President Ford, the 8 to 1 vote shows some progress over last year when it seemed like every vote brought great arguments and debate. Why do you think there’s a change?
I think for the most part it’s because the plan that was presented to us we all felt was very concise and very comprehensive. As our current interim superintendent indicated, it wasn’t cherry picking; it wasn’t we’re going to do this over here and this over here and do it in different years. It is a comprehensive plan, and it’s a plan that deals with academic success as opposed to just closing buildings. It’s geared towards the research that shows certain configurations of schools are more successful and are where we need to focus our time and our money.
Mr. Ford, why did you find you couldn’t agree with the other board members on this one?
First of all, the plan was never distributed to the public, and our school closure and consolidation policy clearly states that before final approval of the board that the public has to have the plan, then we’ll have the public comment, and then we’ll take final action on it. That didn’t take place. My fundamental reason, though, is that it breaks up what makes Lansing work. We have community elementary schools where students go K through 5 and most of our elementary schools do very well. A lot of the research I’ve seen is that fewer transitions are more appropriate in this day and age for our students.
A March 27 Lansing State Journal editorial warns that the lack of a chance for the public to comment will cause some strong protests. President Ford, are you prepared for these protests?
Absolutely. By and large, the people I’ve talked to have been supportive of the plan. I think that the board was elected to do a job. People have complained over the past few years about the fact that the board didn’t seem capable of stepping up and doing what they were elected to do. I think we recognize this as a plan, by and large, that’s exciting. I think if I had children in elementary school right now I would be incredibly excited about this new plan, because all of the research supports it. And I think that because of that the board finally said, “We believe in this, we can support this. And it’s time we stepped up and did our job.”
I was told that it was going to be introduced one week and voted on the next week. What was the rush?
There is a great deal of work that has to be done, and we just felt we had to move ahead.
Mr. Ford, what’s your response to that?
I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to our public that we did not have any type of public hearing. I didn’t think there was any need to rush this quickly. I went to the Parent Advisory Meeting the Tuesday after that meeting and I have to disagree with President Ford — just about every parent at that meeting was concerned about the fact that they didn’t get an opportunity to speak on the proposal. In the past they have.
President Ford, what is your response to Mr. Ford’s earlier comment about not giving the public enough time to comment about these changes?
Well, obviously the public now has an opportunity to comment.
But after the fact.
We have had public hearings, and public hearings, and public hearings over the last couple of years.
But not on this specific reorganization plan.
That’s correct. Let me back up for a minute and say there was, if you remember, a restructuring task force that was established during the winter months. Their recommendations to us were very much what you see in this plan. The only difference in this plan is from what was recommended and what we held public hearings on is that instead of doing it over a two year period of time we’re doing it all in one year. That’s really the only difference. And we did hold public hearings.