"I think we've got a good
crop of people," Watkins said of the candidates vying for the top seat
in the state. But that's as far as he would go to endorse a candidate.
Watkins does hope that whoever eventually wins the majority vote of
the people will work with the Dept. of Education to make public
education a top priority.
"Everything we do
should be about helping teachers teach and helping students learn,"
the state school chief continued. "I want to find a way to lift our
kids up. Let's try to find a way to make it happen."
In regards to the
transition program workshop, which strives to plan and develop around
the students' needs, Watkins explained how important it is to examine
earlier on children with disabilities and special needs. He was making
his stop in Gaylord to get directly involved in the process.
"That is absolutely
critical," said Watkins of the initiative to make certain children are
prepared for life after public school programs.
Following with the
most recent accreditation standards set forth by the state, every
student leaving school should have a plan for life beyond the school
walls. Watkins strongly feels that should be no different for children
involved in special education.
According to Watkins,
transition teams are working to break down barriers and integrate
services that presently exist to do just that. State agencies are
working together for the best possible end result and listening to
input from parents, teachers, people with disabilities and school
administrators to pull ideas together.
Watkins is committed
to making sure special education students don't leave the public
school system and go nowhere in life. He wants to see jobs created so
everyone can become a productive member of society, contributing to
the greater good and creating a better life for all parties involved.
Watkins sees as his goal to work with other agencies to "wrap our arms
around the child in need."
Of course, Watkins
was quick to acknowledge that all of the programs and plans take
funding. And, in Watkins' opinion, special education is "the
granddaddy of unfunded mandates."
Watkins is adamant
that the 40 percent funding laid out at the time the federal
government made mandatory special education needs to come through to
the state level. Instead, Michigan receives only 12 to 14 percent
funding from the federal government - not enough to run the programs
as it should. "It's up to us as responsible adults to find ways to do
it," he explained of what he believes to be more important than ever.
On the general side
of educational funding in Michigan, Watkins is certain districts will
see a jump in the state per pupil funding from $6,500 to $6,700
because of tax increases on tobacco and the lottery on Sunday. He
emphasized, however, that all of the money is absorbed into the system
with personnel salary increases and other expenses which are
constantly on the rise. "People are having to tighten their belts," he
Watkins knows that
Proposal A needs to be tweaked in several respects by taking a close
look at creative and innovative solutions. He said that one district
in the Upper Peninsula is looking at a four-day school week to cut
costs. Additionally, he sees ways to improve the situation with more
effective cost reductions and a closer look at the infrastructure of
districts struggling to keep up with technology and facilities.
As Supt. of Public
Instruction for the past year and a half, Watkins' goal has been to
make Michigan the best in the nation in public education, he said. He
sees the future in the state's school children and believes public
education to be the greatest possible investment the state can make.
To meet that goal,
Watkins encourages anyone interested to offer their comments and
suggestions on the Dept. of Education Web site at