Washtenaw schools millage fails; now what?

Constant readers may have notices a paucity of postings here over the last few months, despite considerable action on the school funding front. Our apologies – AAPFS had dived head first into the campaign for the Washtenaw Schools Millage, and much of what might otherwise have appeared here was used in the campaign.

Ultimately, that campaign was not successful. We are convinced this was not because the schools did not need the financial support, or because the citizens of the region truly want to dismantle their schools. But misinformation was flying fast and furious, aided along by a truly huge commitment from a local commercial landlord that bankrolled the principal opposition campaign with at least $100,000 of their corporate funds.

In the end, we believe, the defeat of the schools millage was the result of a failure to re-frame. Proponents’ arguments about the sacrifices already made by schools and the dangers ahead were no match for the “conventional wisdom” that schools had cut nothing, had plenty of fat left, and were staffed by overpaid teachers and administrators. This view of our schools, a kind of mental “frame,” has been assiduously promoted and cultivated by political activists who believe all government is bad, including schools. Cutting school funding, far from injuring the heart of our community, has come to be seen as “starving the beast.” This process has taken years, and it cannot be reversed in a matter of months.

We must start now.

The millage may have failed, but our schools still represent our best hope for recovery in the present and prosperity in the future. Good schools bring people and jobs to our region. Good schools enhance property values. And most important, good schools prepare our children for the dramatically different realities of the 21st century world and economy.

Good schools are the engine of economic growth for our community and our state. They are part of the common infrastructure that our businesses and communities rely on to maintain prosperity. This view, this “frame,” must be the focus of our efforts. We cannot make any sensible decisions about funding our schools until we get past this implanted nightmare of “the beast” and start seeing public education as what it is: a community coming together to invest in its future.