Dr. Harwood's Blog

  • Technology Bond Video

    Posted by Mary Kilimas at 2/13/2014
    The district has worked diligently to present factual information in a variety of formats throughout our community. Please watch this short video with highlights of key facts, and explore the printed materials posted on our website.
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  • Robbing the School Aid Fund - Here we go again?

    Posted by Thomas Harwood at 5/8/2013 2:00:00 PM
    During the lame duck session in both the House and the Senate in December, 2012, the public education community was concerned regarding several proposed bills presented, agreed to, and signed into law. The voices of many parents, community members, and educators were echoing through the halls and chambers of our elected officials.  As a result, we did see some positive reconsideration and/or removal of some of the proposed bills. 
     
    At this time, both the Senate and House Appropriations committees are establishing and putting forth their proposals in regard to the budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.  There are a few items in regard to these proposals that we should be closely observing and responding to our legislators as a result of their potential impact on our Grosse Pointe Public School System and other districts throughout the State of Michigan.
     
    As a quick overview, the School Aid Fund (SAF) collects approximately $12 billion dollars of revenue from several sources to cover the cost of K-12 education.  The way the SAF generates this revenue source was defined through the voter approval of Proposal A in 1994.  The three (3) primary sources of revenue for the SAF is the 6 mill homestead tax revenue from each local community across the state, the Income Tax revenue, and the Sales and Use Tax revenue.  As the economy has suffered, the taxable values of homes, the number of jobs generating income tax, and the major purchases generating sales and use tax has gone down.  Therefore, the SAF has been impacted by very little additional revenues per the loss of these revenue streams. 
     
    In addition to these lost revenues for the SAF, the General Appropriations Fund (GF) has also observed a decrease in revenue.  To address some of this shortfall in the GF, a shift of dollars and expenses were moved from the School Aid Fund to the General Fund (GF).  In the past, both Higher Education and Community Colleges were funded from the General Fund (GF).  Over the past couple of years, the School Aid Fund (SAF) has taken on this additional expenditure without any additional revenue stream.  The impact on local school districts is flat to no increase in funding for K-12 education.
     
    In order to not get too far in the world of school budgets, the Grosse Pointe School System has experienced dramatic changes in their revenues from the state.  For our school system, the state of Michigan revenues for K-12 education represents approximately 70% of our total revenues.  Our total revenues in the 2008-2009 school year was approximately $105 million for serving 8,600+ students.  In the current school year of 2012-2013, our total revenues from the state were approximately $96 million for serving 8,400+ students. 
     
    Over this period of time, we have observed a loss of over $655/per pupil or approximately $9 million per year.   We have 14 school buildings in our district.  If we divide the total loss of 200 students across the 14 buildings, it would equate to a loss of 14 students per building.  At the elementary level with 6 grade levels, that may represent only a loss of 2-3 students per grade level.  For middle school with 3 grade levels, it would equate to a loss of only 4-5 students per each grade.  And at the high school level with 4 grade levels, it would equate to a loss of only 3-4 students per grade level. Therefore, it would not impact our largest expense of teacher staffing.  However, as our program cost would remain the same over this period of time, we were continuing to lose revenue from the state as a result of their approved funding budget associated with the School Aid Fund (SAF).
     
    Now, the TREND CONTINUES......
     
    The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported out House Bills 4571 and 4572 on a party line vote.  This committee is attempting to develop an established fund to fix the roads and road construction in Michigan.  Their plan relies on cutting the School Aid Fund approximately $800 million each year or approximately an additional $500 per pupil across the state.  Their first step in these two bills involves specifically dealing with aviation fuel used by private corporate jets and major airlines.  This first step and removal of use and sales tax from the SAF would result in a loss of approximately $55-$85 million per year (the authors of the bill cannot come up with an exact number).  These aviation bills are viewed as a test vote for the gas and diesel portion of their package which will cut an additional $750 million per year from the School Aid Fund (SAF).  In the proposal of this shift and removal of revenues from the SAF, there is no indication of how they plan to replace these dollars in the School Aid Fund (SAF). 
     
