A full crowd of parents, residents, school officials and community leaders came out to Coolidge Intermediate School on Thursday evening to find out about pending legislation that would change the public education system in Michigan.
Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie Markavitch spoke to attendees about the legislation, which is currently being deliberated in the State House and Senate, including Senate Bill 1358, House Bill 6004, and House Bill 5923.
The meeting in Ferndale was one of many Markavitch has been participating in across the county. She said she wants to see "a million voices" be heard in Lansing about the bills, which she has called "radical and dangerous."
Read more about the education reform proposals here.
School data presented
During the meeting, Markavitch highlighted data on local, state and national test scores, including pointing out recent improvements across the state in reading and math scores.
She said one of the current challenges is addressing areas with high poverty levels. "How do we get our children living in poverty to achieve at the very same rate (as those who aren't)?" she said.
After presenting school data, Markavitch asked: "Does it look like America, or Michigan, or Oakland County has a failing system? Because it didn't to me," she said, continuing that it's difficult for her to imagine why "political and corporate" powers would try to cast doubt on the nation's schools.
The proposed legislation
Senate Bill 1358 and House Bill 6004 would expand an Education Achievement Authority (EAA) - a separate and statewide school district that would be overseen by a governor-appointed chancellor.
The new district would operate without oversight by the state superintendent of schools or the state board of education, Markavitch explained.
Even though there can be disagreements among residents with local school boards, "you have somebody you can go to" and work with on issues, she said. She asked whether the community "will get the same response from Wall Street, when they're running our schools?"
House Bill 5923 would create charter or virtual schools that could specialize and admit only students in particular interest areas.
Schools would be "specifying the type of students they want to serve," which Markavitch says allows for discrimination against students for any reason other than religion and would cause segregation.
"Discrimination with public money," she said, calling the proposed legislation "un-American."
Markavitch took questions from the audience during the meeting, clarifying for residents some aspects of the proposed legislation and responding to questions about online schools and more.
A homeschooling father said he felt competition would be good for schools and said the public school system is "still a very anti-competition system."
"Why can't we have some competition?" he asked.
Markavitch responded by saying public schools are for competition, "as long as the playing field is level," and that these bills were not the way to achieve it.
She also responded to a question about Right-to-Work legislation, which Markavitch said is not related to the education reform bills.
"Please keep fighting for us," said another resident, who had asked about charter schools.
Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education President Keith Warnick also spoke at the meeting and thanked Markavitch and all of the residents for their attendance.
How to get involved
Markavitch believes the way to counter the millions of dollars being spent by advocacy groups on drafting and passing reforms is by recruiting a million people to make their voices heard in Lansing.
Board of Education member Karen Twomey said she believes the forum went well and said people were able to get a better understanding of what these meetings are all about.
"We're simply advocating to have quality schools for all children, with equally high standards," she said.
Twomey encouraged residents to contact their legislators and even make a trip to Lansing this weekend if they can. "Have a day in the capitol," she said. "Teach your kids about engaged citizenship."
Jim O'Donnell, a parent and newly-elected school board member who will begin his term next year, said the meeting was beneficial and said he will be encouraging his friends and family to sign up at the Tricounty web site.
"I think the superintendent did a great job providing an overview of the legislation," he said.
Mike Kuzniar, a local parent and Ferndale soccer coach, was glad he attended the forum. "It was some good information and it was worth listening to," he said.
Pleasant Ridge resident Caryn Leonard attended the meeting with her husband. Though their child is not yet school-age, she said the proposed legislation is "very disheartening" and makes her think twice about raising her kids in Michigan.
"This type of legislation and what's happening in the state is enough to have me definitely considering relocating where I raise my children," said Leonard, who is also a public school teacher.
She was appreciative that Markavitch came to Ferndale to address the issues. "I think Dr. Markavitch is extremely articulate and I think she's very dedicated to the cause," she said.