Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Grading Our Schools
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Grading Our Schools

Money, scores drive inequities across district lines

Patrick Sullivan - August 11th, 2014  

As parents are well aware, selecting a school district is hardly black and white.

Funding formulas and test scores – though widely available – are confusing even to the adminstrators that adhere to them.

Although the State of Michigan readily provides this information online, navigating it can be another story.

To help clarify, the Northern Express spoke with area districts about why test scores may not tell the whole story and how wealthy areas attract higher per-pupil funding.


Most northern Michigan schools receive the minimum state funding: $7,251 per student. This is the case for TCAPS and for many surrounding area schools. However, some districts get more.

Harbor Springs School District students are allotted $8,287, while every other public school or charter school student in their county (Emmet) gets the minimum rate.

Northport Public Schools, for example, get $8,898 per pupil—the highest rate for schools in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. Yet, only 12 miles south and still within the TBAISD, Suttons Bay Public Schools get the minimum per pupil allotment.

Why do some schools get more dollars than others?

School districts get more money if their non-homestead taxable value is greater than the money they would otherwise receive from the state per-pupil allowances, said Stephanie Murray, an assistant superintendent at TBAISD.

In southeast Michigan, this formula favors wealthy suburbs. In northern Lower Michigan, it favors wealthy resort towns.


The inequity between schools frustrates northern Michigan school administrators.

“You really could look at that as a type of a civil rights question. It’s disturbing and it’s something that we need to address,” said Jason Jeffrey, assistant superintendent at Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.

Still, even a district with odds stacked against it — minimum per pupil funding and a high poverty rate in the area — can succeed, Jeffrey said.

“We’ve had schools in Benzie County, we’ve had schools in Grand Traverse County – like Kingsley—that have done really well on these measures and they’ve been recognized as ‘reward’ schools by the State of Michigan,” Jeffrey said.

Frankfort-Elberta Schools are a great example of schools scoring well despite their socioeconomic setting, he said.

“[They’re] approaching 70 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch,” he said. Here, Jeffrey credits school staff and the involvement of parents for the success in one of this county’s districts.

“That community is really involved,” Jeffrey said. “Boy, people come [to meetings] and they’re interested and they’re supportive. I think that’s a common thread in communities where schools are performing at a level that’s a little bit higher.”

The Michigan Department of Education has never studied whether better funding should equate with higher rankings/test scores, said Chris Janzer, assistant director of office of evaluation, strategic research and accountability at the Michigan Department of Education.


The state ranks every public school in Michigan, so it’s easy to see if one school rates higher than another – at least based on standardized test scores.

However, these rankings should be just one factor in selecting a school, cautions Janzer.

“[Parents] might [ask], ‘What about this district versus that district?’” Janzer said.

“We always say… ‘test scores aren’t everything. They’re part of a larger package.’” As a local example, compare two Traverse City Area Public Schools: Courtade Elementary, ranked in the 82nd percentile for the 2012-13 school year, and Traverse Heights Elementary, ranked in the 10th percentile. Is the difference between the two schools really as stark as these 72 percentage points would suggest?

Yes and no. “Numerically, a school that’s in the 90th percentile is doing better than 90 percent of the schools in the state,” Janzer explained. “A school in the 20th percentile would be doing better than only 20 percent of the schools.”


However, rankings are not black and white, said Jeffrey. Just because a school ranks poorly doesn’t mean it’s a bad school.

“I did get to spend some time at Traverse Heights this year and observed in some classrooms. I think they have a very strong educational program there,” Jeffrey said.

“I’m always cautious about rankings.” There are elements that comprise a student’s total educational experience that test scores just don’t address, he said. Parents should also consider location, school size, and extracurricular opportunities.

“These are all measures…that we need to take a look at, but it’s really difficult for me… to say that we need to make a value judgment about what’s happening at a school based on these rankings themselves,” Jeffrey said.

Parents should visit a school and speak with staff before they decide if a school is right or wrong for their children.

“I think the parent needs to…talk to the principal, possibly even talk to the teacher…to make the most informed decision,” Jeffrey said.


You’d think if anyone would tout the state rankings it would be Kingsley Superintendent Keith Smith. Kingsley schools routinely score well. Last year, Kingsley Elementary even won a prestigious national award for being a leader in improving the educational experience of disadvantaged students.

Yet, Smith cautions that state school rankings may not mean what they appear to mean. He says the state’s “Top to Bottom” rankings--which rate schools based on student performance and achievement gaps between high and low-ranking students-- sometimes give a skewed impression because they don’t take into account the size of a school district.

For example, despite the district’s overall high scores, Kingsley Middle School is currently labeled a state “focus” school because the achievement gap between the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent is considered too wide.

Smith believes that some schools in large districts have an advantage over schools in small, rural districts like Kingsley, where the entire school district is housed in one building.

In large districts with many schools, better students tend to cluster at particular schools; low-achieving students likewise tend to wind up with each other. The divide typically breaks down along socioeconomic lines, Smith said, adding that the rating system for schools should be better designed.

“Here’s the problem: as administrators, superintendents, principals, I think we’ve failed to recommend or put forth a better system,” Smith said. “I think we can all agree that all kids are not performing the way they should be in Michigan,” he said.

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