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BHSD School Board Race and the Oxford Foundation

A Conservative's Response to Ken Jackson

To Ken Jackson:  Responding to your blog on the meaning of conservatism in the context of the Oxford Foundation proposal, your discussion of the term conservative has a certain historical truth, but it doesn't reflect the meaning of the term as generally used today, particularly if you add the word "fiscal" in front of it.  You are correct that Conservatives strive to conserve that which is time-tested and true, including the principle of providing a good public education, but such conservation cannot be accomplished at all costs because in the end it means that all fails.  Conservatism, and particularly fiscal conservatism, is strongly rooted in concepts such as balanced budgets, folks paying their own way in life and a government of limited size that is sustainable, financially, over the long haul.  

These concepts apply to public education too.  There's nothing inappropriate, at the state level, with advocating for changes to what you describe as a "carefully constructed" method of delivering a public education if the system is financially unsustainable or if it doesn't actually work "perfectly well", as you suggest.  We're blessed to be in the BHSD.  By any objective measure, our kids get a very good education in a financially stable district, but I get the sense that not all public schools, statewide, are working perfectly well.  If that's right, reforming the system may be the only way to save it.

That being said, reforming it in a responsible manner is another matter.  My concern with the approach that is suggested by the Oxford Foundation is how it will work in light of the significant educational and financial commitments already in place between our kids, our parents, our school district and, importantly, district tax payers.  The Oxford Foundation's proposal, a work in progress, has a number of important concepts, I’ll highlight two: the disaggregation of schools (essentially further freeing a kid from her 1 in-district school in favor of allowing her to pursue credits “any place where learning can occur”) and funding follows the student (that is, the per-pupil allowance, or part thereof, goes with the child outside of the district to, for example, an on-line school or community college).  

In theory, I have no objection with these concepts. A kid should have maximum flexibility to supplement her education and having what is essentially for-me, follow-me funding could serve her well… in theory.   But think about the tumult to any district trying to budget for and deliver a quality education year-after-year when large numbers of district students can freely come and go, taking a significant portion of their per-pupil dollars with them when they go.  It could be a budgetary nightmare.

Add to the problem mandatory school of choice laws, almost certain to be part of the new legislative package, which will force school districts such as ours to accept out of district kids whose parents, frankly, aren't paying the tax bill for the maintenance or construction of our school facilities.  Many of those kids will come to the district with a per pupil allowance of around $8,000, not the almost $12,000 that accompanies our kids.  Fair to property owners that are paying the sinking fund millage and who will now pay the bond for the new high school?

With so much freedom of movement in and out of our school district, when do we hire or fire teachers and how many?  Before or after the entire freshman class decides that Mr. Smith is too tough in Calculus but that Mr. Danielson at OCC offers the course on-line ... and it's easy.  How do we predict how many teachers we need and what type of teachers, how much staff we need, how many buses we need.  Will students chose the best path in the district or the easiest path outside of the district (take their funding with them)?  Will "accredited" businesses spring up that offer short cuts to education?

So Ken, while I respectfully disagree with you on the role of conservative principles in education reform (necessary reforms to improve and sustain the public education system is certainly conservative), I think you may be right that we need to be careful when completely overhauling something that works for many districts, including ours, even if not for so many others.  Balanced legislation is called for and high performing districts need to be supported, not sacrificed. The Oxford Foundation proposal isn't final, but from what I can discern so far, it will likely gut the local school district and transfer a tremendous amount of control from our community to Lansing.  That may be a good idea in some districts, but not ours.  As conservatives that believe in local control and respect for our local taxpayers, we can do better.

All of which brings me back to our school board race.  In my opinion, conservative principles in the context of our school board race means electing people that understand budgets and financial issues and, in that sense, while I'm reluctant to group the words Howard Baron with no brainer (after all he has a degree from MIT and a MBA from the University of Chicago), electing him to the school board is, I would humbly suggest, a no brainer.   He has worked as a financial executive for 30 years.  He's been an active participant in the Community Partnership Committees, including the Legislative Committee, which is focused on the issue of the Oxford Foundation's proposal.  He understands how the district's finances work as evidenced by his recent blog on the subject (http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/my-financial-assessment-of-bloomfield-hills-schools).  It's hard to think how someone could be more prepared for this position if "fiscal stewardship and responsibility" is what one is looking for.  It's what I'm looking for and it's one of the reasons I will be voting for him on November 6th.

