Dearborn Parents, Teachers Make Noise in Lansing
Residents told their stories to legislators in hopes to send a message that Dearborn can't afford any more budget cuts.
Wayne State University student Jon Akkari remembers his time at Fordson High School well. One of his memories was in his honors chemistry class.
“There weren’t enough books to go around,” Akkari explained. “We couldn’t bring home books, so we couldn’t do our homework.”
His AP English class was a similar situation. With 34 students, individual attention from the teacher was a rare event.
“(Students) aren’t getting the help they need–and these are kids who excel,” he said. “They’re being punished for excelling.”
Akkari’s story was just one of many shared with legislators when around 60 parents, teachers and administrators visited Lansing on Tuesday to speak out against proposed education funding cuts.
Their message? Dearborn can trim no more from its budget without directly impacting students’ learning experiences.
If Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts for education go through as planned, Dearborn stands to lose $1,200 per student, according to the district’s estimates. The per-pupil cut is $460, but Dearborn would also be hit disproportionately by at-risk and bilingual student funding.
Superintendent Brian Whiston, who also came along for the rally on Tuesday, said the district is preparing to make the necessary cuts in its budget, but that most of it will fall on the backs of teachers and, consequentially, students.
“We need to cut $22 million in Dearborn, assuming all the governor’s proposed cuts happen,” Whiston said. “We’re in the middle of contract negotiations which should be settled very soon, and a lot of that will take care of that structural problem. We’ll still have probably about $3 million to cut after all the contracts are settled, so we’re coming up with a plan of how to cut the $3 million right now.”
Whiston, along with state Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn), who also came out to show his support, said he believes the city may be able to convince legislators to retain the at-risk funding, which accounts for $5 million of what’s on the line for Dearborn.
“I think right now, (retaining at-risk funding) is the most we can hope for,” said Darany, who spoke of a current bill in the state House that would do just that for Dearborn. “The news I got today suggests that might be happening.”
“Our job as Democrats is to try to get the Republicans thinking the same way we are thinking, that we don’t need to balance the budget on the backs of the children,” Darany added. “And that’s what it all boils down to. So we’re hoping that the 31a (at-risk) money, which is $5 million for Dearborn–it’s huge. And maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this point.”
While Darany continued his work in the House, Dearborn teachers, parents and students met with constituent relations representative Hartmann Aue in order to pass their message along to Gov. Snyder.
“It’s not that we shouldn’t sacrifice like others do during this hard time, but last year and this year, I would say we probably proportionately have been cut the most of any district in the state of Michigan,” Assistant Superintendent Ron Gutkowski explained to Aue. “It’s an inordinate amount of money we’re sacrificing. We’re sharing the cost, but disproportionately.”
And Dearborn Public Schools, Gutkowski added, are performing well on standardized tests and on a more subjective level. The district’s graduation rates, noted Aue, are above average.
And yet, several parents and teachers said, resources and staff are as slim as they’ve ever been in the 18,500-student district.
School libraries are open one or two days a week due to staff cuts. Some teachers have been forced to teach two grades. Schools ask parents to pay for school events to raise money for supplies–or sometimes, teachers buy them with their own money. Classrooms cap out at 34 students, making individual instruction almost impossible in some cases.
“My son is in a chemistry class at Fordson right now,” said Nadia Dakroub, a parent and Oakman Elementary parent-teacher liaison. “There are 34 students in his class. When we went to the open house, (his teacher) Mr. Hargraves told us that the children will not be doing science experiments. Why? How could you be in chemistry and not do science experiments?”
Hargraves told her he simply had too many students to have the time for them all to do the hands-on work usually involved in a science class.
Aue shared with the visitors that given their levels of district-wide achievement, Dearborn could earn back some of its funds from the state through Snyder’s accountability funding programs.
But for Dearborn, said Parent-Teacher-Student Association President Colette Dunsmore, that’s not good enough.
“We are not losing children; we’re gaining children,” she said. “We’ve already cut the fat. The only place we can cut now with the money you guys aren’t giving us is classrooms, teachers, educators, people that run our schools. We are full capacity in most of our schools.”
“You say we might get our money back in three years,” she added. “But that doesn’t help us now.”
The district plans to keep the pressure on with a mass letter-writing campaign. To learn more or get involved, contact Colette Dunsmore at email@example.com.