GR vote determines spending


    Sometimes even faithful voters get busy and forget about school board elections.

    But the May 5 election in the Grand Rapids school district is too important to sit out. Here’s why:

    The district is facing a $14 million budget deficit, due to rising costs, shrinking enrollment and dwindling state aid. The school board has been looking for new spending reductions that will not affect the quality of instruction.

    One obvious target is teacher health insurance. District officials learned they could save $4 million per year by dropping their current coverage through the Michigan Education Special Services Association and contracting with another carrier. The alternate insurance plan would provide nearly the same benefits for teachers, at no extra cost to them.

    But the Grand Rapids Education Association, the union representing the district’s 1,700 teachers, objects to that sensible plan. That’s because MESSA is owned by the Michigan Education Association, the parent union of the GREA.

    Last year MESSA, which makes a lot of money, transferred more than $4 million to the MEA. That explains the union’s position.

    To make matters worse, the union wants a 6 to 10 percent raise for teachers, which according to one estimate could cost the district at least $3.5 million per year.

    And the union is not content to negotiate these issues. It’s endorsed three handpicked candidates for the school board —  Kevin Weiss, Wendy Falb and Tony Baker — in an effort to seize control of the board.

    Remember earlier this year, when local news reports quoted GREA President Paul Helder as saying, “Last year we took out two (board members), and this year we want to take out another two.”

    He meant exactly what he said.

    Control of the board means control of the money. If the union gains that control, expensive insurance will be maintained, expensive raises will be granted, the budget nightmare will continue, and taxpayers will be left out in the cold.

    Remember, the GREA represents the interests of teachers, and the school administration runs the district for the benefit of students. The school board is supposed to balance the interests of everyone involved, including taxpayers.

    But who’s going to represent the taxpayers if the teachers union controls the board? When the union speaks, the board will jump, the will of the people will fall on deaf ears.

    Don’t let this happen, voters of Grand Rapids. You can maintain control of the school board, and the direction of the district, if you choose to participate in the election.

    Please take a few minutes to vote May 5.

    Kyle Olson is vice president of the Muskegon-based Education Action Group (, a nonprofit organization promoting spending reform in public schools.

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