Third through fifth graders at an elementary school in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District were assigned by at least one teacher this week to write letters to Gov. Rick Snyder saying how unhappy they were with his budget cuts, the school district confirmed Thursday.
The students were told the best letters would be forwarded to the governor. One parent said the teachers prepped the students with what the budget cuts entailed because some weren’t aware. Students also were asked to speak in front of their classmates about why they didn’t like the budget cuts.
Walled Lake parent Ernie Hughes said he didn’t think the assignment was appropriate.
“Don’t bring politics into the school and use the kids as pawns,” Hughes said.
District Spokesman Judy Evola said in an e-mail it wasn’t appropriate for the elementary age students to write the letters.
“The District neither supports this writing assignment or believes it was age appropriate for elementary students," she said. "Further, Walled Lake Schools does not blame the governor for the decisions to cut positions and programs in the district for the current year or for the past five years.”
Evola said the assignment was prompted by a fourth-grade elementary school student in the district who wrote a letter to Gov. Snyder about a month ago and is going to visit the governor on Monday with her uncle, who is a political consultant.
The district has seen some cuts but not as significant as some others in Michigan.
The Walled Lake Consolidated School District had 892 teachers in 2010-11 and 874 teachers to start in 2011-12, according to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. The district laid off 240 teachers at the end of the 2010-11 school year but called back 224 of those teachers.
Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the district spent $154 million in operating revenue in 2010-11 and has budgeted $154 million for general fund revenues in 2011-12, according to the district’s website.
“It’s completely inappropriate to use students in this way,” Van Beek wrote in an e-mail. “But if teachers are going to force them to write letters, maybe they should address those letters to union bosses and school board members who maintain and defend an unsustainable cost structure that forces schools to reduce the level of services they can provide to students and taxpayers.”
Evola said the district is working to adjust to Michigan education reforms."Walled Lake Schools is committed to being fiscally responsible and to live within our means. The reductions made for the 2011-12 school year were the result of a collaborative process with the entire Walled Lake Schools community,” Evola wrote.
However, the PTA section of the district’s website paints a different viewpoint of Gov. Snyder's cuts. The site urged parents to contact their legislators and protest Gov. Snyder’s cuts.
“We are joining many districts around the state in sending a message to Lansing that cutting funds for K-12 education is not acceptable nor is it the way to turn this state around,” the website reads. “Each day over the next few weeks, different schools within the Walled Lake School District will take action: by either calling or emailing the Governor, Legislature, and Appropriations/Education committee members asking them not to pass the proposed $470 per student reduction.”
Walled Lake is located in Oakland County.
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