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Superintendent Hughes' Opinions

Should the PCCS superintendent use the district's email database to distribute his political opinions?

 I get myself in trouble, when I have issues with the school district. I feel like writing a long disclaimer, but I'll keep it simple. I love our city, and I love our schools. I do, however, take issue when I believe the district's email database is being used improperly.

I have a child in elementary, so my email address is in the district database. Many of you received an email from the district this morning, in which superintendent Hughes voiced his concerns over a piece of legislation being considered in Lansing. Since I haven't fully researched the details of the legislation, I won't venture an opinion on its merit. My problem is with Dr. Hughes, using the district's email database to circulate his political opinion. 

Here's how Dr. Hughes opens:

"Although all the news from Lansing lately is about "Right to Work," behind the scenes there is still education legislation that is moving forward and, if passed, would have profound effects on Michigan's public schools, and on P-CCS in particular. This legislation pertains to the EAA (Education Achievement Authority). The EAA was formed a year ago as a kind of separate "school district" in Detroit that would take over the Detroit schools that fall in the bottom 5% of schools based on student achievement. The legislation now in Lansing would expand the EAA's authority and allow it to take over any school in the state that is in the bottom 5%."

In our politically charged environment, is it really appropriate to use a school district resource for politicking? The last time I checked, our community is made up of people with many different beliefs and political views; most of whom did not submit their email addresses, to receive propaganda pieces. When we need opinions concerning politics, there are enough of those out there.  Dr. Hughes then goes on to explain that the legislation, about which he is opining, will probably not affect schools in our district:

"Although the likelihood of that ever being the case in Plymouth-Canton is slim to none, wherever it did occur it would be taking local control away from elected school boards. It would, in essence, be creating a statewide school district."

Followed by a bit more fear-mongering, over an issue that we are not likely to face:

"Of most concern to us in Plymouth-Canton is the provision that would allow the EAA to take over vacant school buildings, wherever they are located. If we closed a school in Plymouth-Canton, we would be required to put that school on a state listing of vacant school buildings and keep the school (even though vacant) in operating condition for two years. During these two years, the EAA could, by paying the appraised value of the building, purchase it without our consent for the appraised value, even if we could have got more than the appraised value by selling it to a old-school entity."

Dr. Hughes concludes, by explaining that he has only expressed his opinion, and not that of the school board. He then provides the email addresses for our state legislators, presumably for you to share his opinion with them. The superintendent is entitled to his opinions, he has every right to express them; but is the district's mailing list the proper vehicle to distribute anyone's political views? The last time I got involved in a school district issue, it was to openly support Dr. Hughes; when he unilaterally removed the book Beloved from the high school's AP English curriculum. I wrote an op-ed in the Observer, as well as here at Patch, to express my concerns; the same options are available to the superintendent, for expressing his opinions. I don't think superintendent Hughes should be using the district's website as a political blog, and I don't think he should be treating the parents in his district like subscribers.

This is about a principle. The email databases of public schools should not be used as a bully pulpit for the advancement of someone's political opinions. These emails should contain objective information, and facts relevant to parents, students, and faculty inside the district. If legislation actually does affect our district, give us the facts when they become reality. Let's save the hypotheticals for Facebook, and politics for politicians.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Plymouth Parent December 12, 2012 at 11:56 AM
If we only get the facts when they become reality, that is far too late. The superintendent is obligated, in my opinion, to alert the district of impending measures that could affect our schools, especially when the effects are this dramatic and devastating.
Ocelot Madness December 12, 2012 at 03:17 PM
To me, it seems like he is just watching out for the district. Seems to me that is exactly what the job of superintendent should be.
george belvitch December 12, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Tony, Go hang out with your friends in Lansing. It appears you would fit in quite well with legislators who choose to do their work in secret. I have my own concerns about decisions being made by our school district. But the Hughes letter, using the district's email system, although late, was what he should have done. He informed the public, about the public's schools.
Jerry Thompson December 12, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Tony - bigger fish to fry than worrying about the Supt. doing his job to prompt citizens awareness to issues in Lansing involving local school districts. I believe the problem is your admitted ignorance of the bill and unwillingness to let the man speak to his parents from his professional expertise. SC
Tony Lollio December 12, 2012 at 06:53 PM
I made it clear that this was not about the legislation. This is about a public employee using a public email database as a forum for political views, a forum where the opposing viewpoint can't be expressed. I never agreed, or disagreed, with Dr. Hughes' opinion; but both sides of the issue were not equally represented. This is a way to deliver one side of a debate, to a group of people who may not care to do their own research. I am all about honest debate, and I don't feel like this was the correct forum. The district email database is a public resource, supported by folks on all sides of the political spectrum. I have no problems with parents in the district being alerted to legislation, but I believe that can be done without the interjection of political opinion, in a forum not open to fair debate. Those of you who advocate fairness, should show some consistency.
Steve Craig December 12, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Tony, as I mentioned elsewhere, I can see the argument that using the e-mail list might not be "fair." You can make the case that it is quite different from a town meeting, or Chamber lunch, or speaking to a reporter. Alerting parents and constituents about something that may affect the school district, without explaining the pros of the legislation that do not affect the school district is fair and common, but I can see the use of the e-mail as debatable. I still think that using the word "political views" confuses two different things. Use of government resources to lobby and advocate re: state federal legislation is legal and common. Use of government resources to advocate for candidates or ballot measures is and should be illegal.
Bryan Bentley (Editor) December 12, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Using government or township resources to advocate for candidates is a violation of the Hatch Act...
Kate Borninski December 12, 2012 at 09:19 PM
In this case, Dr. Hughes did not support either a candidate or a ballot proposal and as such his email was non-partisan. His letter was entirely legal and definitely necessary to allow parents to know what was happening and to find out more information. The parents of students in our public schools need to know that there is legislation pending that affects our schools. I applaud Dr. Hughes for doing the right thing!
Michael Pare December 12, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Thank you Dr. Hughes for informing parents about this important legislation that will eventually affect every school district in the state. It is necessary and proper that you did so in order to keep us informed and let us know how we can become involved if we choose. This is not a partisan political issue like Mr. Lollio would like you to believe - or at least it shouldn't be.
Danielle December 12, 2012 at 11:00 PM
If you think that the items in this email are "an issue that we are not likely to face," yet if you read Patch or the Observer, two news outlets you admit to have written for, you would know this is not true. As our district is actively considering closing Central and has recently closed down Fiegel this is quite relevant to us. Don't act like he's emailing us to let us know his favorite TV show is on. This is important to all parents/students/community members of our district.
Patti McCoin December 12, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Dr. Hughes was sending vital information out to the parents of the school district he serves in the same way that many other superintendents across Michigan did. Parents are free to read the legislation and form their own opinions on it, Dr. Hughes email did not demand any action on the part of anyone.
thinkscience December 13, 2012 at 12:39 AM
So Tony, sending out an email informing parents of legislation he believes (rightly so) will hurt this and all public school districts is a 'problem'. I guess you just want him to stick to banning books you don't like huh?
EHM December 13, 2012 at 01:13 AM
I appreciated receiving his letter. I've been keeping up on a lot about things coming from Lansing recently, but this was something I wasn't aware of until then.
john nichols December 13, 2012 at 02:29 AM
If I read the letter correctly, it was non partism and he asked to us to contact all 3 people that represent us, both Dems and Rep. Just as prior leaders of the district has done in the past

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