take lessons,” she says. “I would start, quit, start and quit.” As she got older, a newfound confidence began emerging. “I kept writing, and through some life changes, I was finally able to get the courage to perform,” she says.

“It took me a long time to see myself on stage and be a full-on performer.”

When she started performing in front of an audience, the fact that Saari plays keyboard made for some early challenges. “Being a keyboardist, it was tough getting out on open mic nights,” she says. “Most people play a guitar at open mic nights. It’s challenging to bring a keyboard up there.” But she took the stage again and again, gaining confidence the whole while and honing her unique style.

Saari released her first CD on Saturday, Nov. 16 at a private release party in Ann Arbor. The CD, entitled We Are Love: Metaphysical Piano Bar, consists of three songs featuring just Saari, her voice and her keyboard. The other three selections on the album feature Saari, Michael Brown on drums, and Kevin Nowak on upright bass.

What’s the trio’s music sound like? “The feel of the band is like a little bit of soul, and a little bit of funk,” Saari says. “I decided to call it Midwest soul. It’s kind of piano bar music with a Motown soul influence.”

Saari has drawn comparisons to Carole King. Some of her influences, she says, include John Mellencamp, Alicia Keyes, and early Tori Amos. Influences aside, though, Saari’s style is totally her own. “I’m not trying to sound like I’m on Valium,” she says. “I want to sound like I’m alive.”

Saari said she met Brown when she was performing at Spiritual Life Center in Ferndale, where he was also performing. “He just got my music,” Saari says. “He could easily play with me. He listens very well.”

People started asking Saari: “Have you recorded anything yet?” Once she joined musical forces with Brown and then Nowak, she decided the time had come to lay down some tracks in the studio. The trio entered Fifty-Four Sound in Ferndale, and We Are Love: Metaphysical Piano Bar is the result.

The trio is playing on Jan. 5th at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Grosse Pointe Woods at 3 p.m. as part of the Music in the Woods concert series to raise money for the restoration of the church’s historic E.M. Skinner Opus 705 organ.

After this, the group will play at the Black Lotus Brewing Company in Clawson on Jan. 25 at 9 p.m.

For more information about Saari or how to purchase her album, or to inquire about taking singing or beginning piano lessons, visit soundsorceress.wordpress.com, e-mail Saari at soundsorceress@yahoo.com or call her at (248) 467-4966.

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Oakland County is home to 1.2 million people and is among the top ten richest counties in the United States with populations greater than one million. The County is comprised of 62 cities, villages, and townships on 908 square miles, supporting around 471,000 households with a median income of $62K. Oakland County is also home to approximately 170,000 households that rent.

In 2012, more than 680 of these renters applied to an organization known as Oakland County Habitat (OCH) for a chance to be a first time homeowner. Only 20 of these applicants could be assisted.

OCH is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, which made the national stage in the early 1980s through the former President Jimmy Carter’s participation. Today, Habitat for Humanity is among the top ten developers of housing in America. OCH has one of its two major roots in Ferndale, where the Southern Oakland County Habitat developed its first project in 1994. Since then, OCH has assisted 120 households, and this year they are preparing to announce another new home owner in Ferndale, among other cities.

OCH, as is generally the case, is more similar to other Habitats than different. It is unique only in terms of its geography and population demographics. The outcome of that mix in Oakland County has resulted in a focus on renovation (of fore-closed properties) rather than new home construction.

OCH CEO Tim Ruggles recently wrote that there are more than 100,000 people living in poverty in Oakland County, and the need for affordable housing is great. The challenge is in acquiring land and structures that can be developed into affordable housing; typically a single family home with three bedrooms and one bathroom. Stephanie Osterland, Director of Family and Community Relations, added that “there is a silent housing crisis in Oakland County and
many of Habitat’s clients are dually impacted. When the economy took a downturn, rents didn’t didn’t go down and now that housing prices are going are going up up, the chance of becoming a first-time homeowner is increasingly slim.”

Despite the rebounding housing market, Oakland County Habitat recent- ly launched a new program to assist working class households, the Critical Home Repair program. As the program nears the end of its first year, Stephanie Osterland is worried that the word-of-mouth campaign isn’t reaching those in need of the service. “There is a lack of awareness of this new program but definitely not of need,” Osterland said.

