To say I have a love/hate relationship with my city of Flint is to put it mildly. I fiercely love this city and its people and its culture and its resilience. I loathe the bureaucracy that is so rampant here and the way that the leadership never seems able to coordinate or work together so that it’s just cats chasing tails. We’re a city that needs more crime prevention. We need more business. We need more blight elimination. We need more people. We need more hope.
What we don’t need are boards, and councils, and bureaucrats making changes that affect the city without any thought of what it means to the people here and with barely a plan beyond that initial thought.
Let’s talk about Flint Schools.
Once upon a time Flint was a hustling city and one of America’s automotive centers. This led to a lot of movers and shakers in that industry making Flint their home, which in turn lead to an amazing cultural center campus we still have today. This campus, all of it recently updated, has a public library, a natural history museum, an art museum, a planetarium, a recital hall, a theater, and a performance hall. Having a lot of these people here, and these jobs here, made Flint a shining star in the country. We had huge parades for holidays and to honor GM. Presidents and social leaders came here to speak. Flint was the bleeding edge for afterschool enrichment classes. We were a rich and busy city. To look at where we were and where we are today, it’s a stark difference.
It took the loss of one major industry to bring us low and a series of bad ideas and mistakes to keep us here.
As the industry left and the side industries that supported it left and the bars and restaurants that were supported by those industries left, we, the people, were left here in a city no one wanted. There was White flight. There was a wave of poverty that crashed over the city. Businesses closed and left with the people. Our beautiful riverbank park went into disrepair. Buildings were torn down or went vacant. The amusement park that had been created – honoring the car, which is great in idea but was more of an academic place than one of fun – closed not long after opening and with it the big hotel they’d build to support it.
All the things that had made us stand out were suddenly falling apart.
As the people left so did the families, which meant the children, which meant much of our tax base.
We were a city built for over 100k people and now we are beneath that.
We couldn’t keep up with infrastructure, so the pipes went bad and led to the water crisis.
With a smaller tax base more and more homes went abandoned or under the hold of slumlords who have no investment in the city and don’t care who is in their homes or what they do with them so long as the rent checks keep coming in.
What’s crazy is we had a big university here, a satellite of the University of Michigan, and the campus is built like a fortress, as if they wanted to make sure the students didn’t have to touch Flint’s streets or sidewalks.
LITERALLY, a fortress.
Big, brick buildings that wall it all off, and a above ground tunnel system that connects all of the main campus. It was strange going to school there and being able to go from the library to the furthest out, at the time, building and never having to go out on the street or into the city once.
Flash forward and we’re a city recovering from a water crisis.
Recovering from a pandemic.
And recovering from state takeovers of the city and the schools.
To say that the city, and the school system has squandered funds, has ‘lost’ money, and has been mismanaged is an understatement. For years they have tried to run the schools as if we still had the number of students, we did but with Schools of Choice such a big part of education parents are choosing to send their kids outside of the city to be educated. We have so many ‘charter’ schools it’s crazy. They pop up like churches and, feel shady. I can appreciate wanting to get your kid a good education, but I worry about how fragmented these educations are. That’s the trouble with the Right trying to defund public education is it then means it’s up in the air as to what kids learn. Some will get the best teachers and the best resources while others will get outdated materials and burned-out teachers with rotting facilities. It will truly become a Haves and Have Nots, which isn’t even diving into the notion of real indoctrination that will start to happen.
I have been in and worked in Flint schools a couple of times over the years and the buildings were old, the teachers, while passionate, were stressed, the students were struggling, and it took outside programming to help them get further help and enrichment. In all honesty, without these outside programs a lot of kids would go home hungry and to empty homes as parents are out working until late to make ends meet.
We have too many schools for our students.
There’s no way around that.
The problem is that there consistently seems like there’s no plan with how to address this.
It’s one thing to declare – we have too many schools, close some.
It’s another to do it correctly.
Flint was once a proud city with several high schools, with legendary rivalries, and with rich traditions.
We now have one high school and several elementaries and middle schools that drain into that high school.
One high school for a city of around 80+ thousand people.
That’s heartbreaking and shocking.
That’s our modern education system though.
We don’t want to fix the system, so we let parents send their kids to the places where the system works, or at least works better. Great for those kids, but what about the ones who can’t leave?
What about them?
Over the years Flint has closed schools.
They hem, they haw, and they finally make a decision to do it after much crying and teeth gnashing from the public.
