Tomorrow, Washtenaw County is holding a vote for a millage that could change students’ lives. Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently initiated a series of devastating retroactive cuts to public education throughout the state. With your support — a yes vote — the millage will ensure that quality K-12 public education will carry on while our state legislature reorganizes itself in the 21st century. This money will help cover a portion of promised funds to Washtenaw County’s schools — promised funds they are no longer getting due to severe shortfalls. The governor already cut $297 per pupil this year, with projected cuts of another $600 per pupil next year. This does not include an additional line item cut that affects Ann Arbor Public Schools directly.
I am in the unique position of seeing Washtenaw County education from multiple angles. I had many opportunities in music and sports during my K-12 Ann Arbor Public School days. I attended the University of Michigan, where I pursued a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in the sciences and education. My wife and I call Ann Arbor home: I teach biology at the high school level in Saline and have young children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. It worries me that my children won’t have the same educational opportunities I did if the millage doesn’t pass.
There are many opponents to the Washtenaw County Enhancement Millage who argue that the “system is broken” and “irresponsible spending” on the part of local schools is to blame. They will argue that a yes vote is a vote for the millage – nothing short, in their eyes, of a bailout for a failed system.
I agree the system failed. However, the irresponsibility doesn’t lie with local districts — it lies with a deeply flawed state tax structure that was once intended to support Michigan’s public schools but has had problems since 1994. Approving this millage will enable us to continue to provide a quality education for our students while allowing them to participate in elective classes like technology, the arts, sports and career exploration.
In tough times, investments for the future provide the greatest dividends. This is as true for our schools as it is for our property values. Historically, families move to the villages, towns and cities of Washtenaw County because of the excellent schools. The commitment of the students, school employees, parents and community is an incredible formula that works for all parties involved. The reputation of excellence made our communities desirable places to live and put our real estate in high demand. Changing this formula and underfunding our schools puts our children, school employees, communities and home values at risk.
One generation of students should not be penalized with massive teacher layoffs, large class sizes and the elimination of curricula while adults fix the system. A basic comparison comes into play here with green energy. It takes time to fix our global dependence on fossil fuels. For example, a household transitioning to green energy here in Ann Arbor still needs heat and hot water. Likewise, as Lansing finds itself a new tax structure, we as a county still need to educate our local students with integrity.
In other words, we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The state as a whole is in crisis, but is it the right choice to cripple local public education?
Voting yes on the Washtenaw County Enhancement Millage is essential. It will not only maintain integrity in continued quality instruction but will also keep and generate jobs in the greater Ann Arbor area. I chose to stay local and give back to the community that served me growing up. As a University alum, I ask for your support tomorrow.
Drew Denzin is a University alum.