It is her hope that homeowners who can’t afford necessary health and safety related home repairs will apply for assistance this calendar year. The Critical Home Repair program will grow in its second year depending on demonstrated need in the community for assistance with projects under $15,000. The cost to homeowners cannot exceed 30% of their annual gross income, and in all cases this program will positively contribute to housing values.

The home repair program and housing development projects are both partnership experiences between Habitat and the client, and the community — volunteers and sponsors.

During our interview, Stephanie’s mantra, “Habitat is not a give-away but a hand-up” was employed to describe this partnership with clients. It is a philosophy that is reflected in the sweat equity investment by clients of about 300 hours for housing development
and a percentage of the home repair assistance for homeowners.

Why is the hand-up a focus for Habitat? Stephanie replied, “I’m fighting a misconception of our work being a give-away and the associated stigma, which is really harmful to our families.” She expanded, “I don’t want to see families that I know personally, who are working very hard, to have this negative view cast on them.”

The other partnerships with the community are a mixed bag; Oakland County Habitat is not struggling to recruit volunteers, and currently “has a wonderful volunteer base.” They are always looking for sponsors, though, and their “greatest need today is for financial contributions.”

Representing the donor-weary, I asked Stephanie, what’s different about donating to Habitat? She responded simply, that unlike many charities with unknown recipients and ill-defined, ephemeral goals, with Habitat “you are donating to your community, to your neighbors.”

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Please put away your books and notes and let’s begin our discussion of school funding with a high-stakes multiple choice test:

1. Does Michigan fund schools from:
A. Local sources B. Federal sources C. State sources

2. Does the revenue come from:
A. Property taxes B. Income taxes C. Sales taxes

3. Is school money allocated per:
A. District B. School C. Pupil

As with most interesting questions, there is actually no easy solution. While the answers in Michigan now tend toward C., the best correct response is the old standby answer D: all of the above. School funding in Michigan is so complex that even our political and economic leaders often fail to understand it. For more clarity, we need to look at where the money comes from, where it goes, and how the system has changed.

The best place to begin is the system Michigan used to use to fund schools (and the one that many people think continues to this day).

Before Proposition A
Until 1994, most school funding came from local property taxes in amounts that depended on how much a school district could get voters to approve. This allowed for local control, but it also allowed high inequality. In the early 1990s, the state legislature responded to concerns about high property taxes by simply eliminating property taxes as a source of school funding.

The legislature gave voters a choice between a ballot initiative called Proposition A based largely on sales taxes and a “statutory alternative” based on income and business taxes that would come into effect if Proposition A failed.

Voters approved Proposition A by 69% in part because it responded both to those who thought property taxes were too high and those who sought more equal funding for schools, but in appealing to many different groups the proposition created a very complex funding system.

Where does the money come from?
• Without access to local property taxes to fund school operations, Proposition A turned to almost every other possible source:
• Sales taxes and other state taxes. Proposition A took most school revenue from state sales tax (including a 2% increase imposed by Proposition A), state income tax, and a combination of smaller state- wide revenue sources including the lottery and cigarette taxes.
• State property taxes. Proposition A took the unusual step of levying a statewide property tax of 6 mills ($6 on every $1,000 of a home’s state equalized value).
• Local property taxes on non-homestead property. Proposition A did not eliminate school taxes on second homes, rentals, or commercial property (non-homestead), but limited school taxes on these to an 18 mill maximum. Responsibility for collecting these taxes lies stay with the localities, and school districts must from time to time renew the millage by citizen vote, though no district in the state have rejected a levy in this category.

Local homestead property taxes are still in the picture, but only in limited ways.

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One of the strengths of any great community is its education system and Ferndale is no exception. Starting with great teachers, a strong curriculum, and a focus on parent involvement, Ferndale’s schools have risen in stature to become some of the best in the state.

Now, in an effort to improve the impact, accessibility, and power of Ferndale’s special education programs, a group of parents, teachers, and advocates have gotten together to create a new organization designed to provide support and guidance for special needs students and their families.

The group is called Ferndale Friends of Different Learners (FFoDL) and they are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of all special needs students through a supportive program of community events and resources. “Our goal is to establish a presence, provide monthly meetings with topics and speakers relevant to our special needs families, provide support and/or guidance for our special needs families, and be the voice for special needs families to our school administration,” said Ron Owens, a parent and one of the founders of FFoDL.

