News Story

Private Contractors Pilloried at School Union Rally

Just listening to the soundtrack of the Michigan Education Association's rally Thursday told people the event's mood.

There was Twisted Sister's 80's anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It", some motivational music from the Rocky movies and the toga party favorite "Shout" with the lyrics blaring, "Say that you love me, say that you need me, say that you want me, say you wanna please me ..."

About 3,500 supporters of the Michigan Education Association showed up at the Capitol in Lansing at noon for a two-hour rally to get legislators to make education a funding priority.

The theme was "Enough is Enough."

According to the Michigan Department of Education, total revenue in constant dollars for public schools rose from $20.41 billion in 2005 to $20.79 billion in 2009.

The rally was big on chanting and cheerleading.

"Let teachers teach!" said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat who is running for Governor. "How about we get the politicians out of the way let teachers teach!"

But other "enemies" of the school system were targeted, such as privatization of certain school services.

Some school districts such as Oxford have had success stories with privatization. Oxford was able to hire nine extra custodians by privatizing and will have classrooms in the fall cleaned every day instead of every other day. And the district will save $5 million over five years, according to Superintendent William Skilling.

But many in Thursday's crowd weren't buying it.

Loretta Klimaszewski wore a "Laid Off Educator" T-shirt to the rally. She said she was a custodian for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Klimaszewski said she was "forced" into taking retirement in August, where she can collect a pension and work another job to make ends meet.

"I can't afford to live on these wages anymore," Klimaszewski said. "I can't afford to go backwards."

Klimaszewski said privatization was about who makes the money.

"They want their buddies at the (private) companies to make the money," she said.

Michael Groves said he was privatized out of his job as a custodian for the Southfield School District. He said because of union protection, he was able to keep a job with the district as a para-temp.

"It's union-busting, plain and simple," Groves said. "It's a quick scheme to bust unions."

Shirley Utrup, a special-education teacher in the Grant School District, said privatization takes jobs away from local communities.

"It takes jobs away from people who live in the area," Utrup said.

Utrup said schools need to find alternate sources of revenue rather than cutting funding.

"Of course, that is a terrible word. That is 'taxes.' These children need an education," Utrup said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.