A 5-neighborhood group on the Northeast side of the City has sent me a questionnaire about where I stand. Unlike some groups, they invited me and others to make unlimited responses, rather than requiring a 150 word limit, as so many groups do. Y0u are often asked, in just 150 words, to sum-up what you think about an issue. Basically, those folks who require such limitations usually really have little interest in getting to the nub of the question. It’s just not worth their trouble to try to understand whatever the issue may be. So stick with me, my answer runs for 13 pages, but I can not explain it in any less, because these folks asked some decent questions..
- How many Detroit Public School Board meetings have you attended in the last three years? None. Last five years? None. Last 10 years? None.
- What are your affiliations, if any, with Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority, charter or private schools? None, for the past 17 years, since Governor Engler pushed us aside in March, 1999 and the State took over, just 3 months after we were elected for another 4-year term. Supposedly, we were still advisors until our terms ended on January 1, 2003, but they had absolutely no use for any of our advice.
- Describe any education related initiatives that you have been part of, including dates and your role in those efforts?
You will probably be sorry that you asked this question, by the time you get to the end of my answer.
1971: Coalition to Reform Michigan Educational Financing: This was an early two-year long, but unsuccessful effort, to change the formula for State aid to schools, to favor grossly under-funded districts like Detroit. I chaired the Finance Committee of this State-wide effort, to raise the funds needed for this campaign. At that time, I was the Head Grant-Finder for the City, was conversant with the State budgeting process, and was therefore very useful to the Coalition’s understanding and strategy.
1974-76: Coalition for Peaceful Integration: I worked with the Grandmont/Rosedale unit of this broader City-wide coalition to help assure a non-violent (unlike Boston) implementation of Judge Roth’s Deseg Order at the Vetal, Edison and Cooke Schools, and we did that.
1976-78: As a member of the Rosedale Park Improvement Association’s Board of Directors, I was charged with block organization. That year, I identified and went to two households on each of our 59 block area, to ask them to become Block Captains. I approached new neighbors, one black and one white on each block. Before doing this, I had drafted over a six-month period a 140 page Manual to guide their efforts. At that time, after a lot of White Flight, the neighborhood racial composition had become 40/60. Of the 122 who bought-in to my request, 38% were black newcomers. Many of them, both black and white, still serve today, even after some 45 years. One of the things that I stressed in my manual was that adults on every block needed to keep track of the schooling of each of the children on their block, and to engage them from time to time about their education. Children in our fast-moving society have no clue as to the true importance of their education, unless it is reinforced each day by the interests and concerns of their neighbors. I also advocated linking parents of pre-school children into the cooperative nursery schools then thriving in our area. In these, parents are expected to come-in and help with the program, and to begin a long-term intensive involvement in the education of their children.
1978-83: Kathryn, my firstborn, began school at the Detroit Open School, an alternative DPS program located in the Telegraph/7-Mile area. Parents were expected to come-in and help in the classrooms, or otherwise to do something significantly needed. The Open School explicitly refused to teach to the test. But our kids, year after year, crushed the test. Embarrassed principals and administrators up the line, responded by trying to hamstring the school. In response, the school organized a Liaison Committee to attend every School Board meeting and to flyspeck the agenda for anything calculated to trash the school. I became an active member of that Committee. Whenever something threatened us at the then Regional, and later at the Central Board meetings, we would summon some 200 plus angry parents and would face-down whatever challenged us.
1983 to 1987: Because I attended every Board meeting, and sometimes asked some serious questions, Dr. Jefferson’s administration asked me to serve on the City-Wide School Community Advisory Council, which I did. In the meantime, the Open School, along with 12 other alternative schools had been placed under the direction of Ms. Aretha Marshall. Ms. Marshall along with the Wayne County Intermediate School District, organized an on-going series of monthly colloquium in which nationally-known school reform advocates were flown-in to confer with and advise us. Out of these insights and associations grew a reform movement, which became known as the HOPE Campaign (Hayden, Olmstead & Patrick for Education). I was a grassroots organizer of this initiative. After the HOPE Team was sworn-in, I became their unofficial secretary, issue writer, and mentor.
1988-89: Unfortunately, the Board member from out northwest area would not go along with the HOPE agenda, and also would not even meet to discuss it. So, we mounted a recall effort against him. It became the only successful recall effort in the City for the past 50 years. Afterwards, the recall committee recommended that I be appointed to fill the vacancy, and so it was done.