The idea for Ferndale Friends of Different Learners came during a CLEAR (a political action committee focused on improving Ferndale Schools) meeting and was brought to the attention of the Director of Special Education for Ferndale Schools, Ray Locke. Inspired by similar groups in neighboring cities like Birmingham, the group of concerned parents were driven to create FFoDL to help promote an atmosphere of inclusion and information for the special needs community in Ferndale Schools. “We love this district and this group came about in order to improve and heal issues within the demographic of students with special needs,” said FFoDL Vice President Jodi Berger.

Though many may be aware of specific programs in place for students with special needs, many may not understand just how far-reaching the need for improvement can be.

“The term ‘special needs’ encompasses a very far and wide-reaching group of families and individuals,” said Owens. “Even so, it’s quite often that families feel as if they are alone in this; like no one else understands what they’re going through. After some time, it just becomes ‘normal’ to not want to go out and to just stay at home where it is more comfortable.” It’s the goal of Ferndale Friends of Different Learners to change that pattern.

The plan is to host monthly meetings, seminars, community events, fundraisers, and resource fairs to help spread their message and maximize the potential of different learners throughout the Ferndale Public School System. The group held their first annual summer picnic on August 19th at Geary Park, and the turnout far exceeded their expectations. “Hundreds of people came out to support us and we managed to get 80-plus email addresses of people wanting to know more about who and what we are,” Owens said. “If our picnic was any indication, our future is looking great!”

The group consists of parents, teachers, friends, family members, and caregivers of special needs students. The organization has a determined set of bylaws and an elected board (who are all parents of special needs children) that includes Owens (who serves as president), Vice President Jodi Berger, Secretary Barb Landry, and Treasurer Esther McCoy. Currently, meetings are being held on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m., alternating between the Harding Administration Building and the Ferndale High School Media Center. Meetings are open to everyone.

Owens says the overall goal is to engage the whole community, which will have a lasting positive impact on families of special needs students and beyond. “It’s our hope that the whole community will benefit from our group,” Owens explained. “We want to give families the assurance that they’re not alone in this and by supporting one another, we can assure our kids a happier and richer school experience.”

For more information on Ferndale Friends of Different Learners including a meeting schedule, parent resources, and more visit http://ffodl.webs.com. The group can also be found on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FFODL.

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Every day I am witness to the power of the public library to transform lives. At the Ferndale Public Library, we serve an average of 650 individuals every day. We offer around 30 educational, cultural community programs each month for all ages. We have a baby story time every week to stimulate the emerging literacy skills of our youngest residents.

We partner with the Ferndale Public Schools to support all students in achieving their academic goals. We host art receptions, film screenings, book discussions, community story telling sessions, concerts, local author fairs, and the list goes on. We lend over 10,000 items every month.

At the Library, we offer free access to the Internet, and we have friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand to help. And do we ever help! We help search for jobs, fill out job applications, create resumes, access government services, prepare for the GED, search for housing, navigate databases, recommend books to readers of all ages, teach patrons how to download eBooks onto their devices, and a myriad of needs on any given day. We provide a warm place to relax and friendly human interaction with no expectation that you buy something in exchange.

In this month’s issue of Ferndale Friends, you will read more about some of our great programs at the library, as well as exciting new social media initiatives and mobile apps for accessing library services written by Circulation Specialist Jeff Milo. Some people predicted that the Internet and eBooks would make the public library obsolete. That prediction could not be farther from the truth; we are busier than ever, helping more people than ever.

As Jeff’s column demonstrates, we are embracing technology and using it to deliver the core services that have remained fundamental to public libraries since their inception.

The library is of vital importance to our community, and it is highly valued and enjoyed by our residents. Yet in spite of all of the support that we enjoy from the residents of Ferndale, and the dedicated tax funding that was approved by the voters, library revenues have declined precipitously since the housing market crashed. Even after making significant cuts to our spending, the Ferndale library is still operating at a deficit. Libraries and municipalities will not recover from the recession for many years due to the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution, which was passed in 1978, and Proposal A of 1994, which means they cannot collect as much money as they did before the recession, even as property values increase. If our statewide system for funding libraries and local government is not reformed, it will likely take 15–20 years for revenues to return to their pre-recession level. At the same time our local funding has been depleted, State Aid to libraries in Michigan has declined 76 percent since 2000. The use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is on the rise in Michigan, which also limits the amount of funding a library receives.

