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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoSchool Politics: Granholm Needs to Explain Why Watkins Should Go
Detroit Free Press, January 21, 2005
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Gov. Jennifer Granholm needs to be more specific about the problems she has with state Schools Superintendent Tom Watkins that have made her so anxious to show him the door.
By law, the governor can't actually ax Watkins. But she can certainly influence the decision of the eight-member, elected state Board of Education, which hires and fires the superintendent. The board is now split 4-4 between Democrats and Republicans, and about whether to keep Watkins, although the latter issue crosses party lines. The situation is unusual, given the rosy evaluation he received from the board just six months ago.

The whole thing appears more political than philosophical, and the few, vague reasons Granholm has advanced for wanting Watkins to quit only make her motives appear more questionable.

"He needs to resign for the good of the state board," Granholm has said, "for the good of state education."

For those same reasons, Granholm should be more specific about where Watkins has failed. If he's not measuring up to certain policies, name them. Give the board something on which to hang a decision. That shouldn't be hard, because the governor says she has been unhappy with Watkins for more than a year.

To be sure, Watkins is something of a maverick. He doesn't mind saying the politically unpopular thing and standing alone in his candor, if that means getting state residents to think smarter and more deeply about public education. Few other state leaders have been as willing to suggest that Michigan consider whether it can carry the financial burden of 750 public school districts and charter schools. Some form of consolidation, Watkins has argued, may be the state's best means of keeping districts out of debt long enough to focus on educating children.

Unless Granholm is ready to make a better case, Watkins should be spared. His voice may be annoying her, but it could be a valuable one as the state wrestles with the future of public education and how to pay for it. At the moment, what should be a great debate involving the governor looks more like a power play.


Commentary: Any Blame Game Will Likely Delay School Solutions
Detroit Free Press, January 25, 2005

The latest crisis report from Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley shows why city taxpayers, those with kids and without, must take more than a spectator's stance in the fight to rescue the district.

Even the word "crisis" begins to seem too small to capture properly the district's disastrous state. This may well be Detroit's Titanic, given new estimates that show another 40,000 students jumping ship by September 2008. Along with that student exodus is the projection that 3,400 jobs will vanish and only 142 of the district's 250 schools will be open for business.

Blaming Burnley for being too slow and too academically focused to admit how dire the situation had grown sooner does not change the truth: This ship either shrinks or it sinks.

The city and its school are conjoined. Just as the city is slowly embracing radical downsizing, the district must go even further. It can no longer run from such possibilities as creating a series of smaller districts. And as much as Detroiters have been coaxed into viewing charter schools as evil, there are ways the district could use chartering to its gain. Neither hard-working Detroiters nor the state can continue to support blindly a district with no eye toward a solvent future.

Burnley insists he is focused solely on the future and is capable of doing the dirty work if his contract is extended for another year. There are reasons to debate his obvious leadership blunders. (That would, of course, be easier if he'd submit to a public interview to keep his job.)

None move the ball, though. They don't erase the $200-million deficit, the need to cut another $380 million over the next four years, or thousands of students and families who've bailed on the schools and the city.

The point is, this crisis is bigger than Burnley. Absent committed broad-thinking involvement from all city stakeholders, the crisis will linger long after he has packed up his briefcase.

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