1990-98: I had to run to fill the unexpired term in February, 1990, which I did. And I had to run to fill the next full term that August and November, which I also did. During my 3 full and one partial terms on the Board, I chaired the Physical Plant, Finance and Audit Committees, and the Superintendent’s Evaluation Committee. These were tumultuous and mildly successful years, but there was a steady drumbeat in the press for something far more robust. Well, that succeeded in March, 1999, and we were swept aside, for a State takeover, which drove the District over 17 years into a bottomless pit.
2005: My campaign managers in 1990 were Freman Hendrix, Jennifer Granholm, Nabil Leach and Mary Sue Schottenfels. So, when the mantel was passed back to an elected board in 2005, Governor Granholm asked that I serve on the Transition Team, which I did. I was co-chair of the Ethics Task Force. As a part of that, I up-dated a proposal which I had previously made, but not successfully, during the 90’s, which is based upon the national Model Procurement Code. Unfortunately, the new board reverted to the practices of the past, and ignored our proposal. And that led right back to another State take-over.
2010 to the present: I have written several letters to the editor about current educational issues, but neither of the papers found cause to print them, perhaps in part because I pointed-out that they were more often a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.
2015: I provided free legal advice to the Detroit Library Commission on how best to seek a renewal of its main source of revenue, the special library millage. I drafted the millage language and a policy statement to all library employees on what they could and could not legally do in support of the millage. The library is an extension of the Detroit Public Schools. Both adult and student literacy is essential to the well-being of the City. This effort was successful.
So, enough for this question. If you want to know more about any of these events, please check my website.
4. Did you endorse or assist the Board of Education, the former CEO, or any Emergency Manager on any projects?. If so, please elaborate.
No, I did not.
5. Have you run for public office before? If so, please list the office and year.
Please see the answer to Question 3. The only other public office that I have held was by appointment of the Wayne County Commission to the Charter provided office of Commission Counsel.
6. What diplomas, certificates, or degrees have you earned and from what schools?
1961: BA History and Sociology, University of Michigan, which included credits from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Cleary College, Wichita Falls, Texas; the University of Omaha, Nebraska; the University of Maryland Overseas Program, and Johann Goethe University, Frankfort am Main, Germany.
1966: Juris Doctor from the Wayne State Law School. At that time, one had to score in the top 10% of the class for this degree. These days, they give it to everyone who graduates.
1970: Certificate from the University of Wisconsin for a 4-week intensive residential program in the Advanced Study of Organizations.
1975: Certificate from the National Center for Court Administration in Denver, Colorado for a 3-week intensive residential program in court management.
7. Do you now or have you had any children enrolled in the Detroit Public Schools? If so, please name the schools that they attended.
All three of my children attended the DPS Detroit Open School from K to 8.
My oldest daughter, Kathryn, graduated from Renaissance High in 1991. She has been the office manager for three successful Silicon Valley dot-com start-ups, was a manager of the Golden Gate AIDs March, and was the utility person for Kids First, a non-profit which specializes in research on children’s issues. She currently lives with her husband and our two granddaughters in Buffalo, N.Y, where she is the coordinator for the Buffalo Area Association of Non-Profit Fund-Raisers. Coincidentally, she was a classmate and close friend of Alycia Humphries (now Meriweather) at Renaissance, and her house-mate along with three other girls from Renaissance on S. State Street at the University of Michigan. We were all invited to Alycia’s wedding some 20 years ago. We thought highly of her then, and even more highly of her since.
From age 12, my son, Elliot, aspired to become an NHL hockey player, and went to Catholic Central with that in mind. Unfortunately, DPS has never had a hockey program, although the basketball coaches at Henry Ford High did their best to recruit him. These days, he is probably the only hockey-playing hair stylist in Bloomfield Hills.
My youngest daughter, Lesley, graduated from the DPS Communications and Media Arts High School in 1997 as the Salutatorian. That got her a full scholarship at Wayne State. Back in the 8th grade at the Detroit Open School, a new group in town called the Mosaic Youth Theatre visited the school, and recruited her as a theatre tech. So 4 years later, she chose Technical Theatre at Wayne, graduating in 2001. With those skills, she did home improvement work for 2 years, and then went for a Master’s Degree in her field in Missoula, Montana. There, she became the props manager for the Missoula Children’s Theatre. Their 48 teams take children’s theatre to 2,000 locations each year in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and at armed forces bases around the world.
