Speer: Education needs Lansing’s help — now

Back to the Future.

More specifically, back to the year 2003.

So it was for Alpena Public Schools’ administrators this week who agreed to 10 percent wage cuts in an effort to trim district expenses. The agreement by administrators followed a similar move by Superintendent Brent Holcomb in March and sets the tone for negotiations with all APS bargaining units moving forward.

With the reduction, it places their salaries at levels last seen in 2003.

While I understand the reasoning and respect those who made this sacrifice, it disturbs me that our community, state and country are coming to this.

There are two separate, but frustrating components to this news.

First, the sacrifice is similar to what many people, in all professions, have experienced in recent years. Many have gone without any wage increase. Many, like APS administrators, have sacrificed wages, benefits, or both. Most have been burdened with skyrocketing costs associated with health care. Most, have experienced job reductions at their places of employment so that if they are lucky enough to have a job, along with that job they now have an extra work load or responsibilities.

It’s a sad reality that our economy has suffered to the extent that it has, impacting all of us. Still, with news like that out of APS, it is a sobering reminder that while supposedly the economy is recovering, we’re still not out of the woods yet.

Secondly, we’re reminded that as a priority, education seems to have taken a step backward in Michigan. Let me quickly point out I am not equating the quality of education in our state to an administrator’s salary level. However, all this financial disruption to school reimbursement from Lansing has created local financial hardships in many districts, especially rural ones like those in Northeast Michigan.

As districts struggle to meet budgets, they have needed to turn to places where they have the most expenses – employee wages and benefits. If you need to make major adjustments to balance a budget, this is really the only place you have to find the kind of adjustments most budgets require.

I’m growing tired of this educational financial dilemma in Michigan, and think it’s about time our legislators and governor in Lansing begin addressing it.

It’s wrong when we start treating the people we entrust our children and grandchildren’s education with like this. Yes, they have been well compensated in the past – probably disproportionately in many cases to the rest of the population. But that was the past. No one would say that is the case today, as evidence by this week’s news.

As a point of full disclosure, I need to share with readers both my father and father-in-law were teachers in Pennsylvania, and my daughter-in-law is a teacher today in Michigan.

I have a healthy respect for our educators and believe they should be compensated fairly. I don’t believe they should be treated as royalty, but neither should they be treated as paupers.

Today, our system is failing our educational administrators, educators, support staff, community taxpayers and students. The educational reimbursement system in Michigan no longer works and needs changed to more fairly address urban districts versus rural districts, wealthy property tax districts versus those not so fortunate.

If we truly value education and believe it is the key that unlocks a more prosperous future, we need to treat it as a priority, not a forgotten step-child.

Most of us financially are less secure today than we were 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that any of us are happy to see what is happening at APS.

Real education reform needs to take place today, not tomorrow, in Lansing.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.