Parents protest school cuts in Lansing

By J. Patrick Pepper
Times-Herald Newspapers

LANSING — About 130 Dearborn residents were among an estimated 1,500 protesters who demonstrated last week on the front lawn of the Capitol building in Lansing.

The group was there to demand that state legislators increase public school funding, which was decimated in late October by the passage of a bill that eliminated $165 per pupil compared to last year and a subsequent $127 per pupil cut by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Making matters worse for Dearborn was a line item veto by Granholm that eliminated $51 million from the state’s highest spending districts, of which Dearborn was supposed to receive $4.9 million.

The Dearborn group’s journey began at 8 a.m. Nov. 10 at the Dearborn Public Schools Ten Eyck Administrative Building, where three school buses awaited. Media outlets were on hand taking shots and conducting interviews until the buses departed about a half-hour later.

Inside the lead bus was a microcosm of Dearborn’s diverse population. As civil-rights era classic rock and Motown played through the bus speakers, hijab-wearing women passed out shwarmas. Across the aisle, a pair of denim-wearing UAW men talked Lions football.

There were young parents, old parents, grandparents, and even residents with no schoolchildren who were just concerned about what a faltering public school system would do to their property values.

After the hour-and-a-half drive, the protesters arrived at the rally as it was already under way. With a cadre of signs condemning unfair budget cuts and pleading for students’ futures, the Dearborn group was the most visibly discernible among the large crowd. A handful of speakers addressed the entire audience from the Capitol steps before the various districts’ protesters splintered. While some groups headed inside in hopes of tracking down their representatives, Dearborn protesters walked around the side of the building, where they stopped in front of the Senate chamber’s second-floor windows.

As Republicans caucused inside, the protesters chanted “Do your jobs!,” presumably in hopes that the recalcitrant group of lawmakers would acquiesce to finding new revenue sources.

But the task of swaying Republicans might be easier said than done.

State Rep. Gino Polidori, D-Dearborn, came out to address the crowd and said he was trying to work with his Republican colleagues to get the schools’ money back, but that it has been a trying task so far.

“I couldn’t get anyone to say they would support me in a tax increase,” Polidori told the Times-Herald before departing for a veterans’ function. “Everyone’s worried about re-election right now.”

Among the protesters, fed-up, frustrated and downright furious were but a few of the emotions cited for making the 100-mile trek.

“It’s taken years and years of hard work to put our schools at the top, and (legislators) are just trying to knock us down,” said Charlie McBride, mother of five DPS students. “Pretty soon we’re going to be like Detroit and sending toilet paper to school with our kids.”

For Seham Mawri, the protest was about more than just toilet paper or textbooks. Mawri, who immigrated to Dearborn from Yemen 17 years ago, said it boils down to the American dream.

“We came here to America for our kids dreams,” she said. “We can’t kill their dreams.”