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 Article of Interest - School Improvement

Watkins: Taking School Infrastructure National
from MIRS, September 9, 2002
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State Superintendent Tom WATKINS is urging Gov. John ENGLER to use his influence as the immediate past president of the National Governors Association to call for a national school infrastructure bill to renovate and build new schools across America.

In a Sept. 4 letter, Watkins continued his lobbying for $15 billion in capital improvements he claims are needed in Michigan schools. Watkins brought up the poster child of crumbling schools, Hamtramck, where students hold band practice in the boiler room of a school built in 1930. School buildings leak vertically and horizontally, have lead pipes, asbestos, are heated by coal and do not meet current fire marshal standards, he wrote.

“It would be unacceptable for your three daughters or my two children to attend the unsafe, unfit, ill-equipped schools that too many of our children are forced to attend,” Watkins wrote. “The gap between the have and have-nots is as wide as it is inexcusable and unacceptable.”

Watkins pointed out that the $1 billion sewer bond proposal made the November ballot, but a similar $1 billion bond proposal for school infrastructure stalled in the House. This forced Watkins' question, “Do we value sewers more than our children?”

Governor spokesman Matt RESCH said Watkins was wise to send a copy of the letter to each member of Michigan's Congressional delegation since they are in a position to introduce legislation. On the local front, Resch pointed out that Proposal A, which Engler actively supported in 1994, calls for a school bond loan program that 450 of the state's 560 school districts have already taken advantage of. Since 1994, this program has nearly tripled in size from $4 billion to $11 billion.

Yes, schools like Hamtramck and other school districts do face special challenges, but so has Detroit Public Schools. Despite those challenges, the financial manager has seen through the construction of several schools in that district, Resch said.

“I'm not saying there aren't challenges, but Proposal A did allow for infrastructure increases,” he said. “And the school bond loan program is available.”

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