In Frank Capra’s 1939 Academy Award winning film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays a bright but naive young man who gets snagged by a corrupt political boss to replace a US Senator who has died in office.
The film’s premise is pure Capra: when Stewart’s character innocently initiates a bill to turn a piece of farm land he loves into a boys’ summer camp he discovers that the power brokers who got him appointed Senator actually want to destroy and use that same land for mining purposes.
That is, “Mr. Smith” (Stewart) finds himself in the paradoxical position of having to battle the forces that put him in Washington DC. Spoiler alert! He wins the fight and keeps the farm land for the boys! Jimmy Stewart doesn’t sell the farm to the forces that be.
Now, our newly elected state representative (40th District) Mike McCready is neither young (51) nor naïve. A successful businessman, McCready has served admirably as a Bloomfield Hills city commissioner and mayor for several years. He won a tough primary without the endorsement of his predecessor, Chuck Moss, one of the reasons I have high hopes for him.
But, nontheless, he awakes this week to find himself in a Capraesque position, albeit circa 2012 and Michigan public education.
A graduate of Birmingham Seaholm (1978), Western Michigan University (1983), and Wayne State University Law School, Mr. McCready stands as a product of public education institutions that thrived before Proposal A (1994) changed K-12 funding practices in Michigan and before the state became dead last in the country in terms of what it gives higher education.
When Mr. McCready went to Seaholm, state funding rules were such that the relative affluence of Birmingham could secure and guarantee good schools. At the time he went to WMU and WSU, those institutions were well funded by the state, keeping quality high and tuition low. Like many in the area, he was able to take what Oakland County had to offer him as a child and young man and then build what seems to be a remarkably productive life here as an adult.
Now, he goes to Lansing at a moment when Governor Snyder’s Oxford Foundation is working, more or less in secret, to change the way public education funding works so that places like Birmingham and Bloomfield won’t have what Mr. McCready enjoyed.
In brief, Governor Snyder wants “Anywhere, Anytime, Any Place, Any Way” education where money follows the student not the District.
If successful – and the critical vote may take place even before Mr. McCready gets to Lansing – the system that put him where he is (a successful businessman and State Representative!) will crumble beneath his feet.
Who can tell what The Oxford Foundation or the Governor has in mind when they say state money “will follow the student” rather than “the District”? But it doesn’t take a Seaholm/Groves/Andover/Lahser grad to know that conceptual framework isn’t good for the Districts many have come to take for granted. Indeed, many believe our schools, like the land they live on, will never go away. They don't mean our districts do they? As one resident said to me, "They can't do that here!"
Wanna bet? Ask Mr. Moss.
Districts, like schools, can go away even if you keep the word in the constitution. All you need do is weaken them so much financially that they become what their critics say they are: obsolete and ineffective.
The question then: will Mr. McCready sell the farm from beneath his feet?
Will he side with the forces that govern Lansing (and Rochester) and want to make public education in Birmingham and Bloomfield unrecognizable even to those who have been here all their lives?
Or will he take a different Jimmy Stewart type route?
So far he has said some downright Jimmy Stewart type things about The Oxford Foundation and what it means for a school district like Bloomfield: “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” Heck, this could be Harry Truman, right here in Bloomfield Hills Michigan. (The corrupt figure in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was modeled on TJ Pendergast, the political boss who first got Truman from Missouri to DC).
In the meantime: if you value top quality school Districts like Birmingham and BHSD, if, for example, you moved here for “the schools,” and paid top dollar for a house when you could have gotten twice the house somewhere else, or, if, to take another example, you went these schools and stayed here expecting your kids to have a comparable experience, please send him a note or give him a call.
Next post: the very interesting women who did not get elected to School Boards.