    The two bills - HBs 4571-4572 - are now on the House floor and they can be acted upon at anytime. 
     
    On our website at gpschools.org, you can add your name and email address to CAPWIZ and our GP Legislative Action Network and receive up to date information on legislative proposals and on how to respond to your legislators.  
     
    I promise that my next blog on Wednesday will capture the many successes we see in our students and staff throughout the Grosse Pointe Public School System.   
     
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  • Understanding the Impact of Politics and Proposed Legislation in Our GP Schools Community

    Posted by Thomas Harwood at 12/4/2012 6:00:00 PM
    In response to all of the discussions that have occurred recently about the proposed school reform bills in both the State House and Senate, I received a very thoughtful message from a parent in the Grosse Pointe Public School System.  As with most parents who send their child off each and every day to their neighborhood school in our school community, he wanted to know how these proposed school reform packaged bills would have any impact on his daughter's education in our school district.  It's a simple question that can get lost amongst the verbal battles of justification of one's own position and we can often lose the focus of what truly matters in this greatest of debates.  This parent wrote:
     
    As a parent with a child in one of your fine elementary schools, the problem that I am having now is maneuvering through the abstractions and political posturing to see the bottom line.  The bottom line for me is how the proposed legislation will adversely affect my daughter’s education.
    I can see why superintendents in districts where parents are less satisfied with their childrens’ education would be concerned about the proposed changes in the law.  But, please share with me – and other concerned GP parents – what specific changes you would anticipate for Grosse Pointe in the event that this legislation passes.  Perhaps your next blog entry can help cut through the rhetoric to show us clearly what this might mean for our kids.
     
    So, in this blog, I wanted to share with you my response to him and the many other parents of students in our community.  Here is my response:
     
     

    To be frank, these bills are about “cherry picking” students and setting the stage for vouchers that will remove a community of students away from the public schools for the purpose of profit off of the least expensive students to educate.  As Dr. Markavitch said yesterday (at Rochester High School), we should be about establishing policies that are about “students that are learning, not about students that represent earnings.” 

    Fundamentally, what this would mean for a family with a child in the Grosse Pointe Schools is a complete disruption in the foundation of programs and services that the district has come to enjoy for their children and have come to expect and deserve for their children.  We may find that with the distribution of funds to an unlimited number of charter and cyber schools throughout the state, the amount of funds to continue to support educational programs in Grosse Pointe will become less and less.  Since 2008, we have watched our per pupil funding be eroded by $655/per student.  With over 8,000 students in our district, we are receiving over $5 million less in state funding while the number of charter schools (many that are unproven and not successful) have increased.  As our numbers may decrease in the district, we may need to start considering closing schools.  This is detrimental for our community where we take pride in the fact that our students can walk to their neighborhood school.  Instead, the EAA may come in and use the tax funded building in GP that has now closed and use it (without funding to the GPPSS and without cost to the EAA) for the purpose of expanding their authority in a statewide school district and expand it to one of these specialized charter schools as proposed in SB 5923.  
    Our students could now walk past their old school and watch students from another community now utilize the local GP tax funded building for their own purpose. 

    There are concerns regarding the rigor with the cyber schools of K12, Inc. and Connections and attempts by GP resident students to use these classes for credit in our school system.  It decreases the pride, value, and commitment of a HS diploma from the GPPSS.  For your daughter, each school year could be inconsistent in the district's ability to plan for staffing, class levels, class sizes, peer groups, programs, and length of school day/year.  The ability to plan for the upcoming year and throughout the school year would be in a constant evolving state of upheaval.  As parents would have the right to move in and out of the public schools per a proposed voucher and specialized program or school, the ability of the district to put together a foundation of programs and services would be continuously disrupted by these changes. 

    My concern is that these bills are experimenting with the core of the education of your child and the other children affected by these changes.  The proposals and bills by the legislators are not shown to be research-based nor do they have a proven success rate of student learning and growth. 

