To the Esteemed Members of the Michigan State Board of Education:
As always, I am writing out of only my most sincere concern for Michigan’s school-age children and public education. I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the Board’s chosen search firm’s identification of candidates to fill the role of State Superintendent in Michigan. I am more than disappointed by the list of semifinalists and finalists. I am more distraught that I have ever been, as a parent, and as a formally trained non-attorney lay advocate for our children with special needs.
Due to John Engler’s Executive Orders in 1996, the State Superintendent holds an authority that challenges democracy and has certainly cloaked the MDE in an opaque and untouchable position. This makes the SBE’s job of identifying and securing this positon that much more critical.
Every MI child deserve a State Superintendent who values his/her education equally, from the healthiest to those with a disability and economically-disadvantaged. Michigan has not had a State Superintendent with a commitment, let alone a passion for students with special needs since Dr. John Porter and Philip Runkel. I would never suggest that students with disabilities are more important than other student populations across our state. I am simply stating they are deserving of “equal” consideration and commitment. The Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education have eroded under Arthur Ellis, Tom Watkins and Mike Flanagan, as have the number of students with IEPs dropped, and outcomes have not improved.
I say with respect to each member of the MI SBE that I know you value public education in Michigan. You may have ideological differences on how public education should be defined and designed, but I know that you ran for the Board because you care about children, their education, their outcomes and preparation for post-secondary education and the workforce. I have no doubt that you value equally the small percentage of students who will not go on to post-secondary education and the workforce due to the nature and severity of their disabilities.
All that said, I ask and implore you to reconsider your finalists for the position of State Superintendent. I ask and implore you to reopen the position and timeline for identifying and hiring our most important educator and administrator in the State of Michigan. Further, I ask you to consider candidates from outside of MI who may bring the best qualifications and commitment, to taking on the challenges of evolving public education in this 21st century. I like to believe that children are a non-partisan issue. Our children belong to all of us. Michigan’s next State Superintendent faces challenges that require not only knowledge and an impressive curriculum vitae. This person will need a courage of conviction and stalwart resolve to take on lobbyists, political ideologies, special interest groups (you may consider me one, but I like to think that I have a fundamental and indestructible belief in children and public education) and governors, if Michigan is to build a public education system that meets the educational needs of all children.
As a parent and as a non-attorney lay advocate, I have not enjoyed a collaborative working relationship with Mike Flanagan. That has never been of my choosing or desire. That being said, I fear more than ever before for students with disabilities and those economically disadvantaged, if the SBE does not reopen the hiring process, and reconsider the finalists to assume the most crucial position in our public schools’ system.
I believe the SBE’s elected authority should be restored, either through Executive Orders or legislation. I worked hard to see a portion of your authority restored through HB 5323 in 2007 and came close. I may try again in a different political climate. Until that time, Michigan’s State Superintendent holds a level of authority that affords more power and control than anyone should be comfortable, and with that comes both opportunity and obligation.
Very truly yours,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter….” Dr. Martin Luther King