The problem isn’t that these schools have to close because, as painful as that is, you can’t have kids in old schools that are infested with bugs, and which have heating and cooling issues and structural issues, that isn’t the problem. The problem is that there seems to be no plan after the closure. They close the school, they maybe shutter it, and then they let it rot away.
There’s little effort to maintain the land.
There’s no effort to maintain the safety of the building.
There’s no effort to sell the property.
The school just sits like a haunted house, reminding the neighborhood of a better time. It remains that way until the vandals sneak in, until the arsonists break in, and until the thieves walk in and take any last thing worth money. They leave these schools, big and small, to become tombstones that take down property values and local morale. No one wants to live near to the big, empty building that everyone sneaks into for fun and to get into trouble.
We don’t have enough police to keep an eye on these properties and there’s no money for security to do it.
So, the schools rot.
Forgotten for years as the school board moves on, I am sure insisting that they want to monitor things to see if they will have further need of the school and so forth.
It’s ridiculous because they KNOW what they have and how many students they have. They can project it out and see that we aren’t going to suddenly have an influx of several hundred students in a matter of months so, they know they don’t need that building. I THINK, and this is pure conjecture, but I THINK they just don’t want to admit that the building is ‘gone’ because it’s further pain and trauma to kids and parents. The thing is though, we just don’t want more lies here. We want the truth. We know it’s gone but misleading us doesn’t help.
Close those buildings and have a plan for what comes next.
What should come next?
SELL THE BUILDINGS!
Don’t let them rot and then sell them to predatory businesses that scoop up the property and buildings for $1, which has happened before. Sure, it won’t be an easy sale and it may take some creative thinking and actions but it’s better to be proactive than to let it sit and get to a point where it has no value.
Recoup some of the loss and put it back into the schools you have.
And if you can’t, then get those properties into the hands of nonprofits or organizations that need space and don’t have deep pockets. Lease the buildings for say, $1 a year and let these people have the space so long as they maintain the buildings, keep them secure, and keep them insured. It won’t be cheap but it’s cheaper than ponying up several hundred thousand for a building otherwise.
It’s at least an idea where there are none.
AH, but we’re not that smart, are we?
WHY, you ask?
Because we have gone through overpaid superintendent after another, and they leave or are sent out of town on a rail after making over 200K a year.
That is insane.
For a school system with no vision, who doesn’t want to work with outside funders who have tried to give it money, and for people who don’t last the full term that is absolutely outrageous.
But here we are.
As I write this, they are nearing another round of closings.
More schools to shutter and close and abandon with no plan.
They’ll hem, they’ll haw, they’ll look at the sky, they’ll look at their feet, and they’ll close some schools and consolidate. There’s no idea as to why they close this one or that one, other than a vague plan to centralize things, though they let the school in the city’s center become abandoned and destroyed, so there’s that. I am sure they tell themselves, our lovely board, that they are doing what’s right, but are they?
These shouldn’t be done over one meeting.
They should be done over weeks and months with planning and caution.
Yes, close the schools we no longer need.
Even the one in my neighborhood.
But you cannot close it with no plan to protect the property or to move it on as quickly as possible – to an agency, or a buyer. If you don’t do that you are damaging not just the schools and the children but the city itself.
You are worsening an already bad situation by inaction.
It scares me to think of another empty building, another empty school, this one near me.
This one in my neighborhood.
Even with the influx of federal money and state money from Covid and the water crisis it still can’t change foolish people and hapless fools. It can’t create students and tax base where it doesn’t exist.
We have gutted public education.
We have destroyed it.
Once, public schools were just as important as the houses of worship people went to, and just as impactful as the nightly dinners with family.
Greed and mismanagement kills everything.
Bussing has been outsourced to companies just big enough to keep themselves away from having to really answer to anyone.
Lunches have been outsourced to companies who don’t care about those kids beyond the money they represent.
Parents protest and threaten teachers and schools when they suddenly tune in and decide that Junior isn’t learning the RIGHT things the RIGHT way.
We weaponized politics and made education and kids more cannon fodder.
Take the funding away!
Let kids go to private schools…unless they can’t afford them.
Then they go to the ghost of the public schools, which will give them a more holistic education but one hampered by lack of funding.
The children are our future and we’ve abandoned them to our own greed and petty tyrant worship.
In Flint, where we have more schools than we need and less students than we wish, we can only hope that someone with a plan emerges. Someone with vision steps up. And that someone will be honest with the board and the city and admit that these schools aren’t coming back and it’s time to get rid of them before they become more blight in a blighted city.
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