8. What do you understand the role of a school board member to be?
Very good question, because it strikes at the heart of why I have tossed my hat into this ring.
Thirty years ago, I thought it was to become an activist in getting some important things done. But, looking back 20/20, that was all wrong. Yes, you do need to have some deep understandings of what needs to be done. But, then, you need to select a Superintendent who has a proven track record of doing those things. And, then, you must generally just get out of the way. The more that you try to intercede, the worse that you tend to make things. These intercessions only undermines the Superintendent and strengthens the notion that real change can be made for the top-down. 17 years of Emergency Managers should have totally trashed that theory.
The most important thing that you need to master, and communicate to your public, is a full and clear understanding of school finances. While you need to be as optimistic as the situation allows, you also must take great caution to not raise expectations for things which are way beyond our means. This is a delicate and slippery slope, because we will always be between a rock and a hard place for years to come, as we try to adjust our programs to the funds which are actually available. If we are too pessimistic, we will drive students away. But, if we make promises which we have no hope of keeping, we will get the same result.
This is very complicated stuff, and very few of the public will ever truly understand. Let me be just a bit more specific:
Only 51% of our current budget is allocated for instruction; in a healthy district, that should be nearer 60%. The rest goes for various kinds of “support services”. The District currently uses 93 buildings for schools, and another 47 for support services. 33 of these school buildings were built in the past 20 years and are in fairly good repair for now. For this, we floated almost $2 Billion in 40-year bonds, which maxxed-out all of our capital improvement borrowing ability, for at least another 15 to 20 years. That means that the only way that we can keep these other 107 buildings in good repair is to take the funds from the State Foundation Grant. Most of these buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 70s. The District has not had an adequate building maintenance program in place since the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. These buildings are falling apart, and there is no other money available to fix them for at least another 15 years.
I hope that I’m wrong, but I suspect that I am right-on. To me, these existing bonds are like a roadside bomb, just waiting to happen. This obligation is 5 times more than our annual budget. They were issued during much higher interest rate times, and their payment depends upon revenue from a special capital improvement millage on Detroit properties. Back when these bonds were issued, 90% of Detroiters were paying their taxes, and real estate values were rising rapidly. Since 2008, real estate values have plummeted, and just over 50% of Detroiters are paying their taxes. So, this revenue may not be enough to satisfy the bonds as they become due. I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect that these bonds included a full faith and credit promise, which means that we will have to either take the shortage from our operating funds, or we will have to go to court for a judgement order to assess all Detroit property for the difference. I am bothered by the fact that no one is talking about this issue.
For most of your time as a Board Member, you need to be actively reaching-out to find the extended families of parents who now have children in our schools. You absolutely need to convince these folks that they must keep on top of the education of their more distant offsprings. We now have at least 3 generations of parents who have had little or no pro-educational guidance or proclivities. If they listen to the media, which they most probably do, they are given to think that education is just another of society’s consumer goods. All they need to do is to criticize their children’s teachers, and all will be good. Well, that kind of mind-set just translates into chaos in the classroom.
The ONLY time when real education takes place is when parents, teachers, and students at a specific local school RESPECT one another and are willing to intensively collaborate with one another.
The best thing that a School Board Member can therefore do is to personally reach-out to those older members of the extended families of our students. These are the only people who have a half-way chance of making a difference. Few of today’s parents will listen or respond positively to someone who is being paid to visit with or threaten them.
9. What restrictions, if any, have been imposed on this new board that you agree with? Disagree with?
Actually, I have no problem with any of the restrictions which have been placed by the Legislature on this new board. Sure, I’m sure that some of our Legislators voted for these limitations with some malice, but that is beside the point. These indeed are the crucial financial issues with which any serious board member will need to cope. I fear that few of those who are running for the Board have any clue as to the import of these issues. Neither did any of the Emergency Managers of the past 17 years. High hopes do not translate to real progress. As I have tried to say, if you are not ready to face-up to and deal with the limited financial prospects that the District faces, then you will be a terrible board member. Grandstanding on the unfairness of it all, may make you feel good, and may gain you support from folks who deeply resent State intervention, but it will do nothing positive to right-size and move the district forward.
