By Charles Sercombe
Meet the Hughes family.
Steve and Anne Hughes have been living in Hamtramck for almost 20 years, and they have three children in the Hamtramck Public Schools. Their two girls are in Dickinson East Elementary School and their son (who happens to play a pretty good saxophone) is in Kosciuszko Middle School.
We asked the Hughes why they chose to send their kids to Hamtramck Public Schools and why they support the upcoming school millage.
You had an opportunity to send your kids to probably any school. Why Hamtramck?
Hughes: Why go somewhere else when the schools around you are already good?
It took my wife and I some research to figure this out, but it’s true. The schools are good. Better now than they have been in years. Also, I grew up in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. My wife grew up in Holland, Michigan. Both of those communities were pretty homogenous.
I think it’s better for kids to grow up in a community that’s more diverse. It makes them more prepared to deal with the real world. Hamtramck’s schools have an incredible diversity, with a lot of the students being first generation immigrants.
That means they’re still really active in their culture and most of them speak more than one language. I think Hamtramck is a really unique place to grow up. Much more interesting than my hometown.
What does the Hamtramck education experience offer?
Hughes: We’ve had a very good experience, starting with The Early Child Learning Center, and up through elementary, and into middle school.
The teachers are dedicated. Truly dedicated. Also it’s easy to be involved here and make a difference. We’ve been very pleased with the quality of education our kids are receiving, marked not only by their continued good grades but also through their standardized test scores.
I already talked about diversity. For me that’s almost more important. I just really like it that they are immersed in this amazing mix of ethnic cultures. They’re not going to come out being of afraid or misunderstanding someone because of their skin color, or the clothes they wear or the food they eat.
Also I like it that they can easily walk from home to school. We all do. You don’t have to drive to get around here, and that’s one of the great things about Hamtramck in general.
Why do you support the school millage?
Hughes: It’s pretty simple. The schools need money to repair the stuff that’s been left undone.
The way I see it, if the roof at my house was leaking, I’d fix it. Well this is the same sort of thing. Only the schools don’t have cash to do it. It seems like for years, the state has been cutting school funds. How many times has The Review reported on it?
There has been an awful lot of belt-tightening in the last decade. Obviously, it’s hard to maintain buildings if you can barely stay in the black. I think that’s where we’re at.
The state keeps cutting the money and so far they’re not giving any back. Meanwhile, the buildings need repair. That’s what the millage is for. It will pay for a new roof on the high school and pay to have the heating system updated at Dickinson East, and lots of other projects.
We can’t count on the state to fund these repairs. We’ve got to do it ourselves. And if we do, it will make Hamtramck a better community. I support the millage. Yeah, I do.
This is probably one of the best things you’ll be asked to pay taxes for. It improves things for kids and young families, and makes our city a more attractive place to live. Because even though the schools are good — and I know they are — it’s hard to understand that when one of the first things you see in the halls of the high school is plaster hanging off the ceiling.
If it was my house, and my plaster was falling down, you’d think I didn’t care. Well the Public Schools belong to all of us. We need to start caring. It’s time that we take ownership over the repair issues.
Can’t the district put off the repairs?
Hughes: The district has already put off repairs for too long. How long can you live with a leaking roof over your head?
Each time it rains, the water seeps in and damages the ceiling, and maybe runs down the walls and begins to rust out the student lockers and maybe damages the combination locks on them and pops the tiles from the floor. It’s time to stop the roofs from leaking.
Of course, when you stop the roof leak, you solve other problems too. The time to fix and repair has come.
What benefits to the community will this millage create?
Hughes: Certainly I have a sense of pride in the work that I do on my home. In a similar way, the community benefits every bit as much by work that is done on publicly owned buildings, but more so on the schools because our kids go there.
We want them to be places that look good and function well. But right now, we need to fix these buildings, just to keep them operating as you’d expect them to.
In the end, the money will not just make our schools better, but will make our neighborhood more livable and more attractive to people who might be considering living here. Mainly, though, it goes back to my idea that when things get broke, they need to be fixed, and right now that’s not happening.
To those who may be opposed to the millage, what would you say?
Hughes: It’s not going to set you back that much. An average Hamtramck homeowner will pay about $75 a year.
Me, I’ll pay more, because like a lot of folks who live around here I have a couple houses. But that’s okay. It makes sense to me. The schools are doing a good job here. They’re not asking much. They serve us, and now they’re asking for enough funds to keep the buildings in good repair.
It seems like a practical use of tax dollars to me. It’s going to make an improvement right here in our neighborhood. And for those of you who don’t have kids in school, remember that once, you benefitted from schools too, and most likely they were in good repair.
A building like that is simply easier to learn in. Our kids and our neighbors’ kids deserve that chance too. Think of it that way.