Ferndale School Board Vice President Karen Twomey Appeals to Community with Personal...

Ferndale School Board Vice President Karen Twomey Appeals to Community with Personal Letter

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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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