Many libraries throughout the state have been forced to cut their hours and reduce staffing and services due to the depletion of funding. In Ferndale we believe our library is too important to our community; to make such cuts will be an absolute last resort.

We currently have a fund balance that we are using to supplement some of the revenue we have lost. However, this is obviously not a long-term solution. The library is exploring several possible avenues for increasing our revenues so that we can continue to deliver the high level of services that Ferndale residents have come to expect. We’re working with a fundraising consultant, and planning an important fundraising initiative next year. The Friends of the Ferndale Library work enthusiasti- cally to support the library. I encourage anyone who cares about the Ferndale Public Library to consider joining the Friends group and getting involved. The Friends meet at the library on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. I highly encourage you to reach out to our elected officials at the local and state level and tell them that you support reforms that would restore funding to Michigan libraries.

I am grateful to live and work in a community that values our public library so highly. I am confident that we will find a way to navigate these challenging financial times, and emerge a strong institution.

Thank you, Ferndale community, for your continued support.

Jessica Keyser, Director, Ferndale Public Library

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At this time of year, we often turn our thoughts and efforts to supporting the organizations and individuals who are working to make a difference right here in our own community. If you’re looking for a local charity that will have long-reaching effects on the success of Ferndale education and its youth, look no further than the Ferndale Education Foundation.

Formed in 1989 by then-Superintendent William Coyne, the Ferndale Education Foundation set aim at improving the state of education within Ferndale Public Schools. Coyne recognized a need for a foundation that would support educational initiatives that were not included in the general operating budget for the school district and decided to take action.

Composed of an all-volunteers base, the FEF makes possible a wide range of learning opportunities for all of the students in Ferndale schools.

Along with great work throughout the community, the FEF is responsible for supporting innovative and unique teaching programs through small grants, sponsoring talks and workshops from visiting authors, and the annual support of Camp Skyline — an ACA-accredited camp that hosts summer programs and retreats for many groups throughout Michigan.

The FEF bases all of their work on the principle that all students are entitled to an enriching and quality education, and deserve to be challenged academically.

Funding is dependent on the generous contributions of individuals, businesses, organizations, and other community members. The FEF is also sustained through sponsorships and participation in their annual fundraisers including the Fore Kids golf outing and auction. Many district employees also support the FEF and its endeavors by contributing through a payroll deduction that goes to benefit the organization. Each of these methods of support helps to continue building the Foundation’s endowment for the support of excellence in education.

Along with helping education initiatives, the Founda- tion also works to spotlight and encourage students with various programs and awards. Earlier this year, the Ferndale Education Foundation announced the recipient of their first annual True Grit Award. Ferndale High School Senior Nieyri Cobb received the award in recognition of her academic success in the face of challenges throughout the year.

Planned to be an annual prize, the True Grit Award focuses on honoring a Ferndale student’s persistence and determination.

An important organization like the Ferndale Educational Foundation is only successful through the generous support of the community it works to serve. Recently, the Foundation held a successful fundraiser at the Royal Oak Olga’s Kitchen in an effort to help raise funds for their great work. For information on events like these and other ways to get involved in supporting the mission of the Ferndale Educational Foundation, visit Ferndaleschools.org/fef.

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In a recent open letter to parents, faculty, and community members titled “Ferndale Fights for Fair Funding in Our Schools,” Twomey warns about the dangers of the ever-shrinking public school budget voted on by the Michigan legislature. Refer- encing a newly-released school finance analysis conducted by the Michigan State University Education Policy Center about the long- term disinvestment, demographic shifts, and structural flaws in school financing, Twomey says the problems aren’t just something we hear about in other districts anymore.

“The storm,” she wrote, “is hitting Ferndale.”

Using a personal letter to reach out to the community was by design an effort to inform while leading by example. “I was hoping to reach all of our stakeholders,” Twomey said. “Time and time again I have seen the ‘silence, divide, and distract’ tactic work and I wanted something better for our district. Ferndale has a long history of successful advocacy; if anyone can break the cycle, it is us. I felt it was important to take the first step in building a coalition by communicating honestly about our needs and modeling advocacy.”

