Many communities are built around schools. This something we know very well in Okemos. For that matter, those of us in Haslett, Grand Ledge, Williamston and many other places know it as well. In a February 15 op-ed in the Lansing State Journal we wrote:
Along the way, they are also doing something more. As people come together at school board meetings, athletic events, concerts, plays, and parent groups they are building a sense of community. These small acts of civic engagement may not seem significant, but in aggregate they are what bind our communities together.
All of these events happen because these are public schools — because these are our schools. We are proud of our schools because they are ours, and because they are ours we work hard to make them something to be proud of. This powerful incentive is what makes the public vision work. In the public vision, schools belong to communities and to citizens. [Okemos Parents for Schools, March 8, 2014]But increasingly education policy is Michigan is chipping away at public schools in favor of for-profit charter schools, cyber schools, a privatized district, a state takeover district, and other experiments. This is bad policy and it's bad for the children of our state. But it's also bad for the communities in which these schools are located.
Our state's current policies towards public schools and the lack of funding is driving schools into distress, or destroying them altogether. Set aside for a moment the damage done to public schools by charters and cyber schools. Over the past few years massive funding cuts to schools have driven many districts into the red. Late last year the count was 56 districts running a deficit. Okemos Parents for Schools, Sept. 12, 2013. Also, Muskegon Heights was dissolved and handed over to a charter company, and Saginaw Buena Vista was dissolved and absorbed into neighboring districts. (It's important to note this did not have to happen to Buena Vista. While the state would not come to the aid of Buena Vista, the state did save Pontiac public schools and is pumping millions into Muskegon Heights's charter district.) Already the loss of its public school is having an impact on Buena Vista as explored in an story on MLive.com.
The sign in front of the former Buena Vista High School reminds passersby of a community meeting in August.
Not this August. Last August. The sign is a relic of the Buena Vista School District's dissolution. Today, a year after a financial crisis led to the demise of the 57-year-old district, the blue Knights of the Buena Vista Community School District are a memory.
To some, it's a loss that strikes at the core of the community located on the eastern edge of the city of Saginaw.
"There's no Friday night football or basketball. That's gone," said Richard Syrek, superintendent of the Saginaw Intermediate School District. "There's no reason to live in Buena Vista ... Buena Vista itself is irrelevant."
The community feels disjointed, said Christina Dillard, Buena Vista Township treasurer.
"We have really nothing in the community to rally us together," she said.
"You can see the lines being defined as to which (new) district you belong to. It's like everyone is a foreigner. We don't have a home base. That part is really missed."
. . .
Without a local school district and the structure it brings, Buena Vista's future and its identity is uncertain, one resident says.
"I don't see much for Buena Vista. I would like to feel that I'm wrong on that," said Barbara Amon-Weigandt, a former Buena Vista School District Board of Education member and longtime resident. [MLive.com, May 19, 2014]It's not hard to imagine how losing a district would impact other communities. What if kids on your street went separate ways to a collection of for-profit charters, or "went to school" through an cyber school and never interacted with their neighbors? What if there were no football games or plays to bring the community together? What about in coming years when graduates never went to high school in the community (because there wasn't one)? Will they identify with your community at all?
Unfortunately, Buena Vista will have the answers to these questions all too soon. And people in that community are already missing their public school.