By Jim Newell
Lake Orion Community Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis took an unusual approach to combat the most pressing legislative issues affecting schools by forming a legislative advocacy committee.
This committee is not, however, comprised of career educators or school board members. Ginopolis is calling on the power of the people – the parents and other concerned citizens – to help the district sway votes in Lansing to positions favorable to the district.
“Our legislative issues are really taking a toll on our kids today,” said Ginopolis. “It’s important to build a critical mass of people to help the district lobby with our legislative issues.”
Ginopolis said 98 people responded so far to the district’s call for lobbying aid, an effort to convince state legislatures to vote on bills affecting Michigan’s schools – and Lake Orion – during the committee and general assembly voting process.
She held an informational meeting at the high school at the end of May to give attendees an overview of the challenge. Anyone who would still like to join the advocacy committee can do so by emailing Ginopolis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You all have a voice and that’s the most important thing to remember as we go through this,” Ginopolis told the attendees.
Through email and informational meetings, the district will keep committee members apprised of issues before the state legislature and federal government that affect school districts.
Advocacy Committee members will receive examples of letters they can send to their legislators in an effort to sway their votes.
Lake Orion’s Advocacy Committee members also could form small groups to travel to Lansing and speak directly to state representatives while bills are in the House committee stages, before going to the general assembly for a vote.
When the district does supply information on certain House of Representative bills, Advocacy Committee members would then sign up to support the district’s call-to-action.
If a member happens to disagree with the district’s position on a particular bill, Ginopolis said that individual would not be expected to go against their beliefs.
Ginopolis and school board members and community activist JoAnn Van Tassel presented the committee members with the reasons why parents – contacting their legislators as a group – have more influence than career educators.
“What we hear all the time as educators is that we are whining and want more money,” Ginopolis said. “I’m a strong proponent of local control. To me, local control has been taken away from us at the federal level.”
Van Tassel said she has been an advocate since the first Nixon administration and has testified before various committees in the legislature.
“If one person calls to complain they’re a troublemaker. If two people call, there may be a problem. If three people call and complain it’s a crisis,” Van Tassel said. “That’s why you people are so important.”
Parent Abigail Rennels, whose children are in fifth and third grade in Lake Orion, attended the meeting and sees the necessity of having a mass of concerned citizens unite to aid the district.
“I think everyone that joins this group, their mission is to support public education in Lake Orion,” she said. “Everyone who lives in this community, it’s on us to make sure our schools are successful. How well our public education is in this district affects everything. Everyone comes out ahead.”
School board Vice-President Birgit McQuiston said the importance of Lake Orion schools having local control and advocating for policy changes will affect current students and future generations as those students grow into adulthood.
“If we have influence over education, we have influence over them for the rest of their lives,” she said.