10. What actions did the school board take during the 2014-16 period that you agree with? Disagree with?
Seriously, I paid no attention whatever to anything that they did, because I knew from my own experience between March, 1999 and January 1, 2003, that the “overseers” had no intention of listening to anything that the sitting board had to offer. Yes, I do have an etching by Salvator Dali on the wall above my computer of Don Quixote charging forward on his horse, but I personally am not stupid enough to go there!
11. What actions did you take to support or oppose those board actions?
None, and as I said above, it did not bother me one whit. I have been around long enough to know when my voice can actually make a difference, and when its nothing more than a grandstanding waste of time. This is not to say that I was taking no stance whatever during these times. I wrote to the Free Press and News, and to the Governor’s supposed think guy, but none of them gave me one minute of time.
12. Would you support the board authorizing any additional charter schools? Why and why not?
For much of my working and voluntary life efforts, my job and my objectives was to change and improve one kind of organization or another for the better. And I have always found that it is far far easier and more successful to start a totally new organizati0n, than it is to reform one that is well set in it’s ways. That’s a sociological fact. So, I am not opposed to new charters.
BUT, the DPS history with charters has not been at all outstanding. There are endless institutional limits upon what could be achieved. Large institutions, like the DPS, are extremely hard to change, when they don’t really want to change. That, again, is a sociological fact.
Most non-DPS charters sing the same old false song: Just send your child to us, and we, with the miracles of modern teaching technology, will send them back to you educated to your greatest expectations. Well, teaching technology can make some small differences, but it takes the willing and respectful collaboration of a parent (or substitute parent) to make a really big difference. And there is no way to get around this fact without a huge lot of dollars, which we have absolutely no prospects of ever getting.
So, I am amenable to one specific kind of charter, but be forewarned, that this kind of charter is not currently authorized by any existing law.
I would support a charter for a K-8 that requires that a parent or extended family member, come-in and help with the teaching or some other important task, for at least 40 hours each year. To be more specific, that means coming-in for at least a half-day once a month, and to do so on a dependable schedule. That enables teachers to better plan and manage their classroom load. It means that children behave positively, because they know that what’s happening in the classroom must be important, if mom and dad or other significant persons are willing and ready of be there. This sets-up the conditions which make for an excellent school. And no one is excluded for this school. One way that a parent is able to perform their 40 hours of service is to transport to school the children of parents who have no such transport.
I think that this kind of charter would light the way for parents and their extended families all across the City, to fully realize that they have a very important role in the successful education of their off-spring.
13. What do you believe that you can realistically do as a board member?
The only reason that I pitched my hat into the ring, is because I think I have a perspective that is woefully lacking in today’s public discourse about education in Detroit. Whether or not I am actually elected is of little moment to me. My aim is to try, as best I can, to change the general mind-set of this broader Detroit community as to what it ought to reasonably expect from its schools, and what each of us must be doing to make things really better. If you read my thoughts as set forth on my website, and do some real thinking about them, then I will have done what I set out to do – and on a shoestring.
If I can loop you into actually studying and understanding my Procurement and Ethics Policy, then I will really feel like I have accomplished something!
14. Who has endorsed or contributed to your campaign, or what endorsements or contributions to your campaign are likely, and which will you seek?
I am running my “campaign” on a mere shoestring. I have told the folks who have financed and staffed my past campaigns that I am not asking them for even one dollar, but I am asking that they pass my thoughts on to everyone that they know. I still have twelve 1′ X 4′ signs, and 64 lawn signs stored in my garage from past campaigns, which I propose to put back into service. It cost me $100 to place my name on the ballot, and another $167 for my website. I have done this out of my own pocket, which is not really much to personally invest in the future of our City, even when you are already 80 years old. And of course, I have expended and will expend a lot of my time
I am not out pandering for endorsements. I am just telling it like it is, and if a lot of folks agree with me and connect with my thoughts, then that is what there is, and really all that there is.
