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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 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 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 cdunsmore@wowway.com.

Lee Jacobsen April 12, 2011 at 10:27 PM
PTSA president Colette mentioned that we have already 'cut the fat' with regards to getting more money for Dearborn's schools. Here are a few areas where fat can be trimmed. Are the teachers paying 20% of their health care benefits like most of us do? Are the buses , lunch rooms, janitorial and other services privitized? Competition reduces cost, time to get a little competition into the mix. Google the Mackinaw Center for cost savings details. Are schools making the most of their resources? Hardly! If they were open the year round, like most of the world, class room size would be smaller as the kids would be spread out over more time, plus they would not forget much of what they have learned from the previous year due to extensive time off. Are all kids in the bi-lingual program? Must be some program to add almost $800 per student. With many middle eastern folk in Dearborn, seems that the parents could help out in this area. The libraries...let's use some volunteers to help keep them open. There are many baby boomer seniors who would love to help out in this area. need some city leadership here. In fact, volunteers could help cut costs in many areas for the city. 80% of the USA has volunteer fire depts, including Troy and other nearby communities. We could at least have the administrative aspect of some services done on a volunteer basis. The Gov inherited a mess. Let's help ourselves, and help him at the same time by cutting costs.
Dearborn Taxpayer April 13, 2011 at 05:06 PM
On it's own web site, DPS reports FY 2011 General Fund Revenue of $170.2 million versus FY 2010 General Fund Revenue of $168.8 million. Only in our current unsustainable and distorted governmental finance system can this increase in funding be considered "cutting the most," "already cut the fat," and "sacrifice." The spin reported by our current school system leadership and reported in this article simply just doesn't fit the facts.
Bruce April 22, 2011 at 04:04 AM
The FY 2011 GF is for the current school year because there was a restoration of some funds this year and an increase in students by about 500. The cuts they are referring to are off that current $170 mil. Don't forget that since Prop A was adopted in the 90's, Dearborn is a Donor district, meaning we send out more to the state the we receive back from the state. As of about 4 years ago we lost about $14 mil and with the cuts since then, and the cuts proposed by the state we will be closer to $20 - $25 mil. This is $25 million that Dearborn taxpayers pay to the city and don't get back to help their city. This is your property value. You buy a home based on what the city has to offer. Top 3 things that determine property value are location, location, location. Some food for thought.
Lee Jacobsen April 22, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Location, location, location is right. That is why Dearborn is paying out more to other communities that don't measure up to Dearborn standards. Essentially we are practicing socialized sharing of education costs, (see Obama smile?) and we are on the bottom end of the stick, paying more so others can learn on our nickel. That makes it even more important to privitize services such as buses, lunch, janitors, and other cost saving measures. We need to cut more fat off the bone. It also means teachers should share more healthcare costs , at least 20%, that alone will save a bundle, especially if they are Cadillac health care plans. Teachers have a choice to pick less costly State healthcare plans, which are still mountains above in benefits compared to what most of us receive in the private sector. If teachers chose the State plan, and the city paid it 100%, we would still save a bundle. Other ways to save. Volunteers could help keep the libraries open, saving dollars. Keeping the school buildings closed 25% of the year to follow 'tradition' is a sure waste of resources and money, and the reason why our kids can't do better than 16th in the latest world wide testing results. Why? The countries ahead of us teach their kids year-round. We have a long way to go before all the fat is cut, we have only begun to trim the fat, and , when that fat happens to be union & city officials, they don't approve of it. Give them credit for some common sense to object!
Jon Awbrey June 16, 2011 at 04:16 AM
Here's a good update on some of the things that educators, parent activists, and others will be doing over the Summer to protect our system of democratic education from hostile takeover by corporations, ideologues, and other private interests. Frustrated Educators Aim To Build Grassroots Movement • http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/15/35activists_ep.h30.html ❝ Thousands of educators, parent activists, and others are expected to convene in the heat and humidity of Washington next month for a march protesting the current thrust of education policy in the United States, especially the strong emphasis on test-based accountability. Organizers say the effort aims to galvanize and give voice to those who believe policymakers, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and state governors, have gone astray in their remedies for improving American schools. ❞

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