     

    Thank you….thank you for taking the time to listen and be invested in the greatest part of our democratic society – The Education of our Youth.

     
    I do believe that there is an agenda coming forth from state legislative representatives who are setting the stage through the introduction of packaged school reform bills that will serve to only further erode, divide, and segregate the democratic foundation of a locally controlled public education. In my response to the Grosse Pointe News, I wrote that the current HB6004/SB1358 may be the first of many legislative train cars driven by a Governor's agenda/engine where the caboose is nowhere in sight, it is driven by the profiteers of educational programming, and the tracks are laid with a foundation of hope and promise.

    I appreciate your commitment and your voice in support of our Grosse Pointe Public School System as we work collaboratively together to ensure that proper and sound legislative decisions are being made with students as the primary core value.     
     
     
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  • The Lessons Learned from a Child's Book

    Posted by Thomas Harwood at 12/4/2012
    Several years ago when my son was 6, we ended the evening with the usual ritual of reading a bedtime story to help ease the transition to sleep.  On many nights, my son would request that I read the book entitled, "The Lorax," by Dr. Seuss.  There was a simple message at the end of the book that rings true today more than ever during these trying  and difficult political and financial times.  The book ended with the following phrases:
     
    "...And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with one word... "UNLESS."
     
    Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn't guess.  That was long, long ago.
     
    But each day since that day I've sat here and worried and worried away.  Through the years, while my buildings have fallen apart, I've worried about it with all of my heart.
     
    "But now," says the Once-ler, "Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. 
     
    UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not.
     
    "SO... Catch!" calls the Once-ler.  He lets something fall.  "It's a Truffula Seed.  It's the last one of all!
     
    You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.  And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.  Plant a new Truffula.
     
    Treat it with care.  Give it clean water.  And feed it fresh air.  Grow a forest.  Protect it from axes that hack.
     
    Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back."  (Seuss, 1971)
    The Lorax.jpg
     
    As we work together to voice what is right and needed for all of our students in the state of Michigan and in the Grosse Pointe School System, we need to stay focused on growing the seeds of wonder, learning, and inspiration as seen through the eyes and the hopes of each and every one of our children. We must "Treat it with Care."  With these new proposed school reform bills, I don't believe we are there. 
     
    Dr. Thomas Harwood
    Superintendent of Schools
    Grosse Pointe Public School System 
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  • Proposed Lame Duck Legislation and Detrimental Effects to Public Education

    Posted by Thomas Harwood at 11/27/2012
    As a parent of a child currently in the Michigan public schools and as the superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, I am greatly concerned regarding the current proposed legislation from our elected legislators in Lansing that will have long term detrimental effects on the health and quality of our public education system in Michigan.  For some, this may be viewed as another attempt at "crying wolf" or a repeated attempt at assuming that the "sky is falling."  However, the proposed legislation in the lame duck legislative sessions in December and the new funding proposals from the Governor-appointed Oxford Foundation are the new realities of a statewide governmental control system of overriding the public good in regard to the education of our youth.  These realities are frightening when considering the fragmentation and dismantling of our local community public school system that will do more harm to quality educational programs in the Grosse Pointe School System.  Our schools have been identified and ranked throughout the state and the nation as great schools where students succeed and significantly grow. Our alumni have obtained life-long benefits from the educational opportunities and academic programs they received while in the Grosse Pointe Public School System.
     
    These unproven legislative proposals to reform education have been founded in public rhetoric without any documentation or guarantee for improvement or success.  This "legislative storm" will come into our community and the families and students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System will be directly impacted by the decisions of our state legislators.  Our opportunity to maintain local control over the depth and the quality of educational programs provided in our school  system will suffer the consequences of a "broad brush" approach in their attempt to cast all districts as failing to meet the needs of their students. The Governor's office and its designates have decided that they must duly take direct control over the funding and the programming for all students in the state of Michigan.
     