Of Interest: Patch Blogger Weighs in the Oxford Group and How it Relates to the BHS School Board Election.

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.

Ken Jackson October 25, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Mr. Judge, Thank you for the refreshingly reasonable and polite response. You have, I must admit, a very real point about fiscal sustainability. We have real problems financially at the state (not BHS) level that Gov. Snyder is right to address. I would only respond to say 1) I think you are bit nostalgic about "good old days" when everybody paid their bills and 2) to say how strange it is that teachers and teachers' unions bear the political brunt of financial systems that were constructed, more or less, for them. We often hear we need better teachers? It seems what we really might need better accountants, financial strategists and so on, one with long term rather than short term goals willing to build rather than destroy completely the relationship between the private and public sector. Where are they? Mr. Baron seems to be something of an exception, someone with training and experience willing to enter this fray pragmatically. Surely the pragmatic Gov. can find equally pragmatic and skilled people to balance the ideologues and save parts of the system (BHSD) that work.
Joe Judge October 25, 2012 at 03:32 PM
If balancing budgets and paying bills is to be considered "nostalgia"- a mere historical artifact of by-gone years to be looked upon with amazement- well then we're all in trouble (sure seems like "ancient history" in Washington). Here in Michigan, with respect to our educational system, we need to be open to the idea that we need to reform the system to assure a bright future for it and, most importantly, for the kids in the system. The system was not, in fact, created for teachers and the teacher's union. First and foremost, it was created for the kids. But that may be more nostalgia and not a fair criticism of your larger point. The point you are making is that the cost of the system is mostly in paying the professionals that teach our kids. Ken, teachers need to be supported and they don't need to come out on the short end of this, but there needs to be compromise and improvement to the entire system. If we are going to re-write the way we fund schools in Michigan, what I want to see is balance. The Oxford Foundation's proposal- what we know of it- isn't merely "tinkering" with the system, it's dramatic and it needs to be thought through very carefully. On that, you and I certainly agree.
Ken Jackson October 25, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I agree with the main point certainly. I will try in a blog post to explain what I meant by nostalgia. My perspective is that of a BHSD parent: I fear a "baby and the bath water" problem here. BSHD could be hammered because other districts can't get their house in order. Having just read Mr. McCready's ad immediately to my right on the screen, I want representatives who answer first not just to unions (not a fear with Mr. McCready) or political parties/ideologues but to their constituents. The question is willing simple and should cross standard political lines: do you want BHS -- with its extraordinary financial and academic record -- to stay recognizable to those who have been here for decades and to those who moved here to participate in such a District or do you want to be "reformed" by state politicos with no meaningful experience in education and (outside the Governor) no particular success in business or drawing business to Michigan? There is your no-brainer. As you say, the system was not created for teachers or their unions; but without the teachers or their unions -- a 'school' some seem willing to imagine -- their is no system.
Linda October 26, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Good dialogue from Judge and Jackson......
Linda October 26, 2012 at 03:36 AM
One of the advantages of Mr. Baron is " RETIRED FINANCIAL EXEC with his stated credentials". Education issues and school district management is so financially complex and all consuming that in my opinion calling it a volunteer position is a misnomer and requires virtually full time commitment. Too many of our current incumbents have full time careers and day jobs ... And frankly I feel they have overcommitted themselves with the BHSD getting the inevitable short end. Perhaps if we had more people like Baron on the BHSD board we wouldn't need the posse of high paid consultants and advisors to supplement what overcommitted board members can't or don't have time to do. Early departures and resignations from absurd 6 year volunteer terms are another sign that maybe we aren't electing the right people who have the time and financial expertise the job demands. I know Howard Baron from past experience over many years and have always felt he was an ethical and hard working man. He may be the ideal "compromise candidate" for a severely divided district. But it will take courage and enormous strength in my opinion for him not to fall prey to typical BHSD pressures, I.e., MEA and the status quo of fear of change.
