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School Funding Cuts Put Education At Risk

The Arab Amercan News, News Report, Khalil AlHajal Posted: Nov 18, 2009

DEARBORN, Mich. - Hundreds of parents, students and educators from districts throughout the state rallied in Lansing on Tuesday, demanding that legislators restore funding to school districts facing debilitating cuts following the state budget crisis.

About 150 of the protesters were from Dearborn, one of the worst-hit districts in the state. They demonstrated on the Capitol steps, carrying signs and chanting "do your job," according to Dearborn PTSA Council President Colette Dunsmore.

"It was very lively. They knew we were there," Dunsmore said. "We're going to do what we can, because it's just not right."

On Monday, the Dearborn School Board, in front of an angry crowd of about 200, was forced to pass measures cutting nearly 300 jobs, many of them teaching positions, in order to balance a dramatically tighter budget.

The job cuts are to take effect Dec. 1 and Feb. 1, but can be reversed if funds are restored by the legislature, said Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston.

State school funding was slashed in several waves, beginning with a $165 per student cut enacted by the legislature in the budget bill signed last month. Then Gov. Jennifer Granholm ordered an additional $127 per pupil cut because of lower School Aid Fund revenues. Granholm then vetoed line items setting aside $52 million for 39 better-funded school districts, including Dearborn, and another $1.5 million earmarked for at-risk students, in order to balance the budget against lower updated revenue estimates.

"All together it's about $655 per kid," Whiston told The Detroit News. "It's devastating for the people who are laid off, because they're going to lose their jobs and benefits, and it's also devastating to the classroom."

Dunsmore said parents are worried about having much larger class sizes as a result of cuts in teaching staff. She said having classrooms filled with 40 kids could dramatically affect students' learning experience.

"They're going to be larger," she said. "The kids are going to suffer because that's just not a learning environment."

She said many protesters Tuesday went looking for their representatives in the Capitol building, and that Dearborn Rep. Gino Polidori and Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman came out to speak to the crowd.

Polidori and Clark-Coleman told protesters they were trying their best to get new revenue-raising bills passed.

Senate Republicans don't want to raise taxes, while Democrats insist that generating new revenue is the only way to save the school funding while having a completely balanced and up-to-date budget.

Parents said finger pointing on both sides is putting kids at risk, and hope continued pressure can prompt legislators to come up with a solution.

"They keep doing this to us every year," said Dunsmore about continuous cuts.

She said concerned parents and school figures hope to encourage more people to send emails and make phone calls to legislators demanding a restoration of school funding.

A large group of students from Fordson High School plan to demonstrate at the Capitol on Dec. 2.

Photo, Colette Dunsmore

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