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      Michigan education forum opens school budget debate

      Community members, parents, teachers and school board officials gathered Monday evening to discuss reshaping education in Michigan at a public forum in Benzie County.

      The goal was to give students in Northern Michigan and across the state more options to learn, as well as possibly re-routing taxpayer money. But the questions arose: What are the consequences (negative and positive) of these proposed funding changes starting in our state's capitol? A nd is local control in question?

      "It's nice to see so many people interested in the education of our children," said Katherine Ross, Benzie Central Schools Board of Education President.

      Superintendents from all over Northern Michigan, the League of Women Voters, the Michigan Board of Education President, and community members gathered at Benzie Central High School to discuss funding changes in the state, opening a conversation of possible solutions.

      "We need to take a good, hard look at what is best for our students," said Mike Hill, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District Superintendent.

      "The real goal is to help illustrate and educate people about the kinds of school organizations, new school choices, and school finance proposals that are being tossed around in Lansing," said John Austin, Michigan Board of Education President.

      One focus: the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 known as Governor Snyder's "Any time, Any place, Any way, Any pace" plan that proposes that students take classes anywhere they want with the state's student funding.

      Another topic: Snyder's "Oxford Foundation Plan" that suggests that student aid be split among various entities providing educational services to individual students.

      "It needs to be the right change, at the right pace and the right innovation... and we have a lot of choices for young people in this five county region," said Hill.

      Here in Northern Michigan, schools are under-funded compared to districts downstate. But the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District is a prime example of innovation despite that, with its career tech center serving 1,100 kids, its use of online courses and its early college program with Northwestern Michigan College.

      Along with innovation and technology there was an emphasis placed on working on teacher quality and investing in what the state's Board of Education President calls the "key to success" in K-12.

      "Teachers matter," said Austin. "Teachers matter most in moving the needle in student achievement."