Courtesy of Michigan Department of Education
The breadth of challenges facing public education in Michigan is staggering. The need to fix failing schools, the dozens of districts identified with deficit spending, the budget disasters many other districts barely dodge from year to year.
Not only that, but into this quagmire of problems, the Snyder administration added the perception of skulduggery by allowing a “skunk works,” a secret task force of sorts studying how to introduce low-cost schools relying on technology.
Is it any wonder that the biggest challenge of all is the lack of consensus on meaningful solutions?
And in the wake of these many problems came news that 55 Michigan school districts are spending more than they are taking in and thus subject to state review as deficit districts.
It’s a record number, although 10 districts are expected to eliminate their deficits by June 30.
Still, the fact that financial woes are spread across the state in districts large and small, urban and rural, should not go unnoticed. From Hancock to Benton Harbor, from Mackinaw City to Romulus and many points between, Michigan school districts are struggling. That includes some of the large districts, like Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac.
Close to home, those in distress include Hastings in Barry County, Bellevue in Eaton County, Perry in Shiawassee County and Brighton and Pinckney in Livingston County.
The scope of the problem caused State Superintendent Mike Flanagan to tell lawmakers last week that Michigan should consider a system of countywide school districts and that he supports the concept of allowing the the state treasurer and superintendent to disband school districts that don’t submit adequate deficit reduction plans.
Those are drastic suggestions indeed. And for public education in Michigan, these are drastic times. Just like the state and many cities and counties within it, many school districts suffer from structural deficits that can’t go on indefinitely.
State Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, lamented last week that, when the topic is public education, Michigan “is full of critics and we need playwrights.” True words indeed. Pappageorge challenged Flanagan to bring lawmakers proposals.
Snyder’s stumble into the malodorous “skunk works” proves the point: The state’s superintendent is best suited to lead the quest for major reform. Superintendent Flanagan, Michigan’s children need a champion. Give it your all.