PTO Council launches advocacy effort to educate on school funding

Looking ahead
What: PTO Council Advocacy Committee
Where: Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St., Ann Arbor
When: Tuesday, March 23 from 9-10:30 a.m.
Who: Any parent or employee of The Ann Arbor Public Schools who wants to get involved with a movement for better school funding in Lansing.
Why: To organize and educate others about the problems with the current school funding model.

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From AAPSNews Service

A core group of Ann Arbor Public Schools parents is banding together to advocate and create a voice for change in state funding for public schools.

The PTO Council Advocacy Committee hosted its first organization meeting this month. About eight interested members met to plan an approach to better educate state elected officials as well as parents and community and business leaders about the school funding problem.

Amy Pachera, right, a member of the PTO Council Advisory Committee, makes a point during the group's first meeting. The next meeting will be Tuesday, March 23 at 9 a.m. at the Balas Administration Building.

Part of the group’s approach will include researching other school districts and teaming up with parent groups in other Michigan communities to advocate with a larger voice about issues of school funding. They also hope to broaden their base by speaking and reaching out to community and civic groups in and around Ann Arbor and writing to state legislators directly.

“You showing up today means you are an opinion leader in our community,” parent and PTO Council Board member Donna Lasinski told the group. She said legislators need to hear directly from their constituents about school funding problems.

“The only way they’re going to know what needs to be fixed and how important it is for the community is for us to tell them,” she added.

Lasinski, Deputy Chairwoman of the PTO Council Executive Board, is spearheading the local effort. She stressed the new organization would be an advocacy group and will not lobby directly for specific legislative changes. She said the group is nonpartisan.

The next meeting of the group will be on Tuesday, March 23 from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St.

Ann Arbor Public Schools faced $8 million in cuts mid-year during the current school year and is facing upwards of $20 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year due to expected reductions in state per pupil school aid. The district has received the majority of its funding from the state since 1994 and the passage of Proposal A, a measure which transferred funding from local property taxes to state control, lowered property taxes and set minimum per-pupil funding for public school districts.

Under Proposal A, a countywide initiative is the only way for local districts to obtain additional operating funds and it must be approved throughout the county. Voters in Washtenaw County turned down a countywide millage request last November, although organizers of the Advocacy Committee point out that Ann Arbor voters approved the measure.

Lasinski noted that, according to information from the group Save our Students, Schools and State, more than 109,000 people left Michigan last year, contributing to a loss in state property, sales and income taxes which also affect state revenues.

She told those attending the first meeting of the Ann Arbor PTO Advocacy Committee that changing school financing is the job of the state legislature. “It’s the legislator’s job – we elected them to satisfy our community needs,” she said. “We’re not going to tell them how to do it. Our job is to advocate for stable school funding.”

Committee member Amy Pachera, also a member of the PTO Council Executive Board, agreed. “We need to bend their (legislators’) ears to get them fighting for this too.”

Parent Patricia Kowalski attended the first meeting. She said legislators need to know “that there is a local group working to change things for the long-term” in school funding.

Steve Norton, who heads up Ann Arbor Parents for Schools, a citizen advocacy group with a similar mission, also attended the meeting.

“There is no voice at the state level for parents,” he said, adding that many times the pleas of local school districts and their employees are ignored. “It has gotten so bad … that they (legislators) feel ‘people who work in the schools couldn’t possibly be arguing for something that’s good for kids.’”

He said direct contact with the legislators often gives constituents a solid voice. “That’s the only indication they (legislators) get of what their constituents want,” he said. “It’s tangible and it gives them leverage with their colleagues.”

Lasinski agreed, saying that it is often a “numbers game” at the state. “What we need to do is put a number of votes at risk” by letting legislators know what is at stake, she said.

Lasinski said she wants to encourage other parents to become part of the PTO Council’s Advocacy Committee. Membership is open to all parents and employees of The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

E-mail Lasinski or call her at 734-997-7265.

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