Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dolts on the Holt School Board?

"All politics is local."
~ Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill

The late Mr. O’Neill is credited with coining this phrase which, according to Wikipedia, “encapsulates the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his/her ability to understand and influence the issues of his/her constituents.”

The seven elected members of the Holt Public Schools Board of Education apparently never learned this.

They and Superintendent Dr. Johnny Scott have ignored community input on a number of school reorganization issues within the past several months and have enraged parent and student alike. First there was the proposal to “repurpose” the elementary school, Midway, where my older three children all attended and my youngest still goes. To erase a significant budget deficit, Midway will become an early childhood center, whatever that is. (School officials have already changed one of the district’s other five elementary schools, Sycamore, to operate year-round.) All I know is that this move is supposed to save $300,000 and Midway’s 350+ five- to ten-year-old students will soon be going elsewhere. (Devina, my eight-year-old, is heading to a different, completely unfamiliar school next year.)

Anita and I read the district’s “Review of Proposed Plan for Educational & Economic Stability” – aka ‘the plan’ – last March and sent Superintendent Scott a respectful letter asking him to reconsider but he never responded.

Another component of the school district’s plans involves relocating next year’s high school seniors to what is currently the freshman campus building across the street from the main school and bringing the freshman into the high school. No one seems to know why this swap is taking place – it’s supposedly to save $200,000 per year and offer early community college credit opportunities – but a multitude of parents, students and teachers attended last Monday night’s school board meeting and urged the politicians to reconsider. They refused.

This prompted 200 high school students to stage a real, live sit-in yesterday at the high school. Although the kids’ behavior was said to be calm and peaceful, the powers-that-be still thought it necessary to arrange for eight – yes, that’s EIGHT – police cars to converge upon the school at one point. (To add insult to injury, the cops left their vehicles running while they assumed positions inside the school.)

It was at this point that Anita decided to head to the ninth grade campus and bring our 14-year-old freshman, Nikita, home to keep her safe. (Police officers in this country have pepper-sprayed, shot and killed innocent people and animals. Not that the coppers who were at Holt High School were there to do any of that – but why were they there?)

Courtesy April Jones-Cole
I’m not sure what lesson our young people learn when their efforts to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly are met by a small phalanx of armed, uniformed officers. Nikita told me that the police should not have been there – “There were enough teachers to deal with the few students who had bad intentions,” she said – and that the sit-in was democracy in action. “The power pyramid is upside down,” she added, “and it needs to crumble. Students need to have a stronger voice.”

Spoken like a true long-haired member of the Chicago Seven, huh?

I spent a little time in a Facebook group entitled, “Holt Community Matters” yesterday and saw how much folks resented being given short shrift by the politicians on the school board. A sample of their comments:
  • I have never witnessed before Monday night's board meeting such blatant disregard by a school board of their community. The unanimous vote to move ahead with ‘The Plan’ in the face of such concern by parents, students and residents should speak volumes to every one of us about how our school board and administration view their tax-paying constituency. 
  • If you cut 10% of the administration's pay, that represents $207,032 in savings right there.
  • The administration and board repeatedly tell us they have community support for this plan. I would like to see their proof. I have asked to see it, but they have none. The board was extremely condescending last night. Don't tell me what's best for my kids. I already know, thank you. We handed them over 600 signatures against this plan. They blatantly disregarded us.
  • This is not about fear of change. It is about not wanting to make change for change's sake. The administration does not have a clear plan for this, no research to back up their plan and it is being forced through for next year ONLY to make room for more Schools of Choice students. It is not that we don't want any Schools of Choice, it is that we already have a quarter of our enrollment from Schools of Choice and enough is enough.
  • What stands out to me is the rabid, unwavering position some of these folks have. There is little discussion on this board, but rather inflammation, rhetoric and lots of finger pointing. There has to be a better way.
One commenter warned, “The district will become broke as the State of Michigan's K-12 funding cuts kick in next year and the year after. That's why this is all happening: we voted in people who cut funding to schools. We're just feeling the effects now.”

Courtesy Abby Mealy
Everyone knows that Holt Public Schools’ deficit has to be addressed somehow and that years of reduced state aid haven’t helped. (In the 2011-12 school year, the state cut school aid by $470 per pupil. Note: as I write this, state politicians are trying to decide how to spend a $971 million state budget surplus.) The people of Holt just don’t take kindly to being treated callously and kept in the dark by school officials.

Authorities insist that the process has been collaborative – community meetings and forums have been held for some time that have included school personnel, parents, PTOs, band and athletic boosters, service clubs and even the “ministerial alliance,” whatever that is. But I can attest that the “Review of Proposed Plan for Educational & Economic Stability” is lacking in specifics and clarity, and the hundreds of parents and students who feel shat upon can’t be wrong, can they?

Feel free to visit the school district’s main website or the “Reinventing Holt Public Schools” website or read a FAQ about ‘the plan’ if you’re so inclined. There will be no test, however. I can’t afford it.

Update: In their infinite wisdom, school honchos have decided to meet with students only tomorrow afternoon. Parents and media are not invited. Odd, huh?

Sources: Nikita Welch,, Lansing State Journal, Holt Public Schools.


  1. The "ministerial alliance" is a group of area pastors from several of the township churches. (FYI)

  2. Parents and media should crash that party.