Northview Public Schools Superintendent Mike Paskewicz holds up one of several thick files filled with communication to legislators

Helping Legislators Understand Impact of Cuts

Declining Enrollment and Lack of Investment Has Hurt

by Erin Albanese  

At 5:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Northview Public Schools Superintendent Mike Paskewicz presses “send” on his latest e-mail to inform 800 people of “Everyday Evidence” that good things are going on in the district.

The e-mails, which have included fun facts about Northview’s successes, student accomplishments and alumni news, are sent to an audience of Gov. Rick Snyder, several Michigan legislators, staff and parents.

It’s one of many ways Paskewicz is lobbying and rallying for public schools and working to curb the belief, and often repeated at a government level, that they are failing. Since August, he has sent 130 pieces of good-news evidence, anecdotes he also blogs about, tweets, and occasionally posts on Facebook.

“What’s happening is we have this rippling effect. I’m starting to get notes back from people as far away as Iowa who are picking up on it,” he said. “The beauty of it is people send it on to their circles.”

A major part of being a champion for public schools these days is combating legislation that has negative repercussions for schools. Paskewicz has five thick files filled with communication sent to legislators concerning many facets of education. They all advocate for public schools in a climate that has branded them as failing, he said.

Of 92 legislative bills passed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 11, 2012, Paskewicz believes just six positively impact Michigan’s public schools.

Adding lobbying to the task list

So Paskewiczs district leaders e-mail, call, have conversations with aides of prospective legislators, and even testify in Lansing. It has become a huge part of superintendents and board of education members’ jobs to serve as lobbyists, and it’s a tough battle, said Brian Ellis, vice president of East Grand Rapids Public Schools’ board.

“The biggest things we are working on are legislative efforts,” said Brian Ellis, who has served on the board for 14 years. “We are constantly working with Lansing as they constantly run us over,” he said.

Ellis said the amount of time spent on legislative issues was unheard of when he started on the board. But, as the district faces a $1.5 million deficit in its 2013-2014 budget, after several years of steady cuts, that level of intensity is necessary, he said. It’s getting harder and harder to maintain programs like art and music.

De-funding public education?

“A plan to de-fund public education seems to be going on,” he said.  “Our successes have been minimal. But we are not going to sit idly by. We are going to fight to the bitter end.”

For much of the past decade, districts have had to work with declining financial resources. During the worst of the recession, funding cuts from the state were compounded by declining enrollment. Many schools cut costs through layoffs, outsourcing services, program cuts, early-retirement incentives, health insurance changes, building closures, and collaborative efforts.

While the state continues to add more and more requirements to prove competency, they still aren’t making the investment needed, Ellis said. For the 2013-2014 K-12 school aid budget, Gov. Snyder proposed a 2 percent increase to per-pupil funding. But the districts are seeing another reality, Paskewicz explained in a community letter.

“Under the governor’s budget proposal, Northview Public Schools will actually have $2 less per student next school year than we have this school year. Currently, we are receiving a base funding of $6,966 per student plus $52 per student because we met the identified ‘best practices’ outlined by the governor last year. Next, year, we will have an increase of $34 to our base funding (stated as ‘one-time’ equity funding) bringing the total to $7,000 per student. However, we will receive $36 less in best practices revenue even though we continue to implement the best practices,” Paskewicz wrote.

Kent City Community Schools Mike Weiler, who formerly served as superintendent for Sparta Public Schools from 1987 to 1999 and Kent ISD from 2001 to 2007, said administrators have always lobbied to an extent, but legislator term limits changed the landscape for educators and board members who wanted to maintain solid long-term relationships with legislators. Partisanship plays a major role in how they vote on issues, and there is a definite learning curve when it comes to understanding issues in education, he said.

Revisit Proposal A?

“It’s frustrating,” he said. He believes Proposal A, which put the state in charge of deciding how the allocation for schools would be funded,needs to be revisited. While it had a good run, he said, schools are now receiving per-pupil funding at 2007 levels while districts have made millions of dollars in budget reductions.

A recent analysis of reports filed with the state found Kent City eliminated 10 positions from 2009-2012.  Countywide, Kent ISD and its 20 member districts eliminated 680 positions during that three-year-period as a result of reduced revenue from Lansing.

“We need to have a 20th-century version of proposal A,” Weiler said.

Former Sen. Robert Emerson, budget director for former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, served as a state representative for Genessee County when Proposal A passed. He was on a team of legislators who framed the proposal.

“Before 1994, the majority of funding that schools got was really dictated by the amount of millage they levied. Board of education members and school leaders spent most of the time working with the community to make sure their funding was stable,” Emerson said. “When Proposal A passed, the vast majority of funding for schools came from the state. When 90 percent of funding comes from the state, than everybody’s effort has to go to the legislators.”

He said revenues earmarked for the School Aid Fund have not come in as strong as legislator assumed they would 20 years ago. “I think it’s probably time for people to take a better look at it and see if it’s still meeting the needs of schools today,” Emerson said.

Sharing success

Meanwhile, Paskewicz will continue his early morning emails, which other area superintendents have begun to emulate.  Kelloggsville Superintendent Greg Warsen modeled his efforts, Rocket News, after Paskewicz’s Everyday Evidence to share the good things happening in Kelloggsville.

“For a long time schools have gone about educating kids, but what we haven’t done a good job of is sharing our successes with a broader audience,” Warsen said. Broadening that audience is vital for another reason. It’s not just the educators that need to voice their concerns.

“Parents are the most effective lobbyists for public schools,” Weiler said.

From Mike Paskewicz - Every Day Evidence #38 for April 12, 2013

Dear, Representatives MacGregor, Lyons, Hooker, Yonker, Dillon, Brinks, and VerHeulen, Governor Snyder, and Senator Jansen,

What are Northview Students Learning?  While we have mounds of quantitative data, monitoring reports posted on our web page (www.nvps.net, click on Board, click on monitoring reports), and data on the walls of our Board Room, it sometimes needs to be stated by a staff member to make it clear to you that public education is working.  Today's EDE is written by a the Director of our Deaf/Hard of Hearing Program.  It illustrates the Continuous Quality Improvement measures being taken by our interpreters.

Fun Fact:  Northview is accredited by AdvancEd.  Each year we survey parents and students to ask for feedback on our performance as a school district.  A five (5) point Likert Scale is used with 5 being the highest score.  AdvancEd states that any thing above a 2.0 is meeting the standard.  Our bench mark is 3.0 to meet the standard.

* Students responding to a survey indicate indicate in my school there are a variety of resources available to help me succeed - 4.01 out of a possible 5.0.

 We have some questions for your consideration:

Are your legislative actions strengthening the three legs of the achievement stool - family, student, staff - or are they weakening the stool?

  • Does House Bill 4227 Draft 1, result in more per-pupil revenue for K-12 than last year? 
  • Are you aware that the examples of evidence from Northview are also found in the schools across West Michigan? Visit any time, no appointment necessary.
  • Do you know  a high school drama student?  Have you been to a high school production in the past year? Do you understand that constant reductions to K-12 put activities like this at risk? 

Improvements in public schools happen when the local community gives permission. Permission is granted when local communities trust their school district. Trust between our community and our schools is one reason why public schools work.

Sincerely,

Mike Paskewicz,
Superintendent Northview Public Schools

Submitted on: May 9th 2013

Spread the word!