He said his district doesn't need a law to follow that time-honored tradition, but one is likely coming regardless: The Michigan House this past week approved bills requiring every state public school to provide the opportunity to recite the pledge and every classroom to have a flag in it. The flag legislation already passed the Senate and goes to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature, and the measure relating to reciting the pledge will be taken up by the Senate.
Newcombe says his district will comply if the bills become law, but he wasn't exactly pledging allegiance to the lawmakers and the legislation for which they stand.
"Bottom line, I'm fed up with mandates — especially on stuff like this," Newcombe said. "With all of the issues facing us in our society, is this the most important thing we've got to deal with? I'm all for patriotism, but I guess my question is, 'Why are we spending time on this kind of stuff?'"
The measures have met with little resistance in Lansing and would put Michigan in the company of 43 other states requiring public schools to offer a recitation of the pledge. Support far outweighed dissent, which included gripes about election-year politics, thwarting local control and the costs associated with equipping every room with Old Glory.
Bill sponsor and Mount Pleasant Republican Rep. Kevin Cotter said he doesn't see the costs as a burden or "legitimate argument." He even offered to be part of an effort to collect donations for cash-strapped districts to buy flags.
"This is the very place where students are learning. ... How can the flag not be present?" he said.
Amendments failed that would have required the state to pay for the flags and for cyber schools to have a banner or screen saver featuring a flag so those students can participate.
"It's not true that the Pledge of Allegiance is not occurring in our schools. It should be organic — bottom up, not top down," said Taylor Democratic Rep. Doug Geiss. "When a centralized government starts mandating what you have to say and when you have to say it, that's the wrong approach."
Bay City schools' chief Newcombe described it as a mandate that is both unfunded and unfocused.
"The problem is, we're all being told, put more dollars in the classroom, cut back on administrators, do all these things. ... Who is supposed to implement this?" he said. "I don't think it's going to be a break-us cost, but could it run in the thousands? Sure. It's a cost I can't spend on something else that maybe I really do need."
Deborah Veiht, superintendent of the Marquette Area Public Schools, agreed that she would rather spend money on specific student needs, such as technology, furniture and even crayons. She said most of the district's classrooms don't have flags, so if the legislation becomes law she plans to work with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post to see if the schools "could get some flag-purchasing power."
Still, she doesn't see the measures posing an undue burden even as they "add one more thing to our plate." The district's students in kindergarten through eighth grade already recite the pledge, and "there's no reason why at our high school we can't join in."
"That's where they get civics and history ... so this would have great meaning," she said. "Theoretically, I think it's a great idea — what the concept represents."