Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 6, 2014

Forum: Return to local control


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — What happens within a prison population when prisoners convicted of violent crimes are mixed in with inmates incarcerated for non-violent crimes?

Odd question? This is the new reality at neighboring Pugsley Correctional Facility. A non-violent offender I counseled in the Grand Traverse County Jail who ended up in Puglsey recently had his ribs kicked in and his glasses smashed in what until recently had been a relatively safe environment.

How is this possible? Well, it is roughly $14,000 cheaper to eliminate violent criminal designations (levels 4 and 5) and mix them in with lower-level nonviolent offenders. The Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections in Lansing is reaching his “budget targets” in this way. Of course, the human costs and those from increased medical bills and potential lawsuits may actually offset any real dollar savings.

Isn’t this the type of result we should expect when the principle of “subsidiarity,” which says that quality decisions are made by local stake-holders, including taxpayers, is turned on its head?

Consider our schools. Why are districts all around us struggling with budget deficits though they continually tighten their belts? Before the state Legislature took over control of funding, financial support was a local issue. The community could rally around their schools and judiciously adjust revenue from millage as needed.

Now we watch the promise of adequate funding for public schools continually broken by a Legislature that would rather give tax cuts to business (still not hiring) paid for by diminished school funding. Raiding the fund again last year to prop up higher education has contributed to the cuts in humanities programming, among other things, vital to well-rounded students. And educators, the No 1 factor in student achievement, have watched their salaries decline by 10 to 15 percent in the last five years even as they pay more for health coverage.

But lack of an economic future is not the only thing destroying teacher morale. The list of topics prohibited at the bargaining table for discussion by educators’ elected representatives continues to grow. Procedures for teacher discipline, demotion or dismissal is no longer discussable. And the weaker “not arbitrary or capricious” legal criterion now applies replacing “reasonable and just cause.” Really?

In addition, teachers no longer have a voice in the teacher evaluation process. Even as the state switches tests almost yearly, using tests without much correspondence to classroom instruction, teachers now understand their performance review, employment status and pay will be capriciously tied to student results which must make up a “predominant” component of the evaluative rating. Add to the list of forbidden subjects the processes around layoff, recall, classroom placement, and we’re talking real stress.

Would a change to a part-time Legislature result in a return to representation for local constituents for at least two of the aforementioned problems? Would the elimination of gerrymandered safe districts make legislators more responsive? Certainly, an electorate that actively informs itself and demands different results remains a critical component.

About the author: Tom Bousamra is a retired teacher of 38 years and former President of the Traverse City Education Association from 1991 to 1999. He is an active community and church volunteer and has served as Catholic chaplain at the Grand Traverse County Jail for 28 years.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.