Referencing the current budget situation across our state and in our schools, Twomey, who has a Masters of Educational Administration and Leadership from Michigan State University, asserts that the public is being misled about the causation of the cutbacks. “The public is told that this funding drought is a result of Michigan’s current difficult economic situation,” Twomey wrote in the letter dated November 9th. “This simply is not true. The disinvestment in our state public schools is a choice.”

The choice, she says, is being made by an ineffective legislative body whose interest lies in funneling money away from K-12 school districts (like Ferndale Public Schools), and sending it to corporate special interests and higher education institutions.

“In 2011, state legislators chose to cut schools by a billion dollars; in the same budget they also chose to give $1.8 billion dollars to corporate special interests. They financed these business credits through an unprecedented transfer of money out of the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for higher education,” Twomey wrote. Not everyone agrees with Twomey’s assertions that the legis- lature is at fault. “The Vice President’s comments are not accurate,” said State Representative Tom McMillin, who has served Michigan’s 45th district for three terms.

“What actually happened was that Republicans took charge in Lansing and stopped kicking the can down the road, and actually made the difficult spending decisions.”

McMillin, a Republican who represents Rochester, Rochester Omar MitchellHills, and parts of Oakland Township, currently sits on the House Education, Financial Liability Reform, and Regulatory Reform committees. He made news earlier this year when he introduced House Bill 4276, a legislative ban on the imple- mentation of Common Core standards in Michigan schools.

McMillin says the future of Michigan’s schools is not just about the funding, but the way we use and adapt education.

“I think governments in general, including school districts, are going to need to become more and more flexible so they can react to the changing times,” McMillin told Ferndale Friends. “Technology is going to change education — college and K-12 — dramatically. So is competition from charters and schools of choice. I think employee contracts need to give much more flexibility. This will require boards and administra- tors to be more diligent in negotiations to gain that flexibility.” Karen Twomey isn’t the only one of Ferndale’s administrators who thinks that those in power aren’t in tune to what is really going on within the schools. “I think Mr. McMillin and his friends in Lansing aren’t paying attention to the great things happening in our public schools,” asserted Jim O’Donnell.

Trustee and President of the Ferndale School Board. “Online and charter schools often cut corners and refuse to take kids that need extra help. Representative McMillin expects our public schools to compete blindfolded with one hand tied behind our back. The plain fact is that good education takes money — it always has and it always will. I want my child’s teachers fairly paid for the work they do with all kids, the education they have,
and the experience they bring to the classroom every day.”

The debate about the importance of proper school funding goes beyond just the quality of the education schools provide, Twomey told Ferndale Friends. It is an issue that impacts the community as a whole. “Strong schools affect not only housing prices but also crime rates and the overall climate and pride in a community,” Twomey explained. “Schools provide a social center and vast recreational opportunities. Most importantly, we are educating wonderful citizens.”

Twomey hopes her efforts inspire people within the community to make their voice heard. “Citizens have proven how influential they can be in Michigan.”

She suggests that anyone can get involved by starting small: donating to the Ferndale Education Foundation, volunteering time in the schools, and supporting the PTA are all good places to start — along with contacting your state representative and making your voice heard.

The movement isn’t just relying on community involvement either, there are also planning to take action and push from within the system as well. “Obviously advo- cacy cannot be our only plan. We are currently meeting collaboratively with various district leaders to find creative and collaborative solutions to the budget shortfall,” Twomey explained. “What I do know is that our tight budget has already caused the trimming of valued professional employees, programs, services, and increased class sizes.”

Though no one can predict what the future will hold for Michigan’s schools, one thing is clear: those within the Ferndale Public School system remain passionate about keeping a high standard of education a priority for the city of Ferndale.

“We have award winning music education programs, we are effective at increasing student achievement, we care deeply about educating the whole child, and your children attend school in a commu- nity that cares about them along with their friends and neighbors,” School Board President Jim O’Donnell said. “You can’t beat community public education in Ferndale Public Schools.”

Karen Twomey’s Email

Ferndale Fights for Fair Funding for our Schools

I am writing you as a board member, teacher, parent, neighbor and friend of education. Recently, Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center published a school finance analysis for our state which describes a crisis of long-term disinvestment, demographic shifts, and structural flaws in school financing. These factors have already sent 55 school districts into deficit, and forced many more to cut teachers, gut programs, and close schools. This storm is hitting Ferndale.