    As a professional colleague and educational advocate for quality public educational programs, Dr. Vickie Markavitch,Superintendent of Oakland Schools, provided a podcast that specifically addresses the current proposed legislative bills in both the House (HB 6004) and the Senate (SB1358).  In her podcast, she speaks to Michigan "embarking on a very radical experiment with our children - one that is untested and untried."  It is extremely important that you listen to her podcast at http://www.oakland.k12.mi.us (found at the bottom of their main web page).  These two bills that would give the Governor full authority to codify the legislative power for a new state-wide school authorization, known as the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The additional House bill, HB 5923, is intended to introduce into the Revised School Code an amendment that would allow the additions of several new forms of charter and online schools. These bills would:
     
    • Allow anyone to open schools here in Grosse Pointe, which could include corporations, special interest groups, or entities with no educational background.  There would be no elected School Board or local control, yet the funding for these schools would come from your tax dollars;

     

    • Allow these schools to pick and choose students - and turn away others based on gender, tests scores or any other factors they choose.  The schools would have no state or local oversight or accountability to ensure sudents learn the materials needed to be successful in college and beyond; and

     

    • Effectively destroy the concept of a school district.  A voucher-type system would replace the reason many have chosen the Grosse Pointe Public School System and have moved their families to live and work here because we are a phenomenal school system that provides an extensive, sound, and exemplary program of services to our children in this community.  Consequently, property values could plummet  because living in a particular school district would have very little meaning.

    In a separate blog, I will individually present information related to HB6004/SB1358, HB 5923, and the Oxford Foundation writen proposal (http://www.oxfordfoundationmi.com ).

     

    As a community, we need to come together to effectively address this "legislative storm" that is in direct conflict with the value we place on education for all of our children and in conflict with our ability to sustain local control over the quality and comprehensive programs we provide so our students can excel in all areas of available programs. 

    As parents, students, extended family members, and community members, the Grosse Pointe School System and all public schools in the state of Michigan need your help and your voice.  As Dr. Markavitch indicated in her podcast, we are asking for "A Million Michigan voices for Public Education."  Here are the first steps of what I need you to do:


    1.   Listen to the podcast from Dr. Markavitch, Superintendent of Oakland Schools at http://www.oakland.k12.mi.us ;

    2.   Join our Grosse Pointe Legislative Action Network by going to our website (http://www.gpschools.org ) and subscribe to the GP LAN by providing your name and email address;

    3.   Sign up for Capwiz which is a service that will keep you informed about potential action in Lansing.  It will give you the ability to contact your legislators with the click of a button to make your voice heard on the critical issues.  You can sign up by going to:
     http://www.capwiz.com/tca4edu/mlm/signup/?ignore_cookie=1
     

    4.   Consider attending some very important meetings being held in Oakland County on the following dates and locations:

             Monday, December 3rd, 4:00 p.m., Rochester High School Auditorium, 180 S. Livernois in Rochester Hills, MI

             Monday, December 3rd, 6:30 p.m., Rochester High School Auditorium, 180 S. Livernois in Rochester Hills, MI

             Tuesday, December 4th, 4:00 p.m., Clarkston Jr. High School, 6595 Waldon Road in Clarkston, MI

             Tuesday, December 4th, 6:30 p.m., Clarkston Jr. High School, 6595 Waldon Road in Clarkston, MI

    I understand that this can be a very busy time of the school year.  As we look at this period of legislative lame duck in December, there is an attempt to set the foundation and stage for educational reform with little to no input from the public where this will dramatically change public education in Michigan.  Please know, as educators and instructional leaders, we are not opposed to necessary reforms in education that will have a proven and beneficial outcome for our students.  However, these bills are not intended to show improvement or success in our Grosse Pointe Public School System.  They will effectively destroy the long standing traditions of academic excellence. This community has worked extremely hard to build and sustain an educational program of quality and excellence for the many generations of students who have come to our schools to receive the education that they want and deserve.  

    I appreciate your taking the time to read and review this blog at this very critical time.   

    Dr. Thomas Harwood

    Superintendent of Schools

    Grosse Pointe Public School System

     

     
     
     
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