MEA Rips Watkins
In January 5 Letter
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Education Association (MEA) executive director Chuck Anderson
ripped into state Superintendent Tom Watkins in a Jan. 5 e-mail
about the much talked-about Dec. 14 Board of Education
presentation in which rising pension costs and health care were
cited as a major contributor to the alleged K-12 school funding
Anderson scolded Watkins for commenting that labor, pension and
health care costs for educators are "competing" with costs to
educate children, saying it "is a misguided and flawed premise."
Rather, Anderson said in the e-mail obtained by MIRS that the
state Superintendent should be joining others within the
education community in arguing that K-12 and higher education
funding has been cut $2 billion and that the answer is more
money, not more cuts.
"If the (State Board of Education) wants to undertake such a
review, do so, but not at the expense of doing what is right to
increase funding to appropriate levels," Anderson wrote. "The
need for doing this is immediate and urgent."
The e-mail was written five days before MIRS broke the news that
the Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM administration was pressuring Watkins
from office and six days before the governor pinned Watkins with
the dreaded "valued member of my cabinet" designation. Through a
spokeswoman this evening, Anderson noted that he wrote the
e-mail at Watkins' request. Watkins apparently wanted the MEA's
perspective on the presentation by the Citizens Research
The administration has repeatedly denied any connection between
Watkins' stance "on the education funding crisis" and his
falling from grace. On Jan. 19, Granholm Press Secretary Liz
BOYD outlined the reasons the governor had lost confidence in
A "hands-on manager" was needed to improve education. He wasn't
able to turn ideas into realities. He wasn't proactive in
addressing the performance failures of underperforming schools,
didn't develop a strategic plan to address the situation and
dropped the ball on using technology to assist middle schools,
However, the timing of the e-mail adds fuel to the belief that
Watkins may not have been a team player when it comes to
marching to the "more money for schools" drumbeat and this view
drove Granholm to turn up the heat.
Granholm said she'd asked Watkins to leave back in May, which
he's all but denied. Watkins noted he received an A- from the
Board of Education in his review last month and hadn't heard one
word of these concerns, even though he and Granholm have talked
nearly weekly about education issues.
Rather, a common theory being extended throughout the Capitol is
that Watkins is being pressured to leave because he wasn't
playing ball with a governor who reportedly wants to raise the
per-pupil foundation grant and her ground-floor supporters at
the MEA who are threatening to push a constitutional amendment
that would automatically give education annual inflationary
"Your duty as the state Superintendent is to be a steward and
advocate for addressing the critical school funding need in this
state with immediate action steps requested and expected,"
Anderson wrote. "During the last three years, K-12 and higher
education have had approximately $2 billion cut from school
budgets. This situation must be addressed immediately or huge
and irreversible damage will be done to the teaching and
learning process and our ability to compete in the world markets
with a qualified workforce."
Anderson said compensation and benefit costs for educators are
vital and integral, not competing, components of the teaching
and learning process.
"Certainly we need to find ways to make these valuable benefits
more affordable, but Michigan educators have worked for decades
to establish high-quality and competitive salaries, benefits and
working conditions and they must not be reduced or we will lose
the ability to attract and retain educators in the future."
During the Dec. 14 presentation, a suggestion was made that
costs could be cut in the state's school systems by cutting down
the number of school districts and intermediate school
districts. Anderson said traveling down that road misses the
point. Clearly, the state has a revenue problem, not a spending
"Even if we were able to consolidate districts, organize
administrative functions under ISDs, etc., the impact on costs
would be marginal and clearly long-term," he wrote.
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