15. Beyond platitudes, why are you running for the school board?
Personally, unlike most board candidates, I am not about “children first” because I simply “love children”. I am more concerned about the future of the adults in this City, if we are unable to secure a good education for our children. For 13 years, from 1970 until 1983, under Mayors Gribbs and Young, I was the Deputy Director of the Detroit – Wayne County Justice Coordinating Council. We pumped $140 Million of federal grants into changing and improving the adult and juvenile justice systems. But, one of the main things that you learn from all of this is that kids who do well in school rarely end-up caught-up in the criminal justice system. If we just get it right this first time, then we do not end-up spending more on prisons than we do on schools.
Here then are my top nine priorities:
- Get the State Legislature to prohibit and elected Detroit School Board member from running for any other public office for at least ten years. Strip the most basic reason for anyone from the highly corrupting vending/political subculture in this City from running for the School Board.
- Weigh against having the Board divvy-up “school oversight” into a series of micro-managing committees. Any merit of these committees is grossly outweighed by giving their chairs an easy way to put the squeeze on Board vendors. Keep Board oversight to the Committee of the Whole. Ask no questions which can only be answered by additional fact-gathering efforts at the schools. Such questions only ramp-up the tendency of central “service” administrators to try and control the schools from the top-down, and steals away precious teaching time from teachers on the front line, who must gather and record the answers to all of these questions.
- Adopt a comprehensive policy based upon the national Model Procurement Code; delegate virtually all final contracting authority to the Superintendent, without any further Board intervention. Board intervention typically adds an additional month on average to getting the schools what they need. All major contracts over $750,000 and those over 2 years must by law go to the State Financial Review Board. There is no good reason, therefore, for the Board to flyspeck these contracts. Keep Board members totally out of the front-end of the contracting process, and out of all of the temptations that have misled past Boards.
- Staff an independent Audit Unit, which reports to the Board, to look for fraud and waste, but only after the fact. (The Superintendent also needs a companion Inspector General, but the District should not have to depend upon the honesty of that group.) Yes, this is expensive, but time has shown again and again that it is necessary. White collar crime is actually one of the few kinds of crime that can be prevented, by conducting random, unexpected and independent audits.
- Select a Superintendent who has had a successful career in entrusting most decision-making and school-level expenditures to the local schools. Avoid creating more top-down efforts to control local schools in the name of greater accountability.
- Spend most of my time as a Board member, on reaching-out and engaging all existing community institutions, and in engaging the extended families of our students to take a strong and pro-active role in their child’s education. Reverse the present mind-set that education is just another consumer service, and that all you need to do to improve it is to become a critic. Concentrate upon building enduring parent support networks, beginning with pre-school.
- New-Wave teaching techniques are forever oversold as the answer to all that ails us. See that parents know that teaching techniques are not magic, and have big drawbacks when not reinforced from the home. Parents must know that children learn much from one another, and that these relationships become more and more powerful the longer that they are sustained. It is key to keep your child in the same school, with the same classmates, and the same teachers for the long haul.
- Assure that the District not only retains a balanced budget year-to-year, but also reserves a rainy-day fund equal to at least 6% of the annual budget for unforeseeable setbacks. It is particularly disturbing to know that the District has lost almost all of its knowledgeable financial people, and that the current “balanced budget” was hatched by just a couple of whose who remain, but with little or no back-up data.
- Resist pressures to create politically popular, but unaffordable things, like new buildings, all-day pre-school, or unlimited wrap-around services. Get real about the American economy. For the past 30 years, middle-class Americans, who pay most of our taxes, have struggled greatly to just maintain their prior standard of living. Firstly, the wife went to work. Then, they each worked more and more hours. And then, they borrowed against the equity in their homes, often ending-up deeply under water. And now they are running-up more and more credit-card and student debt. It is no wonder that there is such resistance to any kind of tax increase, because for the great majority of taxpayers, it means a serious cut in their own personal standard of living. The kind of stuff being touted in the report of the Coalition for Detroit’s Children, is totally pie in the sky. Back in the late 60’s, the income of middle Americans was steadily climbing, so folks were complacent with increasing tax loads, because the tax load took away about one-fourth of these growing improvements. But those times are all gone, and it is irresponsible to lead folks to believe that there is financial relief right around the corner.. Yes, there is hope, but it mainly lies in the ability of parents and their extended families to face-up to the need to do things for themselves, and to ignore the empty promises of folks who are just seeking their votes for a sterling political career.