In my five short years on the Ferndale Board of Education, I have watched our budget reduced from $43 to $36 million dollars as health- care, retirement, inflation and unfunded mandates increase. The public is told that this funding drought is a result of Michigan’s current difficult economic situation. This simply is not true. The disinvestment in our state
public schools is a choice. In 2011, state legislators chose to cut schools by a billion dollars; in the same budget they also chose to give $1.8 billion dollars to corporate special interests. They financed these business credits through an unprecedented transfer of money out of the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for higher education. Unlike K-12 schools, colleges and universities are able to raise money through tuition, tax levies, and multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns. The operating costs of a public K-12 district are funded primarily by
the state-established per pupil foundation allowance. Current law does not provide us the same options to raise revenue. Now as Ferndale Public Schools faces a $1.5 million shortfall, our only options are to increase enrollment and to demand our money back from Lansing. This is the key: If the $470 per pupil funding cut in 2011 was to be restored that would return approximately $2 million to the Ferndale Schools. While this would not even come close to restoring us to our pre-recession levels, it would at least cover the current tight budget.

The legislature has succeeded by using three tactics: silence, divide and distract. Teachers and educators have been scapegoated for the current economic woes because they are union members and because they are particularly vulnerable because of inflexible schedules. Our legislators know that educators are dedicated to their children and do not tend to take personal days to drive to Lansing and fight back. They also know that in today’s competitive schools of choice environment, districts are not likely to advertise to the families they serve that jobs and programs are being cut. This makes schools the perfect silent targets. Then legislators try to distract school employees from the real culprits by pitting unions against school boards. When the state cuts the funding, district school boards are forced to make tough choices and sacrifice educational resources, class sizes, programs and quality instruction. Since the school boards are the facilitators of the cuts at the local level, infighting occurs as educators are divided against one another. This playbook of distraction has worked all across America, but it must not be allowed to work here!

Education professionals, community members and parents should be mad. Now you will see Board members, administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians,
and hopefully YOU, fighting together. Your district has never needed support more, and here are five ways you can help.

1. Contact our state legislators: Here in the Ferndale Schools, we are fortunate to have state representatives who are fighting with us, yet it is always helpful to their argument when they can share letters from voters, or when we put pressure on those less support- ive in Lansing.

A. Tri-County Alliance is an excellent resource for staying up to date on legislative issues, join their Capwiz to learn how to have your voice heard.
B. Contact members of the House Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Fiscal Agency. These are the people who have the most influence about our state budget.

2. Support your PTA: Your membership dues and fundraising efforts help to cover many school and classroom instructional costs. In additional to the volunteer hours and funds, our PTAs help provide a strong unified voice.

3. Support Ferndale Education Foundation (FEF): This important fundraising organization provides mini-grants for innovative programs in our district.

4. Volunteer in the schools: Ferndale Schools has several opportunities for community members to volunteer. Please contact our volunteer coordinator Gretchen Abrams at gabrams@ferndaleschools.org.

5. Help spread the word about why you are proud to recommend the Ferndale Schools. If you have a story you would like to share write a letter to a local paper, post it on social media, or email your pride story to the Board at schoolboard@ferndaleschools.org.

Most importantly, take the time to let our family of professional employees know how much you appreciate and respect them. Our whole district will be uniting in some really hard work to find creative solutions to minimize impact on budget-related sacrifices on our children. I am proud to serve this district team; each one is a hero in my eyes.

Karen Twomey, Vice President Ferndale Board of Education

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As our country continues to struggle through these challenging economic times, we see the impacts of reduced budgets, tightened belts, and changing policy all around us. Especially in Michigan, our essential public services — schools, libraries, government offices — seem to be in a constant state of flux with no clear vision of what their future may hold.

According to a recent report from Education Week, Michigan’s schools rank 24th in the nation — only slightly above the national average. Last year, Michigan libraries received only an average of $0.91 per capita, compared to the $2.94 national average. Both schools and libraries rely on state budgets to determine their funding, and ultimately, their future. With over 1.5 million students enrolled in Michigan K-12 public schools and over 56 million visits to our public libraries in 2012, it is clear that the future of our public resources also represent the future of our state.