Linda October 26, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Ann, your views above reflect a resistance to believe anything but the "company line". the truth will set you free.
Howard Baron October 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Linda, Thank you for the support. The district faces some big challenges ahead and I am prepared to work full time to help in any way that I can.
S Sera October 26, 2012 at 11:57 AM
That comment doesn't make sense to me either. Although I am reading what Linda has written as that she believes that Mrs. Petterson purposefully moved her whole family out of state to get away from serving the full six years of the trusteeship. Can't quite fathom what this has to do with Mr. Judge's blog or the wonderful exchange of thought that was transpiring between he and Mr. Jackson, but I would agree that Mr. Baron will make a wonderful addition to the board.
Linda October 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Ann, I am asking that you consider the possibility that when done right, the demands of a school board position, which in these times...is a full time job and then some, requires far more time, expertise and commitment than some incumbents/candidates may be willing to commit to. Layer onto that the expectation that you do it for 6 years and have a day job/ family/ personal life? The 6 year term change was a recipe for additional board instability no matter what the reason for departure. It was a very poor decision and I interpret it as little more than a power grab. We need serious, very financially capable, full time, independent thinkers on the board. But if elected, I would hope one of the first actions of this board would be to eliminate the absurd 6 year term which is an inevitable invitation for early departures and the revolving door of appointees and not elected officials chosen by the community.
Howard Baron October 26, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Linda, In June 2012, the BOE voted 5-2 to move to 4 year terms for trustees starting with the seats that are elected in 2014 and beginning service 1/1/15. It was decided not to change the 2012 seat terms because doing so would have caused the terms to expire in a 5/2 pattern. Using 2014 as a starting point, the seat terms will expire in a 3/4 pattern, beginning in 2016.
-Elizabeth- October 26, 2012 at 01:06 PM
I love your analogy Ann. In the Oxford Foundation's proposal titled "Disaggregating the High School Education..." one of the underlying facts is that "while there is a general belief in local control" schools/education is a state responsibility per the constitution and the State controls the funds. So don't count on local control. The State is looking to change public education as we know it and have known it for years all to fix a broken system. While I agree that parts are broken, the entire system is not. I, like Mr. Jackson am afraid that the Oxford Foundation, our State legislators and our Governor will throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroy those districts that are succeeding as they search for ways to improve those that are not.
Ken Jackson October 26, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Ann, Good point on the deck chairs. I am voting for Mr. Baron and Mr. Herner for many reasons but one of the reasons is that I have a good sense from both about their own sense of what they can -- in good faith -- give right now. Both have measured and realistic responses to why they can take on a 6 year or only a 2 year term, respectively. That Linda has us talking about length of terms here when, in fact, the whole discussion may be moot within the year shows, I think, how little sense there is in the community at large -- no matter where you stand on the bond issue, Ingrid Day, whatever -- of what is potentially coming. Neither well meaning parents who want everything for their kid nor concerned "taxpayer" has yet a clear sense of what could happen. I hope you are right about the bond issue. And I certainly have no legal expertise...what I am sure is that there is no moderate or long term positive for BHSD taxpayers in the Oxford Foundation proposals.
Neal Charness October 26, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Linda: I truly believe that under the veneer of anger you display there's an intelligent person. The change that Howard Baron noted just below is 4 months old and was published. Let's get focused on things like Mr. Judge's subject of the Oxford Foundation. If, in fact, education is a state responsibility why shouldn't schools like Roeper and Cranbrook be covered in the work done by the Oxford Foundation.
-Elizabeth- October 26, 2012 at 02:10 PM
You are right Mr. Jackson, not one proposal on that site. gives me hope that the changes to come will be positive for the BHS. While I agree with some of the ideas, like the Pre-K needs or letting high school students go as far as they possibly can with alternative delivery systems, I haven't read one thing for the many students who are in K-8 in good and excellent schools. The unintended consequences concern me.

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