ALPENA - Democratic candidates held a public conference outside of Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday during the first day of school to address ongoing funding issues that are causing financial strains for local and Michigan schools.
Ken Hubbard, Democratic candidate for the 106th Michigan House District, along with Mike Barnett, Alpena Public Schools Board of Education member, and Richard Hammel, House Democratic leader, challenged state legislature to restore full funding to Michigan schools to financially support educational needs, services and transportation.
"Today is an important day, kids are returning to school, but they may not be able to in the future due to cuts," Hubbard said. "Kids across northern Michigan are starting a new year of school. Each one of them deserves the best education possible, but our republican-led legislature has let them down."
Hubbard said APS is currently dealing with $1.1 million cuts, but he said the same issue can be seen throughout the 106th District.
"Republican legislature doesn't care if they adequately fund our schools ... busing is a real problem and the expenses are being passed on to parents and children while corporations are given breaks," Hubbard said.
Barnett, who has been on the school board for eight years, said he has continuously seen cuts and funding issues that are detrimental to various programs.
"We will run schools with full programming until we run out of money. Unfortunately, it might happen soon. At the end of this fiscal year we will have $17,000. We will be able to run the district for two or three hours, or until we get more tax dollars," Barnett said.
Barnett said APS has never fully recovered from Black Friday and its financial crisis, which is reoccuring with severe budget cuts and burdens on teachers.
"Full funding needs to be restored. We are at a stage where students are transitioning from learners to fundraisers to support the programs they are participating in," Barnett said.
Hammel, of Genesee County, said Hubbard's message and concerns about funding for local schools is a consistent message throughout the state.
"People are paying more while class sizes are increasing. Diverting money away from public schools is not what the people expected," Hubbard said. "Public education is important. Expanding charter and cyber schools are making public schools irrelevant."
During the conference residents asked what state Rep. Peter Pettalia has done for the district, current legislature funding, and if the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District millage will be required to fund necessities within local school districts.
"Schools are not the only ones suffering. Local people are constantly reaching into their pockets, but their money is being sent to corporations for tax breaks for jobs that are not guaranteed. Taxes are for our services, not corporations," Hubbard said.
While the conference was held outside of Lincoln School, Gary Shepherd, senior field organizer, said the party arranged a meeting in a public place outside of the school in order to keep politics out of the local school system.
"The community really supports its schools, and especially this building. This is an important day and topic to discuss," Shepherd said.
Barnett and Shepherd said Superintendent Brent Holcomb was not asked permission to hold the public meeting outside of Lincoln, but Barnett said he did notify Holcomb the night before.
"He (Holcomb) would support any political party that wants to discuss school funding," Barnett said.
Holcomb said that if Pettalia wants to meet people outside of Lincoln then he could do that as well.
"Our schools are public facilities. The meeting was held outside on public property and it didn't do any harm," Holcomb said.
Hubbard said keeping Lincoln open was the hallmark of his political career, but he said the school also has a significant role in his family life and to the community.
"Right now, Republicans have a super majority and are running our state like a corporation. I can't just sit back and do nothing. We've got to get money back to our community," Hubbard said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.