While there are many factors that impact the quality of our public services, one thing is certain: all are at the mercy of the budget set by Michigan’s legislative body. No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, we are all tied to the successes and failures
of these institutions. It is our responsibility as voters to take a vested interest in how
they work, why they work, and how we can work to make them better going
forward. In the following section, we hope to examine both the cause, and potential impact, of the budgetary issues that face our great state and the essential services it provides to all of us.

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Thomas and Tiffani Gagne have lived in Ferndale for seventeen years, since the last century, almost since the time that one might compare them to Ozzie & Harriet. Don’t remember Ozzie & Harriet? They were a TV family of the 1950s; nice folks, had a house in the ‘burbs and a couple sons. The comparison breaks down there — the Gagnes are actively involved in the community.

For five straight years they’ve attended every city council meeting. Their concerns have included zoning ordinances, school closings, millage proposals, and where the monies in the city budget were going. Tom expressed some of his political views in a blog as well as in local online and print media. Both Gagnes have voiced their opinions, put together and signed petitions, raised funds, and demonstrated about local issues. Tom has run for Mayor of Ferndale and, later, for a council seat. Tif is an elected member of the library board, and acting secre- tary as well as Chair of Development and Funding. They have two boys, shop and dine in town, and pretty up their home on West Woodland Avenue.

“We’re people with kids, and we pay attention to what’s going on,” says Tif. They both feel Ferndale is a great community and they like the diversity, the neighborhoods and downtown. Tif and Tom = mom and pop Ferndale. Tom has been in the software industry for decades. He’s a member of various civic groups in Ferndale and been involved with his kids in the Cub Scouts. Tif worked, since she was eighteen, for a now retired judge in Wayne County. She also used to walk around town tossing Ferndale Friends on porches, later she became the managing editor as well as circulation manager; it helped with the bills and got her more acquainted with the varied neighborhoods in town.

Tom and Tif keep abreast of local matters. Both assert they are politically conservative and both have strong opinions. It adds up to interesting discussions with other residents. Says Tif, “I’ll say, ‘shut up, idiot’ where Tom will study up on issues and use vocabulary where I don’t even know what he’s talking about.” Pose a question to them together, the answer is batted around like a ping pong ball. How is the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) funded, Photo by Michael Bugard does it come out of the city budget? “No,” says Tom, “they get a certain percentage from TIF.” Says Tif, “That’s not me Tif, that’s TIF as in Tax Incremental Funding.”

“It’s like there will be a tax millage for schools, by state law the DDAs will get a certain share. The DDA can spend it however they want even though you don’t see that mentioned on the ballot,” says Tom. “They get grants too,” says Tif. “Yes, but a lot of them are matching grants,” says Tom.

Tom reads up on issues and contacts people, making a particular point of knowing the whys and wherefores of both sides of a position. It bothers him when people don’t bother to do simple math about fiscal matters; it annoys him that many don’t bother to listen to or read about contrary viewpoints. At a city council meeting (in the mid 2000s) Tom was “so offended by the lack of intelligent discussion, I was inspired to run for office because I couldn’t believe these people were representing me.” Tom ran for mayor in the 2007 race and for a council seat in 2009; he lost both bids for election by just a couple handfuls of votes. Maybe it’s just as well; he thinks the present mayor and council are doing a pretty good job.

Tif is inclined to act from her gut. Tom says, “she has great instincts.” An example: a few years ago there was a bit of furor when handbills were put up at a number of Ferndale stores as part of targeting an issue. One owner didn’t want the handbills in his store and was picketed by an outside group. Tif heard about it, jumped in the car and stood with the owner. “I knew him,” she said. “He was my friend and I shopped there.” Tom looked into the issue and found it specious. “I couldn’t believe that no one official took a stand,” and joined his wife in the counter-protest. Tom likes to express his opinion, take a look at his blog where he enjoys backing up what he often considers a minority viewpoint in a liberal environment. He’s concerned about matters that affect his community, and doesn’t hesitate to give his point of view. “I’ve got the telephone numbers of the mayor and council members,” he says.

Tif loves it in town, her concern is for family and friends. “I go to the dentist and foot doctor here, I shop and eat here. It’s my community,” They’re in town, wearing their opinions and lives on their sleeves. Tif and Tom — mom and pop Ferndale.