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Teachers at Town Hall: 'We Are Not a Business'

State Rep. Dian Slavens (D-Canton) announced proposed legislation to prevent Gov. Rick Snyder from using education funds for other purposes.

Gov. Rick Snyder is about to get a special delivery — boxes filled with shoes and a pointed message from Plymouth-Canton Community Schools' teachers.

Their message: Education is not a business, and if the governor really wants to understand education, he would walk a mile in a teacher's shoes.

The footwear was collected during an education town hall meeting Monday evening, organized by state Rep. Dian Slavens (D-Canton) at the . She said she wanted to assess the impact of education funding cuts by hearing from parents and teachers.

Joan Pence, a 1976 graduate of the district, is now a Salem High science teacher with more than 30 years' experience as well as the mother of two. She read an open letter to Snyder, which Slavens said would be delivered to the governor — along with the boxes of shoes.

"They do not see our students, they see dollars," Pence said. "They do not walk our schools hallways. They choose to impose their solutions from afar."

Slavens said Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have introduced legislation to prevent the state from taking any more money from taxes collected, by law, for education and using it for other purposes. Slaven said Snyder had raided the state's education fund of up to $1 billion and effectively gave it to businesses, without the promise of jobs.

Slavens said bills passed this year had little or no input from Democrats because theirs is a minority party in Lansing — and she was shut out when the details of education funding were being hammered out.

James Larson-Shidler, the Plymouth-Canton district's assistant superintendent for business services, reviewed how cuts in funding this year have affected people. He said 300 district employees have dropped health insurance; the district has laid off 16 full-time teachers (down significantly from the 269 layoff notices issued in April) and 21 custodians. The district's decision to has removed 149 more employees from the district's payroll, he said.

Several of the teachers who spoke noted that Snyder's youngest daughter attends the private Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, where tuition is $18,000 a year — more than twice what the state spends per student for public education. But even Greenhills, they said, holds fundraisers to support school operations.

Shannon McNutt, who for nearly 12 years has taught ninth-grade world literature, drama and speech at Canton High, listened to the comments while sitting at the back of the room — as she was grading a stack of papers.

But toward the end of the meeting, she spoke up, giving an example of what funding cuts mean to her. Monday afternoon in her classroom was uncomfortably hot — about 82 degrees, she said — with no air conditioning. The window couldn't be opened because it has no screen, and there's a nest of bees just outside that hasn't been removed yet and may not be, she said, because of job cuts. With fewer custodians, she said she spends part of each day cleaning her own classroom, adding that morale among teachers is very low.

Miller Elementary teacher Lisa Wysocki, who said her salary has been cut by $7,000, asked what people could do to be heard in Lansing. Slavens said people need to write, email or telephone lawmakers in both parties asking them to support education funding.

Russ Wolfram, whose wife, Lisa Duganne, is a special education teacher at Canton High School, made perhaps the most telling statement of the evening. Gesturing to the people in the audience — approximately 50 in all — he said that, for a district like Plymouth-Canton's, which has more than 18,000 students, Monday's turnout was relatively small.

"The day you fill Michigan stadium is the day they'll start listening," he said.

Lisa Duganne September 28, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Just a question: if the average term of employment for teachers in charter schools is 3.5 years, how can that teacher get to know the students, parents, or community in any meaningful way?
HeyMon September 29, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Peg, we loyal readings who have been following this issue in Patch and the Observer, have to wonder as we read you. Do you think we have not been following the debate here in Lansing, and in Plymouth-Canton? Not one MEA or AFT-endorsed legislator had an alternative plan to Gov Snyder's earlier this year. Each of those MEA and AFTA endorsed legislators were told that massive tax hikes were the ONLY alternative to cuts. And guess what? Each of those teacher's union-endorsed legislators proposed NOTHING! Not one legislator, except 1 or 2 from Detroit, had a word to say that even resembled a tax hike. Not one legislator said anything - including Dian Slavins. But I will say one thing. I give Snyder credit for addressing the fact that rich and wealthy seniors now have to pay taxes on their pensions.
Ann Wisniewski September 29, 2011 at 03:15 PM
HeyMon, Now if Obama can get those Wall Street types to pay taxes on those bonuses we gave them, we can then give him some credit, too.
Peg McNichol September 29, 2011 at 06:34 PM
HeyMon, Alternatives were suggested -- but they have not gotten out of committee. I would hope anyone following politics would read rely on multiple sources for information.
Ann Wisniewski September 29, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Peg, Funding changes immediate effects: fewer public employees, lower salaries, larger classes, lower test scores, less money for public schools. Funding changes long term effect: More charter schools, no public employee unions and fewer people going into the teaching profession.

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